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President Kersti Kaljulaid on the 97th Anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty on 2 February 2017

President Kersti Kaljulaid on the 97th Anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty on 2 February 2017 © Siim Verner Teder/Estonian Defence Forces

02.02.2017

It is my pleasure to address you on the anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty.

Dealing with an aggressive state that ignores democratic principles and international norms is never easy. Estonia started planning peace negotiations with Bolshevik Russia in conjunction with its closest neighbours – Finland, Latvia and Lithuania.

At some point, our partners decided not to go forward. Estonia proceeded on its own. Perhaps because we were encouraged by the situation on the front. But also certainly due to the overall weariness caused by the war. Success on the battlefield provided hope that we could achieve what we both wanted and needed in the negotiations. We managed to the counter the other side's artillery diplomacy aimed at forcing the Estonian state to accept very poor terms and a borderline suitable to Russia.

Neither the international community nor our closest neighbours wanted to recognise Estonia's ambition to take advantage of its favourable military position. It was clearly not important to Western partners that far away, in this narrow section of the front where the Bolsheviks had grown tired, a nation was on the dawn of seizing a truly historic opportunity. Some countries even threatened international sanctions against Estonia in case we concluded a peace treaty with Russia.

Yet the opportunity to acquire a birth certificate for Estonia – as Lennart Meri called it – was both realistic and tempting. It was worth the risk. Our diplomats assumed responsibility and decided to take this risk.

Concluding a peace treaty with Russia was indisputably one of Estonian diplomacy's greatest achievements. A good result was far from guaranteed. Perseverance brought success.

Today, also, the global environment around us is unsettled. Scientists have for some time now been predicting that a more volatile climate will bring with it a more volatile political environment. We are probably only at the beginning of a process, which means that today's generation of diplomats must prepare to spend a good part of their time fulfilling operational tasks. Unexpected events are becoming the norm.

Complicated international relations are being used by some politicians as a pretext for renouncing established rules and norms. Cooperation is being replaced by confrontation, openness by isolationism, bridges by walls. We must adapt to these changes. We must be as nimble and flexible as during the Tartu Peace Treaty negotiations or when we restored our independence and aspired to join NATO and the European Union.

And most importantly – different institutions must work as one team so as not to allow our country to, once again, fall between the cracks of history. We have no other option but to coordinate among ourselves and to act, immediately.

Of course it would be better if we knew that this difficult period has a fixed end date, that there is but one goal that needs to be achieved, as previously in our history. The Peace Treaty. Independence. The European market and security. Our motives for acting would be moreclear for ourselves and for all Estonians.

But we are living in a new era in which we need to continue fulfilling our mission – to protect our security and to provide the necessary preconditions for economic growth. This means that each and every morning, we need to wake up and re-examine what and with whom we are acting in order to meet these aims.

The lack of a simple message, the difficulty of defining a measurable outcome is distressing. It makes winning public support and recognition difficult. Especially in today's media landscape where superlatives, panic, despair, euphoria, a whole rollercoaster of emotions are the norm.

In a simplistic and absolute world, people ask but two things – that we find a solution to global problems and, if we can't, that we at least make it so that they don't affect them.

And so we must do our best to try to justify our actions in simple and clear terms. This is an important skill that isn't naturally given to us. In diplomacy, background, nuances and details matter. Already this year we have to bring home and explain to Estonians a complex diplomatic model – the European Union presidency. Let's not forget to speak to our people. This is important.

We talk a lot about security. Others talk a lot about our region's security. But actually we should be talking about peace. Our allies are not coming to Estonia due to a heightened need to prepare for war. They are coming to ensure peace in Europe. Peace needs to be defended and secured, every day. This has never been possible only by words but by equipment and forces. Let us be encouraged by the knowledge that this has worked since NATO's inception. Let us cooperate with our regional partners to make sure that our sense of calm and security reaches the rest of the world. The Baltic and Nordic states should work together to disprove the myth that the Baltic Sea Region is somehow under greater threat than was West Berlin during the Cold War. I have seen the willingness of regional leaders to work towards this aim. So let's find the method and do so without delay.

I am encouraged by setting these common goals for us today. I know that all of us – diplomats, members of the defense forces, leaders and civil servants – work all the time for these goals. Let the Tartu Peace Treaty, signed 97 years ago, serve as an example to us and support us in our mission!