Independence Day speech by President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid

Kersti Kaljulaid.
Kersti Kaljulaid. Photo: Sander Ilvest

President of the Republic of Estonia at the Estonian Independence Day Reception, Ugala Theater February 24, 2020.

Bearily the animals bunny

To bunniliness they bearify themselves

They bearify bunnily and elevate themselves

Above the bunnybear.

Consider that a brief summary of the way last year unfolded. Of the way things really are. If, however, this seems unjust from anyone’s standpoint or as applied to them, then it can also be phrased the opposite way:

Bunnily the animals bear

Bearingly they bunnify themselves

They bunnify bearily and elevate themselves

Above the bearbunny.

Dear people of Estonia in every home!

Dear guests!

The role of poetry in our lives is to thanklessly precisely put into words what a speech could never manage to do. Thank you, Valdur Mikita, for describing the quandary in which I find myself today. I cannot stay silent regarding the nature of this last year in politics, but my pen is too powerless to detail it accurately and my heart too tender to simply joke about it. It has been a year of hurting.

May this next year be brighter!

Yet, it was also the Year of the Estonian Language. May we Estonian speakers continue to love our language amply enough to share it. To share it with all who are prepared to speak it with us, even if they were born into another language. We must share with them a love for the Estonian language, not an obligation to the state, because love begets love, but harsh measures result in resistance. It is true that preserving a language with few speakers also requires us to be demanding of those who share our path, but above all, they must want to be one of us.

A language is made attractive by its speakers. It is made beautiful by the nation’s poets and lyricists. Spoken by Estonians, the most resonant tapestries of words truly do soar in song. Last year, we met on the Song Festival Grounds and showed one another how tremendously this land’s tongue – rising up to the heavens in the winds of incantation – can help us to seek meaning for who we are. And this for already the 150th year.

For one does need meaning in their life. We must pursue something, for that is the way we are made.

Last year, Tanel Toom’s film Truth and Justice had us peer deep into the Estonian soul once again. What makes us, Estonians, happy? Must one generation sacrifice itself to make life easier for the next? And then the next in turn, so that the former might feel its sacrifice wasn’t in vain because its children are carrying on in the same way and the same location? Is everything carrying on in the same way a curse or a blessing?

Yet, not all depends on the individual. It is a blessing for the entire nation when a mightier, external tide does not wash away the fruits of all we have achieved, and we are able to pass down to our children our land and the work that has been done to improve it, so that they might be able to continue building. That is if they wish to, of course – they are likely to desire that, which has been created with love, but would rather decline a future that is shaped with bitterness and born of great toil.

The last decade, the teenage years of the 21st century, was a happy and successful one for us here at this point on the globe. Thirty years of steady and peaceful development has given us the impression that our own end of history is either at hand or within reach. It would be disastrous to believe that we can now allow ourselves to pull all kinds of stunts because that, which we have achieved can no longer be lost.

Yes, we may relax a little – we naturally don’t want to live on Truth and Justice’s Robber’s Rise, where Work is what matters most. The members of Andres’s family did know how to have fun – though, fair enough, it tended to be in secret to prevent their joy from showing too plainly. Pearu was a seemingly cheerful character, but in truth, his jokes and mischief held a strong dose of bitter provocation that grated painfully and constantly endangered both his achievements and those, which resulted from the efforts of the people around him.

Unfortunately, Pearus are not in short supply here.

The building of Estonia’s long-term security after Soviet forces left the country began on the very day that former prime minister Andres Tarand dared to say – Estonia, just like many other European states, must continue within borders which differ from those that existed prior to the Second World War. This did not mean renouncing the Treaty of Tartu.

The door to NATO would never have opened to us without his statement. Yes, we still have an unratified border treaty, and we should consistently strive to make that step. At the same time, our future NATO allies believed our assertion that we would work towards agreeing upon a border treaty. We entered into NATO, and we kept our word. Urmas Paet has signed the border treaty twice. Both Jüri Ratas and Jüri Luik support ratifying it All of them are our Andreses – though only Tarand is the namesake of Tammsaare’s character – and are working to ensure that our country is better and safer for our children. We have made a promise to our allies: Estonia has no territorial claims against its neighbors.

But what do the Pearus care about that.

The Estonian state – while acknowledging that international law is more flexible than small nations would prefer – has nevertheless always worked to fulfil every one of its international agreements and the obligations it has made so that we would have the moral right to demand the same of others.

