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The President of the Republic at the reception commemorating the 27th anniversary of restoration of independence

The President of the Republic at the reception commemorating the 27th anniversary of restoration of independence © Vabariigi Presidendi Kantselei


Dear visitors to the Rose Garden, dear people in homes across Estonia!

In 1988, speaking at the Song of Estonia event in the Song Festival Grounds, Siim Kallas said, "We knew there would be a scandal. But then we thought it would be worse if the people didn't understand and the substance of our proposal would be lost in some kind of fog. It all turned out differently. What has happened is actually unbelievable." Kallas continued, describing the discussions with the public over the IME (Self-Managing Estonia) proposal: "Two hours of questions that made us sweat because they were so to the point. That's the kind of support we will need more of in future. Sober, intelligent."

Reflecting on Kallas's words, back then we had the strength to engage in politics– to engage with the entire nation and to pursue complex political activity. In much more complicated conditions then what we have today.

Even despite the fact that words spoken by Soviet-era dissident Erik Udam at the founding meeting of the Estonian National Independence Party characterize us well. He said, "Maybe we have little experience as we were forced to live under duress – for their entire lives, people my age and younger haven't been able to be politically active in a free country. Because of that, we may stumble, we may err, but I don't have any doubt that we're all led by a sincere desire to do our part for our homeland. That desire is unselfish and I hope that our endeavours will not be without results."

Today we are a much more experienced, much more successful people. Democracy is not new for us. It is not futile to hope that this coming autumn, winter and spring will generate many good ideas about which political stratagems can shape the best of possible futures for us.

However, there is a key problem with this discussion that I want to share with the Estonian people. The conversations we have to have amongst ourselves are not just simple talk. We have to talk about what would support the gains and benefits that come from thinking.

We do not have to talk about these things in overly complicated terms. Ultimately, a politician's main professional skillset is to be able to make complex matters more or less comprehensible. The art of politics is to make complicated things understandable, not the art of actively selling simple promises. We will hopefully see this art on display in the upcoming political season.

I do not discount those election pledges that are well articulated and aimed at bringing balance to the development of Estonian society – far from it. But that does not happen automatically. The best ways to ensure that society develops in a consistent manner is to think things through with the electorate.

We have to talk about education. We have to talk about healthcare. The hopes of the next generation are created through a well-ordered consistent school system. Health care and social protection are the second and third pillars, which hold up the sense of future security for the society. The social sphere – and more broadly perhaps, caring for weaker members of society – tended to be neglected in the early phase after independence was restored. Estonia's economic success obliges us now to focus on taking notice of others and supporting and helping them. What can we do to decrease violence, ostracism and neglect? Perhaps the risk behaviours we see today, such as our traffic behaviour, are a reflection of a generation raised in less caring times now coming of age?

Education, a mindset informed by Estonian culture, a scientific approach to thinking – we will not build a good society without these. Thanks to their devices, children entering school have become much smarter about the world than today's adults were when they started school. Elementary-form children pick up English on their own from the Internet and solve math problems disguised as games. They find that they are bored at school if their prior skills are not taken into account and they are not given the chance to build further on the foundation they have laid. Yet of course, not all schoolchildren have such a base to build on. Children's knowledge can be strong – or weak – in very different ways. The earlier we attain a system where education is based on feedback and takes into account what children know, the better the future we will create for our children.

We have to focus less time on teaching facts and more effort on teaching how to be a human being. The ability to use one's freedoms without infringing on the liberty of others. The ability to defend oneself without becoming angry. We cannot offer our kids all the knowledge that they will need on a daily basis 30 years from now, anyway. But we can give them a compass of democratic values. In this way, we can help ourselves cope as a society, in society, no matter what the future holds for our children – be it arduous adaptation to climate changes or exciting new technologies.

A very important part of learning to be a human being is culture and the fine arts. The technocratic world may make us forget that the Estonian language and Estonian culture help to keep all of the components of our society cohesive. The European Union, too, is based on a common European cultural history. The definition and protection of human rights, even international security architecture, are the outcome of centuries-long philosophical thought. It is, then, logical to conclude that too little contemplation on life may pose a threat to these achievements of humankind. To keep this from happening, we need the aesthetic element, we need the thought-provoking and just the provocative – we need our culture.

