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At the Victory Day parade, Tallinn Song Festival Grounds

Võidupüha paraad Tallinnas.
Victory Day Parade in Tallinn.
© Kaitseliit

23.06.2018

Dear Defence League members, fellow people of Estonia here in Tallinn or in homes throughout Estonia,
Today, here at the Song Festival Grounds, organized by the Defence League, we bear witness to the Estonian people's will to defend their country. We see everyone's commitment, will and preparedness – and we also demonstrate it. The parade raises our self-confidence as we show that, if necessary, the entire people are involved in our defence.

To our allies this parade demonstrates that Estonians are prepared to stand up for themselves if needed to. To our opponents the parade demonstrates that Estonia's power is not merely limited to professional soldiers or even trained reservists. Estonia's power lies in the readiness of the entire people to stand up for themselves and support each other in hardship.

Our own power and will is the greatest guarantee of our security. Our response to crises related to public safety – such as this dry spring's forest fires – involves the entire people. The people turned out alongside professional rescue workers, and professional rescuers know how to interact with volunteers.

Accidents happen. They cannot be completely prevented. Unfortunately, we must admit that the fires are sparked by our own actions. Much work must be done before everyone senses their responsibility to act pre-emptively, to keep at least avoidable accidents from happening. In this endeavour, rescuers and volunteers are also working side-by-side. I would like to thank all the rescue-service volunteers – a contingent that has always included many Defence League members. Every challenge that we resolve jointly shows yet again that we would also act in concert in the case of a serious security crisis. Precisely this readiness is the best kind of prevention – people who want with all their hearts to defend themselves are indeed defended. The people's own commitment is what gives real value to our readiness, skills, knowledge and equipment.

Fellow people of Estonia!

We live in a world of paradoxes. On one hand, today Estonia is better protected than ever before. We have perseveringly developed our independent defence capability while establishing strong alliances with friends who share the same values we do.

Yet the world around us is restless, creating a feeling that security has become more fragile. War is raging in Ukraine and the Middle East, and people are being killed or fleeing as refugees. Attempts to replace international law, values and national sovereignty with the right of the powerful have not faded.

Every week brings news of differences of opinion in our own ranks – among the Western democratic countries. These differences of opinion do not actually extend to the roots of our alliances – democratic values and the international legal environment.

Yet an inconsiderate quarrel may still harm these roots if we forget, even for a second, that the roots, while robust, still require constant care from everyone for whom these values are important. Carelessness will be exploited by those who are at odds with our values and who would prefer a system where might makes right.

In a complicated world, we have only one compass. The needle of this compass orients itself according to a magnetic field of universal values: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As a small nation, we must not deviate from these values, not even once. We must not choose sides in particular disputes, but rather remain true to our compass. That will ensure that our decisions are always comprehensible for our friends, even in conditions where their own compass may be tilted for some reason due to their own interests. Because, to quote former President Lennart Meri: "A principle, once betrayed, will unleash a domino-effect, and stopping it will be more difficult and costly then remaining true to the principle."

Besides being actively engaged in international organizations, we must develop bilateral relations as well. Today, here, we are joined allied soldiers from United Kingdom, Denmark, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and the United States of America, and our partners Finland and Sweden. We have a bilateral allied relationship with France both here in Estonia and in faraway Africa. Aircraft from nearly all of our NATO allies have policed Baltic airspace. The European Union is directing its attention to the defensive capabilities of it's members. In this way, we can be self-confident that Estonian security does not depend on one person, one state or one organization. We know that we stand together with everyone whose compass is oriented in the field of common values.

Distinguished Defence Forces and Defence League members!

There are few countries left in the world that can mobilize more than one per cent of their population. Estonia can. In May, at the military exercise called Hedgehog, you showed us and the world this ability. Hedgehog did not lack certain similarities to Estonia's song festivals. There was a 16,000-strong "joint choir", and tens of thousands of spectators on the roadsides cheering. Hedgehog was something that people rather celebrated than just tolerated. Thanks go out to all the participants and the Estonian people for their understanding!

This year's Hedgehog had a wider scope than just excercising military defence. Internal security institutions also played a part. We are gaining a better understanding that military defence – the aspect our Defence Forces and Defence League are responsible for ensuring – is just one of six fields that make up comprehensive national defence. Military defence cannot answer the question of how our hospital network can manage a crisis where the number of patients is skyrocketing. Or how we avoid chaos when vital services are disrupted.

As a national contract we have established Defence Forces that have real capabilities and ability to react rapidly. We are prepared to defend ourselves against any enemy. Yet we should realize that well-developed capabilities and rapid response speed are essential in other national defence fields as well. These are things that for domestic crises and natural disasters and, of course, in case of a military crisis. However, while we can avoid the latter through deterrence, there is no deterrence against natural disasters. As said, accidents do happen.

We finally have a comprehensive national defence development plan, civilian ministries are drafting crisis plans, a number of concepts have been set out. But in a modern world we will not get far with merely smart documents, volunteer initiatives and crisis-time improvisations. So in this light, can we really be satisfied with a situation where for every 73 euros invested into the Defence Forces, the investment planned for all other fields of national defence averages only one euro? Perhaps we could add to that one euro, and not by reducing the 73 euros?

Dear fellow citizens,

The general election will be held eight months from now. We will decide how life in Estonia will be advanced over the ensuing four years. It's good that security topics will likely again take centre stage in the 2019 elections.

I hope the discussion about national defence and security will be very substantive this time around. In this election season, when there is again talk about the importance of comprehensive national defence, let us ask what this specifically means and how much funding is planned for a given national defence programme? And should we invest today or only during the next national budget strategy period? Accidents will not take their time; they can happen today or tomorrow. If we notice that election platforms contain keywords about new military capabilities or weapons systems, then let's think about whether defence spending should be raised to 2.5%, 3% or even 4% of the GDP? Another option is to be content with the current size and capabilities of the Defence Forces and accept that comprehensive national defence mainly exists on paper. This, too, is a choice. But if we choose the latter, it must be a conscious decision that is negotiated with the electorate. The Defence Forces' current capabilities are clearly the best Estonia has ever had. Thanks to EU funding, rescuers today have access to very good equipment. Volunteers are enthusiastic on both fronts and ready to pitch in. Now we all have to think about how to go on from here? Summer is a nice time when we can let our thoughts travel more freely, and people lose track of time sitting in the long summer evenings, but there's no reason that it should be wasted as a season for thinking about these issues. How well-defended Estonia do we need?

Let us take care of Estonia!

Long live the Defence League!