The President of the Republic on the Opening Session of the IX Riigikogu on September 10, 2001
Dear Chairman of the Riigikogu,
dear fellow countrymen!
From this rostrum, I would like to express my esteem to the Riigikogu. The legislative power bears the main responsibility for Estonia's development. In many cases, it has been forgotten to recognise the role of the Riigikogu in the success of the Republic of Estonia. This is the weakness of our democratic practice.
At the same time, neither must the Riigikogu distance itself from the people, in whom the supreme power is vested. Here, I believe, there is reason for consideration for all of us: why is it the Riigikogu that merits the least of the citizens' trust? It would be inaccurate to blame this alienation on the youth of our democratic traditions.
We should, rather more pedagogically, consider that our restored state has only been functioning for ten years. We do still not understand the different roles of different public institutions. Parliament is indeed the place for arguing, but also when arguing, it constitutes a whole, including both the coalition and the opposition. Only as a whole can it constitute an institution. I do not like the word "road roller". Nor do I like offending slogans. Each law is the creation of both the coalition and the opposition. I would like to thank the Riigikogu for passing the Penal Code, I and I hope that also the Right of Obligation Act will be processed fast.
Today, opening the autumn session of the Riigikogu in 2001, I am doing it for the last time as the Head of State. But the Republic of Estonia will go on. Our steps towards the future will be even firmer, when we know where we are going as a state. And where the world around us is going and, where Europe is going in today's universalising or globalising environment? And what role will Estonia have in the world and in Europe in ten years' time? This question - and above all, the answer to this question - should be much clearer before our eyes than it only too often tends to be in our everyday life. As politicians, we should look much further than the finish line of the next elections. If the interests of political parties are placed first, and Estonia's interests only second, our movement may come to a halt. This is why I want to stress that we should proceed from strategic and scientifically founded plans in making any kind of decisions. Every law will have an impact on our lives. But the total network of laws should be directed in concord with those strategic plans. Then we will guarantee Estonia's success and fast development towards desired goals.
What are the realities that Estonia should always take into account? Estonia is and will be a small nation, and small nations are more sensitive to the flow of times. Our clock ticks faster. We always have less time. When compared to the big ones, our political inertia is small. The more careful should our attitude towards our population, the reproduction of our identity and culture be. This includes all the population problems: increase problems, the proportion of births and abortions, the child benefit system, the spatial location of the population in regional policy, the solution of the problems of unemployment and lack of labour force, and many others. It also includes the preservation of the independent existence, the identity and the culture of Estonians. Estonian culture is not preserved in the Estonian National Museum - although this is also important - but above all by the reproduction of Estonian cultural elite. For a small nation, the thread between the past and the future is very fragile. We have one Jaan Kross, one Ain Kaalep, and one Arvo Kruusement, one Hando Runnel and one Paul-Eerik Rummo. Imagine what we would look like, if war or terror had deprived us from the existence of those five men? And the world around us is not becoming simpler, it is becoming more complicated. Also the tasks that Estonia faces are becoming more complicated. Our two foreign policy priorities - and I am glad that in this question there is consensus in the Riigikogu - the European Union and NATO are not end stations, but the starting points of our work. Are we ready for start? Are we open enough? Are we educated enough?
What may have been enough ten years ago, need not be that now.
There is a point in summing things up if it helps us to visualise our future. I am leaving my office at the moment when the President elected by you and the representatives of local governments will swear his oath of office at this very spot.
In my speech held at the opening session of this Riigikogu, in March 1999, I said the following. I quote:
"The rule of law has unfortunately been the weakest link of the Estonian State. According to the Estonian constitution, the State must be arranged so that no constitutional institution can gain the upper hand. Once more, I repeat the basic truth of our constitution: there must be balance and separation of powers in Estonia. Balance and dialogue between the constitutional institutions, balance and dialogue between the State and the Estonian citizens. Not the racecourse spirit of who outruns who. First and foremost, no party or government must be allowed to speak on behalf of the State. We know the outcome that is bound to follow. In order to attain Estonia's foreign policy priorities, and to maintain Estonia's continuity, we must first and foremost make the rule of law much more efficient. I am glad that the need to correct our Constitution was not mentioned in the bustle of the election campaign. For this, a dispassionate analysis of the strong and weak points of our statehood is necessary, independently of day-to-day politics."
The Constitution adopted in Estonia in 1992 has functioned well. It has effectively formed the foundation of the democratic social order. The democratic mechanisms established in the Constitution are functioning. The people are not alienated from the Constitution and think of it as their Constitution. Estonia has a worthy Constitution. But besides the long constitutional tradition, also the development of the Constitution itself is a valuable facet of the constitutional order.
The Constitution is the skeleton of our state. The dialogue between the state and the citizen is the soul of the Constitution.
The current system for electing the President will provide Estonia with a worthy Head of State. I would like to reiterate here: each new President of Estonia will be better than the previous one. I believe in you, dear members of the Riigikogu, I believe in the electoral committee, and above, all, I believe in the citizens of the Republic of Estonia who have elected you. Our partners in the world are watching us closely. The world is holding Estonia in its palm.
