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At the Inauguration Ceremony

At the Inauguration Ceremony © Andres Putting

10.10.2016

Esteemed Mr. President,
members of the Riigikogu and the Government,
Your Excellencies,
ladies and gentlemen,
dear people of Estonia.

Twenty-five years ago, in this very same hall, the Republic of Estonia was restored. We now have a state that is a 21st-century democratic state. This has been achieved through the contributions of all Estonian people, irrespective of where they live, their profession, or their standard of living.

Today’s children only know the occupation through the memories of their grandparents. They are the grandchildren of a free Estonia. Today, I think of these children – and of their own grandchildren. But indeed, how few they number. Infants sleep soundly in their cots in fewer than fifteen thousand Estonian homes. A nice, round one hundred thousand Estonian preschool children may sneak into their parents’ beds each morning. On a global scale, there are hundreds of millions. These one hundred thousand children and their older siblings are our responsibility. As children grow up, they inevitably start to lose their sincere faith in the goodness of the world. It is our duty to keep up the faith that these children have in Estonia, themselves, and the future.

Everyone present in this hall has given one oath or another that conveys the same message: to remain faithful to our constitutional order. This means recognising that common, shared values stand above everyday bickering and self-interest. We are the ones who create the framework for the meaning of freedom, fairness, and justice in Estonia. We – and we alone – can maintain both the separation and the balance of powers. Our attitude, mentality, and acts will decide whether people feel that the country’s highest authority is vested in them. We will determine whether the growing generations believe in themselves and in Estonia.

Ladies and gentlemen, standing here before you, I would like to acknowledge my predecessors, as each and every one of them has been great in his own era. Lennart Meri by taking Estonia into the West, Arnold Rüütel by bringing Estonia and Europe to the people, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves by launching Estonia into cyberspace.

In this increasingly complex world that is shrunk by information density, we have our Estonia, a simultaneously stable and constantly transforming nation that seeks new goals. We have a society that believes in education; one, where schoolchildren exceed their peers almost everywhere in the world. We have a healthcare system that may occasionally give us cause to complain, yet contributes to the steady increase of average Estonian life expectancy. We have a unique culture that binds us together with a garland of flowers. We have our language, which lifts to the heavens and seeks eternity in the winds of song. We have a society where diversified communities are becoming more and more important. People with varying interests and goals contribute together and as one towards making their dreams come true.

This is the Estonia we have wanted. Twenty-five years ago, we sang Estonia free together. The difficulties we encountered during its initial years forced each of us to toil on our own. Now, we have come full circle. We have a civil society that we nurture together. Of course, our everyday expectations are no longer as simple and apparent as they used to be. Independence is no longer a goal, but simply a presumption. An open world is no longer a dream, but simply an opportunity. This is why we now proceed and act as communities, local societies, choirs, and school-guardian boards. We enhance our lives, we do it together, and we enrich Estonia. Each and every one of us creates the Estonia that he or she wishes to have. This merges into a state that belongs to all of us.

Dear listeners! Unfortunately, this does not mean that Estonia enjoys a carefree existence and can simply focus on maintaining what has been achieved. Those who are born into freedom may take our country’s sovereignty, security, and freedoms for granted. We shouldn’t. All gardens become choked with weeds if not tended to or taken care of. Our population is dwindling and getting older. People’s living standards increasingly depend on their distance from Tallinn or Tartu, and this is cause for concern. We often top rankings that we should be at bottom of, whether they reflect disparities in wages, suicide rates, or quantity of alcohol consumed. Processes are underway in our immediate neighbourhood that, to put it lightly, cause us worry.

We cannot choose the era or the world in which we live, but we can choose the standpoints we take about the world and the people around us. Do we see them as fellow wayfarers who aim for shared goals, or as competitors promoting selfish interests? If we see competitors, then we will inevitably start to look for faults and lose our ability to see the positive. Knowing everyone’s weaknesses in detail will bring us no benefits. It will only contribute to the destruction of confidence.

Self-confidence is a prerequisite and important foundation for development and success. Those small children I think about as I stand here today – they are self-confident. They have immense faith in us, but they also have the same immense faith in themselves. Let us keep that faith.

Confident people build enterprises, raise happy children in their roles as parents or teachers, compete for research grants, create and maintain our culture, and bring home medals from athletic competitions.

