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83rd anniversary speech held by H.E. Mr. Lennart Meri President of the Republic of Estonia

The President of the Republic on the 83rd Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia at the Estonia Theatre Hall

Dear fellow countrymen,
Dear guests,

President Lennart Meri on the 83rd Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia

Let me heartily congratulate you all on the eighty-third anniversary of the Republic of Estonia!

This is my first speech in this country in the new century and the new millennium. When looking at modern Estonia, it seems incredible that we regained our independence only ten years ago. The landscape has changed beyond recognition. Estonia is part of the open world and the open global market. We are open to new ideas and new goods. People move back and forth freely in this frontierless world. Within the last ten years, more shops and department stores have been opened than ever before in the history of Estonia, and they are absolutely full of customers. There is a temptation then to trust the statistics and to speak of Estonia as a welfare state, and, according to the United Nations living standards statistics, we have indeed been accepted into the family of wealthy nations. Or at least we are well on our way. Our own statistics corroborate this fact: the average monthly salary in Estonia has risen to over 5,000 kroons. And what's most important: Estonia has a strong voice. International trust in Estonia is at an uncommonly high level and, as a future member of the European Union and NATO, our country does indeed have realistic prospects of ensuring the welfare and security of its people and of the state. This has been the common denominator in the manifestos of all our major political parties, with the exception of the small Democratic Labour Party, and today, on the 83rd anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, I can assure you that these goals are closer to being reached than ever before.

From the viewpoint of our country and our people, ten years is an incredibly short period of time. I was interested to know what the newspaper ''Rahva Hääl'' (Voice of the People) had written before we regained our place on the world stage. And so I ordered a copy from 1981. My fifteen-year-old daughter read this Estonian paper incredulously, as if it had been written in some illegible hieroglyphs with Estonian case endings. The issue of February 24, 1981 was expanded to eight pages - and I am now appealing to your sense of humour - filled with guess what: the presentation given by Leonid Brezhnev at the 26th Congress of the Communist Party. I browsed through the paper to see whether I could find the word ''Estonia'' there. I did. In the weather forecast, which was about eleven lines long: it was forecast that the temperature in Tallinn would be between zero and minus two. And words, words, words' Still, let me quote: ''What we decide during these days will in many respects shape the face of our country at the end of the twentieth century, on the threshold of the third millennium,'' the presentation read. In the Estonian Drama Theatre they staged a performance of a well-known Estonian play ''Tuulte pöörises'' (In the Whirlwind), although this was not announced in the paper of February 24 but in the previous day's issue. I must admit that I do not regret the time I spent reading those newspapers. I did not learn anything new, but suddenly I sensed much more acutely the horror and the mental void from which we had to break free. This, let us not forget, was the official face of the Estonian SSR, and it had nothing to do with the people of Estonia at all. Enn Tarto and his companions were being held in concentration camps and they were maturing into statesmen. The current Minister of Defence, Jüri Luik, was just fourteen years old. The so-called ''Letter of the Forty'' was written in the same year. Forbidden books, ideas, radio broadcasts, longings and hopes were already forming a tangible landscape, against which the media was hermetically sealed. Let us leave it to the discretion of future historians to evaluate how the totalitarian faēade existed in Estonia side by side with that other Estonia, the Estonia which was growing in strength and defiance and, surprisingly, also in unanimity and political skills, so much so that just ten years later it succeeded in regaining its independence, restoring its diplomatic relations with the world, and returning to its lawful place in international life. Dear fellow countrymen, this speaks of the amazing vitality of the Estonian people!

But what about twenty years from now?

The world around us has already become extremely complicated, and the need to have precise answers ready for tomorrow is growing rapidly. And yet the most heated topics of discussion in Europe, the United States and Russia today seem distressingly remote to Estonian citizens due to the lack of information. This is a sign of poverty which should be understood by all parties involved: the politicians, who get caught up in details and are unable to respond to the needs Estonia will have in twenty years' time for electricity, for rail transport and, above all, for education; the media, which is more interested in flashy headlines than in clear, precise information; and also our scientists, who are often too academically minded to speak of Estonia's simple needs in simple sentences. Our prospects of reaching the right starting point seem distressingly low. We argue about ridiculous issues. Let us recall the two years of arguments over matches that was supposed to help us to identify the beginning of the new century and the new millennium. Or the census, which did or did not fail to count a major part of the population. Fast-track scientists with their academic titles argue in some unintelligible language, quite possibly leaving the citizens in a state of hopeless confusion. Will our leaders ever escape their dogmatic trenches and be ready to reach coherent decisions? Who will determine the development of Estonian society: those who have the democratic right to do so, or those who are the most skilful at mobilising the public to stand by them? I have a feeling that among our political, economic, media and social leaders there is a lack of both the ability and the resolve to explain, defend and implement the right views. And I am truly convinced that in this world that is so rapidly globalising, and also in this small but rapidly changing Estonia, only those forces that are actually prepared to lead and to assume responsibility, who proceed from convictions of principle rather than from a striving for political, economic or media power or from their own salary or profit, will end up as the winners. Those in leadership must provide clear explanations, even if those explanations are unpleasant. I am deeply concerned about the growth of unemployment in Estonia, which is for some strange reason accompanied by an equally rapid decrease in the size of the workforce. We still remember what it meant, quite recently, when a farmer's or a worker's family sent their son or daughter to university. Education was not the means, but an end in itself. The twenty-first century will force on us all the uncomfortable need to learn and study throughout our lives, to learn new skills and professions in the rapidly changing world, and to have two, three, or perhaps even four different professions during our lives.

