03 March 2007

My Fatherland

Today is our country’s birthday. A country that indeed is our fortune and our joy – we love our country unconditionally, as a parent loves a child. We grumble and scold, because actually we worry about for our country’s well-being. We take offence, deeply, if someone says so much as a bad or unfair word about Estonia. We take the criticism to our hearts if there is even a grain of truth in it.We are not indifferent. We are guided by our faith that this country, brought forth by our forefathers and –mothers, will persevere grow and flourish. We feel responsibility, and the will to learn. We feel obligation to speak out loud and clear, or through the written word.

On 24 February 1918, the Estonian Republic was proclaimed. At first this was merely a decision made on paper. True independence was fought for, over the period 1918 to 1920, during the War of Liberation. The struggle was crowned with success, and a treaty was finally signed with Soviet Russia, which revoked in perpetuity all claims over Estonia.

Looking back at Estonian history today, we see it was in Tartu that the foundation of our statehood was laid. This is where the Tartu Peace Treaty – the birth certificate of our nation, making us an equal among other nations – was signed in 1920.

What began as an idea, became reality; our state was born on a foundation laid by civic organisations – societies, congregations, choirs. Just as the restoration of independence in 1991 would have been unthinkable without the Estonian Heritage Society, student societies and fraternities, Citizens’ Committees and the Popular Front in late 1980s. All these were civic initiatives, not a gift from somewhere. Not something received from above, but something that rose from amongst us, and from within us.

I want the voter [in the March 4 national elections] to know: you get what you vote for. The wisdom and complexity of governing is greater than any slogans, any promises. Voting for a slogan, you will receive in exchange a policy not of governance, but of hoarding money for the next elections. I ask you: chose wisely, be demanding, weighing not promises but deeds. Let us make use of democratic choice and create a country to our liking. Let us show we are not indifferent.
Yet let us admit that, unfortunately, the approach to the elections we have witnessed in the case of some politicians, reproduces indifference. Indeed, I too am troubled and saddened by the fact that our election campaign slogans and commercials, with their simple-minded claims, underestimate the voter rather than inform him. The issues and figures that have been dragged into the campaign have little in common with the serious questions that we face as a people and a country.
Our forefathers went to war to win the right to vote on their future. Not voting therefore shows contempt and disrespect not only for one's self, one's friends and family, but also to one's parents and forefathers. Not voting is also a personal loss: he who does not vote shall be voiceless for four years, with no right to pass judgment on development of his country.

On 22 September 1944, Soviet troops conquered Tallinn. The Estonian flag was torn from the flagstaff on Pikk Hermann Tower (pictured here) and was replaced by the symbol of the new occupation, the Soviet banner. Just prior to the events of 22 September, an attempt was made to restore Estonia’s independence. The Otto Tief government, appointed by the acting Estonian President, remains, to this day, historically significant from the standpoint of the legal continuity of the Republic of Estonia.

The birth of the Republic of Estonia 89 years ago, the long-cherished idea that was shaped into our country, rescued the Estonian nation from peril of death. Considering the merciless annihilation of Estonians who lived in Soviet Russia in the 1930s, we may but imagine what the fate of our nation would have been at the high tide of the Stalinist repressions. We know what happened to our Finnish-Ugric brethren at that time. We know, for example, what happened to nearly two hundred thousand Ingrians, of whom only a tenth survived to witness the collapse of the Soviet Union.
We Estonians were saved by our state. This means also that Estonia cannot move forward, while fearfully glancing over her shoulder, shaping her political decisions proceeding from the injustices of the past. We must break free intellectually from that sphere of influence to which we were consigned against our will by two criminal regimes in 1939.

Estonia succeeded in regaining independence from the Soviet Union by way of the Singing Revolution of 1988. She was fully independent once more since 1991. From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Republic of Estonia was born of the common aspirations and efforts of educated Estonians. So too, the continued development and well-being of Estonia is dependent above all on proper education. This is what leads me to turn toward the entire nation, to parents and pupils, to ask you to think critically about the future of the educational system of Estonia.Our universities are producing a multitude of experts in fields whose utility is sometimes hard to grasp. Today, the success of a country is no longer dependent on the existence or non-existence of natural resources, on cheap or expensive labour.
The success of Estonia will be determined by the share of people specialising in the sciences and engineering in our society. A society that considers a university degree to be a value in itself, and concentrates on marketing and business management, will not, in my opinion, go far. In the highly competitive world economy, Estonia will be propelled forward by people who are able to create new medicines, write computer programs or contribute to the creation of new sources of energy. Our success depends on having many scientists. We need people with a technical education; we must value vocational skills, professionalism and inventiveness. From President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’s speech on the 89th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia.