President Karis: Freedom is the Estonian State’s Character and Strength

  • 2023-08-21

My dear people, happy Day of the Restoration of Estonian Independence!

During the Singing Revolution, Estonians stood up and declared: we wish to be free again. We had the stubbornness, faith, and ability to turn the circumstances to our own advantage. We were wise and we were fortunate.

Sirje Endre was once asked where the ‘rightest’ Estonians were at that time – in the Committee of Estonia, the National Front, heritage protection, the Supreme Council of the Estonian SSR, or somewhere else? Her answer was exact: “All Estonians are always the best Estonians.”

We are accustomed to worrying constantly about whether the Estonian nation will endure. It is an understandable concern. Nevertheless, our nation has not been snuffed out in spite of occupations and oppressions. But we’ve lost our state once.

And what is our state? Our Constitution lays the foundation, declaring that the Estonian state is founded on liberty, justice, and the rule of law. The word order is not incidental. Freedom comes first; it is the basis for everything. It is the Estonian state’s character and strength.

Freedom is a value worthy of enduring protection. Yet, freedom may feel bothersome or dangerous to some. If it does, then one must think hard and look back into history. For there, we see the dangers of any attempt to curb freedoms in the name of avoiding peril.

I am nonplussed when I read opinion pieces on whether and how the media and freedom of expression should be controlled. State supervision of journalistic content is a bad idea.

My dear people.

It is difficult to be free. It is a weight of human nature: the weight of responsibility, honesty, and morality. Maintaining a free state is difficult as well.

Politics focused simply on staying in power is not politics. Democracy requires transparency. I invite everyone to discuss and put forth honest questions on topics like taxes, the green transition, demography, and many others ranging from foreign- and security policy to the fate of tiny rural schools. And to talk about the sense of security that people need, for when that is in place, then they will also feel secure to have children.

Estonia has more keen and quick-thinking individuals than there are media columnists. Even so, they refrain from engaging in public dialogue. What is hindering public debate? What is the reason for this self-censorship?

The ability to politely agree to disagree is also in decline. Do you rememvber Friedebert Tuglas’s concern that one day, people would uphold authority instead of truth and fear instead of freedom? Let’s not annul our freedom of intellect. Let us cherish it as a national treasure.

Dear listeners.

When I observe the struggle going on between the coalition and the opposition, one where one side’s triumph over the other and vice-versa seems to be at stake, then I’d like to ask whether something greater isn’t actually at stake. If a political struggle takes place in accordance with the rules of democracy, then the free state benefits. But we stand at a point where we must specify what those rules are, exactly.

I’d like to appeal to all politicians, both those serving in the Riigikogu and elsewhere: when choosing your words and statements, remember that you are responsible for the dignity of the Estonian state. The dignity of the Estonian state requires you to show dignity as well.

A couple weeks ago, I toured the Estonian History Museum’s exhibition on the former Estonian Royalist Party, which, at a time of conflict, aspired to boost the nation’s mental health through satire. One of their slogans really hit home: “For a Hate-Free Estonia and Europe”.

We cannot avoid Estonians’ innate stubbornness. But let us not hate one another.

The freedoms of thought and speech are greatest when practiced with dignity.

Esteemed listeners.

Right here in Europe, Ukraine is defending itself against Russian aggression on the battlefield. There is presently no military threat to Estonia’s independence – we have the capability and the opportunity to assess that with precision. I also want to assert that Estonia is using its freedom and its duty to help Ukraine in every way we can. The balance of the Free World is on our side.

Today, I’ve invited Estonia’s ambassadors here to Kadriorg. It is a show of gratitude to those who work hard every day to ensure that the global balance remains firmly and steadily in favor of freedom, our values, and our interests. To guarantee that evil does not overrun the world.

In doing this, we are also protecting Estonia’s freedom, language, culture, and state. It means engaging in close cooperation with likeminded countries, but also patient explanations. It means forging contacts with states in Asia and Africa with whom we may not share the same views right now, but who are all too familiar with the meanings of colonialism and conquest, and should be able to recognize it even in the 21st century.

Maintaining unity among allies, finding new friends, and providing Estonia with a sense of security is difficult and costly work. It is work that I do as well, and I’m disappointed that its funding has been a topic of contention in Estonia. I’m especially disappointed that doubt has been cast over the independence of the Office of the President during these arguments.

I guard the independence of the Office of the President. This includes the opportunity to take a critical look at the activities of the parliament and the government.

My dear people, we all have a right to share our opinion.

We have all taken part in building the Estonian state. Each has contributed their ideas and accomplishments to the best of their abilities and desires. Everyone who calls Estonia home.

We cannot know for certain what Estonia’s future will look like, but we do know that education and scholarship are keys to a better future. In the days of the restoration of Estonia’s independence, intellect often strode several steps ahead of the regime. Then, politicians and their parties edged ahead to the point where intellectuals were advised to stick to their own fields. Similar suggestions have been made to me as well: Mr. Head of State, this is politics, not academia. But it is the mind and viewpoint of a researcher that suits me most as president. And I doubt we have any need for politics that revolves only around its own axis and has lost touch with intellect.

What is the role of culture and research 35 years after the Singing Revolution?

Culture helps us to manage very human questions and difficulties in an ever-more-complicated world. It brings us back to our most crucial values and gives us vital breath when the economy and standards are increasingly in focus. It holds us together as a people.

Science and research accomplish similar tasks. And mistakes made by individual researchers should not lead to a witch hunt against knowledge and its acquisition. Protecting the free Estonian state also means caring for society’s intellect, ethics, and pure thought. All without arrogance.

Thirty-two years of unbroken freedom stretch behind us. The first generation born in a free Estonia has grown up and formed its own notion of freedom. Perhaps some believe that things have gone wrong; that whereas people had the right idea of freedom three decades ago, now is an era of distortion and exaggeration.

That is exactly what people thought back in the 1980s when the youth proposed ideas that were labelled extreme.

Our political credo – freedom and the preservation of the Estonian nation, language, and culture – was reasserted during the Singing Revolution. But for Estonia to remain free, we must acknowledge that the nature of freedom is to perpetually expand horizons.

It is up to us whether our decisions are merely rooted in the present day, or if we strive to peer beyond the horizon. We truly do need a long-term plan – Estonia and Europe as a whole.

Looking into Estonia’s future, I would like to see an educated and wise populace, a competitive economy, innovative industry, first-rate research, vibrant rural life, rapid connections, and digital solutions – not just the glorification of speed and efficiency, but self-sacrifice in the name of something greater, respect for nature, trust for one another, and an understanding of the world.

It’s all possible if we so desire – if we ourselves wish to be that kind of nation.

As Aapo Ilves wrote: the winds can’t sweep us from our way, let’s cherish our tongue and true to ourselves stay.

We are a tenacious people.

And what might a tenacious people wish for on this, the day of our restoration of independence?

More self-confidence, and belief in ourselves and in our state. More politeness. More thought that yields clarity. More talking and discussion, less noise. More inner freedom.

Then, we will endure.

Long live Estonia!