Esteemed honorary citizens of Tartu!
Respected Chairman of the City Council and the Mayor!
Honoured Director of the Estonian National Museum!
Citizens of Tartu and guests of the city of good thoughts!
My fellow Estonians!
The second year of the new century of the Republic of Estonia is about to begin. We knew from day one, however, that the nationhood, manifested in Pärnu on 23 February 1918 and in Tallinn on the next day, must be protected. When we think back on the first anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, we see that traditions for celebrating the Independence Day were not yet developed, nor were there many opportunities for celebration.
However, on the first anniversary of the Republic of Estonia in 1919, one hundred years ago, Johan Laidoner, the Commander-in-Chief of the Estonian Armed Forces, was able to report that the enemy had been repelled from our country. Despite the ongoing battles of the War of Independence, despite the suffering and continuous grief, this first anniversary was celebrated all across Estonia.
This was the time of shaping the future; a sense of hope and positive anticipation radiated from every speech of the first anniversary of our country. The necessary foundation for our nation’s sovereignty was laid in the heroic War of Independence, which ended on 2 February 1920 with the Tartu Peace Treaty. Because of that, we decided to celebrate the hundredth anniversary over a number of years.
Let me hereby express my appreciation for the organising committee of Estonia 100 and to each Estonian who has participated in the centenary celebrations by visiting the jubilee events in Estonian villages, municipalities, towns, but also abroad. Together, we have made this a festive celebration that truly unites our country and our people.
Why did we decide to celebrate the jubilee in such an elaborate manner? There are dozens of countries in the world that are several times older than Estonia. However, we wanted to emphasise the value of the birth of our nation and our homeland. We wished to honour the tens of thousands of people who fought in the War of Independence – and the five thousand people who fell.
Yes, we also wish to honour the three thousand seven hundred Finnish volunteers and commemorate the one hundred and fifty troops who sacrificed their lives on Estonian soil to defend the honour of Finland and the freedom of Estonia. In December, we also celebrated the passing of a hundred years since the arrival of the United Kingdom’s fleet in Estonia – a turning point in the War of Independence.
Understandably, in the beginning of the war, people felt confused and uncertain. These emotions also manifest in the lead character Henn Ahas in Names in Marble by Albert Kivikas. A number of people thought that although it was a beautiful and mesmerising ideal, fighting for Estonia’s independence was hopeless. The opportunity to be free of two dominating powers at a time – the German as well as the Russian reign – gave us hope.
Today, one hundred years later, we can say with certainty that we will never forget the countries and nations that contributed to the independence of Estonia, the heroes of the War of Independence, nor their supportive families and loved ones. The ideal of an independent Estonia became a reality only due to the efforts of hundreds of thousands of Estonians as well as our friends and allies.
To illustrate the existential essence of the War of Independence, let me refer to the words of Julius Kuperjanov, the legendary Commander of the Estonian partisan battalion, who was severely injured in the Battle of Paju on 31 January 1919 and died two days later. Before the War of Independence began, Kuperjanov had said that even if the nation of Estonia must one day inevitably be gone, we still must do everything in our power to elongate our existence.
Winning the War of Independence did not only elongate the life of our nation, but also gave us the foundation and assurance that we needed for building a country. In that sense, our battles still continue. Each day that we live in the Republic of Estonia, built by our ancestors and re-established in 1991, must serve the freedom of shaping our own destiny.
However, we cannot shape our future by solely transferring our past experiences into the future. Rather, we must face the challenges that arise and embrace new opportunities. As President Toomas-Hendrik Ilves said, “What brought us here will not lead us further.”
Let us now discuss these challenges and opportunities. What is the face of Estonia today and what would we – or, at least, I – like it to be in the future? An Independence Day speech is not a place for statistics, but I do feel the need to count some numbers.
We all agree that the beauty and biodiversity of our homeland is cause for admiration – and with good reason. While in the first years of independence, forests made up nearly a fifth of the country’s general area, then a few years ago, a little over half of Estonian land was covered in forests. Today, over a fifth of Estonia is under protection, including the landscape heritage that is a part of our national identity.
Preserving and sustaining our natural habitat is intrinsic to us, serving the current habitats as well as future generations. Sustaining our nature, in turn, depends on innovative solutions in the fields of energy, waste management, transport, and elsewhere. Success is not granted by simply keeping up with the times – we must lead the way in terms of innovation.
We are right to think of ourselves as a nation of education. The University of Tartu opened its doors as the national university on 1 December 1919, deciding to operate in Estonian while the War of Independence was still in full swing. That is another great centenary that we get to celebrate this year. Tartu has been a bastion of Estonian academic freedom ever since.
As the high results that our students continuously achieve in PISA tests have shown, our success is not accidental. Over the last three decades, the Estonian education system has been subject to justified and future-oriented changes. Gaining new knowledge and experiences is increasingly important to all of us. Lifelong learning is no longer a choice, but an inevitable necessity. Smart economy can only be created in a smart country that values and develops individual talent.
