Search in Speeches:
printer friendly document

The President of the Republic in the Rakvere Oak Wood on June 6, 2001

Estonia Remembers

Sometimes it has been asked why the Broken Cornflower Day is necessary. It has been asked whether it would not be better to forget everything and bury our memories, to pretend as if nothing had happened? Some have even complained that recalling those hard times makes people angry. As if there were too little anger in Estonia. Dear people of Viru County, this day was never meant to be a day of anger. It was never even meant to be a day of mourning. It is simply for us to understand what it means to be a citizen of the Republic of Estonia. How many rights, and how many obligations this imposes on us.

Before the song of Western Viru County, I listened with great interest to the memoirs that were read to us. The image of a farmer being arrested, and someone waiting for this to happen so he could make a clean job of his storehouse was especially heartrending. Those were not Russians, it was not the Red Army; it must have been one of you, the citizens of the Republic of Estonia, who had in their raptures forgotten that they had their obligations as citizens and that they had no right to crave the property of their fellow men. And that they should have felt the obligation to help that family. Sometimes, we have indeed been bad citizens to Estonia, and this is why we have had to pay such a high price for our own leisure and indolence, for not knowing our duty. I think that the Broken Cornflower should first and foremost reunite us. It should make us a small, but strong nation who need not be afraid of their neighbours taking the first chance to empty their storehouses.

Estonia's geographical position is not very favourable. I have thought that we could have much less problems if Estonia were an island; for all I care, it could be in the middle of the Atlantic, just like Iceland. But Estonia is not like that. Estonia is the border of Western Europe touching Eastern Europe. Which is not a bad position in itself. It is bad that while we have one way of thinking, many people in Russia still stick to the old way, the way communists thought. And this is where the boundary runs for Estonian citizens, for the dangers threatening our country, and for our duty. In 1939, Estonia was comparatively alone in the world. In fact, Estonia had no real reason to think so. Estonia was a respected country, Estonia was an active member of the League of Nations, Estonia was fast to carry out the land reform. And the golden fruits were already beginning to show. Estonia produced and exported. Estonian industry had gained a firm standing and produced for export. The living standards in Estonia were improving faster than in the neighbouring countries, as nature had given us a wonderful resource - our oil shale. And we were not too interested in the events of the world. We know our products were good ones, and they had a market. We were brimming with self-confidence and had to pay for it immediately after the two totalitarian powers had made their deal. And their deal divided the democratic world in two parts - one for the Nazis, the other for the communists. Maybe that was the mistake of our politics. Maybe we were five, or maybe ten years behind. But it is true that the autumn of 1939 came as a shock to us, like a bolt from the blue. The reason why we are here today is above all that nothing like that must ever happen to us again. Neither to our country, nor to our people, nor to our children. That we could look into the future in peace. And this is why we must not forget our past.

Right now, I believe in Viru County. It is not my task to remind you how many people Viru County lost during the summer war of 1941, or during the autumn war of 1944. But I have brought the exact data with me, so I can read it out to you. All in all, 2384 people were deported from the Western Viru County, but this is just a small fraction of the losses that Estonia had to bear because Estonia did not defend herself. Because we hoped that agreements would be enough. In addition, 224 people from Eastern Viru County were arrested during the summer war of 1941, and 631 during the autumn war of 1944. 181 people were active here as the Forest Brothers. I browsed the archive data before coming here, and I think that the Red Army claims of having fought more than 400 Forest Brothers at once here may have been an overstatement.

When Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, many people thought that the Republic of Estonia had somehow ceased to exist. Once again: we did not have enough confidence in international law. Estonia was occupied, but as a state, it continued to function legally. What does this tell us? Among other things, it tells us that the occupying powers had no right whatsoever to recruit Estonians, citizens of the Republic of Estonia, into the Red Army. And yet they did. I will read you some names: Daniel Ahas - lost without notice, Ahonen - shot in the Soviet Union for attempted escape from the Ust-Pinega labour battalion; Voldemar Allik - lost without notice; Herbert Aus - died in the Zlaoust labour battalion; Bernhard Ellamaa - was disabled and died in the labour battalion. It is a very long list. I would like to wind it up with a simple statement: it has appeared that in the Soviet documents, the labour battalions were considered equal to Gulag. They were not part of the army. And most of the Viru County men we lost were ostensibly recruited into the army and died of starvation, diseases and cold.

