President's opening speech at Tallinn Music Week

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

PHOTO: Jelena Rudi

Once again it is time for Tallinn Music Week, certainly one of the most exciting musical events in Northern Europe. I have, ever since it was begun by Helen Sildna, considered it one of the most interesting musical events in the region, precisely because it fosters new and innovative thinking. It celebrates diversity in musical tastes and the creativity of artists who want to do something new and something different.

As those of you who have heard me in previous years at TMW know, I have a fondness for rock'n'roll and an equally strong fondness for liberty. For me, the two have always gone hand in hand. Yes, you can in fact have liberty without rock, because already 300 years ago when the Scottish philosopher John Locke laid the groundwork for the relationship between the individual and the state, back then there was no rock'n'roll.

But in the past 60 years it has often been rock'n'roll music that has tested the limits of liberty in societies – even in those societies that consider themselves liberal democracies. In other societies, authoritarian, totalitarian, theocratic or a combination of these, you don't have to be a rocker to be locked up, threatened with prison or even death for saying what you believe. We know this quite well in Estonia, where many people suffered without playing rock but for speaking the truth. But rockers also suffered.

Those of you not from Estonia may find this perhaps odd and difficult to understand, but here, when people wanted to be free, they came together and sang. They sang rock, they sang folk, they sang classical, sometimes they sang religious music. And, hard as it may have been to believe back then, it started to work.

It worked so well that today all this singing is called the "singing revolution", because, afterall, the basis of our protest was music. But that misses the point actually, because it's free expression, in our case music, that allowed people to overcome their fear, their fear of repression, the consquences of singing, or speaking, their mind. Music, like other forms of art, does that.