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President Kersti Kaljulaid's speech at the Estonian National Museum

President Kersti Kaljulaid at the centennial reception at ERM on Saturday night. Feb. 24, 2018.
President Kersti Kaljulaid at the centennial reception at ERM on Saturday night. Feb. 24, 2018. Source: (Karli Saul/Scanpix)

The overarching theme of President Kersti Kaljulaid’s speech on the occasion of the Republic of Estonia's 100th anniversary is the dignity of the state. Quoting her predecessors and stressing the point that no single member of society matters less than the others, Kaljulaid proposes a bold, but also a cautious and careful approach to the country's future.

This is a summary of the president's speech. You'll find the full speech below the article.

Kaljulaid began her speech quoting President Lennart Meri, who 20 years ago pointed to the Nordic countries, the European Union, and the members of NATO as the future company Estonia would want to keep.

Two decades later, Estonia is a partner to all of those states, and their equal, Kaljulaid said.

Still, to the Estonians themselves, things don't always feel this way, and they seem to have a hard time seeing themselves for what they are worth, the president suggested. Going back to a recollection of August Rei, who followed Jüri Uluots as acting head of state as an Estonian government in exile was formed in Sweden, Kaljulaid said that already before its occupation by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and the decades under Soviet rule, Estonia was seen as a model among Europe's small states.

According to Rei, Estonian leaders often heard the same thing from their colleagues abroad: that there are people who constantly complain about how bad things are, while "in reality, there is hardly any other nation in the world who has made such remarkable progress over such a short period of time."

Kaljulaid called this complaining a form of "exacting discontent" that in Estonia's case coexisted with the sound belief that the future can be better if we work hard enough. "The rest of the world cannot really understand that one would not exist without the other."

The president went on to underline Estonia's position among the nations in the world, and to stress that a country as small as this needs big ideas to make its way into the future.

Talking about the Estonian state and its self-image, Kaljulaid spoke of a country with dignity where "no one is more important than the others." She quoted one of the country's original statesmen, Jaan Tõnisson, who said that "the state, that's us. If we demand something from the state, we demand it of ourselves."

The future for Estonia needs to be one free of orders and prohibitions, Kaljulaid said. The dignity of the state couldn't be made to depend on having as many children as possible, or on keeping the young from going abroad.

The president went on to praise Estonia's education system and its scientists and their achievements, stressing the importance of Estonia's existence as a nation of thought and intellectual achievement.

Just the same, this is a time to think about the country and environment we want to leave to our children, Kaljulaid said, calling on Estonia's entrepreneurs to find ways of doing business that make both the economy and the environment of Estonia thrive.

Kaljulaid thanked all those who in their profession are dedicated to looking after others and taking care of them. She pointed to the fact that more cases of domestic abuse were registered in 2017 than in the previous years, which she takes as a sign that "we managed to reduce the wall of silence." Anyone who notices plays an important role, and eventually the fight against domestic abuse will be won, Kaljulaid said.

"We do not need to be among the top-five wealthiest countries, nor even among the top-five wealthiest local governments in Estonia in order to think about the dignity of our citizens," the president said. "A little will take us a long way if we put enough caring into it. Our public means are far from being small. They are sufficient for Estonia to be a country of dignity for our people," she added.

Estonia has found its rightful place among nations, the president made clear. "What would have happened to Estonia if the Western world had tried to achieve the alleviation of tensions during the cold war period by surrendering our rights?" she asked. "Now it is our task to remind our Western allies of the beautiful role they played during this dark time of history, to guarantee safe and peaceful development for Estonia, and to keep up hope for the others. This beautiful end to our first century sets out this obligation."

"Tomorrow our new century will begin," Kaljuaid said. "We will have a compass in hand, the Estonian language on our tongue, and we will be supported by the foundation laid by the Estonian culture and education, and gathering strength from the clean nature of Estonia, we will follow our path. Our work will continue so that new generations of Estonians will receive from us an Estonia that is as orderly and dignified as the circumstances in conjunction with our decisions will allow."

Below is the full and unedited speech of President of the Republic Kersti Kaljulaid, given at the Estonian National Museum on Feb. 24, 2018.

