Paasikivi-Seura ry.
Paasikivi-Samfundet rf.
Paasikivi Society

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Arnold Rüütel, The President of the Republic of Estonia The priorities of Estonia

Address to the Paasikivi Society and the Tuglas Society

Helsinki, January 24, 2002

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Finnish Friends,

It is a great honour for me to stand here having the opportunity to address you. While expressing my most cordial thanks to the Paasikivi Society and the Tuglas Society for this privilege and their initiative to invite me here, I would like to start by quoting the two great men who have given these societies their names.

On 16 July 1944, in times extraordinarily critical for Finland, Juho Kusti Paasikivi - the man to whom one of the most important lines in the political history of Finland owes its name - entered into his diary the following thoughts: "In this country, one has been trusting in the force of law and justice. But, history seems not to provide grounds for this. While reading history, one becomes pessimistic. The nations are acting in accordance with the Staatsräson, the supremacy of their national interests. /.../ It lies outside the good and evil. /.../ Restrictions on the Staatsräson, its relationship with morals - upon resolving those subjects depends the future of small nations but, in the end, the success of great nations and of the whole world too.)

But on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland Friedebert Tuglas - the man who has influenced the Estonian intellectual life almost throughout the whole of the last century - in 1919, at the theatre Estonia, declared at the ceremony on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Republic of Estonia: "The most popular and democratic republic which would enable to the largest possible extent to develop both the individuals and the masses, advance national culture, and be open to the ideals of the world, which would provide food for both spirit and body of all the people within its boundaries - this kind of Estonian state we would like to see in future.

"Juxtaposing these opinions expressed by the two men - Paasikivi, having come close to the age of 75 and Tuglas, not having reached 33 yet - we can see two opposing attitudes. On the one hand historical scepticism and conservatism, on the other optimism and daydreaming idealism, on the one hand resting on personal experiences only, on the other openness and bold conceptions.

However, those two attitudes, opposing with respect to the form, make up the substantial core of the mentality of both our people. The synthesis of those attitudes is the urge and will to be greater than our fates. Even more, it is the will and urge, penetrating our whole life, to be the master of one's own fate. For the Finns, it means "suomalainen sisu" - Finnish perseverance, for the Estonians, "jonn" and "kasu" - self-will and benefit.

It is true that both the peoples, in the name of this, had to make numerous compromises, had to put up with injustice and losses, to pay a high price for their freedom and independence. Yet, like we have been able to exist amidst the severe nature of our countries, even turning it into a friend and an ideal of beauty, we also have been able to cope with our history.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These two quotations at the beginning of my address, if I may say so, express by way of summarizing also the present-day priorities of Estonia that could be called duties as well.

It is a duty of Estonia as a nation to be a reliable partner in the international system of division of labour and guaranteeing the security. However, this reliability and trustworthiness we can ensure only under the condition that we ourselves can actively take part in the process of balancing the interests of nations (Staatsräson) with the moral shared by the humanity; to refer to the diary of J.K. Paasikivi once again.

In the late 1980s, in the early 1990s - during our "Singing Revolution" - our message to world was that the independence of both Estonia and all the Baltic States was the very imperative prerequisite for guaranteeing the international stability.

Let us be honest, in those days, our corresponding aspirations were met with some distrust and prejudice. The Cold War stereotypes were based on a bipolar world and the Staatsräson was dominating to the detriment of the historic justice. We were given hints that our aspirations for freedom to no degree ever were allowed to shake the established balance of power. But this balance was built on fear, not on trust and co-operation. We have experienced it ourselves, immediately after the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR - an institution which in the treatises on the recent history of Estonia is referred to as a representative body of occupation authorities - still succeeded in performing an unprecedented act for the entire Soviet Union, declaring on 16 November 1988 the legislation of the Estonian SSR to take supremacy over the legislation of the Soviet Union.

Practically no one of the highly paid Kremlinologists was able to foresee this kind of the future of the Soviet Union where one of the so-called Republics, forcibly incorporated, would try to free itself of the occupation in a legal way. Yet, we believed that legality founded on the will of the people could overturn the legality persisting against this will and thus, restore the historic justice.

Afterwards, it might seem like a miracle and - it was a miracle indeed. But the foundation of this miracle, which ten years ago brought back to Estonia the freedom once lost, was the unwavering, reasoned out in a most rational way urge of the people for independence. I can remember this feeling of every cell in my body representing this urge when, a few days after the resolution was adopted by the Supreme Soviet, I as the Chairman of it, was standing in the Kremlin as if being interrogated and listening to the indictment. And all this - live on TV! But we also can remember the icy shell of isolation surrounding us together with our southern neighbours, the Latvians and Lithuanians, for nearly a year and a half after our declarations of independence had been proclaimed. And it was only after the Soviet Union had recognized the existence of the secret protocols to the Hitler-Stalin Pact that the western countries also could take an increasingly clearer stand on the so-called Baltic question. However, today we also know that maximum that the perestroika-minded Soviet Union of those days had promised to the West, as the price for getting out of isolation itself, were the release of the satellite-states of the Soviet Union from the Soviet influence and the re-unification of Germany. Estonia and the other Baltic States were not parts of this "project". Mostly, during those years, we were admonished not to blow the big chance with our excessive demands.