Nor should I fail to mention the battles - in Viru County, they were probably the most ferocious. And when we compare the number of deported people to the general figures of Estonia, we can see that the proportion of people deported from Western Viru County was considerable. It was probably their loyalty to Estonia that worried the occupying powers so much. I think this is the message of our Broken Cornflower - we will always be weak if we do not keep together, if we have been divided, and divided into groups that hate each other and are at war. And yet we have won.

Just think how much the Soviet Union invested in Estonia, how many troops it brought here, how many trenches and military bases there have been on our coast. How much even the deportations cost to the Russians. When the war broke out, one week after the first deportation, there were no freight carriages left.

On this day of the Broken Cornflower, we have no need to speak of it as a mourning day. We are not mourners - we are the winners. It is true that we have borne horrible losses. No country in Europe, no nation in Europe, except perhaps the Jews, has lost so many people as our small Estonia. One tenth of us, a hundred thousand, was caught between the grindstones of two totalitarian powers. And yet we have prevailed, and we have been able to restore our state. And to gather under her flag - it is true that we are much poorer than we were in 1939. But the poverty is retreating. We cannot overcome it by profiteering, because the wealth we remember from the Estonia of 1939 did not come from cunning or speculations, but above all from hard everyday work, which brings us daily pleasure and pride of our work, pride of our country. We have come halfway now. We can already see how much Estonia has changed within the last ten years. I wish that Estonia had changed much more from within. I wish we knew for sure that we really are the masters of our own country. I wish we had a clear vision of our children and grandchildren finishing school. We have covered the first quarter of this path to prosperity, not more. And it will take a long time before we will catch up even with the Finns, our closest neighbours. The Finns are not going to stop so that we could catch up with them. Their industry, their skills, their political vision also have a bigger grasp. But we have been up to it before, and we are up to it today.

And now let us make a short summary - we have gathered here today to grieve for all those who are no longer with us. Those who were left behind in Siberia and whose graves are unknown to us. And yet we have gathered here as winners, because neither of those enemies who tried to divide the world no longer exists.

What is the Estonia's strength? Estonia's strength is Estonia's democracy. It is our understanding of what we do; and we should see more than one year ahead. So that we knew what we need to do in five or ten years' time. This is the path of a democratic country. What are our prospects? The lessons of history have been bitter, and we are not going to repeat our earlier mistakes, which led to the occupation of Estonia. We know that a small country can be trusted and respected all over the world. Let us name some countries that are smaller than Estonia: my favourite Switzerland, or Denmark, who is smaller than Estonia and a member of NATO, or the Netherlands or Belgium that have also seen the hardships of war. These states should above all be an example to us. They are examples that we can follow.

And finally, I would like to explain why wealthy, unanimous, and kind-hearted Estonia seems to be such a hard goal to reach. Look at those long lists of the deported and the arrested. Who were they? They were our leading politicians, leading military officers, best scholars, schoolteachers, physicians, and social figures - all those that normally underpin the existence of any kind of state. This was the aim of the deportation of 1941. And the aim of the 1949 deportation was to eliminate our farmers, who were the supporting pillar of the Estonian resistance movement - 23,000 people. Nor should we forget the intermediate waves of deportation; there several many in Estonia - five all in all. The last one came in 1950, when the inhabitants of the former Petseri County were deported.

Today, we have managed to regain our international standing, and Estonia has a good reputation. Our diplomats, who are 25, 30, or 35 years old, are sitting at the negotiating tables facing diplomats who are their equals in rank, but usually 50, 55, or 60 years old. We have had to send very young boys and girls out to solve very difficult tasks, and they have succeeded. Is this not a miracle, is this not something to be proud of? Just consider from where we started to build up the Estonian Defence Forces. Just recall the August coup, when the well-armed Russian troops tried to conquer the Tallinn TV tower. Our men confronted them with their bare hands and their firm resolve, and their resolve was stronger than the guns. Is this not a reason to be proud, and to say that even though small Estonia has had her losses, she is still a winner?

With this feeling, I would like to welcome you all, to shake hands with all of you, and to say that you should look bravely into the future. Work for this Estonia. She is coming back to us. She is already here in our midst, she is uniting us.

I am grateful that so many of you have come here today. This is our way to commemorate those who are no longer with us, and to show ourselves how true an Estonian can be to his country, and how true our small Estonia is to her citizens. I am grateful to all of you!

Thank you!


back | archive of speeches | main page

© 2001 Office of the President of the Republic
Phone: +372 631 6202 | Fax: +372 631 6250 | sekretar@vpk.ee
Reden Kõned Speeches Statements Interviews