TALLINN - Commander of the Estonian defense forces Lt. Gen. Martin Herem said in his speech on the 104th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia on Thursday that Estonia's security is created by conscientious citizens, cohesion and reliable allies.
"Despite recent events in Ukraine, we can and must today, on the birthday of our country, be glad about the achievements and strengths of our country. As the commander of the defense forces, I definitely have my own point of view regarding that. Today, I want to share with you my views on the symbols of the Estonian defense forces. Of these symbols, the value of which is confirmed by the current events in Ukraine," Herem said.
According to the defense chief, the Estonian defense forces have been created on the basis of conscript service, reservist service and participation in the Kaitseliit (Defense League) volunteer corps. This is backed by active personnel -- officers and non-commissioned officers -- as well as staff and officials. "Together, we have created a defense force consisting of citizens, which itself has become one of the symbols of the Estonian state. We can and must be proud of this as a nation as a whole," Herem said.
According to him, one of the mainstays of the defense forces is the conscript -- a citizen with an obligation to complete the service. "In recent years, however, we have seen Estonian citizens take up their duties voluntarily. By now, more than half of those who have joined the service have decided for themselves when and where they will go to serve. Sometimes even together with their entire school class. The volunteer conscript is becoming another symbol of our defense forces and the state. For many of our allies, such a declaration of free will is a positive sign of a real will to defend," Herem said.
He added that the third symbol is the reservist, who arrives within hours or even minutes in response to an invitation to a training gathering. Many developed countries look at such a sense of duty with envy.
"Today, supporters of the defense forces -- employers, schoolmates, friends or family members, who have a supportive and approving attitude towards training gatherings -- must also be mentioned as a symbol. Over the years, it has become quite common for Estonian citizens to come to training gatherings also from far behind the state border, causing confusion in their foreign employer," Herem said.
He pointed out that several reservists came to last year's Okas (Quill) snap training exercise from abroad. Not to mention the Siil 2015 (Hedgehog 2015) exercise, which was attended by reservists from 18 countries, including Australia, Canada, South Africa, Nepal and the United States. The actions of all of them are an expression of the will to defend as a symbolic value. "I am certain that the same will be repeated at this year's Siil 2022 exercise as well," the defense chief said.
According to him, entrepreneurs, landowners, municipal employees or ordinary residents who support the exercises of the defense forces outside our training areas every year cannot be left out either. "This does not go without saying in every country. In our country, this support has been growing every year. We know that behind this declaration of intent is not only a sense of duty on the part of the citizens, but also the committed service of the active personnel and workers, and the understanding that we are all involved in defending our country, ready to lay down our lives for it," Herem said.
According to him, Estonia's symbol among allies and friends has become its readiness to support its partners in resolving their concerns. "Over the past year, our quick response to help Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine has been visible to everyone. Support of Poland continues today in cooperation between the defense forces and Kaitseliit. We have not been simply waiting for an invitation, we have offered our help. Be it equipment or units," Herem said.
"This despite the fact that there is a danger of reducing one's own defense capability by that much or attracting the attention of a potential aggressor, not to mention criticism within our own country. Our reservists, Kaitseliit volunteers, conscripts, public servants and active servicemen have shown their willingness and confidence to help our partners abroad. As a sign of this support, many of us are wearing the flag of Ukraine on our lapels on the Day of Independence of the Republic of Estonia today," Herem said.
According to him, such will and readiness are not only symbols of the defense forces. "They illustrate our country as a whole -- there are always citizens, and enough of them, who are ready to put their health and lives at risk in the interests of their country or simply put their personal interests in the background for the sake of all our common interests," the defense chief said. "Forgive me for the comparison, but the exercises of our defense forces have developed into a kind of small song and dance festivals, where professionals, reservists and conscripts, with the support of spectators, show time and again unity that is incomprehensible to many and perhaps even a little mystical."
According to Herem, we now have the right and obligation to think about these good achievements, which symbolize the Estonian state and the people living in Estonia. "And now, to be honest and between us, we could think of them on any random Thursday. Exactly when a neighbor has made us upset or when society seems divided. Good things remain, as do the symbols we create. Those thanks to which it is good to live in Estonia, which we can be proud of and which we are ready to defend for the sake of future generations, even at the cost of our lives," the commander of the defense forces said.
"These same symbols -- a conscientious citizen, cohesion and reliable allies -- are crucial today in Ukraine, where a bigger and more powerful aggressor is already suffering losses. We have them. Certainly when we have to defend our country and our values. Long live the Republic of Estonia!" Herem said.