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The President of the Republic at the Palamuse Song Festival Stage on June 2, 2001
02.06.2001

Estonia Remembers


Dear fellow countrymen,

The song that we just heard is ''What Is This Country''. It was composed by Siiri Sisask, and the words are by Peeter Volkonski, who until recently had a long beard. I know Peeter ever since he was born, and I have known his father since 1949. I was still a student at the time. And perhaps, also the story of his father's life belongs here, to these beautiful trees and restless crows. He was born in Switzerland, and lived in Paris; and after World War II, the Volkonski family was lured by the Soviet propaganda to return to the country of their ancestors. They reached the Soviet border and there, arriving form Paris, they were immediately taken to hot sauna to kill the lice, which was a standard procedure at the time, and from there, directly to Siberia. At the time, Andrei was at the age of these Young Eagles here in front of me. But he was talented, and he was given permission to live at Ivanovo, near Moscow, where he played music at restaurants at nights, and was allowed to study at the Moscow Conservatoire in daytime.

This is the answer to the question ''what is this country?''. This is the answer to the question why we all have gathered here today. Cornflowers were destroyed wherever the communists and the nazis came to power, and there is no family in Estonia that has not been subjected to the violence of these foreign powers - sometimes indirectly, but in most cases directly. These common feelings - the sorrow of bereavement, but even more so the joy of reunion - have brought us together today.

I remember crossing the Narva River in a long train. I have written about it several times, and I even feel a little embarrassed when repeating it once again today. I remember a red car that followed our echelon in June 1941. A couple of times, the driver managed to get close to our echelon, and shouted: ''You won't be crossing the Narva River!'' I was quite worried, as I was waiting for an explosion. But the train, all those carriages full of men, women, and children, crossed the bridge quite peacefully. It was about ten kilometres from the bridge, on the other side, that the train stopped, because in the men's carriage, someone had managed to prise open the floor and lower himself on the sleepers from the moving train; but this was noticed by the guards. We heard, and I also saw through a small window the chain of guards running towards the forest; guns were fired, dogs were barking. I do not know the outcome of this event, but for me, this was the beginning of what we now call deportations.

At the time, the word we used was ''banishment'', this was an official term. And much later, when we returned from Russia and met Estonians here in Estonia again, I noticed that in the meantime, during the German times, ''to deport'' and ''deportation'', words that had not been used in peacetime, had found their way back to the Estonian language. Older people here, who remember the media of Russian times, can tell that these words were not used in the media at that time. They were born during the German occupation, it was a word from the German occupation period, and had to vanish again during the Russian occupation when they tried to rename everything. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have known both the Russian and the German, both communist and nazi occupation as a first-hand experience.

More than any other small country in Europe, we have been ground by those heavy grindstones. And the reason for this is very simple: the aim of Russia, the Soviet Union, was not to occupy Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - also the Germans did this to small countries like Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands - their aim was an occupation that would never let us build up the Republic of Estonia again; and this is also the reason why their preparations were so manifold. I have read the orders of marshal Meretskov, signed in June 1940. In the third clause of the order there is a most interesting sentence: namely, the Red Army had to cut Estonia off from the sea and also from land, and to make very sure that none of the members of Estonian government and parliament could escape abroad. The guiding force behind this idea was first and foremost the elimination of the Republic of Estonia. And also the deportations were planned to eliminate of the Republic of Estonia. The lists of people to be deported were drawn up already at the beginning of 1939, long before the beginning of World War II; although many anticipated the impending World War II. So who were on those lists? First of all, our political leaders, including of course the president of the Republic, General Johan Laidoner, the Commander of the Defence Forces; our members of Parliament, ministers, local government leaders, more important members of the Defence League, schoolteachers - all those who support the state. And this was carried through. This was carried through in 1941, methodically; and when after the war, it became apparent that the war chariots had not succeeded in killing the hope of Estonians, it was followed by the second, the third, and - in March 1949 - the especially horrible fourth wave of deportations, which took away 23,000 people of a population that had diminished to 900,000. This was followed by two more waves of deportations, the last of them in 1950.

These are Estonia's losses, and we commemorate them. We commemorate all those who never found their way home to their families from Siberia and faraway battlefields. Above all, we commemorate the resolve that compelled people to fight for Estonia even when it was almost impossible. I think that the journalists who say that the Broken Cornflower is the Estonian President's farewell to you, are mistaken. This is not the case. I am not intending to leave you. I will always be living in Estonia. It is just that fate would have it that on the forthcoming 14 June, it will be 60 years from the first major wave of deportations. For those who still believed in the Russian communism, it was probably the harshest lesson - a lesson that turned 700 years of Estonian history upside down. The older generation remembers that in Estonian history, Germany and the German landed gentry were never popular, they had always been our adversaries. With the deportation of 14 June, the history of Estonia was turned upside down, and people began desperately to look forward to the arrival of German nazi troops as their redeemers. Also this hope vanished when it became clear that Germany had no intention whatsoever to restore Estonia's lost independence - and this was the second lesson we had to learn. This lesson taught us that a small country is very vulnerable, if it does not plan its fate very far ahead.

A small country can defend itself, but it will be a short-term defence if it has chosen to stand quite alone. This is why I would also like to use this gathering here to give you faith, especially self-reliance, because the times we are living now differ from the times of Estonia before World War II like day and night. Before World War II, Estonia was proud, self-confident, and wealthy, we were developing faster than Finland and it was our great mistake that we separated us completely from Europe. We were on our own, we were self-confident, and everything that had been happening behind our back did indeed come to us as a stab from behind. This could not happen in our world today. We can only wish strength to our politicians and young diplomats who have successfully represented Estonia all over the world, and whose efforts have renewed the knowledge about Estonia also in countries far away from us. It is owing to their efforts that also your fate may be known to the world. And it is to avoid the recurrence of such events in Europe that the democratic countries of Europe have joined into the European Union. And they have joined NATO to protect the European Union. It is also Estonia's goal to accede to these two organisations. We will get there sooner or later, and the path that takes us there and resolve that compels us to choose this path come from our past. We can forgive everything, but must forget nothing. And it seems to me that also here, the people of Estonia have set an example to many. I am glad that today, we no longer feel this hatred or make those funny appeals that I could see ten years ago. We have understood much more deeply, that only our joint efforts can bring us prosperity, and that Estonia is able to exist as an independent democratic country. We are not wealthy today - we are now trying to make up for the time when we were cut off from the rest of the world. Just consider that ten years ago, a foreign car standing here would have been a curiosity, attracting boys and girls, but also grown-ups. We were behind the iron curtain. Today, many of you have been abroad, and many of you know much more clearly how far behind we still are. We have not always known how to make up for the lost time, but we can only make up for it together. And co-operation means that on the day of Broken Cornflower, we must understand not only our duties to the past, but also to the future, to ensure that our children and grandchildren could have a life that our parents could not even dream of - this is the meaning of ''Estonia Remembers'', and this is the appeal of the Broken Cornflower.

I would like to thank you all for coming here. With this gathering, we commemorate everybody whom we have lost, we commemorate the misery and humiliation we have suffered, but we do it with calm and confidence, because we are the winners and the big eastern neighbour who started the infamous war against the Republic of Estonia, no longer exists. This is what the justice of history and the justice of the Republic of Estonia is all about, and also the Broken Cornflower serves this justice today. I would like to thank all of you heartily, and to shake hands cordially with everyone who has been through those hard times - in prison camps, in banishment, wherever or whenever.

Thank you.

 

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