“On the anniversary of our Fatherland, I would like to extend to all of you my sincerest congratulations. This day unites us in joy and worry, in work and hardship. On behalf of the people, I would like to assure you that Estonia is grateful that, on this most important of days, we are joined in our celebrations by all our neighbours; by all of the Nordic countries, especially Finland; by the Member States of the European Union, by the Members of the Atlantic Alliance and by our political partners.”

That was how President Lennart Meri started his speech when celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. And I am sincerely happy to point out that we still have all of that –the difference being that we are now perfectly equal to all of the abovementioned.

We do not really always believe that we are equal although we just had a successful Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Sometimes it feels as if it takes us more energy to promote the e-government than to develop it – but we are still good enough to set an example for our partners.

There is nothing new in it. Lord Wedgewood, director of the Bank of England back in 1943 said: “Estonia was the best-governed small state in Northern Europe”. This was the recollection of August Rei, the Prime Minister serving as acting President of the Government in exile.  Mr. Rei described the admiration the outside world had for the progress made by Estonia, and how little of this admiration was valued by the Estonians.  According to him, the Estonian leaders were often told: “Amongst you, there are even some who are constantly complaining, saying that everything is bad and constantly getting worse. In reality, there is hardly any other nation in the world who has made such remarkable progress over such a short period of time.”

Well, it certainly seems as if some things are everlasting and this is worth noting as we celebrate our Centenary.  The rest of the world cannot really understand that one would not exist without the other.

This kind of exacting discontent and the faith that yet tomorrow will be better than today if we work hard – was then is now the key which opens the door to a better future and helps to clarify this swift development over the last quarter of the century during which we have once again became the decision-makers in our land. So, – let us continue with exacting but let it not overshadow the joy of our progress!

Let us rejoice because we are prosperous - out of the 192 countries in the world, only one fifth is wealthier than us. But Estonia requires more. Small countries need big ideas and they need to aim big, we cannot just tag along in the wake of history. The aim of Estonia has to be timeless, as it is. This aim is clearly described by our constitution – the Republic of Estonia has been founded to protect internal and external peace, and to guarantee the survival of the Estonian nation, language and culture through times. In order to achieve these objectives, the Estonian State has been founded on freedom, justice and law.

To summarise – the aim of Estonia at any given point of time is to be a dignified country. First and foremost, in our own eyes and then in the eyes of our partners, allies and neighbours. This aim must remain true when the times are good, but even more so when the times are hard and I am sure there will be plenty of those over the next hundred years.

How to define a dignified country? What impacts that dignity? What does a dignified country do? What does it never do? And what does it even mean when we say that a country does something? It is what we all do – Estonia is the sum of all our deeds. Head of State Jaan Tõnisson once said, in 1928: “The State, that is us. If we demand something from the State, we demand it of ourselves.”

The co-operation of communities, local governments and the state, bringing together the volunteers and the public sector, being enterprising, taking risks – being busy at our home, in our Estonia: Following the spirit of the words of Jaan Tõnisson, we are quietly taking Estonia forward. All 1,3 Million of us together, no-one more important than the others. No-one more important than the others.

This is the only way for us to do it. Those who have lost their lives for Estonia during the Estonian Liberation War, or on international missions – they are all worthy of the best efforts from us – the living.  We can extend our gratitude to our injured soldiers who are here among us today. But we need to move forward in order to honour everyone.

Today, here at the Estonian National Museum, I also think about the people who are defending Estonia far from home. I think about you too, who during this winter´s night, are working, keeping us all safe.

An even more sweeping generalisation -  I often find myself, on my way home from work, thinking about all the people in Estonia whose work creates the Estonia of today. It has always been so, the Estonia of our own people is born from our co-operation, in families and in communities. This Estonia is not characterized by noisy debates but a quiet passage of time, from parents to children, to grandchildren. Every generation gets this Estonia from their parents which has been kept as good as the times have allowed it. This is then the task of the new generation, to leave behind an orderly household.