Never before has Estonian culture been as rich as it is today. Each year, several thousand books are published, theatres give thousands of performances to over a million spectators, cinemas are visited several million times. We have accomplished what Jakob Hurt once envisioned – we have become great in spirit.
We have never before experienced peace and security as firmly as we do now due to belonging to the European Union and NATO. We are not passively consuming security – instead, we are actively contributing to global defence. We understand that together, we are stronger than we could ever be individually.
Our achievements in the fields of information technology and the e state deserve a separate speech. This influential business card of ours has unlocked many doors for the Republic of Estonia as well as our enterprises across the world. The accomplishments of Kelly Sildaru, Arvo Pärt, Ott Tänak, and many other Estonians make us great, as do the technological giants Taxify, Skype, Playtech, and TransferWise.
As for economic indicators and general well-being, we could compare to the most developed countries in the world – this is the accomplishment of just one generation! We recently learned that the average Estonian gross salary is 1,300 euros, and this number is expected to increase by a quarter over the next three years. Compared to the time when Estonia had just regained its independence, the salary increase has been impressive.
At the same time, we still have to work for this economic success to reach each Estonian person; to make everybody feel that the country as well as they individually truly become wealthier each year, even if by a little. Let me transfer the same principle to the context of parliamentary elections – each party and politician must aim to reduce the number of people who feel left out in four years’ time.
No government, including the current one, can take full credit for Estonian accomplishments. They are all the result of societal efforts. Everything we have, we have earned.
Our success comes with a price – the unacceptably high societal inequality and the shameful underdevelopment of our social welfare. Neither should we take pride in conquering the leader boards of alcohol consumption. It is crucial that we address this issue and start reducing the number of tragic road accidents and fatal fires as well as fighting one of the biggest sore spots in Estonia – domestic violence.
We must overcome the population crisis that has troubled our nation for years. We are only beginning to recover from the mass emigration of the last decade and are happy to acknowledge that thousands of good workers have returned. The Estonian population has increased in the last two years, but we must prioritise higher birth rates. The state can contribute by offering the necessary security as well as a dependable and caring environment.
Dear Estonians searching for happiness abroad – you are always welcome back home in Estonia!
Unfortunately, internal migration is still an issue. People tend to move to county centres or the capital. Estonia is becoming a city-state at a scarily fast pace.
Considering everything, Tartu, the capital of education and research, could become the centre of high-technology and research-intensive economy, creating jobs and opportunities for the development for other Southern Estonian towns as a so-called entrepreneurial undertaking. We should create a network of county centres instead of a few dominating centres. We should establish local schools, accessible public services, diverse working opportunities, a functioning and high-quality infrastructure, and an efficiently operating transportation network.
The administrative reform that we implemented within the state reform, centralising municipalities and regional centres, is only the first step. We achieved this with decades of work and countless tiring arguments. Unfortunately, recent events have demonstrated yet again how difficult it is to reach agreements in Estonia.
We must continue with the state reform to achieve the efficiency and accessibility of services. We must understand that no reform is final. The state of Estonia must continuously operate around the changing economic and political conditions. This also includes legislation.
Some countries with long traditions, such as the United Kingdom, still have legislative acts from the thirteenth century. Estonia cannot afford such luxury. The scale of Estonian adjustability depends on our own flexibility, openness, and insightfulness.
What does the Estonia of our preference look like? Have we as a society agreed on our destination? Do we even understand the road that lies ahead? In addition to everything valuable that we have earned in the last decades and made our own. Estonia as a nation and as a society has not agreed on these questions.
I would hereby like to remember one of the main events of the previous year. At the Kadriorg Rose Garden on 25 September 2018, Pope Francis encouraged everybody to contemplate that a good life is not the same as a well-lived life.
According to the Pope, society tends to forget the true meaning of life when it only values technocracy, heartless competition, and earning profit. Our ability to wonder is replaced with an existential tedium.
I believe that the roots of the bitterness that is often detected in the Estonian society lie not in the ‘good life’ that we have accomplished, but rather in the fractures within the society. We hope for simple and radical solutions, all the while knowing that there are no black-and-white answers to complicated questions.
I can understand the worry that people might feel. Unfortunately, certain benefits are accessible to some, but unreachable to others. Those who feel left out are unable to hear the voice of reason. We tend to be overwhelmed by gloating, confusion, and even mindless screaming.
We need to take more time to listen to and understand each other, respect our partners while engaging in a dialogue, even if it turns into an argument. We must stop manipulating facts as well as producing and spreading fake news. Let us be willing to find compromises and acknowledge the fact that retreating from radical positions will benefit the whole society.
We, politicians, should focus more on what unites us, rather than what separates us, because separation is only a small step away from fundamental opposition. Yes, we could exclude all values that are unsuitable to our culture or eliminate all kinds of different ideas, but nobody should be dismissed completely. I am truly saddened by attempts to scare people, threats, and even attacks that I keep seeing.