We cannot build a wealthy, happy Estonia if we do not have a global vision of the world and of Estonia's position in it in twenty years' time.

We do have the Estonian people and Estonian nature - two values that we must care for and protect, even in the year 2021. In what condition do we wish to see them, and then, when this is clear, how do we get there? We have to make these decisions today.

I have a lot of questions. And the answers are all in your hands.

For instance: the professionalism of a state and its administration is reflected in the contentment of the people, in the minimisation of social inequalities. Question: how is a decision born in the administration of a state? Is it made rationally, or is it made emotionally, proceeding from political bargains?

How can we prevent politicians from shackling social development?

Have some of the contributory factors to the success of Estonian sportsmen and sportswomen been that politicians are not allowed to meddle in their affairs, that the objective is always clear and the way to achieving that objective entirely rational?

And of course, the very content of education is also part of Estonia's vision of the future. In the future, the importance of the role of the mediator of knowledge will decrease even further. No individual will manage to keep pace with the information explosion. Therefore, people should be taught how to handle knowledge. Nowadays, knowledge multiplies much more rapidly, but it also ages with a greater speed than ever before. How can we keep learning for as long as we live? University education cannot be programmed to have students defending their PhD theses at the age of thirty and then leaving to become unemployed. Our universities need more self-government. I would like to see a greater degree of competition and many more high-level accomplishments. Here too, the speed of reform is causing a problem. Let us remind ourselves that, at various times, the most popular professions to be studied have included those of customs official and bailiff. We must not leave university reform in the hands of specialists alone. This is a crucial issue for Estonian society. In fact, the future of Estonian society as a whole depends on it.

Dear fellow countrymen, these are problems which are common to Estonia, to Europe, and to the United States of America. But we have also made our accomplishments. For instance, our Genes Act - of which a considerable part was published in translation in a major daily newspaper in Germany, as a model for Germany. Today, a new race has begun, a new redistribution of the world market and welfare has started. And, with the right education and research policy, Estonia has every chance in this race of realising its own vision and of ensuring that it assumes its rightful place among the developed countries.

Dear fellow countrymen, our progress is undeniable, and yet opinion polls indicate that the public has become alienated from the government. Not from the Republic of Estonia, not from the state, as is often said, but from the Government, and unfortunately also from the Riigikogu.

This brings us back to the present.

We have made rapid progress, but at the price of deepening social inequalities. We have had no other choice. But now it is time to take great care because we may, quite unintentionally, cross the line of social tolerance. Unemployment is considerable, pensions are small, and wealth that could be redistributed is still insignificant. At this point, I would like to make two comments. First, in Estonia there is no open-minded discussion between the Government and the citizens as to why things are the way they are. The citizens want to know. The citizens want to think with the Government. This is a question of the trustworthiness of the state and also, of course, of equal opportunities. In a country abiding by the rule of law, dialogue with the citizens is the direct responsibility of every government and the direct right of every citizen. And my second comment. Political parties have their programmes and manifestos or, in other words, they have their principles of how to solve issues such as the right to education, the right to work, the right to social aid and many other rights that are also guaranteed by the second chapter of the Estonian Constitution. I would like to be able to follow the development of the positions of one or another Estonian political party as concerns, for example, educational policy, social policy, or indeed the future of the Estonian rail network. I would like to hear their principles and a solution born of those different principles.

Every second day, I follow the sessions of the German Parliament on the ''Fönix'' channel: they laugh together, both the coalition and the opposition. Can you imagine that? In our parliament they laugh at each other. This is a sign of the lack of political culture. And this also includes putting up a picture of a member of the Riigikogu and shooting at it. I am, of course, talking about Edgar Savisaar, the leader of the Centre Party, ex-county Governor Robert Lepikson, and Prime Minister Mart Laar. Heavens above! Guns instead of principles? I don't know whether Centre Party leader Edgar Savisaar has accepted the apologies of Prime Minister Mart Laar. Yesterday in Kadriorg Art Museum, when I was conferring decorations on the upholders of the Estonian spirit, that is, on our statesmen, scientists, workers and artists, the freedom fighter Eduard Leetna, who was forced to leave his home and his country for 31 years, was sitting between Centre Party leader Edgar Savisaar and Prime Minister Mart Laar. To my surprise he took the floor and this morning I had his moving words transcribed from the tape, as it seemed to me that all the people of Estonia should hear them. Mr. Leetna said, ''Today, I was sitting between Mart Laar and Edgar Savisaar, and it is my wish that the Estonian people could find the right way to overcome their differences and that we could live as if we were in the state of Arcadia - there they managed to live without any discord or hostility coming between them. I thank Estonia in the name of all my companions, of whom I am the only survivor.''

