|President of the Republic at the closing of the Year of the Book on 22 April 2001
Dear book people,
when opening the Year of the Book a year ago, I said that years of the book never end. Closing the Year of the Book this year I repeat it with even greater conviction. In my eyes, the quality of life can be reduced to the accuracy with which one generation delivers its experience to the next generations. Thinking that way, the borderline between information and life disappears and preservation remains. This applies to all times, even to these distant times when man did not exist yet.
If we return from that dizzying eternity to man and an Estonian, it is certainly just an insignificant part of the past, but important for us, as we are talking about an era when Estonians became more organised, consequently began to have more information, consequently became more literate and consequently the role of the book in the preservation and strengthening of Estonians increased. In comparison with other nations, increased communication has given to Estonians considerably more power over nature and has from that time on filled the gaps that serve as the borderline between existence and inexistence for each nation. We have had a state with very weak traits throughout centuries and we have lacked our own flag, our own army, our own science, our own great men and army leaders. Does self-cognition expect answers or raise questions? It is characteristic of man to want to find answers. Here, I presume, lies also the reason why book has had and is having such a central role in the history of our people, consequently also in the history of the development and declaration of our state. A few decades ago I wrote the statistics of 1937 in my diary: Estonia was the 10th state in Europe by its book production and the first by the number of people per book.
How can you explain it?
During the Year of the Book that ends today, the one hundred books that have influenced the life in Estonia have been identified. I would like to add some questions here. 93 of the one hundred books belonged to fiction. I do not believe it to be exact. Rather, this picture reflects our slightly one-sided textbooks of history and literature, and first of all our all too painful memories of the last period of Russification. Hans Kruus, towards whom I have a distant attitude, describes in his memoirs how his father bought a bag of superphosphate for his first borrowed money. From where did that word, unknown on tsarist Russia, reach the vocabulary of a farmer? From where did apple-trees and pear-trees, currants and gooseberries and - good heavens - even flowers appear in the gardens of farms? And seed grains and dairies and all these societies, co-operatives, brass bands and sports associations that were more numerous in Estonia and Livonia than in tsarist Russia? What made our entire landscape European long before independence? Books, what else.
In the week that just ended, two events actually distant from each other happened to sum up the Year of the Book: the exhibition of prohibited books in the Library of the University of Tartu, and the large commercial Baltic book fair in Tallinn. These are the opposite sides of our age: totalitarian prohibition times in the past, behind our back, during which respect for the book strengthened with anger against the prohibiting alien power, and the current time of independence which has increasingly accelerated the publishing of books.
During the Year of the Book, the fact that books carry along the Estonian language, one of the most important bases of our self-cognition, has been rightly rendered important. We live between the opposite sides of our age in that sense as well: we remember the time a little more than a decade ago when Estonia had to withstand desperately against the systematic efforts of the alien power to restrict the area of use of the Estonian language, but on the other hand the current raw market economy that reminds of the time when cattle is turned out to grass for the first time in spring can bring along carelessness towards culture and the language, if we count just money instead of reading books. But we can fortunately balance that with enough Northern conservatism - which also supported the idea of the Year of Book. And if the policy of the Republic of Estonia, above all the successful negotiations for the accession to the European Union, support it, the ability to make use of the opportunities open to us will depend on ourselves only. Commissioner Verheugen asked me three days ago: have you thought that there will now be Estonian translations also on Malta? The Estonian language is in our hands, consequently the Estonian book and the future of Estonia are in our hands.
The Year of the Book has been a success as all things done with the heart's fire are. The book has come closer to Estonians, and the word and thought of the writer have made our people a little better. A heartfelt thanks to the organisers of the event: because of your work Estonia has become a little stronger as well.
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