Speech of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas in the Vanemuine Concert Hall in Tartu on the Celebration of the 99th Anniversary of the Estonian Republic

23.02.2017 | 18:02

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Dear Honorary Citizens of Tartu, City Council Chairman, and heads of the city.

Honourable people of Tartu and guests of our educational capital!

Good people of Estonia!

Your Fatherland, your faith, your people -
Is there anything more precious?
Is there any word other than these
That could pierce your heart with more strength?

My Fatherland, my faith, my people,
My sacred, beloved mother tongue!
I wish you would remain with me,
And my gray hair would see thee!

These are lines from the beautiful poem "Fatherland, Faith, People" by Lydia Koidula. The times of our national awakening were full of fiery hope and longing for the people of Estonia, our fatherland and our mother tongue to persevere for generations to come. That was the time when the local intelligentsia was born, when people started to buy farmhouses in their very own right, when Johann Voldemar Jannsen introduced the word "Estonian" and when the first pan-Estonian Song Festival was held.

Dear listeners!

We have the shared joy and pleasure to see that the words of our beloved national poetess did not just end up as a pretty figure of speech, but instead became a reality. Half a century later, the free Republic of Estonia was born.

Let me congratulate the people of Estonia, both home and abroad, on the eve of the 99th Anniversary of the Estonian Republic. Let me also remember and honour all of our ancestors who built this lovely country and fought for its freedom.

Tomorrow, Estonia will start its one hundredth year and we will soon be drawing thorough conclusions of the century-long history of our state. And yet it is impossible even today, when we're here in Tartu, the capital city of our national heritage, not to think of the times when our country was born. February the 23rd, 99 years ago was a day unlike any other in the history of Estonia. The "Manifesto To The Peoples Of Estonia" was publicly read out from a balcony of Endla Theatre in Pärnu and the Republic of Estonia was proclaimed publicly for the first time.

Our forefathers were very serious about establishing a free Republic, and they put their whole hearts into it. It was already by the very next day, on February the 24th that the Estonian Salvation Committee appointed the Estonian Provisionary Government, which was headed by Konstantin Päts as the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior Affairs. This was a revolutionary time that required unbelievable courage, determination and resolve from our ancestors.
The birth of our state was not painless or bloodless. Thousands died in the War of Independence and many more were wounded, countless homes were destroyed and families broken irreparably. Those are the kind of ultimate sacrifices that we cannot and must not forget. And it is in a similar vein today that we honour and remember all of the soldiers of the Estonian Defence Forces who have perished for our country and for a safer world.

I would also like to bear a thought for the events of the late 1980s and early 1990s. A country that is about to celebrate its centenary should not divide the efforts of the different groups of people who contributed to the restoration of its independence. We should be proud of the efforts of the People's Front, the Estonian Heritage Protection Society, the Estonian National Independence Party, the Estonian Citizens' Committees movement, the Congress of Estonia, and Estonian expatriates as well as all other popular initiatives. Let us remember with gratitude and appreciation all of the men and women who made our independence possible and all of those who contributed with determination to the statehood of Estonia.

Dear compatriots!

Let me repeat with conviction here, in the hometown of the Tartu Peace Treaty, that our country will remember, honour and value the heroes of the War of Independence and the builders of the Estonian Republic. We will neither forget the contribution of the generation of our fathers and mothers, nor our grandfathers and grandmothers, who worked hard and kept our Estonia alive under foreign rulers. If it weren't for their work and dedication, the people of Estonia would not have a country today whose Anniversary we celebrate.

Bloody conflicts that have been raging near and far, for years now, serve as a poignant reminder of the true price paid for the achievements and the independence of Estonia. Freedom, democracy and the rule of law with all of their good and bad sides have become the norm for us, but this is not so for everyone everywhere.

Looking back at historic events and thinking about the future we understand the importance of cooperation, cohesion and efforts to achieve common goals. The Estonian state will never be completed, and even today we are faced with a number of major challenges. To increase people’s well-being and security, and to overcome the population crisis, we must stand united and love our fatherland the same way we did a hundred years ago. Or as we did during the Singing Revolution, as many in this Hall today still remember very well.

The Estonian Republic is not just one of the Baltics or the Nordics or one of the Members States of the European Union. Estonia is our common home in the most treasured sense of the word. A home and a homeland should have a good atmosphere and warm relations between different family members, communities and ethnic groups A home should be a wonderful place to come back to, and a place where everybody feels good. At home, in our native place, we are always willing to cooperate with our neighbours and the community to make it even better.