But those afraid that someone at home, at school, or in the media will gleefully point out their flaws will not guide our lives forward. No one is perfect or infallible, but neither does anyone totally lack strong suits. Someone conscious that they can expect gloating, ridicule, and public shaming for every mistake they make will lose their ability to make decisions. We can only develop Estonia by supporting one another. The Estonian Constitution is not merely a set of legal provisions. It gives us basic values to rely upon. Those who share these values can consider themselves sterling members of society, even if they’re somehow different or we ourselves would take a different approach within a certain context. Let us cherish our values!

Estonia did not become rich in the last century, when doing so required a wealth of natural resources and inflicted considerable damage upon the environment. Luckily for us, we all have this opportunity today, as wealth and prosperity now derive from education and entrepreneurial courage. In addition to self-confidence, we must give our children an education. This is the most important tool in ensuring they build a future for their own children.

Henry Ford was the first to say that it is not the employer who pays the wages; the employer is simply an intermediary. Products and, increasingly, services pay wages these days. What possible product or service could we develop in Estonia that will harness the local circumstances and opportunities and contribute to our international success? It is certainly not just a single large Nokia-type enterprise, but instead many products and services that depend on the skills and dreams of their developer. These can only be created through clever work by free and responsible entrepreneurs. The state is responsible for education and for ensuring the simplicity and freedom of entrepreneurship.

The president of a democratic country cannot single-handedly create a fair, caring environment that supports self-confidence. Therefore, I turn to you. A president can only be demandingly articulate and make sure the issues that matter to our children and grandchildren – and to their children in turn – are always on the agenda. The president is responsible for the Estonia of our children and grandchildren. An Estonia of self-confident, well-educated, and healthy people. This leads to an inevitable conclusion: the president must be present wherever people are facing difficulties. The president must use the power of her words and the status of her office to support those who might otherwise be left out. It is the job of the president to remember that an ethical state must offer opportunities to the strong and support the weak.

An ethical state gives people self-confidence and thereby becomes stronger itself. It is a state that belongs to the people. The highest authority can only be vested in people who feel their leaders are in their service. Twenty-first-century leaders create the environment and provide prerequisites. Twenty-first-century leaders do not issue orders or prohibitions. Twenty-first-century leaders inspire people to act and give recognition for the outcomes. In the 21st century, success comes to countries that act with regard for the future: countries that will remember and set long-term goals.

In our era, in which tomorrow is expected to be better than yesterday solely because we have already forgotten everything that happened, this will be more difficult than ever before. However, it is the job of all of us here in this hall today. Our children’s and grandchildren’s self-confidence and courage to take action. Their education. Their health, and the health and well-being of our parents. The care that we exhibit in looking after our own parents today will show our children how they should take care of us once they are grown up. We here must encourage people to dream and support the realisation of their dreams. And we must also be there to pick up the pieces of broken dreams. To give support when the light at the end of the tunnel has dimmed or extinguished.

I believe and hope that in five years, we will see more understanding and less condemnation in Estonia. More assistance. More courage and less fear.

In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt uttered his famous words: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ The quote has stayed with me for almost 20 years, since I first saw it on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C. This statement was included in his inaugural address. It was during the Great Depression. He further added that the common difficulties facing American society thankfully only concerned material things. Estonia’s difficulties have never only been material. The same can be said about the United States’ concerns in Roosevelt’s days, and although he didn’t speak it aloud at the time, he probably knew it. Estonians’ strength is that we are very frank. We can declare clearly that the economy has never been our greatest problem. Our greatest problem will always be security. Yes, we do have our allies who share the same values and have helped to fortify Estonia’s sovereignty to be stronger than ever before. Let us cherish our allies and listen to their worries, too!

Yet, we must never forget that the responsibility for safekeeping our sovereignty always begins with us. We must have the confidence and faith that we can keep Estonia safe, always and every day.

The most crucial key to Estonia’s security is its civil society: free and self-confident Estonian individuals who stick together with their kindred spirits and are willing to cooperate. The importance of the Estonian Defence League has increased considerably in our fundamental national defence documents. This is a sign of civil society’s progress, also.

Ladies and gentlemen! I can sense the spirit of cooperation here today, in this hall. And there is even more outside of it. We have spoken too little recently about some things that we take for granted: our dreams for a better Estonia; for the Estonia of our grandchildren and of their children.

Time is ticking away and the future will inevitably arrive, even if we don’t think about it every day. However, the rightful, bold decisions we take today will help to ensure that the hope in the eyes of those staring up at us from their cradles will be fulfilled. From generation to generation, just as our Constitution states.

Let us cherish Estonia!