Gallery: Prime minister salutes US Baltic communities while in New York

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) greeted representatives of the Estonian community in North America, as well as those of Latvia and Lithuania, at an event hosted at Estonian House in New York on Sunday.

The event, also attended by foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), marked both the 75th anniversary of the great flight west from the three Baltic States in the wake of Soviet reoccupation near the end of World War Two, and the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Chain, a signal development in the drive for independence restoration in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In a speech at the event, Ratas recalled that tens of thousands of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians had been forced to leave their homes 75 years ago, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.

"They fled the Soviet occupation's regime and the red terror, and had no idea whether they would ever have the opportunity to return or see their homeland again," the prime minister said.

"Many of these people found a new home here, where they were given the opportunity to start their lives again as well as keep Estonia's aspirations for independence in the free world," the prime minister continued.

According to the prime minister, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania began their journey back to a democratic and free Europe three decades ago.

"This year we have already celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joining the EU and NATO. Thanks to our efforts, friends and allies, our independence is secure and well-preserved. I hope all our present and future generations will remember past events and understand the value of freedom," he continued.

Ratas also pointed to the importance of New York City itself, as a hive of Baltic independence aspirations.

"Estonian diplomat Ernst Jaakson, officially the representative of the Republic of Estonia in the U.S. until the restoration of Estonian independence in 1991, was based here," Ratas said, highlighting Jaakson's legacy and the efforts of the Baltic community over the decades of occupation.

Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu also attended the event, stating that close communication between the state and communities is vital and that preserving one's own people, and preserving language and culture, are the lifeblood of any small state. 

"Being an Estonian is an honor anywhere in the world. It is also a duty to the survival of our people. Our common task is to strengthen the connection between Estonia, and Estonia in the world. All our children must have the opportunity to grow up to be Estonian," the foreign minister, who this week attends a raft of different events connected with the 74th UN General Assembly, said.

Reinsalu also said that standing up for freedoms required a great deal of courage, exemplified by all those who stood side by side in the Baltic Chain, as well as those who supported them. This degree of cooperation is still needed today, to bring to the world a common message of freedom and to protect those peoples whose freedom is under attack, Reinsalu added.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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