Gallery: Independence Day military parade held at Freedom Square

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Over 900 people in uniform from Estonia and allied countries took part in the parade dedicated to the 101st anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, held this year at Tallinn's Freedom Square.

The parade was led by Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) Maj. Gen. Martin Herem and overseen by President Kersti Kaljulaid.

Among those represented in the parade were all branches of the EDF, the Estonian National Defence College (KVÜÕA), the Baltic Defence College, the Guard Battalion of the Military Police, the Headquarters Support and Signal Battalion of the Cyber Command, the 1st and Second Infantry Brigades, the Support Command, the Special Operations Command, the Tallinn District of the volunteer Estonian Defence League (Kaitseliit), and the Women's Voluntary Defence Organisation (Naiskodukaitse).

Of Estonia's allies, Germany, Denmark, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and the United States all participated in the parade with colour guards of their own. Also present were British and Belgian units from NATO Battle Group Estonia as well as a unit from the United States Marines Corps (USMC).

Equipment on display at the parade included the UK's Challenger tank, the AS-90 self-propelled howitzer, and the Piranha armoured vehicle of the Belgian Army. The planned military flyover was cancelled due to unsuitable weather conditions.

Maj. Gen. Herem also delivered a speech at the parade, which ERR News has reproduced in full below.

100 years ago, in the War of Independence

Honourable President of the Republic,

Honourable President of the Riigikogu,

Honourable Prime Minister,

Your Excellencies, Members of the Estonian Defence Forces and the Estonian Defence League,

Dear compatriots,

One hundred years ago, Pvt. Hugo Saalis fought among others for the independence of Estonia in the Estonian War of Independence. He described one of his battles to me as follows: "We had given away most of our ammunition to the main front, where there was a shortage of it. However, at one point, we came face to face with the enemy...  and threw stones at the buggers! Estonians maintained their positions that day."

With stones, if necessary — that is what fighting for our country was like then. Fighting for a country that had only existed in dreams thus far. In 1999, Hugo Saalis was happy with the Republic of Estonia, because our own state meant a great deal to him.

Today, we are willing to do what Hugo Saalis and the rest did 100 years ago. Today, we no longer have to use stones, because our equipment has far exceeded it.

As our recent reservist training has shown, we are even more prepared than back in those days. Over 60% of those summoned participate in reservist training. Most of those who are absent, however, still know their obligations and inform the Estonian Defence Forces of their issues.

The countries whose reserve forces we have considered our role models for more than twenty years do not merely deem the participation rate of our reservist training satisfactory — they consider it good in terms of the degree and speed of citizen participation. As Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces, I can say that in terms of citizen preparedness — to take arms and defend their country — the Republic of Estonia is among the top of the world. However, I do not say this to highlight the great work of the servicemembers, but rather to emphasise the loyalty of our citizens. For instance, Igor Ahmedov — a crazy guy who travelled all the way from London when his country called.

We can dispute and sometimes even get into nasty fights about the development of our country on a daily basis. However, worldviews are set aside during reservist training, and people do not confront each other, but rather stand by one another in the  name of their country. Perhaps the best example of this is the Estonian Defence League, which brings together dozens and even hundreds of Estonian citizens with different worldviews every weekend — as one force, in the defence of Estonia. The Estonian Defence League brought together over 9,000 such citizens last year during the training exercise Siil — people with different worldviews, and different nationalities, but all of them organised and working for the same cause.

Contributions from many

I would like to thank all reservists and conscripts for their contribution! We also have to acknowledge the reservists' families and employers who have facilitated their participation in national defence — your contribution is essential and demonstrates the strength of our country. I will say this once more: thanks to you, we are prepared — on a global scale.

I also invite all citizens of the Republic of Estonia to participate in national defence. Through conscription and reservist training. Or as a member of the Estonian Defence League, an assistant police officer, or a volunteer rescuer. Regardless of gender or physical abilities. I believe we can do even better. I believe that we are capable of utilising the free will of our citizens. In addition to the Song Festival, reservist training could be seen as something that unites us.

However, we also have stronger alliances than the Republic of Estonia did at the time of the War of Independence. The allied troops stationed in Estonia today, a Ämari, Tapa, and Tallinn, are not here just for show, and certainly not to frighten anyone; they are here for the military defence of the Republic of Estonia — should it ever be needed. The decisiveness and intentions of our allies have never been as clear as they are today.

We will witness another new development in making our region safer as early as this year. An international Division Headquarter is being established in Ādaži, Latvia. Most of the staff will come from Latvia, Denmark and Estonia, but other countries will be contributing as well. This is a development that will bind the protection of Estonia and Latvia into one whole, making it part of the security of the entire Baltic Sea region.

Estonia will also be holding three larger training events focussing on the practice of strengthening our Defence Forces.

And we must never forget that our alliances are based on common values, which have been repeatedly confirmed at the cost of the lives of Estonian soldiers, as well as the lives of our allies.

Today, here in Freedom Square, we can only see part of the troops that are ready to protect the freedom of Estonia, and our common values; the servicemembers who are standing under our flags, as well as the flags of our allies, only represent a small portion. A far greater force can watch from the sidelines today — and that force is you and your will, dear citizens of the Republic of Estonia.

Long live the Republic of Estonia!

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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