Protecting the Constitution has been one of the major tasks of my two terms of presidency. I have protected it from amendments born of day-to-day politics and said that the perpetuity of the Constitution is a self-sufficient value. I have protected the Constitution from misinterpretations and formalism. But today, I am speaking as a Head of State resigning from office. Within a few weeks, I will be just President, not the President of the Republic. Resignation from politics provides the Head of State with a unique opportunity. An opportunity and also an obligation to speak impartially and to take steps whose impartiality is beyond doubt. Therefore, I now present my observations on the needs to amend the Constitution. The legal background of those proposals will be waiting for my successor in office, who will decide on further actions to be taken to amend the Constitution.
I have the following proposals.
First: I consider it reasonable to introduce the direct electing of the President to the Constitution. I hope that the next President will be elected by the people in the year 2006.
The Republic of Estonia is costly, and the Republic of Estonia is dear. It is costly to the citizen's pocket and dear to his heart. The Estonians are a small nation. Therefore, their country feels much more like a home to them than a big country to its citizens. The direct election of the President will give the people a possibility to have a say in ruling the country. A possibility that the people are missing today. It seems to me also that the need to give the people more immediate mechanisms for ruling the country is beyond doubt in the general atmosphere of alienation.
When composing the Constitution, the Constitutional Assembly feared that too much power would concentrate in the hands of a single person. This principle was and is correct. Balance is the precondition of the continuity of life and of a state. It is the balanced separation of powers that forms the foundation of the state. The direct election of the President should be accompanied by mechanisms balancing the competence of the President and other constitutional institutions.
One possibility is to create a new system of legal surveillance that would help to solve all the competence disputes between the state institutions of the Republic of Estonia. The constitutional practice so far has demonstrated that the Republic of Estonia needs an institution, to which the legislator has given the right to solve conclusively the disputes e.g. between the government and the parliament, or the President and the parliament. And to give a clear, well-reasoned constitutional judgement. In Estonia, we play table tennis with accusations that this or that constitutional institution has violated the Constitution. This is irresponsible and undermines the citizen's trust of the state.
The Parliament is not the state. The President is not the state. And the state does definitely not mean the party and the government. The state is the balanced and friendly co-operation of all the named institutions, and also those that were not named. I consider the discussion of this issue to be one of the key questions of constitutional law. So far, the Legal Chancellor Allar Jõks, the former Legal Chancellor Eerik-Juhan Truuväli, and Rait Maruste, Judge of the European Court of Human Rights and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as well as Jüri Raidla, barrister and former Minister of Justice, have participated in the discussion. I am certain that they will also lend their support to the Riigikogu and the next Head of State, if the next Head of State should support my initiative.
On the Mourning Day, July 14, I made a statement where I welcomed the Riigikogu's intent to draft a statement that would pronounce the communist regime, which had so many victims, to be equally criminal to the regime of the Nazis. I will repeat this statement to you, esteemed Parliament, word for word: "In World War II, which broke out of the Hitler-Stalin pact, and in the resistance movement, the Republic of Estonia lost one tenth of her citizens. For a people of one million, the execution of the country's political leaders, officers, local government officials and intellectuals, the deportation of their families and the confiscation of their property by the occupying powers meant a criminal method for the elimination of the nation as a whole. For this, the NSDAP that was pronounced criminal on the Nuremberg trial with its leadership and power structures, and the Communist (bolshevist) Party of All Soviet Union - the Communist Party of the Soviet Union with their political bureau and its subordinate power structures - the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), the People's Commissariat of State Security (NKGB), and the State Security Committee (KGB) - and the "troikas" and innumerable other repressive institutions, whom the totalitarian power entitled to pronounce death sentences and other punishments without trial, but which so far have not been pronounced criminal, bear equal responsibility. These organisations are criminal, and the genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes they have perpetrated shall not lapse. Estonian law rests on international law and does not consider membership in a criminal organisation to be a penal offence. Only individuals, whom an independent court has found to have participated in killing people, deportation of families, or acquisition of the property remaining in Estonia, shall be held responsible. Pronouncing totalitarian regimes to be criminal, notwithstanding whether they have called themselves leftist or rightist, proceeds from the historical experience of Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians, and I have no doubt that our historical experience is a valuable addition to the legal system of the European Union and self-realisation of the democratic world." End quote. Handing over the "Broken Cornflower" badges, I was convinced that the entire historical experience of Estonia undersigns this judgement. Not in anger, but with understanding of and faith in justice.
On Mothers' Day this year, I spoke at the Estonia Concert Hall about alcohol, and of the fact that about three hundred people annually die of alcohol poisoning. Today, our people, Estonian people, are in agony in hospitals. Those people of Pärnu County died because of alcohol. This is the legacy of the Soviet life environment, and our disgrace. It is our failures today that are to blame.
I ask the Riigikogu to rise and commemorate the victims.
Your next year of office will bring a lot of responsibilities, but I know none that has ever been different. The next year will be difficult. It will have a decisive impact on our movement towards the European Union and NATO. More than ever, we now need inner political concord in deciding strategic questions and sensibility for perceiving the international situation and also Estonia's position within it.
So, first, there is the question of our strategic capability,
second, the need to understand the uniqueness of our small Estonia,
third, the continuation and the development of our Constitution,
fourth, the question of our memory,
and fifth and last, I would once more like to thank you for the brave work done by all the Riigikogu memberships: some tasks have been completed, and there are new ones waiting. This is how a free and balanced state realises itself.