President Ilves: Freedom not a state of being, but rather will and action

Former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
Former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

"Late on the night of 20 August 1991, the Estonian people got, or rather took, its state back," former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves wrote on social media, affirming that the restoration of Estonian independence 27 years ago was not the doing of the odd politician or a small group of people.

"This was the will and the work of the people, which was encouraged and sung about by our intellectuals," Ilves wrote.

There were more than a million people who wanted their own free country and did not hesitate to gather at Deer's Park or the Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn, or in Pilistvere, or for the Baltic Way, or in Freedom Square during the 1991 August Putsch, or by the Tallinn TV Tower when Soviet tanks from a division in Pskov arrived, Ilves recalled.

Quoting a fictional character of author Leo Kunnas about that August, Ilves wrote, "'This was such a huge win that nobody even understands it. The biggest victories are achieved without war; this is why they don't stand out.'"

According to the former president, freedom can be given away just as quietly. "If the importance of freedom goes unnoticed, if its significance appears to be shrinking, if its importance is diminished, if we see the attitude gaining ground that maybe it isn't that important after all... then we are just a generation away from losing it," he said. "If we remain quiet as we see others losing their freedom, then we have forgotten what it was like when others were quiet elsewhere as we lost our own freedom."

There are many countries and people lacking the skills needed to become free, and there are people and countries where freedom is disappearing, where the free press and the independence of the judiciary are restricted, where universities are being closed down on ideological grounds, and where critical voices are imprisoned or even killed, Ilves observed.

"What is going on in those countries has demonstrated that inciting mistrust in politicians, journalism, and the justice system will result in the destruction of a trust-based civil society, growth in intolernace and the decline of freedom," wrote the former Estonian head of state. "Freedom is relinquished quietly, step by step. Freedom is not a state of being, but rather a will and action. Let us know not to forfeit this ability to desire freedom; rather, let us know to keep and cultivate it."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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