Prime Minister Kallas presented with Jeane J. Kirkpatrick award in Washington

Coat of arms of Estonia atop the Stenbock House, seat of the government.
Coat of arms of Estonia atop the Stenbock House, seat of the government. Source: Government Office.

While she may be facing political problems at home, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) continues to be recognized internationally, most recently after being presented with the International Republican Institute's (IRI) Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick award.

The prime minister has been in Washington for an official visit this week, and her itinerary while in the U.S. included collecting the award. The prime minister's acceptance speech follows.

Thank you for these kind words. I am very honored to be here in Washington D.C. to receive the International Republican Institute's Jeane J. Kirkpatrick award.

It is an important recognition to me, and to Estonia. As Estonia's first female prime minister, this award also means a lot for gender equality. It helps to build the future where one day it no longer makes the headlines that a head of government is a woman (or a man for that matter).

I trust that times are changing in this direction, albeit slowly. And I recognize the need for leaders who make it the new normal and lead as an example – so thank you to IRI´s Women's Democracy Network for your work and leadership!

In addition, this award, and the reasons I was picked as its recipient, touch upon several more fundamental aspects – to me and to Estonia.  It shows the unity of purpose that we as democracies share.

It also demonstrates, as Jeane Kirkpatrick would have said, that liberal idealism is compatible with the defense of freedom and the national interest.

I have heard some European political scientists label me and other strong supporters of Ukraine as Neo-Idealists. According to them, Neo-Idealism is founded on the power of values and everyone, including small states, has a right to self-determination.

I would say that it is actually the same familiar American and European idealism – an idealism to pursue a world where freedom prevails. In fact, it is our common destiny.

And such idealism is also realism – it is fundamentally a strategy for survival.

President Ronald Reagan believed that "the Atlantic community is the house of democracy". And for him, this meant that we must "shelter democracy from all the winds that blow". He also famously warned that freedom is a fragile thing, and is never more than one generation away from extinction.

I could not agree more. History is by no means a linear progression towards more freedom and openness. The bottom line is that democracies and securing freedoms need constant care and defense. And threats to democratic norms can come from outside, as well as from within.

Our liberal democracies need to deliver not only hope in a better future, but also tangible results for our people. That is why it is important that governments move where the people are – and in many ways the people have moved online. 

When Estonia restored its independence and broke free from Soviet occupation in 1991, our country was in a poor state. Thankfully, we had many friends, including the U.S., on our side. We set out on a long journey of extensive and painful reforms. It was supported by early adoption of state guaranteed electronic identity and digitization of government services. That made us into a kind of a test-bed for digital democracy.

Today, 99 percent of our government services – starting from paying taxes, to electing to parliament, to registering your new-born's name – are provided online.

The digital transformation has allowed us to achieve much greater transparency and efficiency, and brought citizens closer to government. Furthermore, foreign investors and entrepreneurs have found it very easy to do business in Estonia.

As of today, Estonia is still the only country in the world to make use of iVoting – our citizens can vote over the Internet at home, or really anywhere they are in the world.

It is quick, secure, and our citizens trust it – in this year's parliamentary elections, over half of the voters gave their vote electronically. And in the future, we hope to bring this to mobile devices and introduce mVoting.

I am describing our approach because it illustrates a mindset that I think should form a basis for governance in the 21st century. We should not think of innovation purely in terms of innovative products or breakthrough technologies.

Innovation needs to be put into the service of our own people and democratic governance. Innovation can help to improve the standard of living for everyone while respecting their privacy and rights. Government that is digitally close to its citizens has also allowed us to achieve much greater transparency.

Finally, governments cannot be passive observers of technological progress. We must all be active students. Estonia is not alone in re-imagining government for the digital age – we need to do this together. I hope Team Europe and Team America will work together on how technology can reinforce and support democracy and openness.

Thank you IRI and congratulations on your 40th anniversary.

And thank you, Amazon Web Services, for co-hosting.

I am humbled once again by this recognition – it matters a lot to me personally and to Estonia.


The IRI is a federal government-funded non-profit founded 40 years ago and with a board mostly comprising members of the Republican Party.

Its main stated aims are to advance democracy and freedom, by linking people with their governments, guiding politicians to be responsive to citizens, and motivating people to engage in the political process, the organization says on its website.

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick (1926-2006, the 'J.' refers to her birth name of Jordan) was an American diplomat and political scientist who moved from the Democratic Party to the Republicans. A fervent anti-communist, she played a key role in the Reagan administration's foreign policy crafting, and was the first woman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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