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The President of the Republic at the Paide Vallimägi on June 7, 2001

Estonia Remembers

Every time when meeting people who have shared my fate, I must start by explaining myself, and of course also to you, why it is that we meet. It has been called a day of mourning, and of course we mourn all those who never returned, who are far away, in unknown graves.

But this is not only a day of mourning - I think we are justified to say, simply and clearly, that it is also our day of victory. We are back in Estonia, we have worked for Estonia, we have succeeded in restoring Estonia's independence, and all the dreams we nurtured there, far away, are step by step coming true. The blue, black and white flag is again flying in Estonia, and as time goes by, Estonia will again become wealthier, and with time, also Estonia's anger will pass. Perhaps our anger is our worst enemy - it was not borne to the world by Estonians, but by the Hitler-Stalin pact, the deal between two totalitarian states that separated Estonia from everything that we have held dear.

We have been one of the most upright peoples in Europe, with the lowest criminality rate, with the most efficient police, because the rate of undetected crimes was very low in Estonia before World War II. We never locked our doors, and if a bicycle could not be found where the owner had left it, the whole event was recorded in a short notice in the next day's paper, simply saying that the bicycle had been lost, and that the police had returned it to the owner by the evening. This was the Estonia that we were deprived of - a tidy, upright, hardworking and wealthy country. Our wealth grew - not fast, and there was not much of it, but it grew faster than in other countries. Not because we had rich soil or palm-trees growing here, but because our people had been used to hard work since ancient times. If we leave aside all the modern swindling, it is still work that makes us rich fastest. Unfortunately, this simple truth is something that we can seldom read in papers, see on TV or hear on the radio. I don't know whether it is necessary to repeat it - in one way or another, this knowledge is alive in us anyway.

What should we do together today? We should think of the past and all the victims, thank them and promise that all those who had to sacrifice their freedom, their life, their future, their unborn children to violence, are still alive in our hearts, despite everything. This is one way to show our deep reverence, which is not pompous, not expressed in orotund speeches - because a considerably smaller number of us returned when compared to the amount of people who were taken away.

I would also like to speak about the occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union on June 17, 1940. It was a conscientiously planned military operation. I have read the relevant orders; they bear the signature of Marshal Meretskov. Under the third clause of the order to start military action, it was written that the supreme goal of the Red Army was to cut Estonia off so that no minister, member of parliament, or high military officer of the Republic of Estonia could possibly escape from the country. This is what they feared. They feared that the truth about occupying Estonia would spread in the free world. Consider this simple wording for a while - they feared. Those who are of my age or a little older, remember the endless columns of tanks, they remember the Russian military ships, not only in Paldiski but also in Tallinn. They remember the soldiers marching with strange army coats rolled up on their shoulders, on those days, the soldiers were lavishly sprinkled with eau de cologne. When the troops had marched through, this strange mixture of the odours of sweaty feet and eau de cologne lingered on for a long time at the Vabaduse Boulevard where I had been watching them. It had to be a secret, and it was an even bigger secret that Estonia would be deprived of her statehood. It was mostly always done at night. Those were the times when our people had to get used to night-time knocks on their doors, the times when people were afraid to spend the night at home, the times when news were no longer read in papers but spread from mouth to mouth - just like in the Soviet times. And then came the night that took away more than ten thousand people at once; mothers and children were taken in one direction, and men in the other.

I guess that a great power has seldom made such a shocking mistake as that decision to deport the first wave of people from Estonia. You may remember that Germany and the German barons had never been popular in Estonia. Let us make it clear that we loved England or Sweden, not to mention Finland or France, more than Germany. And when Hitler came to power, our affiliation with the democratic countries grew even stronger. With that first wave of deportation, the Russians had turned our sympathies, our way of thinking, our scale of values upside down in one night; and when World War II broke out in Eastern Europe, we were looking forward to the coming of Germans as our liberators. Estonians did not have much choice, and even the fact that Estonians bore four times more losses during the first year of the Soviet occupation than during the three and half years of the German occupation that were to follow, is not relevant here. Criminals are not judged by whether they have killed one person or five, or ten thousand - criminals are simply outside our scale of values.

