Address By Mr. Lennart Meri President Of The Republic Of Estonia At The 11th Plenary Meeting Of The Forty-Eighth Session Of The United Nations General Assembly September 30, 1993 New York

Mr. President,

Before commencing my address, I would like to express, on behalf of my nation and myself, my sincere sympathy with the people of India on this day of great tragedy.

Let me convey to you, Mr. President, my congratulations on your election to the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly at its forty-eighth session. Your election is a fitting tribute to your personal and professional qualities, and also to your country, the Republic of Guyana. As an Estonian, I have a special empathy with your homeland: much like Estonia, your country was liberated from colonial dependence and became a Member State of the United Nations. Like Estonia, your country remembers that independence is the decisive factor which permits small countries to share with great Powers equal responsibility for creating a better world, towards which all of us, seated here in this Hall, are striving.

To your predecessor, His Excellency Mr. Stoyan Ganev, I express my recognition for his proficiency in chairing the forty-seventh session. We also express our deep gratitude to Mr. Ganev for visiting Estonia and her sister States Latvia and Lithuania, and for his efforts to apply the moral authority of the United Nations towards removing the remaining vestiges of colonialism from the Baltic States.

To our neighbour in the General Assembly, the State of Eritrea, I express my sincerest welcome and congratulations on its finally joining the family of nations.

I would, however, like to take this opportunity to extend especially warm thanks to the Secretary-General, His Excellency Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who has given the United Nations and the whole world new hope through his strong moral conviction that we need not passively wait for conflicts to arise, but that conflicts should be prevented from arising; that the United Nations is, in the first place, an architect, whose building must not be allowed to be engulfed in flames; that the Organization is only secondarily a fire-fighter who rushes to extinguish fires inherited from the past. This is so even and perhaps especially when, metaphorically speaking, it happens that only a poor man's cowshed has caught fire - for after all, that was enough to burn down all of Chicago.

Let me express my appreciation and gratitude for Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali's radiant moral sense of responsibility and for the steadfastness with which he has defended the principle of preventive diplomacy. As a small State, Estonia well understands and desires to support the Secretary-General fully in his defence of the purposes and principles of the United Nations and in the implementation of preventive diplomacy.

Three years ago, in 1990, I visited the New York meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe as a foreign minister whose entry into the conference room was strictly prohibited. I was interviewed by television journalists in front of United Nations Headquarters, as chance had it. I stated then that the next time I would be here it would be for the raising of the Estonian flag. The journalists did not even attempt to hide their polite sympathy nor their desire to bring the interview quickly to an end. Did they even attempt to present such an "unrealistic" interview on their television programme?

One year later, in September 1991, I watched the raising of the Estonian flag on a United Nations flagpole and concluded that my mission had been completed. Today I am here for the third time to address the Assembly, and perhaps also those sympathetic journalists, realizing that my work as the first democratically elected post-war Estonian President has only just begun. It is my mission to inspire your minds with the idealistic self-confidence and hope which an occupied Republic of Estonia used to have in immensely larger volumes than it had freedom.

Today my words are also infused with self-confidence and hope. Estonia has been and is once again a State; Estonia has re-established its place under the sun. In this sense we share common attributes, experiences and goals with the vast majority of States represented here today. The majority of the States Members of the Assembly are only slightly larger or slightly smaller than Estonia, with its 47,000 square kilometres and 1.5 million inhabitants living on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Estonia was robbed of its independence and forced to be the colonial subject of an imperial Power, as was the case with the majority of the Members here today. Just as they did, so have we restored our independence at the cost of untold suffering. For Estonia, as for most of the Members here, this work is still incomplete. The United Nations General Assembly is the best place for uniting our forces, so that we can work together.

This however requires that the Second World War finally end for Estonia. For the Second World War is still continuing in Estonia in a rather peculiar way, because the foreign armed forces which occupied Estonia in 1940 still remain on our territory, regardless of General Assembly resolution 47/21. Estonia has two years patiently conducted negotiations on the withdrawal of these forces, but without positive results. Of course, we were aware that behind this rigid position stood the Soviet nomenklatura and the Russian so-called parliament, which was elected and acted on the basis of the Brezhnevite Soviet constitution and whose covert or at times even overt goal was to restore the Soviet Union in a modernized form. President Yeltsin was a prisoner of this imperialistically minded parliament.

For this reason, we consider the present moment especially opportune for President Yeltsin to strengthen the world's confidence in Russian democracy by withdrawing the remaining armed forces from Estonia and Latvia and by signing international agreements to this effect. This would guarantee stability and security for the Baltic region, which is an inseparable part of Europe's Nordic region - and that region, in turn, is an inseparable part of Europe.

