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President of the Republic at the Ceremony for Awarding Decorations


Around this time 25 years ago, in his first Independence Day speech as president, Lennart Meri said the following: "I saw Estonia as if for the first time: it is a new land, full of hope and potential, but also a land burdened with worries. At the moment, we live on idealism more so than bread. The bearer of this idealism is the older generation, which knows and remembers that Estonia, between the two world wars, was transformed into a powerful and dynamic republic only through hard work. Idealism is also borne by the Estonian youth, just as at the time the Manifesto was proclaimed."

The concluding words of Meri's address were borrowed from August Ots, a pre-war parish elder from Saaremaa: "A man must work so hard that he does not need to cut his fingernails."

Since then a new generation has been born: the children of 25 years ago are now in this hall. The youth of the 1990s have reached a mature middle age. And our grateful thoughts are with the older generation, the one referred to by President Meri, with those who are still with us today and with those who have passed on.

One Generation of Work.

You, the people who have gathered here today, are a beautiful embodiment of this work and of its fruit. All of you have built Estonia like you would build a home – whether your tool is a compass or a plane, art or music. This is work well done, because you have put your heart and soul into it. It does not matter if you did what you did in return for a salary or during your free time in the evenings and at weekends. Thanks to your work there are more friends, more knowledge, more security, more memories in this home. And this is how it should be in a proper home. Compared with the time 25 years ago there is definitely more bread, but not less idealism.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation for this to you and those close to you!

However, we should also ask ourselves, are we happy? The sad truth is that many among us feel that they do not know this country any more. They do not feel that they are being appreciated here. And even if we keep repeating our mantra that this is really the Estonia we wanted, there are many people who do not agree with this and I cannot say that they are wrong.

Was Anton Hansen Tammsaare, whose 140th anniversary we recently celebrated, right when he had young Andres admit that even though he had worked hard in Vargamäe, love had not followed.

Or did maybe Anton Chekhov put his finger on it? He was a generation older than our Tammsaare and this season has seen many of his plays performed in our theatres.

It has been said about Chekhov that he is not an author of disruptive times. The lives of his characters are not upset by wars or revolutions, catastrophes or brilliant victories. Instead, they lead their lives in times that do not go down in history. Their lives follow a daily routine with their little joys and scrapes, the latter perhaps even more memorable than the joys. They get a feverish feeling of the days just passing by and while they are so terribly busy all the time, they never seem to get anywhere.

The dialogues, or rather monologues, recited to each other by the characters of Chekhov, sound very modern: the speakers are extremely frank, ready to touch upon any subject, to seek understanding with the listener, but at the same time they are entirely incapable of reaching the other, each locked in the cage of their own life.

However, Chekhov also finds a solution in work and in the loved ones with whom to engage in this work. They get over the hysterias and agitation and go their own ways and ... get down to work. Work is the embryo of the future.

The Estonian poet Betti Alver wrote an ode to an old potato basket, which was left by the fieldside after the last potatoes were picked from under the snow "üksi põllu äärde vastu talve unarule – loogad lahti, kanne katki, küljekondil kirvetäks. Midas ikka. Nii see läks." *

In spring the snowmelt carried the basket back to the willow, whose twigs were used by the herdsboy, who first made the basket and a bird's-eye primrose sprouted from under it. The poet asks: "Ja mida paremat kord päris imperaator? ... Su laadile on omalanda lähedased nii mullasõmer, taevatäht kui meelespea. Ja mis ehk enam veel – sind järelpõlv ei nea." *

Dear decoration holders,

Not every recognition can be pinned to the chest as a decoration. Your stories are about the work you undertook with great joy and love. Let us help find this joy in our presentday undertakings, where it may be lacking, so that this joy can lead us on to the future.

In the Estonian language the present (tense) also expresses the future!

* Approximate translation: “was forgotten all alone by the fieldside in the face of winter – worn and broken, wounded by an axe. Nothing doing, so it was.”

* Approximate translation “And how was once the fate of the emperor any better? ...
But the earth, the star and bird’eye primrose are equally close to your nature.
And what may even better be –
The future generations won’t condemn you.”