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The President of the Republic at Põlva on June 1, 2001

Estonia Remembers

We have gathered here today so that no one could break the blue cornflower of Estonia again. We have not gathered here to weep, not even to mourn, but we have gathered here so that also all the people in the Põlva County whom the communist power tried to humiliate, to deprive of their homes, of their language, their thoughts, their relatives, their parents, their children; all those who have escaped this grinder alive, could see how many of us are still alive, and so that we could draw strength and trust from each other's company. We are not looking into the past to have tears in our eyes. Our hearts are weeping as it is - we will never forget all those who were left there far away, but still we are looking into the past, first of all because we want to prevent such atrocities from happening in Estonia ever again, so that our spirit, our will to resist would be stronger also at times when fortune is not too friendly to us. And above all, we have gathered here today to be proud that so many of us are still here, despite everything. And to rejoice that the feeling that has brought us together today is so strong here under beautiful old pine trees, and to look into the future. To look into the future where Estonia is and shall be independent, and where today's Estonia, which is not too wealthy, will be just as wealthy and proud as the Estonia that faced its destiny in 1938, in 1939, unaware that the path of destiny was taking our people into World War II. That the frontline, which is a war in itself, would go over Estonia twice, and that those battles on the frontline would not be the real war against the people of Estonia; the real war was the one held at peacetime, at night, when the rest of the world was safely asleep in their beds - this war was held stealthily, fearfully, and had to remain secret.

Dear friends, each and every one of you has his or her memories, and I am infinitely grateful that these memories are alive in you. I would like to evoke these memories, to commit them to paper, to make them into beautiful sentences and pages, so that we could tell the people of Estonia about our tough experiences; and not only that - we could then also tell about it to all the other peoples, who do not know what one of the smallest nations of Europe has had to experience, to what extremes some big countries have gone to humiliate the Estonians, to make farm hands out of our farm owners. Many efforts have indeed been made to force Estonians to walk in fear, silence, and obedience.

The lists of people to be deported were prepared already at the beginning of 1939. For Stalin's Soviet Union, this was a matter of daily routine. World War II was as yet alive only in the heads of the politicians, but the lists were already being prepared. And day by day, they became more elaborate. They were aimed at the elimination of Estonia's political leadership, schoolteachers, local government officials, and the entire intricate network that is necessary for a people to exist as a nation. The aim was indeed to demolish the Republic of Estonia beyond redemption, and for this, the people of Estonia had to be demolished. Today is an important day for many of us. At that time, Põlva County did not exist on Estonia's map as a separate county. Our approximate calculations have shown that all in all, 1500 people were deported from Põlva County in 1941 and in 1949, but I would also like to emphasise right now that this gathering is not the gathering of the anniversary of the deportation. We have also invited all those who returned from imprisonment. We have invited all those who were born in Siberia. You know that this is not my first meeting with those who share my fate. Yesterday at Võru and the day before at Viljandi, and before that in Valga and in Pärnu County, I often had to say ''But you are so young,'' and then the boy or girl, or rather a young man and a young woman looked at me and said, ''Yes, I was born in Siberia.'' Also this has been the destiny of Estonia, and we can be especially proud of these people, who have returned from Siberia as Estonians, and serve they country and are proud of it. Consider for a moment those huge distances, and the times when those children only heard the Estonian language spoken at their homes - and yet they are among us as trueborn Estonians.

