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The President of the Republic on the Symposium ''New Balance of Power'' at the St. Gallen University in Zurich, on May 19, 2001

The Role of Small Countries in the Cultural Space of Europe

Dear Mr. Chairman,
Dear Mr. Schmidheiny,
Ladies and gentlemen!

First of all, let me thank Mr. Stephan Schmidheiny and the Max Schmidheiny Foundation for the Prize of Freedom (Freiheitspreis), which this time went to the head of one of the smallest states of Europe. The company of your previous laureates is most honourable. I was very glad that in 1990, the laureate of your prize was Radio Free Europe. I gladly admit that as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia in 1992, I nominated this trumpet of freedom for the Nobel Prize for peace. In the decades of communist dictatorship, penetrating the Iron Curtain and the noise of Soviet jammers, it brought Estonia messages from another planet, the planet of Freedom. We heard its voice like you heard Armstrong's voice from the moon. The message was the same: there is life out here! Of course, Estonia knew this anyway, as did Latvia and Lithuania. Yet the repetition of simple truths is most important in everyday life. I am happy, and grateful to you, ladies and gentlemen, for inviting me to the company to which we have, through the hardest decades, been bound by common ideals and, what is even more important, a strong conviction that we will also carry these common ideals to life in our country, in Estonia.

Mr. Chairman - yesterday at the reception I was asked to what extent Estonia was dependent on Russia. My answer was that Estonia depended on Russia less than Switzerland. I am very grateful for that question, because it proves how big Europe is, and yet how little known. Let me say a few words about Estonia. Estonia is situated on the coast of the Baltic Sea. The Gulf of Finland separates it from Finland, Lake Peipsi separates it from Russia, and one thousand five hundred islands, or about 150 kilometres, separate it from Sweden. 12,000 years ago, after the last Ice Age, our ancestors settled in Estonia and later also in Finland, and we have remained true to our country ever since. Big migrations have not affected us, and therefore Estonians, and Finns, whose language is closely related to ours, can be considered the most ancient population of Europe. Ever since the thirteenth century, we have been under the crown of the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark, and spoken Estonian at home and German in the city. The language was a marker of social, not ethnic origin. Here at this university today, it is my pleasure to point out that I myself come from Tartu University, which was founded by the Swedish king Gustav Adolf in 1632 in order to spread higher education among Estonians and Finns. Estonia is an academic republic. Our national flag - blue, black and white - was born as the flag of the Estonian Students' Society and was inaugurated as the national flag in February 1918, before the declaration of independence. For two years, 1918-1920, we fought the Red Army that had invaded Estonia; in our War of Liberty, we experienced terror, mass graves and deportations, and succeeded finally to conclude the Tartu Peace Treaty with Soviet Russia. We got our national coat of arms from the Danish crown. The three golden Danish lions you can see on it have also found their way to the coat of arms of the British royal family. Thus, Estonia is one of the countries born of the crumbling of the Ottoman, the Habsburg, the Hohenzollern, and the Romanov empires. It is true that for Estonia, both World War II and resistance only ended in 1990, with the first free elections to the Parliament. The state as well as ownership relations were restored on the principle of continuity: the agreements, rights, and obligations that had been valid before World War II were restored. Estonia did not establish, but restored her diplomatic relations with Switzerland, but also with the USA and Germany, who had never recognised the Soviet occupation of our country in World War II. The reverse side has been the frantic idealism of the Estonians attempting to make up for the time lost during the decades of dictatorship. Today we can say that Estonia has been successful. Our Kroon, or crown, is fixed to the German mark and has maintained its stability, because our Constitution requires us to pass a balanced budget. All our economy has been privatised. The European Union is Estonia's trade partner to the extent of 80%, and the rest of our export goes to Japan, the United States, China and Singapore. We produce electronic appliances, computers, furniture, and chemicals. Five years ago, we launched the Tiger Leap programme in order to ensure that our schools, enterprises, and our Government would get access to the Internet. Today, Estonia's number of Internet penetrations per capita is higher than in France; we have already reached the level of Germany. Also this presentation will be available at my homepage in a couple of dozen minutes. As for mobile phones, we are among the keenest users in Europe; recently we won the Eurovision singing contest, and there are more cars per capita in Estonia than there are in France. We have remained true to liberal economic policy and as a result, created a favourable atmosphere for investments. Estonia has one of the highest amounts of investments per capita in Europe, and we are the first in the region now known as Central Europe, but once as Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain. In ten years, Estonia has changed beyond recognition, and this change is best characterised by the six million tourists who visited our country last year - for Switzerland, this is not much, but for a country with a million inhabitants, it is quite a lot. The Republic of Estonia and the people of Estonia have been in a hurry. Why? In Estonia's opinion, Europe is still not ready.