My dear fellow countrymen, this morning you watched the splendid parade of the Estonian Defence Forces on Freedom Square, conducted by Rear Admiral Tarmo Kõuts. National defence begins with the Defence Forces. Estonia is capable of building a defence force that will inspire a feeling of security in the population and the trust of our friends.

Section 126 of the Constitution provides that the organisation of national defence shall be determined by law. And yet the corresponding Acts have not yet been passed by the Riigikogu. In fact the proceedings have not even started. It is inadmissible that Estonian politicians have ignored the Constitution and the will of the people for nearly ten years and that they have failed to set out the foundations for the organisation of the Defence Forces in a single Act that would provide clear requirements regarding the development and financing of the Defence Forces, civilian control, and the extent of the competence of each constitutional institution and state agency in matters concerning the Defence Forces.

Unfortunately, these days, ephemeral visions of national defence presented by a small number of politicians are considered more important than the Constitution. To this end, laws are amended and political promises made. The proceedings of the draft of the new Peacetime National Defence Act are a sad example of this. It is my opinion that the Act providing how the Defence Forces should operate should be passed together with an Act which clarifies who or what the Defence Forces are.

With your permission, I would once more like to look into the future for a moment. The Republic of Estonia is not a presidential country, in that the President of the Republic can by no means be placed at the top of the structure of the Defence Forces even though, according to § 127 of the Constitution, the President is the supreme commander of national defence. The President of Estonia does not command the Defence Forces. The command of national defence is a much broader concept than that of commanding the Defence Forces. The Defence Forces must be commanded by the military, not by officials or politicians. To guarantee democracy, civil powers must exercise civil control over the Defence Forces, but control does not mean command.

On the other hand, the Defence Forces are part of the state's executive power. The Defence Forces are not an ordinary governmental body to which the legal regulations already familiar from the organisation of our state could be applied. The Defence Forces exercise executive power in wartime, but they have executive power in peacetime only in exceptional cases. No other governmental body has such extensive differences of competence during wartime and peacetime, and no other governmental body is based on military regulation. Nor does any other governmental body possess so many weapons. It is because of the specific nature of the Defence Forces that the people, when passing the Constitution, have obliged the state to provide the organisation of the Defence Forces in a separate Act.

Dear friends, debates have already begun on the state budget for the year 2002. There is also a NATO summit upcoming in 2002. Our partners expect us to give a clear message that we will be able to make a contribution to the joint defence of Europe. Therefore, I invite our political parties to overcome all their differences and to increase defence expenditure to 2 per cent of our gross national product. Let us not forget the mistakes of our predecessors prior to the occupation of Estonia. Let us take care of our national defence and the security of our country!

There are two more issues I would like to stress. Firstly, the NATO summit will take place in just one year and a few months' time, and all officers, NCOs and soldiers, as well as all other Estonian state officials must do their best to prepare the Estonian Defence Forces for accession to NATO. This is both a political and a military guideline to be followed and aimed at with precision.

Secondly, I would like to support Rear Admiral Kõuts' thoughts from today that there is no place in Estonia's small army for mediocrity or dullness. We must be wiser and cleverer than our adversary, who is certainly stronger than we are. Therefore, I would like to pay particular attention to both the education of officers and also the actual application of that education in the Estonian Defence Forces. The circulation of officers, their movement between different posts, will enable us to make the best possible use of our most valuable resource: people.

And finally, dear fellow countrymen, something about our past. Thursday's ''Postimees'' newspaper included the following line regarding the time of occupation: ''The time when we will be able to forget something that no longer has any significance ought to be close at hand.'' I tried to imagine these words in a German newspaper ten years after the end of the totalitarian regime there, which would have been in 1955. I couldn't. Nor can I imagine them in any current newspaper in Germany, France, Great Britain, America, Denmark, Norway, or any other country. To say nothing of Israel. Crimes against humanity do not lapse. They do not lapse if Estonians were the victims, and nor do they lapse if Estonians were the perpetrators. This is not revenge, this is justice. This year, 60 years will have passed since the first great deportation. June 14 is a day of mourning for us all, a day which unites all the waves of deportation, all the victims, all those unnamed victims of arrests, all those lost without trace. I have set up a commission that has been investigating crimes against humanity for two years and that will continue its investigations after I leave office. The commission also includes Finnish, German, Russian, British, American and Danish researchers. We need this! Estonians, and also those unthinking comrades, will have hope only when we are able to establish the rule of law not just in words, but also in deeds.

But don't misunderstand me: no one forbids us to forgive. The true sign of a winner is magnanimity, and magnanimity in turn is manifested by readiness to forgive. Estonians have won. Today, we have once again been able to admire our flag and sing our national anthem, for which so many have had to shed their blood. We can forgive the perpetrators but not the system. It is not wrath that lives in our hearts, but justice and love - justice and love that Eduard Leetna so movingly appealed to after his thirty-one years of absence. But to forget would mean to repeat the past once more, and that we shall never do.

We believe in Estonia. And Estonia believes in us.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I wish you a happy anniversary of the Republic of Estonia!


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