Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Toomas Hendrik Ilves was the president of Estonia from 2006 until 2016.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves: We want an Estonia where people can remain themselves

The former president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, writes in a Facebook post that the Estonia we want should be a country governed by law, a country where people are not judged based on their origins, religion or native language, and a country where people can remain themselves.

Four years ago, on 23 June 2015, in my annual Victory Day speech, I said:

Every year on the anniversary of the Battle of Võnnu, or Victory Day, I have spoken about Estonia’s defence and security. And today, unfortunately, as a year ago, today there is something to talk about.

For a year and half now, a war has been underway in Europe.

Crimea has been annexed; Russian forces are fighting on Ukrainian territory in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts.

For Estonia, this has brought the realisation that our freedom, our sense of security and safety is not as self-evident, as we are used to believing.

But we have also learned something else. We have learned about the solidarity of Estonia’s allies. And now, even the doubters know that Estonia has reliable allies.

Let’s take a quick look at the recent past.

Obama: the defence of Tallinn is as important as the defence of Berlin

The attack on Crimea began on the last days of February 2014. US fighter planes landed in Estonia and Lithuania on 6 March of last year, in order to secure the airspace of the Baltic countries. Less than 90 hours or slightly more than three days had passed from the moment, when the Estonian Minister of Defence sent a request to the US Ambassador to send fighter and tanker planes to the Ämari airbase.

During the Ukrainian crisis, the Baltic airspace has also been protected by Danes, Germans, Spaniards, Brits, Italians, Norwegians, Poles and Canadians.

The first company of American soldiers stepped with their boots on the ground in Estonia last April. US president Barack Obama visited Tallinn in early September, and said among other things that for NATO, the defence of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defence of Berlin and Paris and London.

At the subsequent NATO summit, it was agreed to strengthen the presence of allied forces in the alliance’s border countries.

Soon after, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks arrived in Estonia.

In March of this year, the US Army Europe practiced moving its heavy equipment through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

A little more than a month ago, all of Estonia was involved in Siil, the largest and most complex military exercise of our new independence era, which culminated in Viru County; and which many of you standing here in formation this summer morning in Kärdla participated in. I commend you for that! More than 14,000 reservists, including more than 60 Estonians from other countries, starting with the Republic of South Africa and ending with Finland, came to participate in that exercise.

Solidarity is the common denominator

At your side were military companies from the United States and Great Britain, anti-aircraft units from Poland, Belgium and Germany, warplanes from the US, Poland and the United Kingdom, a psychological operations team from Latvia and Dutch air force officers. A total of more than 600 allied fighters.

Throughout the past year, our allies have ensured their permanent presence in the air, on the land and sea. The large US naval ship, the USS San Antonio, is currently docked in Tallinn with 1,200 marines aboard.

What does this list of facts from the last year and a half tell us? It tells us that NATO works, NATO reacts and, therefore, Estonia is protected.

The common denominator of these events is solidarity – a normal and logical part of Estonia’s NATO membership. Ukraine lacks this, because Ukraine does not belong to NATO. Today let’s think about the efforts that we undertook 20 years ago, when we started on the path to NATO membership and radically reorganized our country to do so.

If we had not done this, just think about the sense of uncertainty that would prevail in Estonia today, the anxiety with which we would follow the developments in Ukraine, where every day Ukrainian soldiers perish.

But this is not only true today. The start of our history as an independent country was also supported by the solidarity of others.

Belonging to NATO and the EU gives us the sense of security

At the start of the Estonian War of Independence, a British fleet dropped anchor off Tallinn in December 1918. This was the first aid Estonia received from abroad during the War of Independence. A war in which a total of 111 British servicemen perished.

On 30 December 1918, the first unit of Finnish volunteers arrived in Tallinn. A total of five thousand Finnish volunteers fought in the Estonian national army during the War of Independence.

In April 1919, a Danish company arrived in Estonia.

Belonging to NATO and the European Union provides us with a sense of security. Even one that means that the war news from Ukraine reaches us less and less frequently. This inconspicuous detail, which we don’t even think about, means that Estonia does not need to worry. It means that we are protected.

It’s worth noticing that when we speak about NATO or those who helped us during the War of Independence, we don’t really ask ourselves or anyone else why they came or are coming to a sovereign country. We don’t use insulting words about them. We don’t think that their presence is something bad. And if things should get serious, the majority of the Estonian people would not object if very many foreigners came here to defend our freedom.

Currently, some of our NATO allies are having a hard time. They are asking for help from the European Union, another organisation that is important for us and is based on solidarity. These same countries, whose planes take to the sky to defend Estonia and all of us, need help. And we don’t seem to understand their plight. Where is our solidarity?

Instead, we hear and read about fears and hate speeches, insults and threats. Of course, I understand that the acceptance of war refugees from the Middle East and North Africa is a painful and contradictory subject in most European Union Member States. In addition to everything else, Estonia also has to bear the burden of the fears that are inevitably associated with a small nation. Here any turbulence to the population, and in the field of culture or language is immediately interpreted as a threat to the existence of the nation and the state.

Several dangers threaten the EU and NATO

But let’s speak about these fears in a calm manner. It will not help if we replace rational debate with panic right from the start and spurt out the basest of emotions.

Observing the developments during the last few months here and elsewhere in Europe, a fear has grown in me and many others that we are falling into the trap of abstract xenophobia, fear and general intolerance.

Starting with the immigration debate and continuing with other topics related to minorities, moods have intensified in the public arena that are turning inward and generate negation. But fear – even of something strange – is a bad guide and anger is an even worse strategy.

Which is why I ask each of my compatriots today: how can we defend our state and our values? How can we defend Estonia without becoming self-absorbed and without pushing aside those who are different? How do we jointly defend those same values that that protect us today and are embodied so directly by the allied NATO forces?

Who are our own, the ones we defend and how to become one of our own? This is a central issue regardless of the immigration debate, because the answer to the following question also depends on it: “What can a state do to make all the people living here feel like one of our own?”

Several dangers currently threaten the European Union and NATO. We naturally focus on one, the one we see in Ukrainian suffering. But others – other allies – have their own worries.

The European Union – an organisation extremely necessary for the development of Estonia and the preservation of its independence – is enduring several shocks. One of its fundamental values – solidarity – is no longer self-evident.

ISIS’s brutal killings are forcing peaceful people to flee their homes, exactly like 7% of the Estonian nation fled their homes in 1944, fearing the recurrence of the brutal horrors of the first Soviet occupation.

They fled in ships and boats across the sea, living thereafter in the barracks of closed refugee camps often until the end of the 1940s. Or they perished at sea, when refugee-filled boats were hit by bombs from planes or mines left in the sea.

How to become our own?

I ask again, who are our own, who we help and protect and how to become our own? If the Estonian people are our own to the Spanish and Italian pilots, the US marines, German staff officers and Belgian anti-aircraft units, who are our own?

Our own is Lili Milani, a genetic scientist recognised in Estonia, whose parents fled from Iran. Today Milani, as an outstanding Estonian scientist who speaks beautiful Estonian, along with her research group, her university and research institution are among the best in the world, also merited the President’s Young Scientist Award.

Our own is Staff Sergeant Roman Bõstrjantsev, who was wounded in Afghanistan in 2009, and who is now a senior non-commissioned officer in the Support Command of the Estonian Defence Forces.