An open mind and readiness to discuss things, not forcing others into quietness, should be a part of one's homeland and home-feeling. In a good family, the opinions of the youngest child and the grandmother are equally heard out. At home, every family member is always loved, valued and expected. This is how Estonia should work as well. It is the home of us all.

Every person leaving Estonia leaves a hole that cannot be filled by anyone else. An increase to the population of Tallinn is not a happy occurrence if it happens at the expense of rural areas. We need people in Tartu, in Narva, and on Saaremaa, as well as in the soon-to-be-established rural municipalities of Mulgi and Setomaa. All of us must work towards increasing numbers of repatriation, towards making people wish to live, work and have a home for their family here.

Let us all, each and everyone, do what we can to perpetuate these words of Jakob Hurt: "Estonians are not flies who are born today and die tomorrow, but rather an ancient and sturdy people who have been living in this world for a long time and will continue doing so long after our time."

Dear Estonia!

150 years ago, on a snowy February day just like today, rural municipality councils and governments convened for the first time in our country. The knowledge and experience obtained there in the course of half a century formed the spiritual and political foundation for the future state of Estonia. It was in the local municipal councils that our great-grandfathers learned about tax economy, about democracy and about finding a compromise solution if needed.

The crucial role of local governments and communities in shaping the living environment must also be considered when governing the country or carrying out an administrative reform. State authorities are not superiors or competitors to local governments, they are partners. We are not aiming at cost-efficiency or numbers that look better on paper. The important thing is that the everyday welfare of every person in Estonia should improve. Jobs should not disappear. Life in general should move on. Including outside of the city limits.

We can build our home only by working together. I would like to thank each entrepreneur, doctor, teacher, police officer and rescue worker. Each serviceperson, builder, worker, shop assistant, farmer, community centre head, and customer service staff. As well as the heads of local governments, journalists, members of the Riigikogu, and public officials. Our collective contribution has enabled us to come this far and it is only together that can we make Estonia even better.

The state itself has to be more caring and do everything in its power to take care of its people and to avoid accidents. A great example has been set by the Rescue Board whose officials and volunteers consult 17,000 families each year in their own homes to make the living environment safer for all of us.

I heartily recognise all volunteers who have found the time and the will to contribute, even though they have their own families and jobs to take care of. Volunteer work and various citizen initiatives like the "Let's Do It" community activities, the Estonian Food Bank, the cancer treatment foundation "The Gift of Life" and the "Let Us Salute!" campaign - all of them bring the people of Estonia together in the very best sense of the word. Let us ask ourselves sincerely, how often is it that we find a moment in our day for some volunteer work or for helping out an elderly neighbour.

Of course the state cannot rely on the contribution of the volunteers alone. State leaders must know how to lead changes, they must want and dare to do it and they must also take the responsibility that comes with it. Big decisions must never be made in a hurry, or rashly, but they have to be made eventually.
We are working towards finding new solutions and to leading Estonia forward in education, economy and several other fields of life. We have to provide the best possible education and the best possible employment opportunities for every child and every young person. This will help us be a success as a state for another 100 years.

Our pupils who are scoring very well in the PISA tests must see from a very early age that they are valued and their participation is appreciated in Estonia. And everyone of a working age, as well as all the elderly must feel the same. Armilda from Hellamaa still needs the village road to be cleared of snow and a postman to bring her birthday card or pension payment.

We have achieved a great deal over the last 25 years, but we must not become complacent and relax our efforts. Mediocrity must never be Estonia’s aim. Much more work needs to be done on all fronts. A good railway connection with Europe, creating jobs in rural regions, accessible public transport, fast internet, better connection with the islands, constant improvement of the business environment, encouraging and boosting entrepreneurship in remote regions, and public investment in infrastructure - these are just a few key aspects to improving the living environment of the Estonian people.

To bring the economy out of stagnation its structure has to be diversified and innovation has to be promoted through cooperation between the private sector and research facilities. There are also weak spots in the employment market that need attention. The state must create good growth opportunities for startups and the service sector, as well as the processing industry and traditional sectors like forestry and agriculture. We need the success stories of the Baltic Workboats shipyard in Saaremaa as well as that of Transferwise.

There is a lot of unused potential in Estonia that will help create additional jobs in rural areas and increase export. Allow me to share the example of an organic economy where we want to be pioneers.