Later on, I have been reflecting several times on why the international support to our aspirations was so reluctant to come. Certainly, one of the explanations was the very Staatsräson, J. K. Paasikivi in his diary expressed concerns about. Yet, it equally was the inertia of habitual political behaviour that did not let the understanding become dominant that the right to national self-determination could be realized in a legal way also in such a super-power like the Soviet Union. It was just in those times that the hypocrisy, hiding in the conception of equality at present too, came to light: it is true that all are equal, but some are still more equal.

One might say, well, there is nothing to be discussed any further! Estonia has regained its independence and the support of the international community played an essential role in it. Yes, that is the way it was, but if we bring up priorities, we cannot get around the circumstances under which these priorities are set out and realized. Ten or more years ago, the priority of Estonia was restoring its independence. However, in addition to that, we had to prove the world incessantly that there was no need to be afraid of this restoration. I believe that we have succeeded in doing this.

I am hopeful that now, ten years later, the most sceptical analysts admit as well that the independence of the Baltic States offers advantages not only to their neighbours but also to the entire Baltic Sea region and, in a broader sense, to the Europe as a whole too.

Today, Estonia is striving for the accession to the European Union and NATO. In doing this we have not been less consequent than in restoring our sovereignty, for we have recognized this to be inevitable. I would like to remind you that Estonia was one of the most fervent supporters of the pan-European movement, initiated after the First World War, and of the Pan-European Union, founded by Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi in 1923. As we know, the idea of the European Union took its origin from this very movement. "Europe - united, free, strong, and peaceful", this was the watchword back then like it is at present. Building up this kind of Europe has demanded from all the parties concerned patience and even certain abandonments. In 1930s, Europe was not yet mature to unite on a new basis of European civilisation and consciousness. One more experience of particular cruelty was necessary to become convinced that every following war would bring the humanity closer to self-destruction. A conviction that a common economic area in Europe would help every single member-country to keep pace with the competition in the global economic race needed to take shape.

Of course, neither is the present nor will the future European Union be like it was at the time when its foundations were laid. One can also understand the Euro-sceptics who have warned the European Union of too much bureaucracy and centralization. In Estonia too, there have been discussions about whether the future European Union should be a federation or a confederation. The historical tradition seems to support a confederative form and regionalism. Already earlier, I have highlighted the ideas of Balto-Scandia created by Edgar Kant, an Estonian economic geographer, and I am doing it now too. From the Estonian viewpoint this means connecting our national interests to the European centres. We have well-established, extremely close economic, political, and cultural co-operation with Finland but, we also have to keep the relations developed over decades with our southern neighbours, Latvia and Lithuania. The paradox of Estonia is that via our bridge to Finland we are a Nordic country yet, speaking figuratively, our roots are in the Baltic region that has a Central European touch. The unique position of Estonia - being the central link between the Nordic Countries and the Baltic region - enables just us to be the trailblazer in the regional co-operation of Balto-Scandia. If Estonia will complete its accession negotiations with the European Union this year, as agreed at the Laeken summit, and if in a couple of years Estonia will be a full member of the European Union then, once again, we will have a chance to prove that involving small nations into the structures of international co-operation actually contributes to the deepening of international dialogue and to détente. It is just through the small nations that the minority principle can be highlighted. There is always a minority compared with someone or something. This principle having become rooted in democratic societies has helped to further the internal flexibility and diversity of those societies. Why should this principle not be extended on the international relations too?

Another vital aspiration of Estonia is the accession to NATO. This also has encountered distrust. Yet, if one gets rid of petrified prejudices of bipolarity, if one looks what has happened in the world during the last years, one can understand that this step is quite natural. There must not be any grey zones or corridors left if guaranteeing the collective security is at stake. The defence will and capabilities of every nation which provide basis for everything, and which Estonia has been building up during the last ten years, must be in one or another way linked with wider security structures. Especially now, considering the grown danger of terrorism in the world, it is obvious that we must regard one of the devices of NATO "all for one, one for all" as the principle for working out a whole network of security co-operation. What specific kind of co-operation one or another country will choose depends on its historical and military traditions, on its preparedness and potential, and on a number of other factors. Estonia values highly the principles of the defence strategy of the Republic of Finland and acknowledges that an independent country, above all, must trust in its own defence capabilities and bear responsibility for them. It is impossible to overestimate the contribution of your country to the process of working out and implementing the Estonian defence principles. The fact that Estonia has decided in favour of NATO membership cannot cut back our future co-operation in the field of defence. The experiences of these Eastern and Central European countries, which have been admitted to NATO, have proven that it does not equal to concentration of forces for the purpose of confronting somebody. It is a matter of joining up the defence will of democracies, adjusting certain standards and modes of behaviour on the basis of mutual trust. As for the Estonian accession to NATO, this year will be decisive. We hope that the summit going to take place in autumn, in Prague, will come up with a decision to submit a relevant invitation to Estonia. We really have made efforts for this purpose.

