Independence Day: The president’s speech ({{commentsTotal}})

President Kersti Kaljulaid with her husband, Georgi-Rene Maksimovski, Feb. 24, 2017.
President Kersti Kaljulaid with her husband, Georgi-Rene Maksimovski, Feb. 24, 2017. Source: (Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR)

In her Independence Day speech President Kersti Kaljulaid emphasized that Estonia would never stand alone again. The country’s partners stood with it unconditionally, and respected its language and culture, and its traditions and wishes.

“In today’s world such allies are extremely important. The world may not be entirely out of joint, but we see that things that have been self-evident for decades may no longer be absolute. This world requires countries like Estonia to be especially vigilant. It requires the resolute observation of the values that form the basis of society, and especially of international law. It requires that we act responsibly on the international stage,” Kaljulaid said, adding that as she was saying this, only 127 days and a little more than seven hours were left until Estonia would assume the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Estonia’s foreign and security policy had been successful during the last quarter-century. “Our politicians have accepted international responsibilities and fulfilled them, sometimes at the cost of domestic popularity. Today we see how important this has been. We are being assured that, in turbulent times, we will not be abandoned,” the president observed.

“In 25 years, we have created our dream Estonia,” Kaljulaid continued. “But this will not suffice for the future. We must now create our children’s and grandchildren’s dream Estonia. Our country is very different from others, clearly more creative and flexible. I see many opportunities for progress based on what has already been achieved.”

An independent Estonia could only exist permanently in a space of democratic values. A small state couldn’t function in a geopolitically tense place such as Estonia’s if it wasn’t internally democratic, the president observed.

Citizenship can be regulated, integration cannot

On the recently hotly debated topic of citizenship, the president said that it was possible to write laws about how to become an Estonian citizen, but not about how one could become a part of the Estonian nation. “If we attempted that, we would turn into a totalitarian society and destroy our freedoms in the name of preserving our conduct. We cannot prohibit everything that we don’t wish to see,” Kaljulaid said. In the end, this would mean the destruction of Estonia’s own freedom. “We cannot make Estonians of everyone who wants to live here. This should not be our goal. This way we would destroy our Estonian nature," she said.

Kaljulaid added that she understood that most Estonians wanted to hold onto their behavioral space more jealously than the people of many Western European countries. “Most of us are not ready to live in a multicultural society where Estonian conduct would not be more important than others,” the president said. Still, the countries which many believed were losing their identity to newcomers had been more successful than Estonia had been in creating a uniform linguistic space, even when they were less committed to protecting their own behavioral space.

Integration into the linguistic environment started in kindergarten and pre-school, through natural communication between adults and children, not through language instruction, Kaljulaid said.

The president also urged Estonians to look at similarities rather than differences. “The customs of the other ethnic groups who live here do not differ very much from ours. There are people in the world whose understanding of society is radically different than ours. This does not mean that there is no place for them in Estonia, be they war refugees or labor migrants. However, we must be able to express what we expect of them in order to function together in Estonian society,” the president stated.

Estonia and the new global society

The expectations of our young people differed fundamentally from even those who were today middle-aged, Kaljulaid said. To the young, “structural unemployment” and “retraining” did not have the same meaning anymore, as they switched employers, changed their own role in the labor market and their fields of activity naturally and without hesitation. And as their incomes increased, they preferred to reduce their working hours rather than save for the future. They lived in the here and now.

This might seem strange to some, the president acknowledged. “The new generation doesn’t want to work for 30 years straight and then retire. They study, work, travel, and have children in a rhythm that suits them. And this lifestyle does not seem to have been rebuked. However, the pension and health insurance models of no developed country can accommodate this rhythm. Today, young people are not interested in this; they just don’t contribute, because the risk of needing help is small or somewhere in the distant future,” she observed.

According to Kaljulaid, the provision of social support has to be made more flexible. “We need to consider the different kinds of lives that our young people lead. The good news is that this does not require large investments. We have to pay more attention to these changes in a timely manner, and have the will to see the value and not only the problems,” she said.

Compared to the other countries of the world, Estonia was much better prepared for this era, as it was a country available on the web, which was at the center of the state, for its citizens as well as its e-residents.

“Every person needs a country that provides the opportunity to exist as a member of society. The more people function in different countries, the less the contract between people and states is related to a geographical location. We need to provide our traveling citizens with a permanent relationship with the state, the opportunity to pay taxes and participate in society’s security network regardless of their location on the globe. Those who are freely traveling the world today must be recognized by our society. If we are able to provide our e-residents with the same, we will definitely be one of the most successful countries in the world in ten years,” the president said.

