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On the Anniversary of the Restoration of Estonian Independence in Kadriorg

On the Anniversary of the Restoration of Estonian Independence in Kadriorg © Vabariigi Presidendi Kantselei

19.08.2018

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

In 1988, speaking at the Song of Estonia event held at the Song Festival Grounds, Siim Kallas said: ‘We knew there would be a scandal. But 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 a 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, we had the strength to engage in politics back then. Complex politics with the entire nation. And we did so in much more complicated conditions than today.

Regardless, the words spoken by the Soviet-era dissident Erik Udam at the founding meeting of the Estonian National Independence Party characterised us well: ‘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 consequences.’

Today, we are a much more experienced, much more successful nation. 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 possible future for us.

However, there is a key problem to this discussion that I wish 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 making complicated things comprehensible, not actively selling simple promises. We will hopefully see this art in the upcoming political season.

I am not undervaluing those election pledges that are well articulated and aimed at bringing balance to the development of Estonia’s society – far from it. But it does not happen automatically. The best way to ensure that society develops in a consistent manner is to think things through with the electorate as well.

We have to talk about education. We have to talk about healthcare. The hopes of the next generation are created through a consistent, well-organised school system. Healthcare and social protection are the second and third pillars of society’s future-oriented sense of security. The social sphere, and perhaps more widely our caring for weaker members of society, tended to be neglected in the early phase after independence was restored. Estonia’s economic success now obliges us 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 behaviour we see today, such as in traffic, is a reflection of a generation raised in less caring times that is now coming of age.

Education, a mindset informed by Estonian culture, a scientific approach to thinking: without these, we will not build a good society. Thanks to high-tech devices, children entering school have become much smarter than today’s adults were when they began their education. Elementary-form children pick up English on their own from the Internet and solve math problems disguised as games. They find themselves bored at school if their earlier 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 upon. Children’s knowledge can be strong, or weak, in very different ways. The earlier we achieve a system where education is based on feedback and takes into account what children know, the better future we will be creating for our children and our country.

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 can’t offer our kids all the knowledge that they will need on a daily basis 30 years from now, anyway. However, we can give them a compass of democratic values and freedoms. 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 it is the Estonian language and Estonian culture, which help to keep all of the components of our society cohesive. The European Union, too, is based upon a common European cultural history. The definition and protection of human rights, and even international security architecture are the outcome of centuries-long philosophical rumination. 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, the provocative – we need our own culture.

At the same time, culture is what helps us get closer to the societal ideal, at which point we have hashed out our differences and reached agreement, consensus. This cannot be the case every day, but we can occasionally allow it. At the Estonian Song and Dance Festival. At Pärnu Music Festival. At a Konrad Mägi exhibition. At the Juu Jääb festival. We can do so at summer performances held all across Estonia. Yesterday, at the Song Festival Grounds. Whenever we leave a concert, performance, or exhibition, we do so with a pleasant feeling in our hearts. We do not realize, for the most part, that we have just gone to revitalise our spirits at our local cultural spring, but we are still quite obviously revitalised.

To be able to provide Estonian-language education that is compatible with the future, a smart government, preventive and high-quality healthcare, and a supportive society, we also need Estonian scholars and scientists. Without increasing our contribution to research, we will, over time, lose the ability to bring in foreign funding. If our people do not want 20th-century technologies, even if they are more refined than ever before, then we have no other choice but to spend towards having more renewable resources: good ideas and key abilities for implementing them.

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

And finally, we must 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, then our future as a country will truly be in serious jeopardy. If we do not want to think creatively about our future, the future will start to appear more frightening than it actually is. Panicked societies tend to rashly seek simple solutions, and instead of relying on democratic processes, they rely on one individual or one view that promises to shield them from all the world’s trials and tribulations.

In a democracy, the politician’s profession is just as important as any other job, without which society could not function. If Heinz Valk hadn’t spoken his famous words ‘One day, no matter what, we will win,’ would the whole nation have had the strength to hope? Would we have the Kumu Art Museum if Signe Kivi had not wanted to be minister of culture? And whenever Endel Lippmaa took part in a political debate, no one could depend solely on flowery rhetoric or curry favour with empty wordplay. He would always ask, ‘Sorry, but what is your assertion based upon?’ and then rummage around in his briefcase for a document to back up his argument. The Independent Monarchists, which I’d so much as call a populist political party that swam past the mainstream, was once able to lift the spirits of both the electorate and the elected, as well as foster hope for a better Estonia, with the poet Priit Aimla in its ranks. 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, and just as risky as brain surgery, but just as necessary. In fact, it depends on us whether a similarly cool party will be raging here one hundred years from now, or there will only be the rustling of leaves high in the crowns of century-old oaks.

Every year when we gather here in the Rose Garden to think back on the days in which our independence was restored, someone leaves with a shard of stone taken from the boulders once hauled up to defend Toompea Hill. This year’s recipient provided the musical soundtrack for those days, singing solo or with several of his colleagues.

I hope that today’s shard will remind us of an era in which everyone wanted to be in politics and, looking back from nearly 30 years later, many good policies were accomplished. This gives us inspiration. Why can’t we do it again? Just like Ivo Linna sang in the bands In Spe and the Swing Song Sextet in 1988, to lyrics written by Jüri Leesment and music composed by Alo Mattiisen:

‘In the hopes the path we found was worth the wait/
in the hopes it’s easier to love than to hate.’

Ivo Linna was by our side during the restoration of independence, and neither he nor his songs left us during the years of economic bust and boom. I believe 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 nation, just like a politician dreams of being. He is a reminder of the times when politics in Estonia was influenced by the likes of Heinz Valk with the Popular Front and Lagle Parek with the National Independence Party, accompanied by patriotic songs and performers. Ivo Linna, please come up and take this stone with you. Take it across the sea or set it by the edge of a forest, as you wish. This weighty stone is a small expression of the gratitude felt by the people of Estonia.