TALLINN - Estonian President Alar Karis noted in a speech at the Victory Day parade in Kuressaare on Thursday that developments in the world in recent months show that peace may not last forever.
"When I assumed office, I took an oath whereby I vowed to defend the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia. The Constitution is not just one law. It is much more -- a description of the values and principles on the basis of which we live in our country and what is important to us as a nation, what our rights, freedoms and obligations to each other and to our country are," Karis said.
According to him, Article 54 of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia states that it is the duty of an Estonian citizen to be faithful to the constitutional order and protect Estonia's independence and adds that if no other means are available, every Estonian citizen has the right, on their own initiative, to oppose violent changes to the constitutional order.
"To protect Estonia's independence -- this task, which for many is an inner will and compulsion, is really up to us all to fulfill. This means that we will not sit idly by if Estonia may be in danger. Especially those who have the skills to protect the country and the population," Karis said. "Standing here before a line-up of Kaitseliit (Defense League) volunteer corps, today is the best proof for me that we, as a people, intend to defend our independence, our free decision-making power, our land with all our might. Whatever the price of this fight may be."
Karis recalled that at the Victory Day parade in Paide a year ago Estonia had just emerged from the closure of the viral crisis and expressed joy to have the opportunity to come together in person again. "However, even then, this feeling of relief was overshadowed by concern regarding those who have not given up the desire for the future of Europe to be shaped not by the free self-determination of nations, but by the right of the one who is stronger. We now know that the door of war was ajar already a year ago," the president said.
According to him, the last four months have shown that war is possible even in Europe, where people have declared the era of armed violence to be irreversibly over. "The West has done everything to prevent war in Europe, but at the same time Russia has done everything to start a war. Now, not only in Estonia or the Baltic states, but throughout Europe, we need to get used to the idea that peace may not last forever. And we must be prepared to defend freedom on the battlefield if necessary," Karis said.
"Already today, this has a significant impact on our daily lives, which goes hand in hand with our and the allies' efforts to support Ukraine and contain Russia. Whether it be increased heating and fuel expenses, food price hikes -- inflation, but also the need to help Ukrainian families escaping war. This concerns us all and we are all now feeling the effects of the war initiated by Russia in one way or another," the head of state said.
"I know that many people are finding it even harder to cope. This endurance and patience, this extra burden that I ask of you is not easy to bear. But by helping Ukraine to fight and defend itself, we are also defending Estonia and peace in Europe. This is our fight for freedom," Karis said. "Perhaps we were not prepared for the need for current generations to oppose Russia's military force to deprive its neighbors of their free decision-making power. But we must do it and stop Russia's aggression."
"On February 24, I said that the war initiated by Russia in Ukraine is a crime that is taking the lives of many Ukrainians and Russians. The reality is even worse. Russia is in its fourth month of war and its crimes are accumulating: Bucha, Borodianka, Mariupol, Sievierodonetsk. Names hitherto unknown to many, now synonymous with violence, death, suffering," Karis said. "We do not have the right to tire or accept evil, to forget Ukrainians' lost lives and the ruined cities of Ukraine, if we ourselves want to live in peace in our own country, which is based on freedom, fairness and justice."
According to the president, against the background of the horror by Russian troops, people have been inspired by the bravery, resourcefulness and strength of the people, soldiers and territorial defense units of Ukraine. "Ukrainians have shown us all their courage and love for their homeland. We saw the Ukrainian people joining territorial defense en masse after the Russian invasion. While at the outbreak of the war, there were about six and a half thousand fighters in Ukraine's territorial defense units, then in three months that number had risen to 117,000. 18-fold," Karis added.
"Would we be as determined? Yes, there is no doubt about that. Since February 24, over 3,300 people have applied to join Kaitseliit. It is significant that over a third of them joined the Naiskodukaitse women's arm of Kaitseliit, because the contribution of Estonian women to the defense of our country is essential. Right here in Saaremaa, 50 residents submitted an application to join Kaitseliit and 30 joined Naiskodukaitse," Karis said.
When talking to those who have joined, Karis says that their reasons are very simple: they want to be prepared for a crisis situation and acquire the necessary skills already in peacetime. Or they consider it important to recall what has been forgotten after conscript service. "They are absolutely right, because we can only succeed in a crisis if our actions are based on proper preparation. We have practiced our actions and learned to act together," the president said.
According to Karis, every Estonian should know what their task and work is during a crisis. "Sometimes the task can be just knowledge and skills on how to ensure one's own coping. But those able can contribute more directly to national defense. Through Kaitseliit, where there is application also for those who, due to age, beliefs or health, cannot directly contribute to military defense. The same goes for volunteer rescuers or assistant police officers. We can all learn how to help ourselves and others," the president said.
"This kind of readiness-focused and forward-looking thinking is exactly what will help us as a nation and country to be prepared for all situations. Next year, we will further increase our territorial defense by 10,000 people, relying on reservists. This provides an opportunity to further strengthen our national defense through territorial defense. Helps reservists better maintain and hone their skills and maintain strong ties with fellow fighters and national defense," Karis said.
"My firm belief in Estonian national defense is also based on the fact that surveys uniformly show that the readiness and morale of our reserve forces is high. I will give one example from a survey conducted last year: 98 percent of reservists would be ready to take part in defense activities if Estonia were attacked. There were no people in this survey who would definitely not be ready to take part in it. None," the president added.
"Although it is not easy for many to attend training gatherings alongside work, family and other obligations, over 6,200 reservists came to the Siil 2022 (Hedgehog 2022) exercise this spring. In addition to them also thousands of conscripts, active troops and Kaitseliit volunteers. One must commend their next of kin and employers, who enabled them to come to the exercise. Your support is essential, as such exercises help us maintain our defense readiness," the head of state said.