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Estonian president on New Year's Eve: Let's have more faith in ourselves

President Alar Karis in the snow. November 2023.
President Alar Karis in the snow. November 2023. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

We have heard people say that Estonia no longer has a goal toward which it is working. But it does: not just to preserve our language and culture, but to be a country where it is good and safe to live, both financially and in terms of security; to be a country for its people, President Alar Karis said in the Estonian head of state's traditional annual New Year's address on Sunday night.

Fellow citizens of Estonia,

We are on a journey – one which leads us ever forward. And though it may be a journey which, in the words of poet and playwright Paul-Eerik Rummo, sends us across a sea which rises against us, the only support we need is the joyful indebtedness of always having one another's backs.

Looking back and bidding farewell to 2023, I urge everyone who calls Estonia home to see the good in it – something that brings a smile to their face, something that encourages them.

I was delighted this year to see my grandson start high school. Others were no doubt as delighted to see their children start kindergarten. There must have been those who were relieved that business picked up again during the year. Someone is surely proud that their son rose up the ranks during their military service and can now start ordering their dad around.

And there are certainly plenty of people happy to see others doing so well.

The year will have had more than 1.3 million moments of joy and delight – of that I am sure.

It is simply not the case that everything is terrible and wrong, however much it may seem as though 2023 was a year of incivility and indifference or that goodness is being sunk as lies rise to the top. In the end, the truth will prevail and overturn those lies.

True, we are demanding – often more demanding of others than we are of ourselves. Do not take the end of the year as a reproach, but as a recollection of our human nature.

Political bickering and one-upmanship leave people, myself included, feeling irritated and at a loss. This is not the way we want to see our parliament or government or lawmakers behaving. The human face of politics is fading and democracy is gasping for air. There is a sense of us having reached a dead end.

However, the current political situation is not the terminus of our journey, and Estonia must never become such a dead end.

Many of the meetings and conversations I have had this year, and many of the opinions I have read, have reflected people's uncertainty and befuddlement. Russia's war against Ukraine, other conflicts on Europe's doorstep and beyond, the stagnation of our economy and the poor economic showing of our partners, the uphill struggle that many families are facing to make ends meet, the increasing sense in society of a constant tussle and struggle, the inconsistent messages being delivered by those in power – all of this is unsettling many people in Estonia.

We are a country on the border of freedom, but we will not become a country on the frontline. Our adversaries, however deranged they may appear, do not dare attack NATO territory because they know how fierce our retaliation would be. That knowledge, which is based on our actual ability and readiness to repel any attack, is the powerful deterrent that keeps our opponents at bay. That readiness – the contribution we all make – makes Estonia a safer place.

As such, my message is simple: let us not talk ourselves down – or even think of ourselves – as being weaker than we are.

But let us also ask at this juncture: is security nothing more than trained men and good weapons, or is it also modern, reliable power lines that trees are unable to fell and that do not collapse under the weight of snow?

That countries are not only protected and safeguarded by weapons but primarily people is a simple thought, but interpreting it is much more complex, since it makes people's willingness to defend their homeland dependent on the relationship between the state and its citizens, and places enormous significance on reciprocal respect. This is an important lesson for all those involved in the running of the state.

Assured national defense, sound foreign policy and mutual trust are what make Estonia strong as a nation. It is all too easy to offend; it is much harder to reconcile, both at home and further afield. Retaining the allies we have and gaining new ones requires us to be observant and forward-looking in regard to others.

My fellow compatriots,

One wish I have for the future is definitely this: that we all have more faith in ourselves.

At the same time, we have heard people say on occasion that Estonia no longer has a goal towards which it is working. But it does: not just to preserve our language and culture, but to be a country where it is good and safe to live, both financially and in terms of security; to be a country for its people. This requires the wisdom of our leaders and electors alike.

Our target cannot be to aim high in regional or global rankings. Estonia being a healthy nation, with a smart population boasting good mental and physical health, is a fine and indeed achievable goal to adopt, but moving toward it would mean a long journey – one that our people would have to be willing to take.

And in saying 'our people,' I am forgetting no one. As my Christmas card this year illustrated, I do not want anyone to feel as though they have been used or left behind; I want the future to be better for everyone.

And here I have another wish – namely, that we all take care of ourselves and those we love. Let us be kind to ourselves and to one another.

May we always have one another's backs and revel in that indebtedness. May we stick together, one big family, like the performers and audience at the Song and Dance Festival waiting for a summer downpour to pass. When dark clouds roll across the sky, be it over our heads or on the horizon, may we rise above them as one.

Happy new year to us all!

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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