Dear future diplomats and foreign policy leaders.
I am honored but a bit uneasy to speak here today. After all, I am long-term practitioner of diplomacy yet one lacking formal education in the area. Self-made, as it were, and self-made men's tales can be tedious.
Yet, in the case of Eastern and Central Europe, 25 years ago, re-surfacing after a half century of totalitarian rule, when it came to diplomats in a country unshackled, there really wasn't much a of choice: either the dubious diplomats of the ancien regime; or enthusiastic democrats with few qualifications other than perhaps having foreign languages.
There we were in Estonia, with a freshly-minted foreign ministry with no money, made up largely of 20-somethings with no experience but motivated by will and hope.
If you've seen the movie Jefferson in Paris, you get the picture. The author of the Declaration of Independence takes a sledgehammer to a wall to renovate the US Paris Embassy; he rides horseback to Brussels to borrow money for Lafayette's wounded French veterans the U.S. Government was too broke to pay. Even the U.S. Foreign service once had to start from scratch.
I was one of those asked to help. I had been at Radio Free Europe for almost a decade, first as an analyst, later as head of the Estonian Service.
One day Estonia's President called. He asked I give up my job, my US Citizenship, to become ambassador to Washington. I couldn't refuse.
Today, the beginning seems unreal. Sometimes we didn't get paid, and lived off our credit cards. Our bank was kind enough to patiently await delayed transfers to cover the embassy rent. To get additional diplomatic staff I gave up a driver and drove myself.
My task was to get the US to help Estonia to get the 40 thousand or so Russian troops still stationed in an independent country to withdraw. In the evenings I thought long and hard on what my small and poor – and thanks to 5 decades of communist misrule – backward country had to do to survive in this Fukuyaman post-historical world.
I reached two conclusions. One - to compete, we had to digitize Estonian society. The other - we had to do whatever possible to join the EU and, hopefully, NATO.
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves opened the large international Tallinn e-Governance Conference today. This annual event is organised by the eGA – the e-Governance Academy – and brings together decision makers, financers of development cooperation, representatives of civil society, and IT companies from around the world in the Estonian capital.
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves was the keynote speaker at the Baltic studies conference at the University of Pennsylvania at the invitation of the organisers, who asked him to speak about the impact of international developments on the Baltic Sea region.
At the invitation of Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador in Moscow and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves visited the university and spoke to students and faculty members about the challenges that Europe is facing.