Our own is also Veiko Parming, who was born in Canada, and volunteered for the Estonian Defense Forces, later graduated with a master’s degree from the MIT, the world’s best university of technology, and returned to Estonia at his own expense to participate in the SIIL exercises as a reservist.

We also consider world-famous Skype to be our own. But do we considered the engineers from Guatemala and the Dominican Republic who have excelled at IT development there as our own, or how about the Hindus, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Malaysians and designers of other nationalities that work at Estonia’s best IT companies?

And so, let’s ask again and clearly, what is the Estonia that we want to defend and are asking others to help us defend?

What kind of Estonia do we want?

We want:

  • Estonia to be a country governed by the rule of law, where the courts and their judgments are just;
  • For Estonia not to go bankrupt or descend into a fatal tailspin;
  • To resolve mutual disputes without violence;
  • For people to be judged for their values, skills and attitudes, not their origins, religion or native language;
  • To refrain from classifying our people into the right kind and the second-rate kind, and those with different worldviews into enemies or worthless;
  • For the people in Estonia have the freedom to remain themselves.

Everyone here has the right to freedom and the fruits of freedom, to their opinions and beliefs, even if they differ from your opinions and beliefs.

Estonia is being defended, advanced and promoted in the world by our own people. And now we have to ask ourselves, in a situation where others are protecting us and we are their own, whom do we consider to be our own – the ones that we protect?

I

The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover: Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

President Ilves to the European Parliament: don’t cede to the populists

The Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, addressed the European Parliament on 2 February, speaking about the refugee crisis, Russian aggression, the EU’s competitiveness and its place in the digital world, and the rise of populist movements in Europe. Estonian World brings you a slightly shortened version of Ilves’s speech.

Ten years ago I left these chambers to take a new post in my country. There was no Euro or migration crisis, no idea that European borders could be changed by force, no talk that the European project might fail. Also, there were no smart phones, no revelations of internet surveillance, there was no Uber.

For nearly three quarters of a century we have repeated the mantra of Europe as a project for peace. For the first part of three quarters of a century, Europe, half of Europe to be precise, thrived and grew, with our security in large part outsourced, even under the shadow of an aggressive, totalitarian Soviet Union. For the past quarter century, in the absence of any external threats, we have pursued the reintegration of Europe – also to bring back to the fold those nations forced against their will to live under totalitarian rule.

“We are at loss, we are fearful and Europe for so many is no longer the answer.”

Today, however, we are confronted with new existential, external, and as we were reminded in Paris last November, internal threats. We are at loss, we are fearful and Europe for so many is no longer the answer.

I hear ringing in my ears William Butler Yeats:

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Europe amid a transformational crisis

So let us face this new reality. Europe is amidst a transformational crisis. Do we pull together or do we let others deal with it? A transformational crisis where we shall put to the test all that Europe has achieved, step by step, since Monnet and Schuman. We are approaching a tipping point where either we become stronger or we let fissiparous forces to prevail.

It is crucial to admit that in this transformational crisis much was foreseeable. We knew there were serious problems but we put off dealing with the internal European crisis of the Euro until it was almost unmanageable. We thought, at least until recently, that that was the greatest threat to the European project. We were wrong.

We knew too, and for a long time, that huge income and democracy differentials between Europe and its immediate neighbourhood to the South and East were a time-bomb, ticking away, stayed more by the restraining influence of authoritarian regimes to the South, across the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Extremist parties and politicians exploit the refugee crisis

Today migration, massive migration in flight from the horrific slaughter of civil war and the systematic brutality of Daesh, mixed with economic migration from poverty and lack of economic opportunity threatens Europe like never before. Schengen is under threat. Some countries refuse to take refugees; others are overwhelmed by the numbers flooding into their countries. Solidarity is crumbling. Some refuse to help, others justly say solidarity is a two-way street. Structural and cohesion funds are also expensive manifestations of solidarity.

We are aghast when we hear of the numbers. A million refugees and migrants are expected to enter Europe this year, predictions of another two million in the next two.

Yes, these are truly large numbers. Yes, they will strain social cohesion, our budgets. And yet, we have seen far worse and we have prevailed. In the Europe of 1946, Germany alone had 12 million internal refugees and another 12 million displaced persons of 20 different nationalities.

“We have seen far worse and we have prevailed. In the Europe of 1946, Germany alone had 12 million internal refugees and another 12 million displaced persons of 20 different nationalities.”

To solve this, in three years UNRRA, the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration spent in today’s money, some 50 billion Euros. I mention this number, illustratively, to give us all a sense of perspective to understand how daunting a task our grandparents faced when Europe had no institutions, sometimes not even sovereign governments. And all of this before the Marshall Plan even started.

So, let us now gather our wits and strengths, leave behind this indecision, finger-pointing and ducking of responsibility. We will handle this migration crisis, if we show the resolve of our forebears. We must act in solidarity with those member states that bear the brunt of the crisis; we must accept a functional form of burden-sharing.

“Let us now gather our wits and strengths, leave behind this indecision, finger-pointing and ducking of responsibility. We will handle this migration crisis, if we show the resolve of our forebears.”

We also must take full control over the EU’s external border; we cannot be borderless both inside and outside the EU. We must also have a functioning common asylum policy, especially when it comes to rejecting spurious claims and returning illegal immigrants. Is this so difficult when we look back to what Europe faced in the years after the Second World War?

After the horrors of the Paris attacks, I fear the refugee crisis will only further fuel the rise of populist and extremist politics. We will see the argument indeed we already have that we cannot accept refugees because they are terrorists, forgetting conveniently that the refugees streaming into Europe today have fled the same regime, the same brutality and murder witnessed in Paris but writ large.

Political speech today sometimes adopts language that a few years ago was found only in anonymous on-line fora. Democratic, centrist leaders advocating calm and responsible policies are increasingly under pressure, if not attack.

Extremist parties and politicians exploit the current refugee crisis, like they exploited the economic crisis, they exploit the dissatisfaction of voters with the often anodyne and timid resolve of European leaders. Citizens await decisive responses to crises. When traditional parties do not provide them, they look for those whose rhetoric sounds decisive yet carries within it the “decisiveness” of reaction, of simple, often un-European solutions the Union was created to rid Europe of forever.

“Extremist parties and politicians exploit the current refugee crisis, like they exploited the economic crisis, they exploit the dissatisfaction of voters with the often anodyne and timid resolve of European leaders.”

I say this all, inter alia, as the son of refugees, who fled terror in their homeland in Estonia in WWII. I hope a few decades from now, there will be a president in democratic Syria, who speaks Arabic with German accent. My parents did not always feel welcome when they reached Sweden, but they were given a chance.

Russian aggression

While we should have foreseen the Eurocrisis and the migration crisis, one crisis we did not foresee, indeed to this day it beggars belief, was the invasion and Anschluss of Crimea, followed by the invasion of the Donbas. I shall not dwell on this today but I must state that in doing what it did two years ago this month, Russia violated every major, foundational European security treaty, beginning with the UN Charter, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, and the 1990 Charter of Paris. It violated as well the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity in return for eliminating what was then the world’s third largest nuclear weapons arsenal. In other words, we in Europe can no longer assume the treaties that underpin European  I underline European security since WWII still hold.

“Russia violated every major, foundational European security treaty, beginning with the UN Charter, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, and the 1990 Charter of Paris.”