Confrontation and conflict is ineffectual, as we can see in the example of Truth and Justice by Anton Hansen Tammsaare, which was recently turned into an excellent film. The constant fighting between two neighbours, Andres from Vargamäe and Pearu from Oru, their opposition – it destroyed them both. Furthermore, it left a mark on their children who inherited the same mindset. Unfortunately, it seems that the message that Tammsaare wished to send has not reached the people of Estonia.
I would like to recall another great Estonian, Johann Voldemar Jannsen, the man who rightfully earned the title ‘Father of the Estonian nation’. The coming May marks 200 years from his birth. Jannsen was the forefather of Estonian journalism, he taught people to read and sing, founded the Vanemuine Society right here in Tartu, and organised the first Estonian Song Festival with his daughter Lydia to celebrate the national awakening.
This great man wrote the following words in the leading article of Eesti Postimees on 13 December 1878, “New times call for new progress, work, and strength in every deed and doing, but without new anger or hate, conflict or quarrel, rebuking or berating, which is neither justified in the eyes of God nor in the eyes of man, nor will it bring profit. We find comfort in peace, not dispute; we find encouragement in peace, not dispute, we benefit from love and friendship, not viciousness or resentment; conceding and atonement will keep the room warm and discussions merry, while envy and hate break all crowbars, destroy all fences and houses; peace creates happiness, anger creates misfortune.”
In addition to stressing balance, Jannsen also yearned for the ideal of justice. The justice of one man always stands either alongside or opposite the justice of another man, just as personal freedom is always hindered by the freedom of another person. A society is just when everybody feels secure and valued, regardless of their age, native language, or nationality. This is the Estonia that I want to live in.
The central idea of the Republic of Estonia is fixed in the preamble of the constitution – to preserve and evolve the Estonian language and culture. This is the year of Estonian language, because another centenary is celebrated – the anniversary of the Estonian language becoming the official language of Estonia. As the core of the identity of every Estonian lies in the Estonian language, so does the identity of our Republic.
Everything that takes place within the premises of our nation must be accessible and expressible in Estonian. The more texts are available in our native language, whether authentic or translated, the more vital and civilised the Estonian language can be.
We are a nation state, but we are also a multicultural Member State of the European Union. Every Estonian is united by patriotism, even if we come from different national backgrounds and, inevitably, have different traditions and mindsets.
Furthermore, the Estonian nation is like a blockchain. Everybody carries a part from another legacy, but overall, we constitute a holistic database that can only be changed by a consensual algorithm. We will not become a different nation as long as not everybody embraces the change.
Each one of us carries understanding on the rush seas of Pärnu, the hills of Otepää, the Panga cliff, the Jägala waterfall, the junipers of Lääne Country, and the pillars of the University of Tartu. We all know the smell of an Estonian summer morning, the crunch of frosty snow, the rustle of leaves fallen on the pavement or the yellow colour of spring, which first appears in coltsfoots and then in dandelions.
Each one of us carries something from the Uralic nations, peasants and masters, members of an abstinence association, parish clerks, the organisers and performers of the first Song Festival, the awakened intellectuals, the country and city folk, pikers and businessmen, the Ukuaru Waltz, the world champion in freestyle skiing, the stony racetracks of Corsica, and the tangerines of Abkhazia.
We constitute one long chain – everybody carries a reference to some other legacy, whether from friend or stranger. Each one of us. This is why we need to understand each other and stand together.
Let us remind this obligation in the concluding words of Anton Hansen Tammsaare in “Loyalty”, a will-like contemplation, “[---] if we truly wish to help ourselves, we must deepen the internal conviction that the only rightful salvation lies in loyalty to our land, our nation, our language, our culture, and our character. Without a sense of truth, nobody can come to our rescue, because we are but a slather of sand, flowing freely in the wind, or a smoke fading away in the atmosphere.”
Honoured people in the auditorium and across Estonia!
In four months, on 20 June, all of Estonia will gather in Tartu, the birthplace of our song festivals. The sound of the zither of Vanemuine will again chime: deep inside, we are an old, fibrous, unified, and, in our hearts, a kind and positive nation.
After we have sung the songs by our great composers and hummed our favourite tunes, we will continue the celebrations in Tallinn at the beginning of July to confirm: this is the land where we were born, this soil is the eternal resting place of our ancestors, this is where Estonia and the love in our hearts will carry on as far as the eye can see and the mind will follow.
Long live Estonia!
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas's speech on the celebration of the 101th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, 22.02.2019
Esteemed honorary citizens of Tartu!
Veel uudiseid samal teemal
In his speech today in the Riigikogu, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas noted that in the political struggle, we tend to forget that we share the same goal – our beloved Estonia must be a good home and a caring society for all. Regardless of our place of birth, standard of living, profession, mother tongue, gender, nationality, beliefs, or anything else.
A speech by Prime Minister Jüri Ratas by the War of Independence Victory Column at the placing of wreaths 24 February 2019
Honoured President of the Republic of Estonia! Fellow Estonians! I congratulate you all in honour of the anniversary of Estonia!