In my correspondence with President Yeltsin I have emphasized my readiness to meet him in the nearest future. I would be grateful to the General Assembly, to the Security Council and to Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali if, with all their collective moral authority, they would help us rapidly to cut this Gordian knot. This is, after all, not only a problem for Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania: with this effort they would also be supporting the democratization of Russia. With the implementation of preventive diplomacy, they would be removing a potential source of conflict and would thereby strengthen the prestige of the United Nations itself. And last, but not least, by implementing international law equally in the interests of great Powers and of small States they would give back to all of us the hope that, even in terms of realpolitik, justice is singular and indivisible.

In support of that hope the United Nations could mandate a mission, to be led by an authoritative European politician, one in whom both Russia and the Baltic States could feel equally confident. The time is ripe for action. The rapid preparation of an international agreement is in the interests of both sides. When two years of negotiations conducted between a great Power and a small State remain unproductive, it is a sign of danger. Preventive diplomacy consists in the ability to recognize danger signals at an early stage and resolve them in a lightning-rod fashion. This is our first problem and our primary task.

At different stages, two different arguments were used in stalling and detouring the negotiations. First, the Russian side claimed it would be unable to find housing for forces withdrawn from the Baltic States. From a legal standpoint, this argument lacks any content whatsoever. The stationing of foreign forces on the territory of a sovereign State against the express will of that State and its people is in contradiction with international law and cannot be an item for negotiation. At the same time, I would like to repeat again that Estonia is ready, together with its Nordic neighbours and other partners, and to the extent that its resources permit, to assist Russia in the solution of this essentially humanitarian problem. We are grateful to our friends, who have promised housing construction aid in excess of $200 million, and we are prepared, with the help of these partners, to mobilize our construction industry towards this end. We have on several occasions publicly repeated and confirmed this readiness to our Russian partner.

The second argument for the maintenance of foreign armed forces and their installation on the territory of the Baltic States is in a curious way linked to human rights. According to this line of thinking, which has been promulgated by Russian hardliners primarily in the Western media, the continued presence of ex-Soviet armed forces in the Baltic States is required for the defence of the human rights of the Russians residing there. However, the Russian residents of Estonia have hardly ever supported this argument, since they have not wished to become pawns in a political game.

In this connection, I should like to take the opportunity to thank you, Mr. President, and you, Mr. Secretary-General, for the assistance of the United Nations. The Republic of Estonia had already enunciated, during the time of the League of Nations, and now it does so even more clearly, the basic principle that human rights are not the "internal affair" of any State. For this reason, on the question of human rights in Estonia we turned for expert opinions and advice not only to the United Nations, but also to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the Nordic Council. Thus, I can confirm that not one of the 15 missions invited by Estonia to inspect the situation firsthand has found human rights violations in Estonia. This has also been emphasized by many speakers during this General Assembly session. It was also, I am happy to note, emphasized by President Clinton in our recent meeting.

I am disappointed that the idea of human rights - which, for Estonia, is self-evident and sacrosanct, and for the lack of which Estonians themselves, during five decades of Communist totalitarianism, had to pay with the loss of their pride, their freedom and their blood in Soviet and Nazi concentration camps - has been cynically exploited for the restoration of the Soviet Union. And I am ashamed of some reputable journalists who were obviously unaware that the Republic of Estonia was the first State in the world to guarantee Jews and other minorities, as early as 1925, the right to cultural autonomy. Estonia will never stand idly by while anyone tries to manipulate human rights. For this reason, Estonia supports the creation of the post of a United Nations high commissioner for human rights and the expansion of the United Nations budget earmarked for the defence of human rights.

We wish to work to defend the human rights of all indigenous peoples. We defended the rights of some Siberian peoples during the decades of Soviet totalitarianism, although we had to do it alone and quietly. Now we intend to join forces and to do it, with the help of the United Nations, publicly.

I like to speak of the future in optimistic terms on assumption that we are capable of finding solutions to our pessimistic present, or to be more precise, that we are capable of applying these solutions, since they are already outlined in Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali's report "An Agenda for Peace" (A/47/277). Allow me, Mr. Secretary-General, to thank you wholeheartedly for the clear analysis and sober recommendations on the implementation of such key concepts as preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-keeping. The tragedy in Yugoslavia has reconfirmed the fact that fire-fighting is much more difficult than fire-prevention. This lesson, which is written in the Torah, the Bible and the Koran, is, thanks to the Secretary-General, now slowly penetrating the consciousness of international organizations. Preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-keeping can be a real hope for the United Nations on the condition that we learn to recognize danger, where and when it becomes manifest.

However, in a potential zone of conflict, peace-keeping must be strictly neutral. We must remember the proverb that "You should not let a fox mind the henhouse", that peace-keeping in a particular area cannot be turned over to those parties that have an obvious interest in the outcome of a conflict. Estonia supports the principles of democracy, the inviolability of borders and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter and in other international agreements. Consequently, we were disturbed - as, I am sure, many representatives were - by a suggestion of one national representative that the troops of one country should be allowed to intervene up to the borders of a State that no longer exists. I do not have in mind the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Estonia can only support a position whereby the choice of peace-keeping forces by the Security Council meets the approval of broad international opinion. On this condition, Estonia also feels a moral responsibility to participate in international peace-keeping according to its capabilities, as well as in other related activities.