Mr. Chairman, today's symposium has ''New Balance of Power'' as its general topic of discussion, as you kindly informed me in English; and the heading of my presentation is ''The Role of Small Countries in the Cultural Space of Europe''. To a superficial eye, these subjects might seem to contradict each other. The balance of power was already addressed on the Vienna conference in 1815, and at the time after the Versailles, but on both cases, the balance swerved. The balance created by the Hitler-Stalin pact first led to the occupation of Poland by the totalitarian allies, and to the occupation of Estonia and her neighbours by the Soviet Union - in other words, to World War II with the consequent severing of Europe and the disappearance of several small countries behind the Iron Curtain.

This also was a balance - balance based on fear, arms race, and the Cold War. Let us keep in mind that the securing of world peace was most actively discussed immediately before the outbreak of World War II. To my mind, this is the bitterest lesson Europe has learned, because it attempted to preserve the balance of powers by sacrificing principles. Europe's words were democratic, whereas the deeds were imperialistic. Let us consider the re-armament of the Nazi Germany, the Anschluss of Austria, the division of Czechoslovakia, and the annexation of the Lithuanian Klaipeda to the Third Reich, and juxtapose it with the genuine belief of several Heads of State that Europe, thus blackmailed, was approaching a period of serene peace. It was believed in the little naïve Estonia, in Finland and in Sweden; and when Chamberlain landed in England on his way back from Munich, he professed ''peace for our time''. Children learn about this at schools in Europe, in Switzerland, but for Estonia, it is not a chapter in textbook but the most emphatic part of our identity, namely: security has a high price. In this experience, Estonia proceeds from her democratic tradition and the massive human losses our country bore under the communist and nazi occupations, both during World War II and in the so-called peacetime that followed.

Hence also the priorities of Estonia today - accession to NATO and the European Union, and the dilemma of Estonia today: the population supports accession to NATO more than accession to the European Union. This does not trouble me. Above all, I mention it as an example how highly Estonia values her sovereignty. Today, Estonia allocates 1.8% of the state budget to defence expenditure, and next year, our defence expenditure will increase to two per cent. During the communist dictatorship, which brought Estonia not only human losses, but also a strong wave of russification, our identity was best protected by the common values that have bound us to the cultural space of Europe throughout centuries. Also today, it is clear to us that if we don't want the European Union, we won't get to NATO. But there is something about the identity of a small country and a small nation that distinguishes it from big nations. I mean the knowledge that it is small. And thus its duty to protect its language, culture and lifestyle is much more imperative than that of big nations.

Is this a sentimental attitude? No, to the contrary. Looking at Western Europe, we can see that it is just a small peninsula at the peak of the Eurasian continent, today almost devoid of natural resources - and still an engine for the development of technology, a forge of new ideas. Europe was born of the differences between cultures, languages and nations. Thus, it would be a good idea to strengthen our co-operation, and to maintain the balance between small and big nations also in united Europe.

