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Opinion digest: President's Independence Day speech boring and generic

President Kersti Kaljulaid speaking at the 2018 Independence Day reception.
President Kersti Kaljulaid speaking at the 2018 Independence Day reception. Source: (Karli Saul/Scanpix)

Though her image of the dignified state is worth carrying on into Estonia's second century, President Kersti Kaljulaid's centennial Independence Day speech was boring and offered little definition or sense regarding some of her favorite buzzwords, literary critic Peeter Helme wrote in an opinion piece for daily Eesti Päevaleht on Sunday.

In his review of the president's speech, Helme pointed to the significance of this particular Independence Day. There had never been a comparably important national holiday before, and there likely won't be again in our lifetime, he said.

Accordingly, expectations were very high. At the same time, the format of an anniversary speech is always more or less the same, no matter the subject. There are certain obligatory parts, such as congratulations, talking about the good, not talking about the bad, looking into the future, and contributing to the festive mood, Helme wrote.

The president's speech had all of this, but none of it could help the fact that it was boring, Helme wrote. Listing Estonia's successful EU presidency last year, its e-state, and generally everything the president and her writers considered fit to be crow-barred into the speech, perhaps there was too much obligatory reference.

As Helme wrote, at times he felt he was being presented with a catalogue-style overview of the different spheres of life in Estonia. Soldiers and policemen, professionals in education and the arts, scientists, heads of local government, diplomats and politicians, the media, volunteers: the president went through all of them, and all of them got either a motherly pat or a caring reprimand.

Though the theme of the dignified state is both beautiful and effective, Helme added, a thought worthy of carrying forward into Estonia's second century. The same applied for the quotes of previous presidents and statesmen Kaljulaid built into her speech, which served as a nice summary of the country's first 100 years, Helme wrote.

But there were a few concepts as well that the speech could have done without, he added, going on to refer to some of President Kaljulaid's own buzzwords. "Komberuum," designating roughly the realm of Estonian customs, manners, and established behavior, the "seamless society," and "open nationalism" all are terms that lack a clear definition and sense, Helme pointed out.

All in all the speech was defined by the same painfully careful choice of words that also defined an interview the president gave to culture magazine Sirp a few weeks ago. With it, the president left the impression that she was scared to make any kind of more pronounced or sharper statement, no matter the receiving end.

In any case, compared to the statements President Kaljulaid made in the time immediately after taking office, her most recent statements neither give reason to applaud nor to criticize her. She does her job, and that is it. Like mentioned before, all of the required components were there, and rhetorically speaking there was nothing wrong with the president's speech. But it was nothing special.


Peeter Helme's opinion piece was published on daily Eesti Päevaleht's website on Feb. 25 (link in Estonian).

Peeter Helme (born 1978 in Tallinn) is a writer, publicist, and literary critic. He has been Vikerraadio's literature editor since 2014.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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