The EU has been swift and united in its response to Russian aggression and this has had a deterring effect. The sanctions have proved to be effective. But EU relations with Russia will remain strained for a some time. Strategic patience is the keyword. Some call for dialogue, but dialogue itself is not a policy – at least not a policy to counter aggression. That much we should have learned from Munich in 1938.

Europe’s decreasing competitiveness

I have spoken of European crises, some we should have foreseen, others we could not. I would now turn for the rest of my speech to a future and long-term crisis we can avoid, if we take it seriously before we discover ourselves in its midst: Europe’s decreasing competitiveness and productivity in a rapidly changing, interconnected digital world.

Together with Kaushik Basu, the Chief Economist of the World Bank, I just finished co-chairing the preparation of the Bank’s first longer study of the economic potential of IT and for improving society and governance. Report also outlines the pitfalls of falling behind. In general, Europe does well in this long, extensively researched study, a year and a half in the making. But make no mistake, Europe stands to become a second tier player, with not only the US, but also India and China taking leading positions, if we do not keep up.

“Europe stands to become a second tier player, with not only the US, but also India and China taking leading positions, if we do not keep up.”

The digital revolution could be a blessing for the single market: today, we can see nascent pan-European markets in sectors like healthcare, banking and transport that only a few decades ago seemed inherently local. Yet, sector-by-sector, our legislation remains fractured between the EU member states and unprepared for the digital age, we are losing out to the absence of a single market and losing our best and brightest to where the opportunities for them are greater.

I saw it with my eyes four years ago. I invited a 23-year-old Estonian, who had recently received some funding for his small startup, for tea. We met, but he said: “I’m sorry, Mr President, in two weeks I am moving to the US. There is no market here.” Six months later he had raised 4.6 million dollars. Three years later he sold his company for USD100 million. That story will repeat over and over again in every member state as long as we do not have a single market in Europe.

Sixty years ago when the Treaty of Rome laid the basis for what we now call the “four freedoms” of the movement of people, goods, capital and services, there was no digital anything. Computing was in its infancy. Today we live in a completely different world.

Unless we recognise how profound change has occurred, especially in the past 10-15 years, Europe will fall behind and so too will our citizens. Meeting the challenge of the digital revolution requires the ingenuity of Europe’s entrepreneurs, businesses, civil society and all levels of government. Market forces and business models will be the primary drivers of our response, but legislation must support them.

Fifth freedom of the EU

To reflect the magnitude of this change, I propose we add to the four fundamental freedoms of the internal market a “fifth freedom”, the free movement of data. This fifth freedom before could be folded into the existing four freedoms, but today it is distinct enough to stand on its own.

Data is neither a person, a physical good, capital nor a service, but to help them move, data must also be able to cross borders. The European Commission’s proposals on the digital single market will shore up the foundations of the free movement of data, but it must become an abiding value of the internal market, not simply a set of targets to be met by a certain date.

What would that fifth freedom mean for our citizens?

For one, the free movement of data would mean that we can access services we have paid for throughout the EU. It would mean that online commerce would not be restricted by the country of our bank account, and that national boundaries would no longer determine – arbitrarily, in a digital world – which European citizens can purchase digital goods and services and who cannot. Today, though, it is easier to ship a bottle of olive oil from Sicily to sell North of the Arctic circle than to send an iTunes song across a border. In Estonia I can use digital prescriptions with which I can get my medicine from any pharmacy in the country against my electronic ID. But when I leave the country I cannot do it, e-prescription cannot be processed around Europe.

“I propose we add to the four fundamental freedoms of the internal market a ‘fifth freedom’, the free movement of data.”

Yet the free movement of date is not just about commerce. Like every EU fundamental freedom, the free movement of data comes with rights and responsibilities, chief among these the right to and responsibility for data protection. Indeed, ownership of one’s own personal data, and the freedom to decide over its use, are essential preconditions to unlocking the value of this data.

The new data protection regulation recognises this principle in title and substance. It will give individuals real ownership of their data – the right to control its use and pass it on to third parties. This should create new markets and, applied to the public sector, reduce the burdens of paperwork and reporting that now cost European citizens and business frustration, time and money. And it should also dramatically increase transparency.

We must strive to create a data economy where the free movement of data also works for non-personal data. There is tremendous value hidden in the big data generated by our cars and homes, our increasingly connected devices and industry, what in Germany is already called Industrie 4.0.

Europe must invest in the underlying technologies that create confidence in the security of data flows, especially encryption and block-chain technology, which really would give a genuine security, and we must promote their use.

Digital infrastructure

Finally, just as the free movement of goods needs ports and roads, we need modern digital infrastructure to make the fifth freedom possible. 5G and fiber connections need to be truly ubiquitous. This applies especially to so-called last mile connections, from the cable to our homes and businesses. Our rural communities that have benefited so immensely from the Common Agricultural Policy require in this new world the same access to the internet as everyone else in cities.

Inclusiveness is vital. It is vital that the benefits of this digital dividend are shared by all. Estonia’s experience makes me optimistic. Since 2005, we have allowed online voting in eight national, municipal and European elections. You might think that this would benefit the young urban elite, yet extensive sociological research has shown that there is no demographic or urban-rural divide. The pensioner living in a small village is just as likely to vote online, skype with her family and stay in touch with her doctor remotely as are her grandchildren. Skype, as you know was invented by Estonians.

At the same time, we must ask where is the digital revolution taking us, what is the future of work in a digital era? What will happen to the taxi driver’s and the factory worker’s job? And tomorrow, with developing technologies, to the doctor and the accountant?

Each previous industrial revolution has increased employment, replacing old jobs with new ones that are higher-skilled, better paying and more challenging. But, we don’t know yet if history will repeat. We are still at the beginning of the digital revolution, but I have humility to admit that there are no certain answers.

Don’t cede to the populists

But I do know this: the digital revolution, like the crises of the euro-zone, Crimea and refugees, call upon us to put forward the best in us at a time when politics play to the basest of our instincts. Yet let us not suppose these challenges to be insurmountable. This is a time to step humbly in the courageous footsteps of our predecessors, in 1957, in 1989 and 1991, and in 2004. They faced uncertainty, and they stepped forward.

“The digital revolution, like the crises of the euro-zone, Crimea and refugees, call upon us to put forward the best in us at a time when politics play to the basest of our instincts.”

If we cede to the populists who say that Europe cannot be trusted with her citizens’ interests, then no crisis, foreseeable or not, will find an adequate solution. Be it migration, the Euro or even military aggression, not to mention the challenge of technological change, solutions that revert to the nation-state will bring us back to a pre-World War II era – an era where short-termism, beggaring thy neighbour leads inevitably to a tit-for-tat and a loss for all. Back to an era where once again might makes right. Where that leads we have seen too many times in Europe’s history.

Let us hold no illusions of what faces us if we hesitate or stumble, if – to quote Yeats again,

The best lack all conviction,
While the worst are full of passionate intensity.

The choice is ours.

I

The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover: Toomas Hendrik Ilves (photo by Jelena Rudi)

Toomas Hendrik Ilves: Estonia’s digital dividends

Digital technology dominates our everyday lives, and with each passing day, even more so. How can the global community benefit from the new digital era?