We speak of all those who have been affected by World War II. How did it affect Estonia? In Estonia, unlike other small European countries that lost their independence, its sweep was especially cruel. Let us consider Denmark, the Netherlands, or Belgium. They lost their independence when occupied by Hitler's Germany. It was Estonia's tragedy to be conquered first by the communists and then by the Nazis. This meant many more victims, much more hatred and fear. In the two biggest deportations, 1941 and 1949, Järva County lost 1701 people all in all, but this is only part of the victims, and far from the total number. The first arrests were made already in July 1940, only a month after the loss of Estonia's independence. As far as I know, Peeter Kraav from the city of Türi was the first to be arrested in Järva County, on July 30, 1940 - he died many years later in Russia. Helmut Veem from Paide was arrested on September 10 and shot on April 23, 1941. The conscript Sergei Tolkatshov from Paide was arrested and shot on June 3, 1941. The farmer Konstantin Kolsakov from Lehtse was arrested and sentenced to death. Georgi Shidlovski, an agronomist with a university education, from Jäneda, was arrested in December 1940, and shot in February 1941. It is a long list of names.

And today, when we have won, when we can look back through the haze of times without wrath, and without sympathy, we might still ask ourselves what was the origin of this outrageous cruelty, the ferocity that left a small nation to the mercy of high-handed gunmen. There is only one answer. The ferocity was blind, but first of all, it fell upon those whom it feared to be carrying the idea of the Republic of Estonia, the craving for independence, the readiness to fight for it and, if necessary, to die for it.

I also want to say that all those crimes, and there were many, were committed on the orders of the Political Bureau of the Moscow Communist Party, but still committed by the Estonian henchmen. The Soviet Union was a foreign country, it was a strong power and wanted to occupy the smallest country in Europe; well, this is the right of the strong, but international law has drawn certain lines even for this kind of terror. Occupation of another state never means that the conqueror has the right to the citizens of the occupied state, or the right to their property or their lives. But the Soviet Union cared little for international law. They found a bunch of henchmen, citizens of the Republic of Estonia, and used them as tools for the dirty work. Remember that when the war broke out on the Eastern Front, Stalin resorted to the scorched earth policy. In Estonia, it was executed by Major-General Lyubovtsev, who wrote in the third clause of his orders: ''Families of the bandits who are concealing themselves or have been shot must immediately be arrested and imprisoned, their property is to be confiscated.'' Here in the Järva County and in Paide, those orders were carried out by Senior Lieutenant Jakov Pospelov, and his commissar was Johan Tamm. Pospelov was a citizen of the Soviet Union, but Johan Tamm was a citizen of the Republic of Estonia. We cannot condemn an enemy for being an enemy; an enemy can always be fought, but this cannot be extended to the citizens of the Republic of Estonia. We can always ask: ''Why did you, a citizen of the Republic of Estonia, take arms against your own country?'' This is one of the meanings of this day: what should be the measure of the rights and obligations of the citizens of the Republic of Estonia; how do we defend Estonia, because a state must be always be defended. A state unwilling to defend itself shall not exist long. You have elected our Parliament, and I am grateful that you have elected people to the Parliament who have decided that Estonia will join NATO and that Estonia will join the European Union. There is a huge difference between today's Estonia and the pre-war Estonia, where we were alone and no one was interested in us. This is the immeasurably strong foundation that will support the future Estonia we will build - a future where we can tell our children and grandchildren, and their children, that what happened to us is never going to happen again. Remember that the crimes perpetrated against the people of Estonia were only possible because there were two totalitarian powers in Europe, and they tried to divide the world between the two of them. Such Europe will never come back. When also Estonia will fight against such Europe.

So what are we doing today? Of course we are grieving, but there is more: we are going to look into the past so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to proceed into a future where Estonia is secure and wealthy and integral, where we can promise our children what our parents and grandparents wanted to but could not promise to us. Of course we must learn from history, where else could we draw our experience from? And like all histories, also Estonia's history contains both good and bad experiences.

This day must unite us, so that we would be a nation that sticks together, that turns its back to evil experiences and prepares for taking its good experience to the European Union. Bear in mind that Europe needs our experience. There is no other country in the world with only a million inhabitants of whom one hundred thousand - one tenth - have had to suffer because of a deal between two totalitarian countries. This experience is unknown to the world, and only known to us. We are the only ones to know the grief of these losses, and to relate of it to the nations of Europe, and this is our future. On this, we will build our confidence and diligence; on this, we will build an Estonia that we can be proud of and that also other nations will look upon as an example. We will regain our confidence, because you see: this day is really the day of our victory. And for this, I am grateful to all of you.

Thank you!


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