TALLINN - Having a sense of belonging is more crucial in hard times like now than in more carefree days, and the awareness that one is a part of a population of 1.3 million matters to people in Estonia, President Kersti Kaljulaid said in her Independence Day address on Wednesday.
"It helps us to get by in a world where even our greatest friends do not balk at making decisions that serve the interests of their own people foremost during moments of panic. Throughout the pandemic, many Estonians have come back home to weather it out here, among their own. They flew to shelter; back to 'the hive', as the stirring poem and song goes," the president said.
"For we are one through our love of homeland. Patriotism is an uplifting emotion. However, it can easily turn bigoted when we harbor doubts regarding the safe continuity of our nation, language, and culture. Each of us who has survived occupation live with that fear of continuity our whole lives. We recognize the fear and do everything we can to prevent it from ever becoming reality," she noted.
"As a small nation, we need constant affirmation that the Estonian language, culture, and customs are protected. It is an affirmation not missing from any patriotic speech. But such speeches are not enough. One must act. Today, there are no great foreign powers threatening our language, culture, or customs. The Estonian defense forces and NATO shield us from Moscow. The European Union is a body of nation states in which different languages and cultures are a value. Nevertheless, there remains much for us to do," Kaljulaid said.
The head of state said that more than simply the next grand cultural object, she has always preferred to support real Estonian people; the true carriers of Estonian culture.
"Mooste folk musicians and the Nedsaja Village Band; the Haapsalu Lace Club and Vormsi's traditional boat builders; the Seto peddlers and the Viru County knitters. Concrete does not carry culture; people do," she said.
The president said that a conviction is needed that all who have found their way to Estonia, no matter whether it was before the restoration of independence or now, have the opportunity, and even the obligation, to enroll their child in an Estonian-language school.
"We need the faith that we are capable of offering every child who grows up here a glimpse into our language and culture to a degree that will help them to one day shape Estonia and all it encompasses into a loving, or at least comprehensible, companion. Once we have that confidence, we are more open towards, and curious of, the other cultures that thrive as tiny communities in our midst," she said.
Patriotism also lies in the ability to be proud of one's country while traveling the world; of belonging to a group of nations that respects human rights and its members, and treasures democracy and freedoms, the president said.
"The ability to be proud of what your country means on the world map. The ability to demonstrate responsibility and participate in difficult discussions, even where your presence isn't necessarily essential -- such as on the UN Security Council. Being able to stand up to bullies on an international level and include your partners and allies when supporting the peoples of Georgia, Ukraine, or Belarus. To direct attention to the state of human rights in Russia, China, and Myanmar," she said.
Of course, Estonia's activities on the world stage are always also a matter of our own national security, Kaljulaid noted.
"A small country must take care that it is deserving of protection in the eyes of its partners -- something a remarkable friend of Estonia, the former foreign minister of Denmark Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, said in his speech accepting the Endel Lippmaa Medal at the Estonian Academy of Sciences late last year. Security is primarily attitude -- both our own towards our allies and theirs towards us. We must never forget that," she said.
"This year, Estonia marks the establishment of diplomatic relations with several different countries one hundred years ago. A close ally recently said to me that although our defense cooperation went smoothly over the last two years, there is always greater certainty that it will continue for a long time more if both countries are operating on the same set of values. I hope that now and forever forward, the developments in Estonia's internal politics will only boost the efforts of our soldiers on mission to keep allies close," Kaljulaid stressed.
The president also highlighted the importance of combating corruption.
"Corruption cripples development, and government leaders' concessions to chummy business people drives away honest entrepreneurs. In the end, we lose both our own and those who once praised Estonia's fair business climate and moved their operations here because of it," she said.
Kaljulaid also had a proposal to her fellow compatriots.
"Let's repeat what we did for Estonia's centenary, when people competed with one another to give the country their very best gifts. Let's do that again! This coming autumn, we will all have the opportunity to vote for 79 of the world's best local political ideas. Each of us has a part to play. Some as demanding voters and, I hope, as many others as possible running as inspiring candidates! Let's manage our politics the same way that Estonians survived this year of crisis -- by caring for one another, taking notice, and running selflessly to the rescue! Let us make an honest, caring, corruption-free, and self-confident Estonia!" she said.