The World Bank’s World Development Report 2016 (WDR 2016) provides a useful framework and guidance for harnessing the potential of the internet for development. “To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on regulations, skills and institutions – by strengthening regulations that ensure competition among businesses, by adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and by ensuring that institutions are accountable,” says the report. This may sound familiar, but it is not. Let me explain.

As a co-chair of the Advisory Panel of WDR 2016, seeing the report in the making has been a fascinating journey. Every day we read of some new digital development to make our lives easier and more convenient, and we take this very much for granted. As we should.

However, the internet is still a relatively new phenomenon. It has been only 25-odd years since Tim Berners-Lee invented the hypertext transfer protocol, or http. And it has been only 15-odd years since the first properly functional Wi-Fi protocol was created and released. If we benchmark that against the invention of the alternator, we have to admit that the first 15 years after that gave little if any indication about the eventual transformative impact that electrical power transmission was to have on the world.

The same applies, to the internet and digital technology more broadly. Although we all intuitively realise the enormous potential that the connected global community has, the actual impact of the internet to date is extremely difficult to measure.

The World Development Report team has done a tremendous job in pairing existing data with solid economic analyses. The result is a report that refreshingly stands out in this field: instead of technological evangelism, it does not shy away from the risks, but also shows the way ahead for those willing to embrace the potential of technology. And for many less developed countries, there are really no alternatives to that. Missing a cycle of irreversible digital development would mean further deepening the gap between the poor and the rich.

Fifteen years ago, Estonia was where the world in aggregate is today – only 32 percent of Estonians used the internet in 2001. At the time, Estonia’s GDP per capita was roughly the same as Vietnam’s is currently. Today, Estonia is regarded as one of the most advanced e-governments in the world. The use of technology and digital services is widespread in both the public and private sector. We can set up a new company and have it legally up and running within 20 minutes. Nearly 95 percent of Estonians declare their income online, because it takes less than five minutes and no accountants. All this brings tax administration costs down to only 0.3 percent of net tax revenues, and saves each citizen an average of 5.4 workdays a year.

That did not happen overnight, and the main reason it did happen was obvious: we felt that without taking on an ambitious digital strategy, we risked building yesterday’s institutions, instead of grasping the technological opportunities of tomorrow. The conscious policy choice of the Estonian government was to promote the use of digital technologies in all spheres of society and economy.

“It all starts with creating connectivity.”

It all starts with creating connectivity. And you cannot expect the private sector to be able to do it all. In Estonia, the solution was to bring the internet to the schools and create a network of public internet access points. By 2002, we had established 460 public access points covering Estonia – in public libraries, schools, and municipal centers. These projects aimed to bring the internet and its advantages closer to everybody, including groups that could not afford computers and network connections on their own, such as children, people in the countryside, and the elderly.

From there on, the strategy was built on three pillars: inclusion, meaning ensuring access; providing meaningful e-services, which reduce time and cost; and skills, meaning free computer and internet training through the “Come Along!” project, which has given over 10 percent of the adult population the skills to go digital.

There are number of other countries that have done the same, and the reason I am talking about Estonia is that I have been passionately involved in the digital transformation of the country since the very beginning.

“In Estonia, legal and administrative reforms were the foundations of our digital development.”

What we in Estonia realised during the process was exactly what the WDR concludes: connectivity is an essential precondition, but it does not automatically result in digital dividends. In Estonia, legal and administrative reforms were the foundations of our digital development. In 2000, we introduced the ID-card, a document that can be used for establishing a person’s identity in an electronic environment and for providing digital signatures. The same year we also adopted a law on digital signature giving it equal legal force as a handwritten signature.

Today, after 15 years, the digital signature is widely used by Estonian governmental offices and in private practice, as well. With the digital signature and the machine-readable ID card, we created, without fully realising it in the beginning, a new breed of person: the e-citizen. And that is the key concept looking at the future of e-governance.

“With the digital signature and the machine-readable ID card, we created the e-citizen.”

The Estonian system is set up contrary to most e-government systems: instead of the focal point being data, the focal point of the Estonian system is the citizen in his or her online incarnation, with the same rights as an analogue person, and with an equally solid and verifiable identity, armed with a legally granted right to own and control his or her online data. And the e-citizen has the same ultimate powers of representation as the physical citizen: he or she can vote online, and has done that in a number of local and Parliamentary elections.

As a result, we are now spending considerably less on maintaining the bureaucracy, we can offer businesses and people swift and transparent services, and, as of recently, through our e-residency program, we are offering a transnational digital identity for administering a location-independent business online.

What I sincerely hope readers take away from WDR 2016 (and the example of Estonia) is that despite the difficulties, investing in internet infrastructure and affiliated services pays off. It is not by accident that the countries with the best business climate are more advanced in digital services.

And for those who are still in doubt, let me put it this way: digital dividends, as the WDR defines them, materialise in a very analogue manner in our analogue world – with more jobs, faster growth, and a dramatically more inclusive society. But not without an effort.

I

This article was first published on the World’s Bank blog. Cover image by Debi Keyte-Hartland.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves: Europe must not be afraid

The Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, said in his comments to Estonian daily newspapers Eesti Päevaleht and Postimees that Europe must take care of its security, but Europe must not be afraid, following the Paris terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015.

In Paris, on the evening of 13 November, terrorists attacked Europe. They wished to kill as many victims, people, as possible. All of us – atheists, Christians and Muslims, the people of Europe and refugees – are victims of this coordinated terrorist attack. It is because of this violence and these terrorists that hundreds of thousands of people have fled from their homes. 

The goal of the ISIS terrorists is to intimidate. So we would not dare to stand up to the crimes against humanity that they commit elsewhere; so we would forsake compassion and solidarity when accepting refugees from war, so we would turn our back on those in trouble and those who suffer, so we would close our borders and would fear to extend a helping hand.

We cannot allow fear to take over. If we do, the terrorists have won, just like terror won one time in our own country. After the attacks in Paris, it is important to understand a familiar principle: an attack against one is an attack against all. Only together can each country defend itself. Or does someone think that we can stand up to an ISIS-style attack without the help of our allies?

Recalling the wording of semiotician Mihhail Lotman, we must react deliberately, advisedly and rapidly. This presumes very good international cooperation, and increased defense cooperation in Europe. The courage to make the correct and effective countermoves. The efficient control of the European Union’s external borders. Even greater attention to the each country’s internal security and that of the European Union in general. According to the information available today, one of the attackers in Paris was a French citizen. 

We must know who is arriving in Europe, and why. An uncontrolled migration flow conceals a threat and Europe must find better methods for making sure who is who, but we must not close the door to those who truly need help. The current refugee crisis is not the reason or motive for the Paris terrorist attacks.

Europe must care about its security, but Europe must not be afraid.

I

Cover: Eiffel tower in Paris (YouTube).

Toomas Hendrik Ilves: Let us renew Estonia

The Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, said at the opening hearing of the parliament’s autumn session, speaking on the European refugee crisis, that Estonia has to look up from its toes and start seeing the big picture, the European picture. He also hinted that the parliament should deal with the question of hate speech legislation.

When I spoke here a year ago on the occasion of the opening of the fall session of the parliament, the partial occupation of Ukraine was Estonia’s greatest concern. The memory of the Malaysian airliner was still fresh, and the incursion of Russian armed forces into Donbas continued.

A year later, the situation in Ukraine had not changed much. A political stalemate continues and almost every day we receive reports on Ukrainian soldiers who have perished.