At the same time, culture is what helps us get closer to the societal ideal, the point where we have hashed out our differences and have reached agreement, consensus. This cannot be the case every day, but sometimes we can permit ourselves harmony. At the song and dance festival. At the Järvi conductors' festival in Pärnu. At a Konrad Mägi exhibition. At Juu Jääb. At other summer events across Estonia suited to everyone's own taste. When we leave a concert, performance or exhibition, we do so with a pleasant feeling in our soul. Maybe we do not think that we have just sipped from our domestic cultural spring, yet we feel clearly refreshed.

To be able to provide Estonian-language education compatible with the future, a smart government, preventive and good-quality healthcare and a supportive society, we need Estonian scholars and scientists. Without increasing our contribution to research, we will, over time, lose the ability to draw on foreign funds. If our people do not want 20th-century technologies, even if they are more refined than ever before, we do not have any other choice but to spend on having more renewable resources – good ideas and key abilities for implementing them.

The rough draft of Estonia's future that will hopefully start to be sketched in the upcoming political season desperately needs a scientific foundation as well as cultural and educational base, so that the superstructure of the three pillars – education, healthcare and social protection – meet the expectations of Estonians and support their dreams.

In closing, we have to talk about politicians. Where do Estonia's politicians come from?

We have to debate our future. Those who care about Estonia's future cannot say that they do not like politics. If we do not shape our own future, it will be done for us. If too few people in Estonia want to engage in Estonian politics, our future as a country will truly be in serious danger. If we do not want to think creatively about our future, the future will start seeming more frightening that it actually is. Panicked societies tend to rashly look for simple solutions, and instead of democratic processes, they rely on one individual or one view that promises to shield them from the tribulations of the world.

In a democracy, the profession of a politician is just as important as any other job essential for the functioning of society. If Heinz Valk had not uttered his famous words "one way or another we're going to come out on top," would the whole nation have had the strength to hope? Would we have a Kumu Art Museum if Signe Kivi had not wanted to be minister of culture? And as long as Endel Lippmaa was a participant in a debate, no one could depend solely on flowery rhetoric and curry favour with empty wordplay. He always asked, "Sorry, but what is your assertion based on?" And then he rummaged in his briefcase for a document to back up his argument. A party swimming past the mainstream – I would even call the Monarchists a populist party – was once able to lift the spirits of both the electorate and the elected and hope of a better Estonia as long as Priit Aimla was a member of the party's parliamentary faction. The age of scientists, scholars, writers, engineers, journalists, teachers and doctors in Estonian politics is not over. On the contrary, we need you. The democratic process is just as torturous as the creative process, just as complicated as a scientific experiment, just as risky as a brain surgery – but just as necessary. Actually, it depends on us, whether a hundred years from now, here will be another cool party or simply the susurration of oak leaves.

Each year when we gather in the Rose Garden to think back on the days of the restoration of our independence, someone leaves here with a stone from the blocks hauled up for the defence of Toompea Hill. This year's recipient provided the musical soundtrack for those days, singing solo or with many of his colleagues.

I hope that today's little piece of rock will remind us of an era when everyone wanted to be in politics and much good politics were achieved if we look at the results nearly 30 years later: That gives us inspiration. Why could we not do so again? Just like Ivo Linna sang in the bands In Spe and the Swing Song Sextet in 1988, to lyrics by Jüri Leesment and music by Alo Mattiisen:

"In the hopes that the path we found was worth the wait/

in the hopes that it's easier to love than to hate."

Ivo Linna was there with us during the restoration of independence years, nor did he and his songs leave us during the boom and bust years. But it seems to me that he still has much to teach us because he is an invincible combination of optimism, wry warmth and patriotism.

He is close to the entire people like a politician dreams of being. He is a reminder of times when Estonian politics was characterized by Heinz Valk and the Popular Front and Lagle Parek and the National Independence Party, accompanied by patriotic songs and singers. Ivo Linna, please come up and take this stone with you. Take it across the sea or place it by the edge of the forest, as you wish. This weighty piece of rock is a small expression of the gratitude of the entire Estonian people.