When there is economic growth, opportunities must be created for all and the value created has to be divided justly. The society's solidarity can be increased and a better quality of life provided for less-privileged people only through an inclusive economic growth. The state must guarantee decent living conditions to all of its citizens regardless of their sex, age, nationality or domicile. This is the principle we take as the basis for carrying out the state reform, for increasing the profit-tax-exempt amount and for preparing a pensions reform.

Good people of Estonia!

I have mentioned how important it is to have common goals and to cooperate in developing Estonia as a living environment, and these things are equally important in ensuring security. The foreign and security policies of our country are based on continuity and a broad political consensus. Our diplomats, internal security officials and Defence Forces spare no effort in working towards this, but we also need the unique contribution of every person to help keep our country safe and secure. Everyone in Estonia should feel that they are a part of a free country and know that the country cares for them - and is ready to protect them if needed.

Estonia is an integral part of the European Union and NATO. Being a part of these unions is not just an additional security guarantee for us, it also helps us keep the economy stable and increase the wellbeing of everyone in Estonia. We will be contributing almost 2.2% of the GDP to state defence this year, but we know that freedom or security cannot be bought. It can only be ensured by everyone's own willingness to protect and care for the state of Estonia. "The survival of Estonia depends on each one of us" is how President Lennart Meri formulated the basic principle of our nationhood.

I would like to thank and acknowledge all of our international allies and partners. In April, a NATO combat group will arrive at Tapa, headed by Estonia's good friend the United Kingdom and also supported by our allies Denmark and France. This definitely does not mean that the enemy is about to attack. On the contrary, the allies are here only and for the sole reason of ensuring peace. Let me repeat what I said to Bianca, a second grade student in the Saaremaa Co-Educational Gymnasium last week: "Our country is safe and protected".

The aim of Estonia, the European Union and NATO is to live in peace with all nations and states. However, there is a number of challenges Estonia and our allies have to face. Crimea and a large part of the territory of Georgia remain occupied by Russia, war is going on in eastern Ukraine, foreign troops have not left Moldova. Together with our partners, we will have to find a peaceful solution to the war in Syria and the humanitarian catastrophe it has brought along.
We have to reorganise and cooperate much more if we want our fight against terrorism to bear more results. We cannot hide our heads in the sand and hope that whatever is going on in the world will pass us by. Estonia has to carry out its role bravely and we can be sure that it will only grow with time.

In July this year, Estonia will assume the Presidency of the European Union. As the Presidency, our foremost task will be to maintain the unity of the European Union. Peace, solidarity and a sense of unity are as topical as they were in the initial years of the European Union. Together we are strong, as separate states we would scatter like sand.

Being the Presidency will give us a first-time opportunity to lead and direct sessions of the European Union, its Ministers and working groups. We will have to reach agreements that will impact the whole world, whether it's regarding the security situation, the migration crisis, Brexit or eco-friendly agriculture. The priorities of Estonia's Presidency are based on four values - on developing an innovative, digital, inclusive, and secure European Union. We will also be raising topics that are important for Estonia, like the energy and transportation associations of Europe.

Dear listeners!

George Washington, the first President of the USA once said: "Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth." Estonia's liberty grew its first roots approximately a century ago and in spite of all the difficulties, we are still reaching for new heights.

This year's Anniversary of the Estonian Republic is the last two-digit one. The birth of the Estonian state and its proving itself in the international community of states is not an achievement of individual leaders or diplomats, it is an achievement of the people. We have to keep working for our state every day if we want our present and future generations to keep it. Forever.

Strengthening the nationhood is not just about physical security, it is also about a social feeling of security, solidarity, cohesion of the society, a feeling of being at home. It's about a feeling that our state needs us and we need our state.

Starting next week, we will all start preparing for the 100th Anniversary of our Republic; together. That is a meaningful number. The opening event of the celebrations of the Centennial of the Estonian Republic will take place on April 16 and jubilee events will go on until the symbolic date of February 2, 2020.
Estonia 100 will be a celebration of the Estonian nation and we can all participate by planting oak-trees, by hiking along the border of the Governorates of Livonia and Estonia, and by giving gifts to our state. It will also be a time of reflection and for looking into the future. I know that the best years of Estonia are yet to come.

Dear compatriots!

On January 31, the oldest person in Estonia, the honourable Mr Arved Tamm celebrated his 107th birthday. Let me end my address with words of wisdom from the iron-healthed man himself: "Take other people into account, give help when help is needed."

I wish the whole of Estonia a festive Anniversary spent valuing each other!

Let us cherish and value our fatherland and every person we meet.

May Estonia have strength!

Valitsuse kommunikatsioonibüroo