Fortunate are the generations who get the support of their state. But the others are no less stubborn – Estonian communities have had a close and supportive co-operation regardless of the era. With the powers or regardless of them. In Estonia or further away? The next generation will need to get the best version of Estonia as possible at that given moment.

This is the next warp of our nature – Estonians will cope.  But whether it be with the powers or despite them, that would depend on the choice of the leaders. A seamless society is born from the wisdom of the leaders.

We have the most capable state of all times – the kind which can really impact people’s lives. What do we do with this capable machine? Do we use it for helping and supporting – or for enforcement, directives and lecturing?

We are celebrating our National Centenary. We love our country, and we are proud to be Estonians. How do we use our national pride? As a source of joy? Or a source of anger?

Do we use our national pride as a chain of armour or a daisy-chain which would connect us all across the world?  Is it a duty to be shouldered, as we were born to be members of this small nation, or is it a wonderous feeling which carries us through life and sustains us?

The digntiy of the State does not grow if we insist or even demand that everybody dedicate their lives and as many children as possible to Estonia. Nor, if we will lure you away from self-fulfillment in an international environment.

We can do without orders and prohibitions, as free people in a free country, protect and develop our language and our culture. It is important to have a strict citizenship policy and inclusive community work, while remaining firm on the principle of the open spirit of nationhood as it was expressed by Konstantin Päts, Head of State, as he took to the floor at the Parliament, in March 1922:

“It says here there are certain signs that secretly this kind of national chauvinism, narrow-minded nationalism is raising its head, as it was during the tsarist Russia, and under which us ourselves, as a minority nation, have suffered much.  I have to note that I do not hate anything more than this kind of narrow definition of a nation, and narrow-minded and intolerant idea of a nationalism.”

Estonians will go into the wide world, and they will come back. The citizens of the European Union can choose Estonia as their domicile, but people also come from other countries to live here. Millions of people in Europe live in a country where the general language is not the same as the one they speak at home. They entrust their children to the care of nursery teachers, considering it natural that, once the child reaches school-age, this child has adjusted to the language and the customs of the host country. This child can cope at school and be equal later in life with the others who grew up speaking the same language at school and at home.

The same needs to be offered to everybody who wants to live in Estonia and educate their children here. They need to be able to trust the Estonian state that we will offer the same to their children as in any other democratic country in Europe – ability to cope with the language, culture and customs. This is how the number of people speaking Estonian grows, even if the number of children being born to Estonian families does not quite reach the level needed to maintain the population.

We need to offer enough support to each family so the children they would like to have do not remain unborn. I consider this to be more than just financial support – every family needs to feel society being on their side. So that no father returning from his paternal leave would ever need to hear: “you should not do that again!”. So that the years lost in their professional career by women because they have been home with children would not be un-avoidable and natural according to the prevalent attitude of the society.

The multiplicity of choice in advanced and wealthy societies has always meant fewer children per family, and children born later in life for the parents. Therefore, it is imperative that we consider all of those who grow up here, as one of our own.  No 7-year-old should feel that they are not fit for an Estonian school. They might have a charming accent when they speak Estonian, they might be of different colour or the name might be hard to pronounce – that all cannot matter.  Why should we tell the people who themselves want to be part of our language and culture that they cannot become part of us? It is unfair, it makes no sense, and it will not help our nation to survive!

The Estonian school system is one of the best in the world, and quality education is accessible for everyone. The comprehensive school system is the asset with the best yield that Estonia possesses! Out of 1 Million people, each and every one is worthy of the best education they are capable of acquiring – the education and the opportunities which come with it should not depend on the parents address nor income. Yes, not enough children are born. But I feel peace in my heart with the knowledge that these few all have an opportunity. It is not a small matter! I would like to thank all the teachers, unwavering patriots of comprehensive schools!

The next one hundred years present a completely different and new challenge for the education system – to keep our common sense. Our ancestors understood the world, because they lived in the real world and had to shape it with their own hands, producing their own environment, heating, kitchen, garden, food and clothes.

Having an understanding of the world is an important part of being human, it is not something to be treated lightly. Society cannot be divided between those in the know, and those who consume – being kept alive by machines, getting information and attitudes of the world and the society based on the algorithms.

