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The President of the Republic on the Elva Sound Festival Ground on June 8, 2001

Estonia Remembers

I am now halfway through my long tour, I have shaken hands with five thousand Estonians, and met ten thousand Estonians. Who are they? The briefest summary would be: the Estonians I have met are the victims of the deal between two totalitarian states; all those who have been arrested, who have been deported in the years 1941, 1944, 1945, 1949, 1950 - this is how many waves of deportation we have had. They include all those who have been, against international law, recruited to the armed forces of either one or the other totalitarian power, who have, one way or another, fought for Estonia, fallen prisoners far from home or here in Estonia, and had to pay with many years in prisons or prison camps; and all those, who have spent their youth in Siberia.

Yesterday at Paide, when the sun was shining bright, an old lady began to cry and said: ''Estonia is so beautiful, but the all the best years of my youth were left in Siberia.'' ''What years were they?'' I asked. ''I was 22 when I was taken away, and 35 when I got back,'' she answered. All these different destinies are written on the sign behind my back, it is a broken cornflower, it is here behind my back, and in some sense, it is also behind yours. We have gathered here to commemorate and mourn all those who are no longer with us, who never had the strength to return from that horrible mechanism of destruction, and who rest in faraway forests or in the wet tundra, where there is no sign left to identify their graves. We commemorate them, but we should be even more aware of each other - there are so many of us here under the pine trees of Elva, and we have accomplished so incredibly much, and fulfilled also the dreams of those who never made it back home. What were those dreams? The freedom of our country, our own flag, our own language and security for us, for our children and grandchildren. It has been a powerful feeling, and I am grateful to all of you that you have remained true to it, that you have attended today's meeting, which should, in my opinion, not be called a mourning day, because all in all, it is still a day of victory. Look how many we are! And it has been very moving sometimes to shake hands with someone, then look into his or her face, and then ask - how come you are so young? Think how many of us have been born in different parts of Siberia and in the environment where children could perhaps only speak Estonian to their mothers; and yet they came back as Estonians and have remained loyal to Estonia. Thank you for this loyalty.

When we gather like this, at least I cannot help wondering what was our fatal mistake, the one that has cost more to the people of Estonia than to any other nation in Europe. I have no answer. I believe that before World War II; Estonia was a confident, hardworking, upright country, and so proud of her accomplishments. They came the hard way, with work, but they were there, and they were visible. And we may have neglected our relations with Europe, our relations with the democratic side of Europe. We were so convinced that the independence we had gained in the War of Liberty was final and permanent, that we were leading a secluded life in Europe. I guess this is where we should look for our mistakes, and those mistakes are only important to us so that we can avoid repeating them ever again.

Today, Estonia is more talked about in the world than it ever used to be talked about before - and so are Latvia and Lithuania, of course. This is the accomplishment of our young diplomats, and also our Riigikogu, who has understood that the security of a small country depends on whether it can rely on Europe's assistance, Europe's security; understood, that the survival of a small nation depends on whether it has enough will to defend itself to be accepted to NATO. I believe that those two issues are the first conclusions that you, my dear fellow countrymen, have reached through all these terrible hardships and many-many losses. I would rather not speak about losses, although of course we can never ignore the events of June 1941; and especially, I cannot ignore the events of the summer 1941 in Tartu, during the battles around Tartu; nor can I possibly keep silent about the horrible bloodshed in the Tartu Prison, where 220 people were killed, if we also count those who were killed at Ülejõe. Last night, I read the list of people whom our police have detected to be responsible for those horrors. Suddenly, I remembered the year 1953, when I was still a student, but had to find work. My first job was at the Vanemuine theatre, the work was fascinating - I remember how much I feared the ballerinas. I remembered how a man called Raimond Virza had hired me, he was the head of the staff department, taller than I was, jocund, and fond of music. He invited me to also his house, a very nice house in Tähtvere, where there were several shiny guns in a glass cupboard. He wanted to play Benjamino Gigli to me, he had an amazing collection of records - a couple of thousand. He was a nice man, but last night I read that he had been among those who were connected to the Tartu Prison massacre. I was quite unable to put his two sides together. Let this always be a warning to us that people should be judged by their deeds, not by their thoughts. Let it be an even graver warning that any war can always unleash the basest ideas and instincts of man. I have read so many essays by our schoolchildren, where they tell how, after the deported people had been taken to the trucks - they had not yet even lost sight of their farm or their house - those who craved what was left of their property were already present. Raimond Virza's nice home may have been decorated the same way. I do not know. I do not want to know. I would rather like to say that it is time for us to forgive, but never to forget these things, because forgetting leads to the recurrence of such crimes, such injustice; and the broken cornflower behind me is the appeal that you should feel that you have won. A winner is always magnanimous, a winner can forgive, but we do not intend ever to forget these crimes.

I would also like to turn to our legislators: although I know this is hard, as more than half of the people at Toompea today have been in the Communist Party, but I have a very simple reason for this. I got my answer when I came here to this festival ground today. More than a week ago, one of our fellow sufferers, who had spent many years in Siberia, turned to me in Pärnu. In Estonia, he gets some benefit from the state, but cannot get a health insurance card - he must pay for his medical care himself. I asked my lawyers to check this, and it occurred to be true. We have passed another imprudent amendment act, which has put precisely the people to whom we owe respect, esteem and love, at a disadvantage when compared to the rest of the people of Estonia. Also good parliaments make mistakes, but I now take advantage of the presence of my good friend Enn Tarto and read the summary out to you. Unfortunately, the Riigikogu's reluctance to give a just judgement to communism also has a practical outcome, which is the unwillingness to solve the simple problems of the victims that would not impose any special expenses on the state. The Riigikogu must understand that the people who suffered under communism have suffered unjustly, and that it is our task to help them. I am glad that I can see my friend, who is also a member of the Riigikogu, here in front of me, and I will hand the analysis and the conclusions over to you in a minute. My dear friends, the world has changed in the meanwhile - what was an unrealistic dream for Estonia during those fatal years, or just a powerless declaration of the League of Nations, has today become part of international law. Crimes against humanity and war crimes do not lapse - this is the protection that you have been given. Can you promise that what happened to us will never happen to our grandchildren, a man asked me in Viljandi. I am proud to tell you today that this will never happen again. Estonia has a safe future and firm security, Estonia is set on her path - it is not easy for us, but the first signs of wealth are already visible. We have managed to build the first schools, but we have also accomplished much more, we have turned towards democratic Europe - and everything that happened to us can only recur on one condition: when two totalitarian states emerge in Europe. This is Estonia's share. We have known both communists and Nazis, it is not our task today to compare them, it is our task to struggle for taking both communism and Nazism permanently off the agenda in Europe. This is our historical experience: Estonians have been killed for this, they have died in the forests and frozen to death in the tundra - and this is why you have returned here, to your mother tongue, to your country; this is why our young people are today studying national defence; this is why, my dear fellow countrymen, we are here together; and now, I would like to exchange a cordial and reverent handshake with all of you.

Thank you.


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