But obviously, it would be appropriate to emphasize at this point that, no matter how much talk there has been on the EU- or NATO-umbrella, during the accession negotiations Estonia does not just proceed from the position of a receiver or a claimant. There is no need to be hiding for Estonia; our national self-esteem is dictating us the rationality of our choices. Estonia`s accession to one or another international institution for co-operation and security must be based, and is based, on full awareness that Estonia, in its turn, also will assume clear-cut obligations and responsibilities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

So far, I expanded on the so-called external priorities of Estonia that must ensure a framework for our internal developments. However, these two priorities - both the external and the internal - are closely linked with each other. The internal balance of Estonian society and political system, and the continuing development of democracy are prerequisites that support the reliability of the Estonian state. Our duties to ourselves are not lesser than to the others.

But in view of this, we still have a lot to do. Outwardly, Estonia looks successful: our index of the human development is constantly rising. As for the openness of its economy our country belongs to the tops of the world. But we also know that to achieve this success we have paid a high price, one outcome of it being the split-up of Estonian society and alienation of politics from the people. Soon, it will be a year since 26 Estonian social scientists appealed to the public. In their appeal, they described the zone of danger in which Estonian society is in respect of its internal state. Rein Ruutsoo, Professor of Political Sciences at Tartu University, on August 13 of the last year, speaking here at the seminar "Estonia 1991 - 2001" named quite a lot of painful shortcomings which have caused experts to speak of a social and ethical crisis. According to Mr Ruutsoo, the reality of Estonia is that in terms of GDP we have reached but the level of 1991, one fifth of our people are unemployed, one tenth of our children practically do not go to school, over ten years our population has decreased 10 per cent and the decrease is continuing. The outlook, certain already today, that for instance in 2030 there will be only 800 000 Estonians left and at present we lack possibilities to influence this number considerably, should make us ponder over it seriously.

Thus, from here we must derive our crucial priorities: to create all necessary conditions for the sustainable development of our society. We must not appeal to the economic growth only at the same time neglecting society as a whole. The Estonian socio-political decisions of the nearest future must take account of the necessity to guarantee the quality of life. For the people living in such welfare states like Finland the necessity to guarantee the quality of life is the most natural thing, meaning contentment of the people - which definitely varies depending on the respective culture - with their social order, with their capability to cope with their everyday life and with human relations. In fact, the quality of life is a criterion for the human dignity: every person, it does not matter whether young or old, higher or lower on social scale, rich or poor, healthy or ill, must have the possibility to feel himself dignified. To reach this very kind of quality of life is one of our priorities concerning the internal aspirations of Estonia.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Maybe you have got the impression now that Estonia, by setting priorities, has taken up so many duties that no time is left for the life itself. Yet, if we look at our folk traditions, we can see that our whole life consists in just sustaining life. This makes up our Nordic character. We must keep moving, be active, worry about the next day. We just cannot slacken. For, otherwise, we would not exist as a nation any more. The Estonians - and I believe, this applies to the Finns as well - are destined to be vigilant, to be ready to take their chance at the right place and time, and to avail themselves of their advantages and experiences, inherited from their ancestors. For this reason, I think to be entitled to continuously stress what in 1880s has been already stressed by Jakob Hurt, one of the Estonian leaders during the period of National Awakening: Estonia has got no chance to become a great nation in terms of force or number, so let us become great in terms of spirit.

What does it mean? It means a lasting duty to learn. The fact that every year the Estonian universities are filled by thousands of young people testifies that the need for learning is encoded in our people. Education, in its essence being nothing else than readiness, is a precondition that we also can take up the most complicated and responsible challenges. But our principal challenge is and will be Estonia itself, and recreating it every day. Estonia - that is a creation, one of the ideologists of the Estonian patriotism, Valter Rand, has said.

Actually, there are no other possibilities, because for us as a people and a country existing at the boundary between different civilizations the priority of priorities is our survival. But one can survive only while recreating oneself and seeking chances to survive.

Thank you for your attention!