We have worked above all on ourselves, have established a sovereign state based on the rule of law, have granted equal rights to all, have been a fine and trustworthy partner to our friends, and have at least been consistent and reliable for those with whom we may not necessarily share the same mindset.

Over these almost 29 years, a Trust in us has developed. Last year, the nations of the world decided together that Estonia is worthy of the highest possible confidence that others can place in a small state. As of January 1st, Estonia accepted the duty and responsibility of participating daily in the world’s most complex, complicated, and trying discussions for a two-year period.

It’s been asked why we needed that seat on the Security Council when the flowers that were handed to us on January 1st turned to cactuses only a few days later.

That is not how our contribution to international diplomacy should be regarded.

Our work on the Security Council was never meant to be easy – the world has been too complicated, painful, and unjust at every point in history for that to happen. Nevertheless, we accepted. Just like how our mission soldiers accept their duties and deploy several times each year. Just like how NATO allied soldiers arrive in our country. They come to carry out their duties in the name of ideals, even while knowing that those ideals will never be permanently achieved.

Thanks to Estonia’s seat on the Security Council, global crises are now more widely discussed in our society. Hopefully, this will help us to appreciate ever more what a blessing it is to have the peace and security that present-day Estonia enjoys.

Dear friends,

we are accustomed to our world being diverse, beautiful, and rich in species. The technology that was available on Robber’s Rise – mainly the shovel in Sauna-Madis’s calloused hands and Krõõt or Mari’s gentle touch of a feverish child’s forehead – was unable to transform nature, the surrounding environment, or, unfortunately, one’s own life.

We have this capability today, of course. Yet now we want the impossible – to transform what we need according to our whims, and to do so in a way that nature is still preserved where we once enjoyed it in its original pristine condition. This cannot be done. It is impossible.

Our generation must work like Andres so that the generations to come need not ask us: “How dared you?” It is a grueling race against time that occasionally seems hopeless. The race is, of course, to save the world in the state that we know it and need it to be. But it is also a race to be among the brightest leading nations to adapt.

We have a significant advantage over Andres – our children are demanding that we work hard and clean up the living, beautiful land of the pollution left by the Industrial Age. The children of Robber’s Rise had a place to go if they wished to leave. Ours do not.

Our closest partners with whom we cooperate on the common energy market – the Nordic states – have decided to evolve into a region that produces, and even exports, sufficiently clean energy. Estonia has enough energy connections to the north and to the south for us to become passively climate neutral. But why should we refrain from taking advantage of the opportunities to be found in this transition?

If we are already restructuring our energy system, then we can certainly improve the dependability of our reserves. We were lucky – the storm that hit Estonia last autumn would have ended much worse for the town of Võru if it had been frigidly cold outside. Still, our crisis-readiness plan has basically been at the bottom of the to-do list for several years already.

Thanks to our spending in relation to GDP and our Defense Forces’ development plan, Estonia is certainly capable of defending itself until allied forces arrive, as well as afterward with their support. I’m afraid the bottleneck lies elsewhere. How will we manage when the petrol station we need to supply fuel for a hospital generator is out of service because the electricity is out?

As a state, we are treating our future challenges like a grasshopper that is chirping away, carefree, instead of stocking up for winter. Perhaps there will be a helpful ant nearby – who knows? But in the event of a widescale natural catastrophe, there is always the danger that the ants in our region will need the very same supplies at the very same time as we do.

If the attitude of the state is that crises might never come, that gales may always blow past Estonia, that extensive forest fires will rage elsewhere, and that everyone is free to rethink setting money aside for their pension, then it will affect the mindset of our citizens. You do not raise ants with the grasshoppers’ example.

For our own sense of security, we actually need to save more. Of course it is in our interests to have care insurance, which will guarantee the dignified welfare of not only the patient, but also those who help them. For although the assistance we provide to the elderly and disabled has been growing and advancing nicely, given our current resources, there is no way that one can claim caretakers receive a just salary when you account for their physically and emotionally taxing work. Yet, how on earth are we to plant new pillars of confidence in the hole left by the recently uprooted pension pillar? Who still believes the state’s long-term promise?

Sometimes, we may feel as if everything that has happened with Estonia over the last thirty years – especially the rapid economic development of the last decade – has come about of its own accord. That it would’ve happened anyway. In reality, Estonia is an economically successful and secure state because people have been able to come up with good ideas persistently and without wasting a single electoral cycle. Presently, it appears that our capable legislative mechanism has jammed, which may cost us dearly in 10–20 years’ time.

