President of the Republic Alar Karis on New Year’s Eve
31 December 2022, Tallinn
Fellow citizens of Estonia,
We are once again standing in the grand hall amidst the flow of time, waiting for the turbines to be switched on and a bright flash to light the way for the new year.
Despite all of us certainly having moments of brightness in the past year to take with us into the new, this time there are few reasons to look back on the past year with a smile. It was a difficult year, a year of tensions and challenges. A year of an outbreak of war on our doorstep, security risks, high prices and inflation.
By having their army attack Ukraine, the leaders of Russia brought the sufferings of war and war crimes back to Europe in a depressing and sickening display. Estonia started to provide Ukraine military assistance even before the outbreak of war and urges its allies to increase it. I am also grateful to all of the people of Estonia who opened their hearts and their doors to war refugees and those who have sent different types of aid to Ukraine from wool socks and medical vehicles to camouflage nets and a mobile sauna. Let us – the government and the civil society – sustain this eagerness to help also in the coming year, because evil does not leave overnight, but at a snail’s pace.
We all wish for peace in Ukraine. Peace, however – and I mean just peace, not a ceasefire enforced by the aggressor – arrives once the war has ended and the Russian army of conquest has left or been driven out of Ukraine. After Ukraine’s victory, once peace has been achieved, we will ensure that Europe is left without any grey zones in terms of security. This means a credible security guarantee for the neighbouring countries of Russia, which is why I see no alternative to the expansion of the European Union and NATO if we truly want to secure peace in Europe.
My fellow Estonians,
There are organisms in nature who are able to become dormant in harsh conditions and can remain so for extended periods of time. Humans do not have this ability to wait for the situation to improve and come back to life in better days, we must live through both good and bad times.
I understand everyone who is frightened by the face of the current confluence of crises. Those who need help must get it. Others, however, would benefit from taking a moment to think about the past and the future.
30 years ago we swore that we were ready to metaphorically walk across Estonia and Livonia barefoot, if that was what it would take. Do you remember? Because we had a goal – free Estonia – and we believed that once we overcome the crises, we will have the opportunity to shape our own future.
To date, we have made so much progress with building this future that at one point, quite a number of us started to suspect that we have already completed our task. The past year was sobering and full of challenges that began to strongly shake our future trajectory. If there is anything to remember from decades ago, it is the power of having a goal. Without a goal, any difficulty will grow manyfold in our eyes.
What is our current goal? It is still a free independent Estonia that does not leave its people in times of trouble. Moreover, we want a wealthy and clear-sighted Europe that stands up for freedom, and 2022 proved that building this Europe is in our hands and power.
I hope this perspective helps us to understand the temporary nature of hardship.
I am certain that the Estonian economy has a tremendous number of people with an entrepreneurial mindset to turn the current crisis into new opportunities. This gives us the courage to look into the future with hopeful knowledge that every fall is followed by a rise. Despite the news of recession, better days are always yet to come and crisis-ravaged ground sprouts new opportunities, forming a basis for new growth.
A country is only as successful as its entrepreneurs, as successful as its artists, as successful as its scientists and engineers, as successful as its teachers are good at their job. We are only as successful as the people of any speciality are adept at their job.
This leads to one of my wishes for the new year: let us be demanding. Let us be demanding of ourselves and of those who we choose to lead our country at the beginning of March. Let us prevent the election campaign from fading into the ostensibility of words and promises and take a critical look at what lies behind them – which of them are designed to contribute to the greatness of only a chosen few and which will result in a greater, more successful and protected Estonia.
It is once again a night of hopes, when we aim to let go of the old and believe in the new.
We cannot promise – nobody can – that the new year will be better than the old one. One is for certain: if all of us here take good care of Estonia and our cities or villages, ourselves and our families, are careful in traffic and with fire, ensure that nobody is left alone or hurt, learn to listen to one another and speak softly, we will have a year that we do not have to regret later.
This way, all of those sparks of goodness can create shared energy that helps us all everywhere and in everything.
Happy New Year!