Today, we speak not only of those who were deported, nor only of those who were imprisoned. We also speak of those who were recruited to the armies of the big states, or captured far away from home. I have seen a lot of them - men from the Czech hell. I have also seen men like the man who approached me in the Estonia House in England, and said: ''Look at me, here I am - an Englishman, but I went all the way with the Corps; I was only wounded at Saaremaa. The Germans cured me, took me to Germany, and there I was captured by the English.'' Such unimaginable destinies, and yet all of them, so very different, have brought you here as Estonians, as human beings that have are committed to their love of this small country that has been ravaged by so many storms. In this folder I have an essay by Kätlin Jansons, a schoolgirl from the 8th form of the Vastse-Kuuste school. The heading is ''My Granny's Memories from the Deportation of 1949''. Now, I will read you an odd extract from this text. I guess I chose it as I was a student myself at the time. I remember those nights; I remember the rumble of the Soviet Army Studebakers. I was staying at a students' hall of residence myself, but at that night I was not in, I wandered about the town, on the bleak stony streets. It was a cold night. I remember hearing someone's footsteps in the ruins, and then seeing a father with his two children, with a big rucksack, hiding out; it must have been three, four, five o'clock in the morning; and of course he froze when he saw me. I told him there was no need to be afraid, that I was hiding myself, and he walked on. Kätlin Jansons writes about her grandmother, who was a couple of year older than I at the time, and these are her words: ''It was already ten o'clock, and the streets were dark as usual. She could see a gang of young men approaching. On the corner of Õnne and Tähe streets, they came face to face. The young men asked where the girl was going at such a late hour.'' Kätlin writes: ''My grandmother was 25 at the time''. And I was 22. ''Granny said that she was in a hurry to go home, and pointed towards Kalevi Street.'' You don't expect now that that the boys attacked her, do you? No! ''They were taken aback, and tried to persuade Granny that she must not go that way. They showed her cars, a long row of trucks parked along Tähe Street, and asked her to go hiding with them, but she was anxious to get home. Maybe it was her destiny that she declined that proposal, although her heart was not at ease. Her uneasiness grew with every step, and she decided that when she got home, she would just pick up some things and go and hide with some friends who had nothing to fear." She was taken to Siberia. This is one of hundred thousands of life stories. I am very grateful to Kätlin Jansons for having recorded this story so dutifully and in very good Estonian. But you over there, and you, and you, have other stories to tell, and also those must be remembered. We must remember them, because they are part of the Estonian character. The Estonian character - character of a small nation that has survived not only two fronts, but many years of persecution and people disappearing without notice - there was a family, and then they were no more.

When I started my journey to meet you, Captain Elvre brought me another letter. Also from this letter, I would like to read you some lines. It is a letter written by the lawyer Arnold Susi and it is addressed to his daughter. Before the war, he was a well-known lawyer, and during World War II, he became a member of Otto Tief's government. As a result, he was sentenced to eight years in prison camp and eight years in exile. To his daughter, who was deported in 1949, from the same student hall where I lived, he wrote: ''The wives of the prisoners, those who were left here with their children, are the real heroes of Estonia. They were left with the full burden of responsibility. They had to educate their children, clothe them and feed them - to struggle on day and night, till exhaustion. But they could not let their children collapse. Life in prison camps did require such spiritual strength. You just tried to keep body and soul together, but nothing else really depended on you - if you had no strength left, you just died. But those mothers had to survive, and for years they could have no moment of rest.'' Some day, I would like to erect a monument to Estonian mothers. They are the real heroes of our people. The monument in fact already exists. It is in the sacristy of Haapsalu church. It is a modest monument, and few people know of it. The real monument is alive in our souls, and compels us to look into the past, so that we could be stronger today than we were in 1939 and 19490, when we made the wrong decisions, when Estonia was left quite alone from international viewpoint, when no one, no country could help Estonia any longer. You know how much we talk today about the Republic of Estonia joining NATO, and about the Republic of Estonia joining the European Union. Think how different all our lives could have been, if something like that had been possible already in 1939.

So, dear friends, I do not call upon you to mourn. We are mindful of all those who never returned from Siberia. We think of them with reverence and love. But the idea that has brought us together today must also compel us to work and hope also in their name, that we must see Estonia's opportunities, glorious opportunities, also with their eyes; we must see that one day, small Estonia could be just as well-known in Europe as the countries that are smaller than Estonia. There are indeed five of them: Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. I won't name the ones that are even smaller. This is an example for Estonia, and this must be the feeling that unites us today - that no one must ever come and pick the cornflowers from our fields. And in the memory of this, I would now like to fix the badge of Broken Cornflower - which you can also see here behind my back - on all those who have shared my fate. If you are so kind, Captain.


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