Search in Speeches:
printer friendly document

Luncheon Address by H. E. Lennart Meri, President of the Republic of Estonia to the Participants of the Aspen Institute Conference on U.S.-Russia Relations Tallinn, 25 August 2001

Members of the United States Congress,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome you in the old city of Tallinn, especially those of you for whom this visit is your first to our medieval capital, known on old maps as Reval, and especially to welcome you between these walls here, where three and a half centuries ago a delegation from Schleswig-Holsteini stoped in on its way to Persia and a young member of this same delegation fell in love with a beautiful Tallinn girl. He devoted to Tallinn and to his love a number of poems and left us directly for the history books where he is known as Paul Flemming, the founder of baroque literature.

We all like to speak of sun and love in the morning, but before you, my dear Members of Congress and participants in this conference, a day begun with Paul Flemming introduces you to our history, our mission, our geography. The square in front of this building was Tallinn's first market square. It has three streets. One took the direction of Persia and Baghdad, one of Central Europe and Vienna and one of the harbour of Tallinn and from thence to Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean. A small maritime nation cannot be a small nation. The first Estonian found his way to North America in 1628, four years before the founding of our first university. Naturally this skilled Estonian ships carpenter could not know that he laid the foundation for a cooperation as a consequence of which three hundred seventy years later we are discussing Estonia's entry to NATO. The morning is short, therefore I will keep myself short and grasp the bull by the horns.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My main intent today is to focus on Estonia's re-integration with the world community, and particularly on our aim to join NATO. However, since your business for the past several days has been Russia I will also talk about our bilateral relationship with Russia and say a few words about why I think NATO enlargement is also good for Russia.
First, Russia.

For Estonia, as for our neighbours to the south, Latvia and Lithuania, the Second World War ended in the beginning of the nineties. We were then able to liberate us from the Soviet occupation that originated from the days when the Wehrmacht occupied Paris. Thus the Soviet military occupation lasted from June 1940 until August 1991 and the last troops were withdrawn from East Germany and Estonia the same day, August 31st, 1994. The percentage of Russian speakers before the occupation was 10%, after the occupation 40%. A number of workers in the former soviet military-industrial complex as well as retired officers preferred to remain in Estonia and were encouraged to do so by the Soviet government that was interested in creating in Estonia a Russian majority. Despite the official Soviet policy, the Russian minority supported the restoration of Estonia's independence. We have not had any inter-ethnic violence in Estonia. Estonia gave those sent to colonise Estonia the right to continue residing here and gave them the right to social security benefits and to apply for Estonian citizenship. I am proud that former Vice President Al Gore, visiting us, called Estonia an example to the world.
Despite the positive development in Estonia, we feel in Moscow an unwillingness to face up to history. The Russian foreign ministry pretends in a very Soviet style that Estonia voluntarily joined the Soviet Union in 1940. This is as preposterous as anyone claiming that Czechoslovakia voluntarily opened its frontiers to Nazi Germany. Such a misrepresentation of history and subsequent irrational demands unfortunately do cast a cloud over our bilateral political relations.

It does not, however, disrupt ties between the people, businessmen or agencies that see the need for concrete practical co-operation. Russian businesses export their goods through Estonian ports; Estonian products are still to be found in Russian stores. Estonian theatre companies perform at Russian festivals, and Russian performers appear here. The co-operation between the Estonian and Russian borderguards can only be called exemplary. Thus whereas official, political Russia may remain barricaded behind ideological lines drawn up in the propaganda of the 1940s, life on the ground, between the Estonian and Russian people, businessmen and institutions flourishes. This is not something one hears about often when Estonian-Russian ties are discussed, but it is essential that this development be recognised, as it paints quite a different picture from the one presented by official Moscow.

The same is true for the issue of NATO enlargement. This is my second point. NATO enlargement is not an issue for the Russian man or woman on the street. They are neither for nor against Estonia's membership in that organisation. It is a few politicians in Moscow who don't seem to be able to accept that it is no longer possible - it was never acceptable - for Russia to dictate to its neighbours the policies they are to adopt. NATO is not and never has been an aggressive organisation. Just as I believe that the defence alliance between Russia and Belarus or the Tashkent Treaty Organisation are not aimed against anyone.

Estonia wishes to join NATO for the same reasons that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was founded and for the same reasons that the United States and other Allies remain committed to it. It is not simply about being behind the strong back of the United States. It is about common values. It is about standing together. That is why NATO today is as vital as it has ever been, why the United States presence in Europe is today as vital as it has ever been. The history of the last century has shown that whenever there is a conflict in Europe the United States will be involved, sooner or later. This is a sign of our close economic ties, but it is more importantly, and I believe above all, a sign of the convictions and values we share on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore we must continue to work together to strengthen and expand the still all too narrow area where democracy rules and human rights are respected. It is right of the United States to want its European partners to contribute more and it is right of the Europeans to strengthen common defence capacities. Yet all this means is that we are restructuring a successful and vital relationship. We are not - and we must not - alter the fundamental principles on which this co-operation is based, and these principles are caught up in one word: NATO. NATO is today and will remain for the foreseeable future the only organisation capable of ensuring a safe and secure Euro-Atlantic region. This is also an answer to those who would ask us why we wish to join NATO if we are already joining the EU, why we are not satisfied with one without the other.