This brings me to the consolidation of democracy and the free market economy in Estonia after 50 years of an absurd colonial command economy. Estonia has already been successful, but, together with other Members of the Organization, we could be even more successful. Democracy and the free market economy are interconnected, because they presuppose the right and the responsibility to freely choose. The former Soviet Union spent more money on repressing free thought than it ever did on the creation of its nuclear arsenal. The murder of freedom and the birth of aggression are two sides of the same coin. The first enemy of every totalitarian regime is the domestic enemy, and its first object of attack is free thought. Everyone present knows Adam Michnik's wonderful metaphor about how easy it is to make fish soup from an aquarium, but how difficult it is to make an aquarium from fish soup.

The main resource from which we have drawn the energy for the transformation of Estonia's economy has been the idealism of the Estonian people. This is a large resource, but it is not endless. I want to prevent exhaustion from setting in, exhaustion which could be followed by political apathy and thereby by a desire to be free both of rights and obligations. The replacement of a command economy by a market economy is a disintegrative process both at the State and individual level as long as the market has not started working. Once the market is working, it works for economic and political integration. Therefore, Estonia is more interested in trade, not aid, and therefore we work actively to keep and expand our free trade agreement through negotiations with Brussels.

My aim has been to suggest that the international community has gained new members - the countries in transition. Here the question arises whether the United Nations has realized our special possibilities and our special needs. Estonia does not belong in either the first, second or third world. Do we really need a fourth world, or do we need the ability to react more sensitively to the one and single world? Should we not be in constant dynamic change, in order to preserve ourselves and the idea of the United Nations?

I offer as an example an issue that is as unpleasant to the Assembly as it is to me: the division by 15 of the financial commitments of the former Soviet Union, including its United Nations assessment. Estonia has stated repeatedly, and I do not hesitate to state here again, that we cannot and we will not accept this, as we were never legally part of the Soviet Union. Times have changed; our world community must realize this.

We also feel a responsibility to assist others as we have been assisted during the past few years. While Estonia is still reeling from the disastrous consequences of a 50-year occupation, we do have well-educated specialists who could be of service to the United Nations in parts of the world where their skills would be welcome. And I should like to offer the experience we have gained in starting up a country and in creating a new, stable national currency.

Allow me to close with some very personal comments. The United Nations is approaching its fiftieth anniversary. The post-war world is approaching its fiftieth anniversary. The United Nations is acting on the basis of an unaltered Charter. But, as I mentioned above, the world has been altered totally. This ever-increasing contrast is most strongly felt by the most sensitive United Nations Members, the small States. I believe that small States, the world's majority, have the obligation to redefine the international order. The large nations have the larger obligations, the small States the larger possibilities. This is not a contradiction, but a balance. After all, an Inuit kayak can change its course immediately, while a supertanker needs perilously much time and space to do so.

The best place to redefine the world order is the General Assembly of the United Nations, I am deeply grateful to Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali who, sensing this need, has entrusted into our hands his vision of a stable world, entitled "An Agenda for Peace". As a representative of one of Europe's smallest countries and oldest nations, I should like to suggest that the prevalent tendency of the past century, and especially the past decades, has been an increase in the number of small countries and a reduction in the number of large ones. The issue of increasing the number of permanent members of the Security Council has been introduced into the agenda, and Estonia supports this as a step towards accepting today's new realities. Personally, I should like to put to you, members of the General Assembly, the following question: should the Security Council not also include as a member with veto power a representative of the world's majority, the small nations?

I do not have an answer to this question and neither do you. This is not tragic. The opposite would be tragic. Seeking for answers is the United Nations' future and our common hope. Today people speak of the fatal differences between cultures. Thereby the inevitability of conflicts is suggested.

Conflicts are not made inevitable only because someone believes in Buddha, another in Jehovah, another in Christ or Allah or the shamans of Siberia. Cultures have to be different to allow man, with his rights and duties, to look like man, to look like hope. The day before coming here I read a book by the famous Finnish scholar Matti Kuusi on what hope means to man. The Mexican says that you cannot fill your stomach with hope, but it will keep the soul in your mouth; a Kanuri African will say that hope is the pillar of life; the Filipino says that daring is the fruit of hope and the Maltese says that he who gives up hope dies.

This diversity reflects the unity of mankind. And to make it easier for you to keep the unity of man and the world, I will add for salt, pepper and enjoyment a proverb from my shores, the shores of the Baltic: never lose your hopelessness. Hopelessness is the inevitable shadow of hope, and the ever-persevering United Nations is the collective hope of mankind.

I thank you for your hopeful patience.