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The President of the Republic on the Seminar ''Estonia 1991-2001'' on August 13, 2001, at the Helsinki University

Mr. President,
Mr. Chairman,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The organisers of this seminar asked me to speak about Estonia's independence. Estonia's independence is something else than independent Estonia. Estonia's independence starts with our common Ice Age. I live on the northernmost cape of the Tallinn Bay, where I can see the glow of Helsinki on winter nights. That nameless cape, which people now call Uus-Meremaa, is eight hundred metres long and eighty metres wide. It appeared during the Cambrian, in other words, at the time when the first primitive organisms were living in our tropical sea. But the shores of the cape, as well as the land around my house is scattered with rocks, granite rocks from Salpausselkä, heaved to Estonia by the retreating and advancing bulldozer of the ice shield. Finland's and Estonia's shared history starts from geology. Man's advance to the North in the wake of the ice shield is the basis of our common history much more than it is in any other region of Europe. According to the latest data of linguistics, we moved north about one hundred and twenty centuries ago and remained true to this severe country that had more sunshine than Europe in summer and less in winter. We had time enough to become acclimatised here, to grow our roots deep into the soil that fed us, but would not have fed a stranger. We tamed our severe climate and made it our ally. We maintained our archaic language, adopting loans from other cultures and borrowed words to our environment and lifestyle, which would have been named severe by all peoples of Europe except ours. The world was open to us, but we were closed to the world. I would like to draw special attention to the coastlines of Estonia and Finland, to our gates opening on the wide world. Our coastal waters are unique in Europe. In Estonia they are low, scattered with stones from the Ice Age and full of underwater rocks; whereas the Finnish mainland is protected by a tight belt of islands. This coast was open for the native folk and closed to strangers. This is also part of our independence. Academician Kustaa Vilkuna has investigated the so-called ''friendly trade'' in the Gulf of Finland and come to the conclusion that the division of labour between the southern and northern coast of the gulf was part of the ancient population history of Finland. Estonian ethnologist Arved Luts has described the last traces of ''friendly trade'' during World War II. Is this part of my presentation under the heading ''Estonia's Independence''? Estonian-Finnish history is a history of linguistics, folklore research, and ethnology, and it has been tolerated both at the times of emperors and at the times of secretary-generals. In fact, the humanities have been the fig leaf covering the political history.

When Finland turned to the Royal House of Sweden with the request to establish a university in Finland, a reply came from Stockholm saying that the university had already been founded - in Tartu. Today, the Finns see this answer as arrogance on the part of a greater power, but this is not the case. At the time, language boundaries were much lesser between Estonia and Finland, and the Gulf of Finland was seen as a connecting factor, ''the axis of our life'', to quote a Finnish classic. Also Lönnrot visited Estonia in the hope of creating a common literary language with Estonia. The concept of the Baltic Sea region as an integral, Europe-oriented region was strengthened both in Estonia and in Finland in the nineteenth century. The following words from 1806 are attributed to Parrot, Rector of Tartu University: ''The Estonian peasants say it out quite loud that they are waiting for Bonaparte as their liberator''. I would like to compare this with the words of Eugen Schaumann, written shortly before his death and the murder of General Nikolai Bobrikov, addressed to Emperor Nicholas II: ''... I only implore Your Majesty to find out the real situation in the country - including Finland, Finland, Poland, and the Baltic region.'' And finally, an assessment from Mihkel Martna, Estonia's leading social democrat, who shared the negative attitude towards national independence common to Russian and Finnish leftists. This quotation is from the year 1910: ''Finland's fear of independence, and the spectre of Estonian-Finnish statehood is so peculiar and childish that it could only be told as the truth to fearful old ladies. And yet serious Russians, and at certain times also the Baltic landed gentry use it as a scarecrow to frighten certain circles.''

Eight years later, the Committee for Rescuing Estonia declared the Republic of Estonia with the ''Manifesto to All the Peoples of Estonia''.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

With this introduction, I wanted to say that the declaration of the Republic of Estonia, as well as the military defence of the country with the help of Finnish volunteers was the beginning of a new chapter, but even more the summing up of an old one. The Estonian state and law have been the content and the meaning of all Estonian history. I did not dwell on the era of national awakening in Estonia and Finland, which has been much discussed, but I would like to emphasise the decisive role of institutions from the era of awakening in preparing for the declaration of independence. When Estonia and then Finland became subjects of the Russian crown; Russia was not strong enough to abolish the local privileges. The local governing bodies continued to develop, the knighthoods were constituted, the competence of the diets or Landtags was delineated, and the local law was codified soon after the Estonian ''Kalevipoeg'' had been published in Kuopio. With the strengthening of Russia, the attack on the Baltic privileges begun. The Baltic special law was Western by nature, but already archaic at the end of the 19th century. Estonia's independence was based on a long tradition of self-government, a long legal tradition and a long literary tradition. The Republic of Estonia took over the modern Russian criminal law and the Baltic private law derived from Roman law and tested by centuries. The Estonian farmers soon learned to seek justice in courts. In addition, there were a countless number of unions and societies besides the local governments of the landed gentry and the farmers, which considered democratic decision-making self-evident.


Ladies and gentlemen,

As a subject of international law, the Republic of Estonia established diplomatic relations with most of the countries of the world and was accepted also to the League of Nations. The annexation of the Republic of Estonia by the Soviet Union was not recognised by a majority of the countries of the world. The Republic of Estonia continued to exist as a subject of international law with the support of the non-recognition policy of the West, symbolised by our diplomatic missions. The Republic of Estonia also continued to exist in the legal continuity of the citizens of the Republic of Estonia. This was the basis for the restoration of the Republic of Estonia in August 1991. During the military coup initiated by the Soviet leaders, the Estonian transition government turned to the world community with the proposal to restore diplomatic relations with Estonia, in other words, to recognise that government, whose political programme was the transition to the pre-aggression legal relations. Thus, the non-recognition policy bears the international stamp confirming the principle of the uninterrupted legal continuity of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. To renounce it might have undermined our independence.


Ladies and gentlemen,

After the restoration of the constitutional institutions, there have been five governments in Estonia, but all those five have had the same foreign policy priorities: Estonia's accession to the European Union and Estonia's membership in NATO. Estonia has made progress in both directions. On our negotiations with the European Union, we have closed 19 chapters of thirty. On his recent visit to Estonia, President Jacques Chirac confirmed to my fellow countrymen that the prospect of accession to the European Union was also the main factor making Estonia a serious NATO candidate.

What does Estonia's independence mean to Finland?

Tallinn is the capital closest to Helsinki. We are only separated by an 18-minute helicopter flight. There is no need for me to emphasise the kinship between our two nations. This has supported us at difficult times and mitigated the conflicts of today, the criminality that Estonia inherited from the Soviet period. Sometimes it has been asked: should Finland see Estonia as a competitor?

I believe that trust-based co-operation is going to be our common keyword. The mistakes made by Estonia in 1939 and 1940 are not going to recur, because the world has changed and Estonia has learned. Our economic and cultural co-operation is close already today. But I could imagine even closer co-operation for instance between the Ministries of Environment, a sort of integration of the two Ministries. This would increase the mutual rights and obligations, and would be a beautiful courtesy to the Gulf of Finland that has been the common axis of our life throughout the ages.


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