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The President of the Republic at the Opening of the Jaan Tõnisson Memorial in Tartu on May 31, 2001

Dear Jaan Tõnisson,
Dear Tõnisson family,
Dear fellow countrymen!

Today, we open the monument to Jaan Tõnisson. This great statesman has found his way back to Tartu. The Republic of Estonia was his lifework. The communists shot him, but he has never died. The Republic of Estonia and the Estonian ideals are Jaan Tõnisson's lifework also today. He speaks to us, and it is our duty to respond with deeds.

You know that I am on my way to Võru. This evening, people who once were victims to the violence of occupation powers, will be gathering in the garden of the Kandle Culture Centre in Võru. But we can only confer the badge of the Broken Cornflower on those who have been brought back from death alive. Yet our deep respect belongs also and above all to those who sacrificed their lives for the independence and principles of the Republic of Estonia. Jaan Tõnisson was among the first to be arrested by the alien powers. His arrest at his home in Tööstuse Street on December 12, 1940, and his journey to prison are still recorded in the memory of the people of Estonia. From the beginning, the alien totalitarian regime tried to destroy the leaders of Estonian state and the national consciousness of the Estonians. When the Red Army occupied Estonia on June 17, 1940, the devastation of Estonia began with the elimination of the leaders of the state and the people. The occupation powers hoped to turn the people into a mob, to turn farmers into kolkhozniks, to turn landowners into farm hands, to turn Estonians into docile underlings. And yet - despite all our human losses - we are the winners, and our big totalitarian enemy is the loser. All my contacts with the victims of violence in the last couple of days prove it. They are not victims, they are winners, and proud of it.

But I have not come here to speak about deportations, political arrests, or prison camps. As a Head of State, I am first and foremost interested in the continuity of the Republic of Estonia. And this was also what Jaan Tõnisson laboured and struggled for.

All his life was dedicated to the creation and perpetuation the Republic of Estonia. It is a long list: the Estonian Students' Society, the Tartu Society of Estonian Farmers, Estonian National Museum, the Vanemuine theatre building, in addition to his terms in office as the Head of State and the Prime Minister. The defence of democracy both against internal and external enemies. It was not an easy task for Jaan Tõnisson to cure Estonians from their servile mentality and to instil self-confidence and confidence in democracy to their minds. He succeeded. He became a symbol. He was an easy target. But the communists could not wipe out his noble spiritual heritage. It is now our duty to be able to draw our conclusions from the mistakes we made in the years 1939 and 1940, and with these words, I would like to leave the still covered monument and go on about this house.

Tõnisson and ''Postimees'', Estonia and the freedom of speech, Estonia and the era of silence. This morning, I read the memoirs of Mr. Raag, the editor of Postimees, and his reminiscences from August 1939: ''It was a lovely summer day, and the postman came, shouting from afar: ''Plenty of news in today's issue!'' Raag opened the paper and read about the Hitler-Stalin Pact. He writes about it in his book, and he is honest, as the book was written later, many years later: ''It took a weight off my mind: the war would not touch the Baltic countries.'' My dear fellow countrymen, this may be the gist of our inability to value democracy and to fear totalitarianism, our blindness and our incapability to prepare ourselves for the coexistence with the big democratic world. What conclusions are we to draw from here?

In Europe, I have often had to talk about small countries and their role in the united Europe of the future. I have said that small countries are more sensitive, that they respond more quickly, that they are like barometers in the conflicts of the world at large, and this is true; but freedom of speech, and providing people with timely information of the world events are essential preconditions here. And this is the vision, the outlook to the world, the ability to see impending danger, that Estonia lacked very much at the time. It was not the fault of our politicians; it was the fault of the time that we call the silent era. Also, with great respect, I would here like to recall young Tõnisson's letter sent to his father from England. It is a dramatic letter, and a precise one, written in spring 1939, in firm conviction that there would be war in Europe and that the war would rearrange borders of Europe; and that Estonia must very clearly identify itself with the part of Europe where democracy rules, and who also holds the future of Estonia in its hands.

Knowledge of Europe, familiarity with the ways of Europe was, obviously, also common to the Estonian politicians at the time, and our gravest error, for which we have had to pay with the loss of many ten thousands of lives, was that we paid no heed to those who understood, who could foresee the terrible future of Europe. I would like to consider of Jaan Tõnisson's sense of duty - he knew, he was prepared, he could have left Estonia, but he did not; he remained true to the destiny of his people, and shared their fate; and this self-sacrifice, this foresight, these ideals - are his message to us today. It is for us to show whether we have learned to learn, or whether we would rather wander on along our paths of ignorance. This is for you to decide, my dear fellow countrymen, but Jaan Tõnisson has spoken, and let his words be heard also today.

Thank you.


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