The challenge of the century for the Estonian education system and for Estonian science is to guarantee the survival of a person capable of a thought process, and the thought process in Estonian. The same challenge is also faced by the Estonian culture, by all the creative people among us.

Culture protects rational people the same way as education and science. Although our day-to-day life no longer demands great capacity of recollection, thinking or skill – these capacities can be still used in art – to create joy, to inspire and maintain creative thought.  You can be the performer or the viewer. I would like to thank all the creative people as also here I have peace in my heart – the Estonian culture is so exciting and alive, both in visual and verbal form, in music or set in stone!

I would also like to thank the Estonian scientists!  You, the same as all our people working in the field of culture, are much greater than what Estonia can hold. Thanks to international co-operation all of this is possible because smart money likes bright spirits! But still – please use our mother tongue when describing our achievements. In a narrower linguistic area every specialist is also the author of their own dictionary, particular to that field. Nobody else can do it for you.

The Estonian Constitution defends the Estonian language and culture. The way we live our lives during the next century, as far as we can understand it today, seems to demand the polar opposite – the language, education, and culture need to protect the Estonian people, so we could be counted among the nations of culture and capable of rational thought.

The great nations can have the luxury of engaging in only a small part of the society. This can cause grave harm to the society if the decisions on the state level are based on misleading information or based on lack of information, but it would not destroy a big country. It´s different for small countries, everybody needs to be involved.

Here, as in the other Nordic countries, we see the survival of the natural environment and have the best sense of nature. How do we use our wealth of nature? Do we exchange it for money as during the industralisation period of the 20th century – or shall we keep it for our grandchildren? Shall we leave it for our grandchildren as if we had never been here at all, or would we like the pattern of our good decisions to be visible in the environment also 100 years from now? Or shall we just hope the traces of our mediocre decisions would not be too visible?

President Rüütel recalled when celebrating the 85th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia: “the Estonians not only became the masters of the own state for the first time in 1920-s but also the masters of the land.  Our cultural landscape dates back to these days which are still symbolising the beauty of Estonia today.” Today, as we are celebrating our Centenary it would be appropriate to ask what kind of landscape shall our grandchildren inherit? What about the natural resources underground? I would like to thank the people who have taken up this topic – there is no clear answer but without a discussion there never will be.

The only true renewable resource is the kind which is between our two ears. The more we export the fruits of our minds the bigger the economy can grow without harming the environment we live in.  This shows how interlinked our education, culture, and environment are. Linked through the economy. I would like to thank the Estonian entrepreneurs who understand this connection and put it into a good use! A smart Estonian is worthy of a smart job, and you are the ones who create these opportunities for us!

We enjoy media space which can be considered to be one of the freest in the world. How do we use it? For well-considered exchanges of ideas or trying to fling dirt at each other?  Is it for the development of certain convictions or for the inspiration of free thought?  Can we reach everyone in our discussions or we will exclude the ones who are less like us?  Shall we allow some other country to convince some of our people that they are not really ours, at all?

Shall we remain faithful to ourselves and have faith in a free media? Do we have confidence in our populations capability of thought, or shall we direct them to think in the “right way”? I would like to thank the Estonian journalists who stand for freedom of speech – and all the others, regardless of their profession who are responsible in using this freedom.

The dignity of the state relies on the fact that the state is capable of treating each of their citizens and residents with respect to their human dignity.  The dignity of the state depends on how the victims of abuse are treated.

More cases of domestic abuse were registered in Estonia last year than earlier. This tells us we have managed to reduce the wall of silence. If the victim is free to speak out, the state can offer support, maintain the dignity of the victim, and safeguard the dignity of the state. Nobody should remain silent so that the rest of us will not feel embarrassed. This is the right way. I would like to thank the police, the social workers, women´s shelters, the prosecutors´ office, and all the volunteers; anybody who notices! There is a long way to go but we will win this fight.

It is devastating to the dignity of the state if the local government, whose immediate responsibility is to notice the people around us, does not assume responsibility for that person at their time of need or does not help to protect the dignity of that person, even after having accepted their tax contributions in happier times.