Estonia needs permissive legislation in order to quickly adopt new technologies, allow artificial intelligence to learn from large troves of information, and mine data held by both the state and private companies in a way that is safe for everyone. Without this, we cannot develop an economy that adapts to the future, provides for high salaries, and does not pollute the environment.

Over the last year, there has been very little discussion of how to substantially improve Estonia’s competitiveness, particularly in the technology sector. Competitiveness does not just happen – it is created.

We are also justified in asking how the more traditional sectors of the economy are getting by, for they are equally important. Our companies are extremely flexible, high-tech, and innovative. According to the Bank of Estonia, 1/3 of Estonia’s economic growth in 2018 came from foreign labor, even though the opportunities to utilize it are limited. Last year, this figure was already half. Our companies are getting by just fine. Who are we kidding – not even Andres of Robber’s Rise dug the ditch by himself.

Yet, there are areas of concern. For instance, the Estonian companies that use newer woodworking technologies are doing well on the global market, but the timber sector as a whole is gradually losing those who have been outpaced by constant technological progress. How can we help Estonian companies in the woodworking, textiles, and other production sectors to update their technology? Or to move their manufacturing experience to cheaper places of production around the world?

In 1997, when Finland’s economy was the size of ours today, the country invested 2.7% of GDP into research. Sweden invested as much as 3.1% when it was at the same level in 1995. That is why today, Sweden and Finland are not simply average European economies, but two of the richest countries in the world.

Judging by the Estonian state’s contribution to research and development, we seem to be satisfied with what we have at the moment. What we have isn’t insignificant, and you could even say it’s a lot on a global scale.

Still, we do want life to advance! We want it to advance with economic growth that is based on clean technologies!

I am deeply saddened when I think about all that we could and should be discussing instead of entertaining the Pearu-like feeling caused by the rude and foolish statements being made right in our own parliament.

On January 13th, the Estonian newspaper Õhtuleht wrote: “Surprise in Riigikogu: Prime Minister Ratas and opposition manage to hold constructive talks amidst barb-trading”. How did we get to this point? When did constructive debate become a newsworthy “man-bites-dog” type of event?

What are you doing, dear Riigikogu? After all, we have a parliamentary state – no one except you can lead Estonia’s development forward! You have many freedoms and many rights, one of which is the opportunity to form Estonia’s government, and every government you form is, without the shadow of a doubt, legitimate. But that is not enough. Please, do your job! Protect your dignity, realize Estonia’s opportunities, lean upon the good that has been done, and be ready for the future!

There are two kinds of political work to be done in every era – analyze what has been accomplished, fix the mistakes and negligence of the past, and strive to shape an understanding of the future to determine what we need today to be prepared.

For 30 years, we have clearly been better at rushing headlong and weaker at managing the ramifications. We have become wiser – among other things through reshaping our political landscape – what can be the result of failing to concentrate on the side effects.

There will always be honest mistakes made in politics. Honest mistakes that do not result from leaders’ carelessness, but simply from an inability to take notice can cause uneven regional development, weak social development, the poor state of rural lifelines – roads. We have a model of funding self-governments that provides too little room for independent decision-making.

We must correct these mistakes today, but at the same time, we cannot stop reaching for the future.

Good things have not happened to us – we have made good things possible. We’ve done it by deciding and creating; by political debates and the compromises they yield. Everything we wrap up today and say – that was certainly done well – is the outcome of our own labor. And everything we do not achieve is likewise the outcome of what we have left undone.

The Riigikogu’s Pearus are doing their voters the greatest possible disservice – not even their constructive proposals are heard when they insult colleagues to a point where they close themselves off. And it is especially disheartening to hear that often, both the insulter and the insultee have coffee together afterwards, as if they’re content with the work they’ve done, not even admitting to themselves that it gave no result – no decision that will lead Estonia forward.

I will close with the words of Lennart Meri: in a changing world, the one to triumph is the one who moves with the world; who moves a little faster than the world. Who gets ahead of the world and thus has the ability to foresee the questions and solutions that life will present.

Yet nowadays, it is important to add a little suggestion for how to further life in Estonia without getting into arguments in debates over how to perceive the future. Oskar Loorits, the founder of the Estonian Folklore Archives, once wrote:

“The prismatic diversity of the avian kingdom did not spur our ancestors to mutual animosity, but instead to tolerance, and to justifying each bird’s unique song in the greater common orchestra of life – an orchestra in which the richness of sounds does not cause harm, but rather achieves an ever-greater effect if only one is able to arrange its improved ensemble.”

Every bird has its song.

Let us cherish Estonia!