President of the Republic of Estonia kersti kaljulaid
Dear Estonian people
August 20th is the day when the Estonian people’s audacity coincided with a great historical opportunity. A time when the Estonian people were of one mind and able to take advantage of this opportunity.
Of course, even at that time, we did not agree about everything. Why should we? Among other things, independence also means the opportunity to disagree. One idea, one opinion, one right – this is what we wanted to be free of. At that time, we explicitly recognised that this way of thinking meant totalitarianism.
Today, 26 years later, we have for some reason started to think that different opinions are no longer necessary. We seem unable find any reasonable compromises anymore – ones that many people would be happy with.
I watch and wonder at how those with socially extreme worldviews are ready to change the rules of the game so that one’s right to make one’s own decisions about simple domestic matters is significantly diminishing instead of constructively supporting positive choices. And all the more, when a wish or need to just fill the state treasury is what shines that through those prohibitions and commands and the fig leaf of a worldview.
And the wish for a radical and revolutionary return to a time when people, including women and children, had significantly less freedoms seems just as strange. Conservatism is the art of avoiding revolutions. But the wide-ranging restriction of the freedoms of a liberal democracy under the guise of promoting nationalism would be a drastic upheaval, not a sensible conservative policy. Actually conservatives seek to be informed of the sweep of historical events far enough in advance to enable them to slowly prepare for the future without having to make drastic corrections.
We fought for freedom. Everything was simple and clear. Freedom was the right to do everything totally differently from the occupiers – and instinctively, our liberal democracy grew out of doing everything to the contrary. We see that, of the countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain that have now been freed, it is the Baltics that have grown rapidly and unhesitatingly into democratic states that follow the rule of law, value personal liberties, have a free media and keep the power of the state in a predictable framework. Because we were most vividly and explicitly not free. Thus, it was very easy for us to understand how to be free – we had to make a 180-degree turn away from what the occupying power wanted.
Now we face a more complicated situation. An occupation can go unnoticed when you are threatening to occupy yourself. An occupation is usually initiated in the name of an idea, mobilising behind a concept without listening to other ideas or concepts. This is followed by shutting off the annoying buzz of dissenting opinions, because if you don’t listen, the ideas of others will just turn into noise. That’s all it takes. And democracy is consigned to the past.
We see this self-occupation occurring in countries where we thought that our similar experience behind the Iron Curtain would help them avoid such developments. We had been convinced that democracy in those countries, as in ours, could only be destroyed by a foreign power. And therefore we are in danger of not taking offence at the support for such developments if those promoting them speak the same language we do. Self-occupation moves more stealthily than occupation by a foreigner. The restriction of freedom, in the name of any sacred idea, be it pure Estonianism or a better choice of food – can mark the start of self-occupation.
Even odder is the rhetorical incisiveness of the disputes in which the opinions differ by barely 20 to 30 degrees, and certainly not 180. One cannot aspire to lead the society and then make compromises related the Estonia’s long-term future in the name of one’s own short-term political interests. Victory is accompanied by the obligation to make sure that the losers do not feel they have been sacrificed for the interests of others. But can we do this, if before the elections, verbal fists are being held under one’s opponents noses?
We can say that radical rhetoric is only a way to attract attention. However, I fear that the impact is deeper. The language usage of bullies makes us all into bullies. Retaining our dignity makes us into statesmen. That’s just how it is.
The values of liberal democracy are dear to me and I am also proud of being Estonian. I believe that is possible to preserve the Estonian nation and culture without inhibiting democracy, so that the great majority of our people will still be moved by the spirit of our song festivals. I am proud that I am an Estonian and I do not see any contradiction in also being part of an international value-based community. Quite the opposite, I do not see any other alternative for the protection of the Estonian culture and people than cooperating even more closely with like-minded democratic countries; and making sure that this cooperation does not weaken and that the basis for this cooperation does not shift from shared values to profits and special interests.
As president, I cannot stress the obligation of others to honour the wishes of our country and people in our international value-based security environment, if we retreat from these values in Estonia. And I do not see any contradiction between national values and the values of a socially liberal democracy.
Excuse me, but this conflict does not exist. It can be artificially constructed, but it would be ludicrous, boorish and predictable.
No matter how incisive the expressions we use, I don’t believe that would result in a less ludicrous conflict than the issue of who a dead dog’s corpse belongs to. No matter how much we toss the corpse back and forth over the fence, or no matter how loud we swear, the dispute will not become any more meaningful or less ludicrous.
And yet, we face genuine challenges – a geopolitically seismic geographic location, where the danger is not great, but where one must be vigilant. We are facing great social change caused by current and future technologies. A change that is probably just as great the one faced by those that experienced the transition from an agrarian to an industrial society. Geography will lose its importance; one’s habitat and location will lose their importance; the production of goods will not provide mass employment; and new jobs will develop in areas of activity that we cannot describe, regulate or tax. And then what?
Our constitution calls for the protection of our culture and language. How will we do that when our nation and our entire society is multinational? When we will provide Estonian children living abroad a boarding school so they can acquire an Estonian education? How will we provide social guarantees for our people when Estonia is no longer seen to be located on these 45 thousand square kilometres, but is a state that provides security that must reach out to its citizens and taxpayers in a global space?
The local elections are approaching. The administrative reform needs to be given meaning. We need to agree what is the same throughout Estonia, and therefore, naturally assigned to the national government. And what is more visible locally, and should be left to local governments and communities. The subsidiarity principle needs to be filled with content. The obligation to ensure equal opportunities for everyone will be left mostly to the local governments – even for those who have a greater than usual need for support. Starting with those whose irrefutable right to be cared for is not disputed by anyone, and ending with those who are partially responsible for the difficulties they now face. How do we plan to do this?
We must deal with such issues, if we are to honourably continue the work of the people who seized the moment and helped restore our independence. Let’s leave our old conflicts and the ones that never really existed behind and focus on Estonia’s future. We have things to think about. And by introducing the results of our deliberations, an irresistible fervour can develop that will attract attention without the use of incisive language.
Kaarin Raid once wrote on the edge of a programme – if it cannot be explained, it is theatre. Politics is neither theatre nor entertainment, but the art of leadership. Policies must explain, substantiate, and be reasoned. Policies must be our common tool for organising our collective life, not things in and of themselves, or tools for getting by. When our independence was restored, our cultural figures were excellent at making policy. However, politicians today are very good at making theatre, but they shouldn’t. At least not exclusively.
The tradition of celebrating August 20th here in the Rose Garden, as it was initiated by President Ilves, calls for a ritual – a gift from the freedom rock, the boulder on the edge of Toompea Hill that reminds us of our readiness to defend ourselves with the support of force, if necessary.
Every year, a piece of that rock is given to someone who played an important role in the restoration of our freedom. During the miserable occupation era, this year’s recipient of the chip of that rock possessed a magical power that prepared us for new opportunities. He helped us preserve hope. Helped us together with others to recognise the moment, and to be present when his expressed dreams were made possible by independence. And as poets always do, he does not incur a debt to time even now.