It is devastating to the dignity of the State, if the rural municipality will deliver to your post box a newspaper published with taxpayers´ money but will leave this person alone after a tragedy, or without the assistance or support towards the end of their life because of the budget.

Somehow there is always enough budget for brain washing, for creating the impression that local rulers are irreplaceable – the grotesque of the capital is visible but the same is repeated also at local level.

I would like to thank all the local government officials who put their hearts into their work, thinking about the needs and the dreams of their people, assigning funds primarily to where the problem is the biggest!

We do not need to be among the top 5 wealthiest countries, nor even among the top 5 wealthiest local governments in Estonia in order to think about the dignity of our citizens. A little will take you a long way if we put enough caring into it. Our public means are far from being small.  They are sufficient for Estonia to be a country of dignity for our people.

Also, in 100 years’ time we must have a free and dignified state which recognises personal freedoms, offers support in tragedy, provides Estonian language education and high-flying culture, and with a clean environment which does not coerce its population’s support through force and propaganda.

Also, in 100 years’ time if we continue on this course of European democratic values and freedoms, we will not be alone in the world. We have different neighbours. Some are more, some are less democratic. We have neighbours who have shared our fate of the previous century, and neighbours with whom we are in sync. We also have one difficult neighbour. But a neighbour is a neighbour.  They will not be left without attention even if they have been disappointing us over some decades.

We expect of our partners that they will not be willing to exchange a value based world order for short-term interests. We recall that strategic patience will help you to reach your aim –the policy of non-recognition of our occupation had to last for half a century before it finally succeeded.

What would have happened to Estonia if the Western world had tried to achieve the alleviation of tensions during the cold war period by surrendering our rights? Now it is our task to remind our Western allies of the beautiful role they played during this dark time of history, to guarantee a safe and peaceful development for Estonia, and to keep up hope for the others. This beautiful end to our first century sets this obligation.

Celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said: “When we were stomped into mud, we still had the knowledge that this is not where we belong.  We belong elsewhere. Among the giants, as was said by poet Betti Alver: upon a rock, a stone table, on the table, a stone tablet on which a chapter called ´Estonia´ can be found.”

Today, ten years later, our place is among the giants and our responsibilities and our tasks are worthy of a giant. Common space of values, not the size of population or wealth is what makes us, and those like us, great in Europe.

It is our responsibility to remain true to the principles especially when, at the spur of the moment, it might seem more beneficial to bypass these values while being held hostage by a big ally. The moment we do that, the giant becomes a dwarf again because it is only brute force that counts when you have a world order without values. I would like to thank all of our politicians and diplomats who understand this and act accordingly!

The Estonian nation is dignified. The dignity of the state, in the eyes of the population, depends on the decisions of the leaders – are they made in good faith, bearing in mind the future of Estonia, or considering the smaller benefits closer to the skin. We are still far from a simple, clear, and predictable State and maybe we have even moved further away over last few years. We have promised simplicity, clarity, and zero bureaucracy but offered confusion instead. I am not only talking about taxation but also about the machinery. E-government user interfaces – this is the face of the State which is visible for the citizens, are often outdated, illogical and slow-to-act. The e-government is still functioning nicely but the clumsiness visible to the user predicts that if we do not pay more attention to the development of the e-government, then the core will also disappear.

I would like to thank you, the Estonian people, as in every corner of Estonia you have entrusted me with your expectations and questions, your happiness and sadness. Today your thoughts were integrated with those who have led us at different times. This is a good compass for the next hundred years. The Estonian nation wants to walk its own path, think its own free thoughts and meander about in a free, clean nature. To be enterprising and be successful. To do all this based on a permissive and simple legal space, being safe and protected.

Tomorrow our new century will begin. We will have a compass in hand, the Estonian language on our tongue and we will be supported by the foundation laid by the Estonian culture and education, gathering strength from the clean nature of Estonia, we will follow our path.

Our work will continue so that new generations of Estonians will receive from us an Estonia which is as orderly and dignified as the circumstances in conjunction with our decisions will allow.

Hoiame Eestit!

Let us take care of Estonia!

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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