However, much of Europe has forgotten about Ukraine. Because Europe is now facing a new crisis.

As a child, as the child of war refugees, I did not really understand my parents’ stories about fleeing, something that is incomprehensible to a child. And I probably still do not understand the extent of the trauma caused by having to flee one’s homeland and sail in a small boat across the sea.

However, the search for understanding has affected the course of my entire life. Already in elementary school I started reading so-called “adult” books about history. And seeking answers to the question: Why did people flee?

How was it possible that a totally civilised people and culture, that had given us Beethoven and Bach, was gripped by such hatred that they started killing people because of their nationality?

How is it possible that people were deported to the taiga only because the farms they had established in the course of several generations suddenly turned out to be too large or too successful?

But it was possible. Hatred, envy, the readiness to destroy other people, with a shot to the back of the head or in a gas chamber, to terrorise the innocent and to torture is all part of our own recent past. It is the fear that this can happen to you that forces people to flee their homelands.

Later, I started to question whether we, that is, Estonia’s leaders at that time, understood what was happening around them. Investigating this, a depressing picture was revealed, characterised well by a speech by Ants Piip, the foreign minister at that time, in Rakvere on 2 June 1940. I repeat, the speech is from 2 June – two weeks before World War II arrived in Estonia.

I quote:

“We have been dealt quite a lucky hand, since we have been bypassed by the turmoil of war. A large part of this estimable achievement must to credited to the unanimity of our people and the cooperation of the government, primarily the smart leadership of President Konstantin Päts, who together with the government, has been able to comprehend the reality of the situation and take steps accordingly.”

What, however, is the reality of the current situation? We know that history does not repeat itself. However, a certain mentality can persist for a long period and through time. The understanding that we can withdraw to our bog island where the world and dangers cannot touch us, as Valdur Mikita has described our ancient world, is not credible.

The idea that maybe it will all pass us by is very human, but was not credible in 1939, nor is it credible today. Being continually worried that the events of 1939-40 not be repeated, we have not understood the new threats.

Let’s face the truth: currently, we that is, Europe, is threatened by an unprecedented wave of war refugees entering our countries. We are witnessing a new migration of people the likes of which was last seen a thousand or fifteen hundred years ago. That which has been predicted for years, I fear, is now at hand.

“The idea that maybe it will all pass us by is very human, but was not credible in 1939, nor is it credible today. Being continually worried that the events of 1939-40 not be repeated, we have not understood the new threats.”

Wars, killings, the inability of failed states to protect their people; in the case of Syria, the violence of an autocrat against his own citizens, great gaps in living standards – all this has set large masses of people into motion.

If we do not understand that all of Europe is under pressure; if we hope that maybe this will pass us by in Estonia … Then I have to say that I have repeatedly seen this attitude in the past. When the crisis in Ukraine erupted, when it was claimed that these dangers are not southern Europe’s problem, perhaps it will pass us by.

It will not.

The lesson that Estonia must never be left alone, that Estonia must participate along with others, be among the decision makers, and that survival means contributing to the solution of common concerns, is just as important now as it has been throughout the years of our de facto existence as an independent state.

At the same time, this current crisis has resulted more broadly from Europe’s own unwillingness to deal with the problems surrounding it. The wish not to undertake anything forceful, to limit oneself to declarations about one’s “serious concerns” about the events in Ukraine and Syria, has finally resulted in those concerns arriving in our backyard.

“The lesson that Estonia must never be left alone, that Estonia must participate along with others, be among the decision makers, and that survival means contributing to the solution of common concerns, is just as important now as it has been throughout the years of our de facto existence as an independent state.”

I once wrote that if Europe does not go to its neighborhood, the neighborhood will come here. Today we see how the unwillingness to contribute more to the development of the Mediterranean area has resulted in a mass flight to our continent.

In other words, Estonia has to look up from its toes and start seeing the big picture, the European picture. The topic of war refugees does not belong under the heading of ” Others about us”, and we have to do something only because otherwise “Europe will not understand us.” This is a question of the inner culture of all of us.

How do we distinguish between war refugees and economic refugees in a situation where the flow of migrants has gotten out of control? In this situation we have to contribute to and help our fellow Europeans. Otherwise, we forget where we belong.

“In other words, Estonia has to look up from its toes and start seeing the big picture, the European picture. The topic of war refugees does not belong under the heading of ” Others about us”, and we have to do something only because otherwise “Europe will not understand us.” This is a question of the inner culture of all of us.”

The question is how we – we in Estonia, we in Europe – will cope. How will Europe manage, or how will we manage? In a situation where it is estimated that more than 100 million people are on the move. And more than a million of them have already arrived in Europe.

The answer to these European problems is a strong, united and significantly more active Europe. A Europe that is not only like Venus, but a little like Mars, to borrow Robert Kagan’s onetime characterization. This, however, assumes that we take united and perhaps difficult steps. Just like the answer to an aggressive Russia is a strong and united NATO.

Estonia cannot lock itself down; we cannot cope with these problems alone.

Ladies and gentlemen.

In order for us to cope with everything, to be able to take the important decisions, we must maintain civility in our mutual discussions. This has disappeared during recent years, and especially during recent months. The language previously seen only in anonymous commentaries has now heard in politics. And the commentaries themselves have changed, becoming harsher and more threatening.

About 100 years ago, Johannes Aavik gave us a word, which unfortunately, unlike other words like relv, roim, hetk, veenma, did not come into general use. The word is herjama, a verb that describes personified and threatening abuse, which is much clearer then the impersonal and abstract vihakõne (hate speech).

This is not passive “speech”, but an active undertaking. Specific people herjavad and promise loathsome revenge against those who disagree with them. This has become intolerable and has nothing to do with the freedom of speech for which I have always stood.

“Specific people promise loathsome revenge against those who disagree with them. This has become intolerable and has nothing to do with the freedom of speech for which I have always stood.”

I await for the Riigikogu to start to deal with this question. Now that threats of beatings and rapes are made against specific people, when people, even members of Parliament, are threaten with their homes bing burned down, we must think seriously about how to effectively put a stop to this. So that the names of the abusers are made public. So that there will be consequences to herjamine.

I also hope that a line is drawn on the current populist practice of criminalization. Not everything needs to be criminalized, for instance, demanding that people who have served their sentences based the constitution be vulnerable to additional punishment and restrictions.

I would be pleased if more than six months after the elections, the representatives of the people would deal with important and meaningful things, instead of endlessly amending the coalition agreement. This and the incomprehensible replacements of ministers leaves the impression that this is a temporary government, and does not allow one to feel anything but apprehension during this time when critical and difficult decisions are necessary.

I seriously hope that the budget proceedings that will soon start in this hall will progress smoothly so that the government is not tempted to organise another “confidence survey” in parliament.

Ladies and gentlemen.

I could not stand here and not speak about the reasons for the farmers gathering outside this building.

I call upon all of you to understand that farmers have not gathered on Toompea today just to protest. Their anxiety and concern about agriculture and more broadly rural life is justified. For various reasons, pig breeding and dairy cattle breeding have been hit the hardest.

Let the Estonian parliament and Estonian government become an ally to the Estonian farmers, and find opportunities to quickly support them. If this means extraordinary crisis aid, then this aid must be given. If it means paying transitional support from the state budget, like the Europe Union allows, then this support must be paid.