We wish to be part of the most successful defence and security co-operation in history. Or rather I should say that we are already part of it. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been working together with NATO forces in Bosnia and now in Kosovo. We are exercising with US and European forces on a regular basis. In the very near future Estonian radar stations and those of our neighbours will be hooked up to NATO systems and we will start exchanging vital information.

Thus the co-operation between Estonia and NATO, between our neighbours and NATO is already happening. We have demonstrated clearly our willingness and readiness to contribute to European and Trans-Atlantic security and stability because we believe that this also affects our security. Kosovo and Bosnia were not far away events in far away places but were of direct relevance to our own national security. If one nation in Europe is not secure then no one is secure. We may be able to avoid direct conflict, but we cannot avoid refugees and disruptions in trade that result from these wars. Therefore it is in our direct national interest to contribute to European and Trans-Atlantic security, just as I am convinced that it is in the United States interest to remain engaged in Europe.

This is the reason why we wish to join NATO and this is why I believe it is also in the national interest of the United States to have the Baltic states become members of the Alliance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is fashionable for some nowadays to speak of a realist, or neo-realist policy agenda. The argument is that what worked well until the end of the Cold War will work well today. I would be the last one to dispute that the US policies, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, were wrong or ineffective. On the contrary, they were right and effective. But the world of 1999 is different from the world of 1989, or 1979, 69 or 59. We no longer have the Cold War; we no longer have the Soviet Union. Instead we have a Central Europe stretching from the Gulf of Finland to the Adriatic and Black Seas that is free once more and we have a Russia which is struggling to find a democratic path. We also have an independent Ukraine, and Georgia and Azerbaijan and Armenia... The list goes on! And we are faced with the fact that the United States truly is the one remaining superpower.

Thus, our policy agenda today should also proceed from the fact that we face a new world, which requires new solutions. The world of tomorrow is in the process of being shaped. In shaping this world we must act with great agility and great speed. Whether we term the policies realistic or idealistic or something in between has in this case no relevance. What is required is determined action. Any other approach is, I believe, simply unrealistic.

I am convinced that the United States has a profound interest in leading this endeavour. President Bush clearly demonstrated this in his speech in Warsaw. An expanded area of democracy and freedom is in the US interest, because it increases stability. And stability in turn is a catalyst for economic development, which increases trade, and so on. And one major way of increasing stability is to continue the enlargement of NATO.

There will be those - perhaps even here, in this room - who will say that I am wrong, that continuing the enlargement of NATO will only irritate Russia, make it even harder to deal with and that for that reason NATO should not expand. Certainly not to the Baltic states.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dreams of the instant birth of a free and democratic Russia, where human rights would be respected were very popular in the West at the beginning of this decade. We in Estonia never shared this enthusiasm. But neither do we share the gloom of many Western observers today who seem to write off Russia and to say that nothing good will ever come out of there. I believe that Russia can indeed become a truly democratic country. But it will simply take a lot of time.

What Russia needs during this time of growing up are clear statements on what is and what is not permitted and acceptable in our new world. And it would be up to Russia to make up its mind about whether to accept these principles or not. But our reaction should be based on the acts, not the mere words of Moscow.
Today we see the bombing of villages and the killing of civilians in Chechnya. We have seen the deportation of tens of thousands of persons from Moscow, as well repeated acts of violence against scores of persons, most of them Russian citizens - simply because of the different colour of their skin. And we continue to hear worrying calls for a strong man to lead Russia who will not be "preoccupied" with democratic niceties. All of these symptoms give cause for concern. We must in no way nurture these trends, we must in no way give people who advocate such policies a reason to believe that they are accepted or tolerated by the West. Rather we have to support those politicians in Russia who even today are expressing reservations about the war in Chechnya and the violence against people because of the colour of their skin. We must nurture the democratic forces in Russia, however weak, so that Russia may one day find the political will to abandon her post-feudal way of thinking and start to build a civil society. This means supporting the Russian democrats and providing assistance, but precisely targeted assistance. It means staying engaged with Russia. It means stability around Russia will be the best way to assist her democratic forces. It also means enlarging NATO to include those countries of central Europe that wish to join, including the Baltic states.
Some politicians have advocated Russian membership in NATO. I am neither for nor against it. Russian membership in NATO can only become a serious option when Russia is prepared to live up to the high standards set by the Atlantic Charter and the Washington Treaty. That is a choice for Russia, not for the members of NATO, to make.

To conclude,
One year ago in Vilnius nine nations from Central and Eastern Europe presented western decision-makers a new reality, a new vision for NATO. Worried that the need to secure the Cold War victory was dropping out of the allies' agenda and that NATO was turning to new challenges they issued a joint appeal, which called for a decision to invite all of them into the alliance in 2002. Two months ago the foreign ministers of these same nations, now including Croatia, reiterated their call, while at the same time welcoming NATO's commitment to invite new members in Prague. We should always remind ourselves that the enlargement of NATO is not a beauty contest. It is about a centuries old dream of the completion of Europe; it is about the core values of democracy and freedom, stability and collective security. As Dean Acheson said at the Harvard Alumni Association five decades ago -"[the North Atlantic Treaty] has advanced international co-operation to maintain the peace, to advance human rights, to raise standards of living, and to promote respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples". This is what NATO enlargement is all about and I would like to stress - enlargement, not expansion of NATO, as it is not a strategic acquisition of territory, but enlarging the membership of an alliance of shared values. That is why in 2002 NATO must open its doors to the new democracies of Central Europe including the Baltic countries. And it is also why one day in the future we may see Russia join once Russia has firmly made a choice for democracy and universal human values.

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