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'AK. Nädal': How is the presidential reception invite list drawn up?

Alar Karis delivering his Anniversary of the Republic speech last year.
Alar Karis delivering his Anniversary of the Republic speech last year. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Last week's announcement that only the Riigikogu's leadership would be invited to the Independence Day presidential reception on February 24 ruffled a few feathers among rank-and-file MPs, "AK.Nädal" reported Sunday.

Only the Riigikogu board, meaning the speaker and his two deputies, plus the six chief whips of the parties represented at the legislature, have been invited to the reception, to be held in Tallinn this year.

"AK.Nädal" investigated further how the list was drawn up.

As with many such events, the presidential reception sees emotions flung high, not only on who has and has not been invited, but also on such themes as what people will be wearing, the venue, and the speeches.

The Estonia Theater, hosting this year's event, can accommodate fewer guests than some of the locations used in previous years.

The president's communications chief, Indrek Treufeldt, told AK that: "There are a lot of options [on invitees], as the president has various fields that he is involved with."

He has been all round Estonia, and he has his own areas of focus: Education, mental health, science and so on (President Karis is a former rector both of the University of Tartu and of the University of Life Sciences, also in Tartu – ed.).

"He would want to invite a representative from each field. But then, inevitably, choices have to be made;" Treufeldt went on.

Veteran MP Enn Eesmaa was Lennart Meri's (president 1992 to 2001) communications adviser back the time when the tradition of the annual president's reception began to emerge, in the early to mid-1990s.

Eesmaa did not have to answer tough questions like these, though even then, there was not room for absolutely everone at the annual shindig.

In both 1993 and in 1994, the president's speech and the traditional concert were held in the Estonia Theater, the same venue as being used this year, but the party itself was held in the old Sakala building, which now houses the Ministry of Defense.

"That hall was so small that, even with the best will in the world, inviting all the people that President Meri would have wanted was not viable," Eesmaa said.

So it is clear that drawing up the final guest list was not easy back during Meri's time.

Diplomat Jüri Trei was then the main organizer of the entire event.

As he recalled, there had also been differences of opinion with President Meri about whom to invite. "There are things I can't, and don't want to, speak about," Trei said.

"AK.Nadal" reported that it could only be left tot he imagination as to how some advisors quit, only to be recalled again, in those days.

"If you'll forgive me about making the comparison, Lennart Meri was like the God of the Old Testament. He could be so harsh and grumpy and reproachful," Eesmaa said.

Now times are calmer at Kadriorg, seat of the Estonian head of state.

Nonetheless, invites have to be sent officially from that address, as this is a party for the president's invitees, Treufeldt said.

"We are his advisors, we are on the case, we are his eyes and ears, but the final decision gets made by the president," Treufeldt went on.

At one time, Lennart Meri had managed to get into a stand-off with the government and Riigikogu even during his second week of work.

This black cat (in Estonian folklore a black cat represents bad luck – ed.) has also chased some of the ensuing presidents and politicians, AK reported.

While future diplomats are taught not reject the president's invitation, politicians have certainly done so in the past. Edgar Savisaar appeared for the first time at a presidential reception as late as 2020. Jüri Ratas the event in 2019 (in this case the August reception for Restoration of Independence Day – ed.), and now Prime Minister Kaja Kallas is not going to February's reception, this year.

Thus it could be said that political intrigues certainly simmer in the background of a party's mood. This makes it also a party designed by politicians.

Jüri Trei offered one suggestion how to find out what kind of event the politicians really hanker after: Send out invitations solely inviting guests to hear to the president's speech and the half-hour gala concert...

"Then we'll be able who is in attendance. At that point, we will be able to see if they come out of a sense of purpose, in support of Estonia, or if they think 'Oh, I want to attend for some other reason,'" Trei added.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael

Source: 'AK.Nädal,' reporter Anne Raiste.

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