Let’s look at all this in the general context of the European Union and our farmers in comparison to farmers in neighboring countries. We see intense competition. Unfortunately, those are strongest who are supported in the permissible way by the state and those at whose expense the state economises are weakest.

Estonia should not be among the latter. Estonia should respond to its farmers’ concerns with solidarity, which is one of the strengths of the European Union. Finally, this is a question that not only affects a single economic sphere; this is a question of survival for rural life outside the cities.

And, I encourage the farmers to cooperate more. This will provide strength for alleviating the crisis.

Honorable Riigikogu,

The Estonian people, both you, me and everyone else, must take a fresh look at our own myths about our country and our people, those self-evident social axioms that have inspired all of us.

Starting from the Age of Awakening in the 19th century, there have been several narratives that have spurred us on.

Firstly, the 700-year-long “night of slavery”, which culminated with the Battle of Võnnu and the confiscation of the (Baltic Germans’) manors. We have probably long ago recovered from the herjamine of Jakobson’s time. The Soviet occupation killed the myth of the (German) “age-old enemy” in one year. Now we would be quite happy, if similarly to the Swedes in Finland, we had a small number of German-Estonians here.

Secondly, the Russian times or Soviet occupation. The resistance to Russification, the striving toward the rule of law, an independent court system and condemnation of communism has carried us for a long time. Will this, however, carry us forward now that we shall soon celebrate a quarter century of independence? Please, let’s debate this. Because now, as I said earlier, we face completely different problems.

And the third myth, that Estonia is a country with a liberal economy, characterized by the expression, “the state is a bad master”.

Maybe the state really is not the best master, but it seems to me that there are important spheres of activity in Estonia were there seems to be no master at all. This brings us to the concepts of “administrative reform” and “state reform”, where we have too often and for too long seen only cosmetic improvements.

After a quarter of a century of the restoration, establishment and strengthening of our own state, we should weigh whether the initial and erstwhile bold principles remain as appropriate for a well-integrated member state of the European Union and NATO.

A modern state must be effective but this also means that the state must decisively impose its will in significant issues related to the life of the country, such as education, infrastructure and internal security. In education inequality, duplication and fragmentation is rampant. Infrastructure is characterized by local corruption, extravagance generated by wishful thinking and dangerous gaps omissions. Internal security has been left an abandoned child, where the state requires rescue workers, police and border guards to fulfill their assignments under conditions not suitable for a sparsely populated country.

I mentioned corruption. We have talked for years about the management of state-owned companies and the responsibility that this entails. In this case, we cannot say that the state has been a bad master.

More of a careless or negligent one. Only now have we found out that the farmhands have been stealing from one of the storehouses for a long time and the master has not even noticed.

In the management of companies of strategic importance to the state, we cannot tolerate a lack of responsibility. The statement “I didn’t know” is not an excuse.

Honored Riigikogu, ladies and gentlemen,

If this parliament needs a assignment and a narrative, then I would formulate it as follows: let us renew Estonia. Let us tackle the serious jobs and leave aside the displacement activities. We cannot get in the way of events: education, administrative reform, the swine fever outbreak and receiving war refugees from third countries – all these issues should and could have been dealt with long before they turned into a crisis. But for some reason, these problems almost always strike Estonia unexpectedly.

I hope that an active parliament is able to foresee problems and manage processes. If we lose control of a car on a slippery road, we do not close our eyes, let go of the wheel and hope that it maybe everything will be OK. Quite the opposite. We grab hold of the wheel more forcefully. We make an effort to get the car back on the road. Let’s so the same with the country.

I thank you.

I

Cover: Toomas Hendrik Ilves (credit: Ilmar Saabas). The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves: What kind of Estonia do we want?

How to protect Estonia and its values without xenophobia, fear and intolerance, asked Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in a speech given at Victory Day in Kärdla on 23 June 2015. Ilves also called the nation to show more solidarity with Estonia’s EU partners and for balanced and intelligent discussion with regards to European migration crisis.

Every year on the anniversary of the Battle of Võnnu, or Victory Day, I have spoken about Estonia’s defence and security. And today, unfortunately like a year ago, today there is something to talk about.

For a year and half now, a war has been underway in Europe.

Crimea has been annexed; Russian forces are fighting on Ukrainian territory in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts.

For Estonia, this has brought the realisation that our freedom, our sense of security and safety is not as self-evident, as we are used to believing.

But we have also learned something else. We have learned about the solidarity of Estonia’s allies. And now, even the doubters know that Estonia has reliable allies.

Let’s take a quick look at the recent past.

The attack on Crimea commenced on the last days of February 2014. US fighter planes landed in Estonia and Lithuania on March 6 of last year, in order to secure the airspace of the Baltic countries. Less than 90 hours or slightly more than three days had passed from the moment, when the Estonian Minister of Defence sent a request to the US Ambassador to sent fighter and tanker planes to the Ämari Air Base.

During the Ukrainian crisis, Baltic airspace has also been protected by Danes, German, Spaniards, Brits, Italians, Norwegians, Poles and Canadians.

The first company of American soldiers had their boots on the ground in Estonia last April. US President Barack Obama visited Tallinn in early September, and said among other things, that for NATO the defence of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defence of Berlin and Paris and London.

At the subsequent NATO summit, it was agreed to strengthen the presence of allied forces in the alliance’s border countries.

Soon after, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks arrived in Estonia.

In March of this year, the US Army Europe practiced moving its heavy equipment through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

A little more than a month ago, all of Estonia was involved in SIIL, the largest and most complicated military exercise of our new independence era, which culminated in Viru County; and which many of you standing here in formation this summer morning in Kärdla participated in. I commend you for that! More than 14,000 reserve officers, including more than 60 Estonians from other countries, starting with the Republic of South Africa and ending with Finland, came to participate in that exercise.

At your side were military companies from the United States and United Kingdom, anti-aircraft units from Poland, Belgium and Germany, warplanes from the US, Poland and the UK, a psychological operations team from Latvia and Dutch air force officers. A total of more than 600 allied fighters.

Throughout the past year, our allies have ensured their permanent presence in the air, on the land and sea. The large US naval ship, the USS San Antonio, is currently docked in Tallinn with 1,200 marines aboard.

What does this list of facts from the last year and a half tell us? It tells us that NATO works, NATO reacts and therefore Estonia is protected.

The common denominator of these events is solidarity – a normal and logical part of Estonia’s NATO membership. Ukraine lacks this, because Ukraine does not belong to NATO. Today let’s think about the efforts that we undertook 20 years ago, when we started on the path to NATO membership and radically reorganised our country to do so.

If we had not done this, just think about the sense of uncertainty that would prevail in Estonia today, the anxiety with which we would follow the developments in Ukraine, where every day Ukrainian soldiers are perishing.

But this is not only true today. The start of our history as an independent country was also supported by the solidarity of others.

At the start of the War of Independence a British fleet dropped anchor off Tallinn in December 1918. This was the first aid Estonia received from abroad during the War of Independence. A war in which a total of 111 British servicemen perished.

On December 30, 1918, the first unit of Finnish volunteers arrived in Tallinn. A total of five thousand Finnish volunteers fought in the Estonian national army during the War of Independence.

In April 1919, a Danish company arrived in Estonia.

Belonging to NATO and the European Union provides us with a sense of security. Even one that means that the war news from Ukraine reaches us less and less frequently. This inconspicuous detail, which we don’t even think about, means that Estonia does not need to worry. It means that we are protected.