Estonia could offer a portable environment with limited bureaucracy, the president said. “The portable state not only helps the IT and start-up economies, but also the traditional players. The English entrepreneur afraid of Brexit can find shelter from the storm here. For instance, if we could convince the world’s shipowners to conduct all their business electronically with their flag state, our flag could fly on many ships. It is easy for Estonia to provide this based on what already exists. The state has already created the foundation. If entrepreneurs build a superstructure for e-residents that is as awesome as the one they have built for e-Estonians, then Estonia will be among the winners of this century,” Kaljulaid said.

Concern about violence in Estonian society

But Kaljulaid also pointed to the negative aspects of Estonian life. “We have to talk about the state of the Estonian spirit as well. Together we must strive to reduce the iniquity in Estonia. Today is a state holiday. The police know that the most fights between people occur during holidays. And it often happens in the place that should be the safest – at home. This is true of Christmas, and Midsummer Day. And it is also true today, on Independence Day,” the president said.

The cycle of violence repeated itself from generation to generation, and it was hard to break the cycle without public attention, which could cause a significant shift in attitudes, Kaljulaid said. It was not enough to delegate this problem to the police and to social workers.

“When was the last time you heard a pre-election political discussion, for example, about how a respected candidate would help to root out violence? Demand such a discussion. Don’t elect anyone who is only able to come up with a tasteless joke about the topic of domestic violence. Don’t laugh, and don’t vote for them,” Kaljulaid said.

“As for myself, I promise not to stop talking about this before I feel that attitudes are changing. If people are protected in their homes, we are also better protected from road rage, random fights, and unwarranted derision in the public space. I hope that five years from now ignoring such incidents will no longer be thinkable. Undoubtedly we also need investments to battle violence – primarily to provide the victims an opportunity for a new life, regardless of the nature of the violence and the age of the victim. However, such investments must come from public procurement,” Kaljulaid said.

A culture of apathy would not create such procurement. “It is all our job to promote a culture of paying attention. For a start, let’s take a look at ourselves. On the web you will find the Action Meter, where starting today ideas will be collected for achieving a violence-free Estonia,” the president added.

Emphasize human rights and freedoms, equal opportunity, low level of corruption

About the current state of the world, Kaljulaid said that it was difficult to bear. The world order and societal organization that Estonia joined as an independent state 25 years ago could not even become a global benefit before people started to have doubts about it, Kaljulaid said.

“The portrayal of the democratic world order did not sufficiently emphasize human rights and freedoms, equal opportunities and low level of corruption. Worded this way, the global democratic world order is feasible for all of humankind. The democratic world order has too often been described as a comfortable consumer culture. This could never be a global benefit, because considering our current level of technological development, our planet’s resources could not suffice for this. This collective misunderstanding and its acknowledgement is what has currently destabilized the developed world,” Kaljulaid said.

In the president’s words, Estonia has never been able to allow a society to exist that does not think about the future. “Now this way of thinking has become our advantage. We are used to worrying about our families, our villages, our state and the world. We all belong to several communities – to families and to communities related to our work, hobbies, and where we live. Each of us is divided into parts, in order to form a new whole comprised of other people’s parts. Our society is like a basket of twigs, all intertwined. Our flexibility helps to better prepare us for the sensible organization of community life in the 21st century,” Kaljulaid said.

Estonian state needs an update

How the country was run needed to be updated at the institutional level. This needed to be done by optimization, and not by addition, the president stressed. “A greater change that will help us arrive at a cohesive and caring society will happen if we all participate,” she observed. “It is a good thing that I don’t have to call for the improvement of local services today. The work is already underway.”

With local government elections coming up, Kaljulaid urged the people to ask the candidates whether they were prepared to support their endeavors if they had the will to act. She also called on voters to consider if their candidates were clinging to outdated management models where, once elected, the leaders decide what is good for the people and then praise their own decisions in the media. What people should really ask was different. “Are they ready to enter into an ongoing discussion about what should be done in your local area? Would they allow you to develop the kind of village or city that you think is needed? And if they would, show them that you appreciate that. Elect them!”, she advised.  

Furthermore, if the state wanted the local governments to be the true keepers and leaders of the community, it should not burden them with activities that could be more effectively organized centrally in this small country.

“Now that the local municipalities are larger, it is tempting to shift responsibility to them, for instance for secondary education and primary medical care. This should not be done. The availability of a good education and health care in every corner of Estonia is one of the main tasks of the Estonian state. The role of the local governments has to be supportive, but they can’t be made accountable. Rather, we should think about making the state’s responsibility for elementary and basic education clearer in order to maintain one of our greatest common values – comprehensive schooling,” Kaljulaid said.

“If something has to be the same throughout the country, it is the responsibility of the state. Local governments are responsible for everything that is local in nature and needs to be resolved here and now, even if it is needed by only one person.”

“Everybody can contribute the resources they have on hand to the community and our communal life – time and skills, money, or attention. I want to thank everyone who is helping to build a new, seamless Estonian society to the best of their ability,” the president concluded her speech.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

Source: BNS, ERR

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