I regret that the resolve to unite Europe fast has diminished today. I understand the necessity of the institutional future of the European Union and also the discussions it has evoked, but this should not delay the acceptance of new members. I favour the idea of a bicameral European Parliament, where the existing European Parliament, with member states are represented proportionately, could be maintained as the lower house. In the upper house, each member state would have one vote. This structure would give a feeling of certainty to the citizens of both bigger and smaller member states, assuring them that their wishes would be taken into account.

In this connection, ladies and gentlemen, let me dwell on four subjects.

First. Our world is not growing, but the number of countries in it increases. There are no signs of this tendency abating. The number of small countries is continuing to grow, and it would be light-minded of the world to close its eyes to this reality. The number of small countries can only grow on the account of big ones. In the democratic parts of the world this growth serves to reduce tensions and evoke new creative potential, whereas in the non-democratic parts of the world it increases tensions and induces new crises. The latter is especially valid for the regions where colonialist relationships nurture totalitarian regimes or vice versa, where totalitarian lifestyle has preserved colonialist relations.

Second. There are less than half a million people living in the five smallest countries of the world, this is about six thousand times less than the population of five of the biggest nations. Hence a question: is there some kind of minimum acceptable population, below which a state is no longer able to function as a state? And to reverse the question: is there a maximum acceptable population, beyond which a state is no longer able to function efficiently?

Third. Simultaneously with the emergence of new (small) countries, which may be a tendency best characterising the whole of past century, there is also a reverse tendency that we call globalisation and the emergence of supranational structures. Is the first going to dissolve in the second one? Is a small country just some kind of an embryonic intermediate stage that has to be discarded after birth? This is a question, ladies and gentlemen, to which Estonia's hopes and worries - also those we feel when following the progress of internal reforms in the European Union - are related. This question, which has become so actual today, takes me to my fourth and for me, the most important issue, namely:

Fourth. The production cost of a small state is high. Sustaining a small country's constitutional institutions, diplomatic missions, national defence, membership fees of international organisations, legal system and countless other structures, including international obligations, is a considerably heavier burden for taxpayers than it is in big countries. What is the true reason for small nations' preference of this ostensibly irrational solution: sovereign, although a more expensive lifestyle?

Ladies and gentlemen, the answer is simple. A human being is mortal. And therefore the thought that he may be the last representative of his nation, his language, his lifestyle, habits, values, history and all his generations so far, is unbearable for him. A human being only lives within his culture, is born into it and leaves it with the knowledge that with his life's work, he has added to its immortality.

A human being enacts himself by enhancing his own identity and the identity of his country. Moreover: the standardisation of nuts and bolts, as well as standardisation of measures, weights, the octane number of fuel and also human rights has freed human nature from routine and enabled it to devote itself to creative tasks, to the shaping of such identity that is characteristic mostly or only of himself, his culture, his language, his country. The variety of patterns of thought, when it is based on the common democratic values of Europe, is Europe's strength and the propelling force of its development. So if Europe wants to remain Europe, it should also take care to support and deepen the diversity of European cultures, or in other words, the internal differences of Europe.

And this is how the mission of small countries in Europe is manifested. A small country is more vulnerable, and therefore also more sensitive and quicker to respond to the hegemony that is alien to Europe. It is the mission of small countries to be the barometer of European balance. A small country can only be defined relatively. When compared to Finland, Estonia is a small country, but Finland is a small country when compared to Sweden or Poland, just as Poland is a small country when compared to Germany. And Russia when compared to China. Thus, we can only speak of tendencies.

If the development of Europe should assume a paternalist attitude towards even the smallest of small countries, such tendency may eventually destroy the phenomenon of Europe. Small countries may be a handful, but they are the bearers of European balance. If there were no small countries in Europe, we would have to invent them. And it is not a coincidence that the European Union was born of the initiative of three small countries.

The phenomenon of Europe is the art of maintaining balance, and something more: the art of shifting this balance gradually in the direction favourable for small countries, in the interests of preserving Europe as an idea.

This is the toughest nut of the internal reforms of the European Union, the one that we in Estonia have managed to crack or at least to put into words.


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