It’s worth noticing that when we speak about NATO or those who helped us during the War of Independence, we don’t really ask ourselves or anyone else why they came or are coming to a sovereign country. We don’t use insulting words about them. We don’t think that their presence is something bad. And if things should get serious, the majority of the Estonian people would not object if very many foreigners came here to defend our freedom.

Currently, some of our NATO allies are having a hard time. They are asking for help from the European Union, another organisation that is very important for us and is based on solidarity. These same countries, whose planes take to the sky to defend Estonia and all of us, need help. And we don’t seem to understand their plight. Where is our solidarity?

Instead, we hear and read about fears and hate speeches, insults and threats. Of course, I understand that the acceptance of war refugees from the Middle East and North Africa is a painful and contradictory subject in most European Union Member States. In addition to everything else, Estonia also has to bear the burden of the fears that are inevitably associated with a small nation. Here any turbulence to the population, and in the field of culture or language is immediately interpreted as a threat to the existence of the nation and the state.

But let’s speak about these fears in a calm manner. It will not help if we replace rational debate with panic right from the start and spurt out the basest of emotions.

Observing the developments during the last few months here and elsewhere in Europe, a fear has grown in me and many others that we are falling into the trap of abstract xenophobia, fear and general intolerance.

Starting with the immigration debate and continuing with other topics related to minorities, the moods have intensified in the public arena that are turning inward and generate negation. But fear – even of something strange – is a bad leader and anger is an even worse strategy.

Which is why I ask each of my compatriots today: how can we defend our state and our values? How can we defend Estonia without becoming self-absorbed and without pushing aside those who are different? How do we jointly defend those same values that that protect us today and are embodied so directly by the allied NATO forces?

Who are our own, the ones we defend and how to become one of our own? This is a central issue regardless of the immigration debate, because the answer to the following question also depends on it: “What can a state do to make all the people living here feel like one of our own?”

Several dangers currently threaten the European Union and NATO. We naturally focus on one, the one we see in Ukrainian suffering. But others – other allies – have their own worries.

The European Union – an organization extremely necessary for the development of Estonia and the preservation of its independence – is enduring several shocks. One of its fundamental values – solidarity – is no longer self-evident.

ISIS’s brutal killings are forcing peaceful people to flee their homes, exactly like 7 percent of the Estonian nation fled their homes in 1944, fearing the recurrence of the brutal horrors of the first Soviet occupation.

They fled in ships and boats across the sea, living thereafter in the barracks of closed refugee camps often until the end of the 1940s. Or they perished at sea, when refugee-filled boats were hit by bombs from planes or mines left in the sea.

I ask again, who are our own, who we help and protect and how to become our own? If the Estonian people are our own to the Spanish and Italian pilots the US marines, German staff officers and Belgian anti-aircraft units, who are our own?

Our own is Lili Milani, a genetic scientist recognised in Estonia, whose parents fled from Iran. Today Milani, as an outstanding Estonian scientist who speaks beautiful Estonian, and with her research group, her university and research institution are among the best in the world, also merited the President’s Young Scientist Award.

Our own is Staff Sergeant Roman Bõstrjantsev, who was wounded in Afghanistan in 2009, and who is now a senior non-commissioned officer in the Support Command of the Estonian Defense Forces.

Our own is also Veiko Parming, who was born in Canada, and volunteered for the Estonian Defense Forces, later graduated with a master’s degree from MIT, the world’s best university of technology, and returned to Estonia at his own expense to participate in the SIIL exercises as a reservist.

We also consider the world-famous Skype to be our own. But do we consider the engineers from Guatemala and the Dominican Republic who have excelled at IT development there as our own, or how about the Hindus, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Malaysians and designers of other nationalities that work at Estonia’s best IT companies?

And so, let’s ask again and clearly, what is the Estonia that we want to defend and are asking others to help us defend?

What kind of Estonia do we want?

We want:

Estonia to be a country governed by the rule of law, where the courts and the judgments are just;
For Estonia not to go bankrupt or descend into a fatal tailspin;
To resolve mutual disputes without violence;
For people to be judged for their values, skills and attitudes, not their origins, religion or native language;
To refrain from classifying our people into the right kind and the second-rate kind, and those with different worldviews into enemies or worthless;
For the people in Estonia have the freedom to remain themselves.

Everyone here has the right to freedom and the fruits of freedom, to their opinions and beliefs, even if they differ from your opinions and beliefs.

Estonia is being defended, advanced and promoted in the world by our own people. And now we have to ask ourselves, in a situation where others are protecting us and we are their own, who do we consider to be our own – the ones that we protect?

Long live Estonia!

I

Cover: President Toomas Hendrik Ilves at Victory Day parade in Kärdla, 23 June 2015. Photo by Ardi Hallismaa/Estonian Defence Forces.

Independence Day speech by Estonian President Ilves

Estonian Independence Day speech by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the President of the Republic of Estonia, on 24 February 2015.

Good people here in this hall, at home and far from home.

I am speaking to you at a moment that is special in many ways. Every year in the journey of the Republic of Estonia, which has lasted for 97 years, is unique and the road has been sufficiently long, winding and momentous to deserve reflection.

Yet, at the same time, we as citizens are now making a choice for the next shorter period, the election period. Many of you have already made your choice, for the rest this undertaking still awaits you. In five days, the votes will be counted and it will be clear who we want to see leading Estonia into the future.

Good Estonian citizens, this is your choice, your decision, and many of us, including me, see this as everyone’s obligation and as a demonstration of our concern for our country.

It is because of the elections that our gaze is filled with tomorrow’s hopes rather than reflections of the past. And this is why I am consciously avoiding any partisan references or recommendations. The mature citizens of a grown-up country do not require such guidance. We have sufficient experience with free elections to separate the statesmen from the gamblers, the doers from those who only make promises. I only hope that your decisions are not based on negations, because this is not a good basis for making any decisions.

Good friends.

But where does Estonia stand in anno domini 2015? If we examine the state of the economy and the statistics, then we are more or less where Finland found itself less than two decades ago. In other “life rankings”, we are more likely to find Estonia nearer to the top than the bottom. Where we reasonably and totally naturally believe that we belong.

However the poor position, for instance, in the rankings related to the wage gap or alcohol consumption should make us sad. Especially since no improvement seems to be in sight.

But I do not want to talk about vodka or money, but about peace, freedom, education and truth.

Exactly a year ago, events started to unravel about a thousand kilometres south of us. Today the entire post-Cold War security structure of Europe has been destroyed. Is there any other possible interpretation of the occupation and annexation of Crimea?

If we examine these matters from the Estonian viewpoint, without using foreign policy terminology, we can say that the former inner sense of security has been disrupted. Questions are being asked in our newspapers and in our homes that we have not heard since the restoration of our independence.

A war is underway in Ukraine. People are being killed there every day. Even now. This is a new type of war, in which one clearly proven combatant is openly using the newest weapons while denying everything.

One the main characters in this war is Untruth. For almost an entire year, Europe also kept saying that, despite all the proof, “separatists” were involved. In other words, recalling George Orwell’s timeless perception, peace is again war and a ceasefire actually murderous artillery fire.

To date, the democratic world has limited itself to sanctions and supported Ukraine morally, politically and economically. I hope that this moral backbone remains strong. We need to feel secure that Europe’s current consensus will continue. Because, Europe may not want war, but the war in Ukraine is a reality regardless of what we want.

If Europe can learn anything at all from the past, it is that concessions only cause the aggressor’s appetite for new demands to increase.

The Chamberlains of the world bring messages of peace, but not peace itself.

Who should be more familiar with these cold currents than Estonia? Among other things we know that Estonia and the other Baltic states are not the next “Ukraine”, although some people think it trendy to say so. Luckily, they are wrong, just as they were wrong only a few years ago, when we were admonished for our supposedly baseless phobias.

“Among other things we know that Estonia and the other Baltic states are not the next “Ukraine”, although some people think it trendy to say so.”

Estonia is protected. As we saw in today’s parade, the NATO allies are in Estonia. The security of Estonia and NATO is integrated – with its presence in Estonia, NATO is defending itself. Europe and the NATO allies have a greater consensus regarding security questions than ever before in the last quarter century. The deployment of allied forces to the border countries of the alliance is an answer to the new reality. Estonia has a battle-ready Defence Force and a militia with a strong will to defend – the Defence League.

A few days ago, I heard a Ukrainian parliamentarian say he thought that Estonia had just been lucky. That we became free and immediately got into NATO.

“In the garden of forking paths, we had the wisdom to choose the one that has brought us here.”

But our achievements to date have not simply fallen into our lap. We did not have a pre-determined road to Arcadia marked with blinking lights. In the garden of forking paths, we had the wisdom to choose the one that has brought us here.

Because we are painfully aware that Estonia is our last refuge.

Nothing is pre-determined. Getting into NATO and the European Union, like the withdrawal of the Russian military forces from Estonia, was the result of the single-minded efforts of many people. We are eating the fruits of these efforts today, and every day we are growing more – together.

Ladies and gentlemen.

The fate, nature and future of every nation is determined by the values on which the society and state is based. Estonia’s founding principles are written into our Constitution. Already in 1918, when independence was declared, the democratic nature of our state, everyone’s fundamental freedoms were established, many of which were not adopted by other states until later. These same principles were reconfirmed by a national referendum when our freedom was restored.

The fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution establish the foundation which makes Estonia dear to so many of us, which makes Estonia your republic, the republic of us all.

Its foundation is still secure almost a quarter of a century later. This despite the fact that life has vastly changed. That the under-30s can obviously not remember the Soviet occupation. That life at that time was eight times poorer than in Finland. That we needed visas to travel. That there was no Internet. That trolls were only a means of transportation and not Internet troublemakers. And NATO and the European Union were goals, but mainly still dreams.

When I said one year ago that the things has brought us this far will not take us any further, this was the core of my thought. Every generation must explicate the foundations of its nation to suit the present day.

When maintaining our democracy, we must constantly assess what works and what needs to be improved. Estonia must not repeat the errors of others, we should learn from them. The idea of independence is to be oneself, not to become someone else.

“Estonia must not repeat the errors of others, we should learn from them. The idea of independence is to be oneself, not to become someone else.”

What are the ideas that have perhaps become dogmas for us, that require refreshing? What ideas have exhausted themselves? What perceptions of the state’s structure, which seems to be the only alternative in the whirlwind of restoring our freedom a generation ago, have become a hindrance or even a problem today?

On the one hand, we are very forward-looking and proud of things like Skype, the abundant start-up companies, many of which have achieved great success in the world.

But at the same time we are very conservative in other areas and attached to dogmas that were valid 20 years ago.

This is a paradox and I formulated the assignment to resolve it a year ago. The answer will be provided by the people.

Good friends.

The increasing demands that we place on our state must not result in the expectation that the state knows and does everything. Ask yourself: does Estonian society really have to be organised to such a great extent by instructions and prohibitions from the state?

Let’s ask ourselves: how does the increasing role of the state as a babysitter or even parent corresponds to the idea of our Constitution? The Estonian state is founded on freedom. I repeat, first of all on freedom, on truth and on justice.

“Let’s ask ourselves: how does the increasing role of the state as a babysitter or even parent corresponds to the idea of our Constitution? The Estonian state is founded on freedom. I repeat, first of all on freedom, on truth and on justice.”

Seeing laws that function normally being rewritten time and again, with the addition of ever more rules and regulations, and ever broader supervisory obligations for the police and officials, inevitably, the following question pops into the mind of many people: Has a situation really developed where every person living in Estonia has to be treated as a probable criminal or half-wit, just in case?

It seems to me that our fervor to achieve order has caused us to exaggerate. I much prefer a state that trusts its citizens and the civil society.

After all, most people are responsible, they are capable of anticipating the consequences of their action and want to receive praise not condemnation from their fellow human beings.

Therefore, I hope that the Riigikogu that is currently being elected and the next government will be able to resist the temptation of overregulation. Let’s preserve our Constitution and its spirit. Let’s preserve our laws. Let’s do exactly what is needed and leave what is not needed undone.

Ladies and gentlemen.

Education is the religion of the Estonians. We truly believe that the best thing that parents can bequest to their children is a good education. Not land, houses, forests or bank accounts.

The most important capital today is knowledge and skills. Therefore, the quality of the education everywhere in Estonia must be uniformly excellent, in order to give all our young people the opportunity to strive and become the best in their fields. Schools must not be inadequate anywhere, because of the learners or location of the school, the authority or poor administration of the local government.

Actually, education is an issue related to the life of the state, and not to local life. At least, starting with basic school. Estonia, with its 1.3 million residents, has the obligation to ensure a uniformly high level of teaching everywhere and for everyone. The small size of the local government or its lack of funds or the convenience of the decision-makers cannot be an excuse.

“At least, starting with basic school. Estonia, with its 1.3 million residents, has the obligation to ensure a uniformly high level of teaching everywhere and for everyone.”

The Estonian school system must be able to keep pace with a changing world and changing times. Because children, students, do not know any other time or any other world. We live in revolutionary times. Analysts say that when the children who are starting school today in the developed countries start looking for jobs, 40% of today’s jobs will have disappeared or changed. So let’s ask, are our schools teaching tomorrow’s skills to a sufficient degree?

Placing greater value on the work of teachers when it comes to both salaries and prestige is still a key issue when it comes to the future of Estonia. If we do not do this we may soon discover that our success in the PISA tests has disappeared. If we cannot attract talented teachers, which can only happen if we pay proper salaries, we are bound to fail.

“If we cannot attract talented teachers, which can only happen if we pay proper salaries, we are bound to fail.”

But, make no mistake, in the places where the school system functions well and the work of the teachers is appreciated – for instance in Finland – much is also expected of the teachers.

Adopting this way of thinking can no longer be postponed. Experience shows that reorganisations in education bear fruit after 10 to 15 years. The actual changes occur when we start teaching students and not curricula. Education is a long-term process, longer than the terms of the next Riigikogu members.

Ladies and gentlemen!

I am speaking about education because this is part of what will take us forward. After all, the foundation already exists.

Here and now we must also acknowledge that despite all our dissatisfaction, we have truly achieved something great during our new period of independence. Something very great.

With our decisions, achieved dreams and work, each one of us has successfully developed Estonia.,

We have proven that Estonia deserves our care and love.

We can definitely state that we have learned. This time we have done it right.

Let’s finally acknowledge that:
The second time we have done better.

We have something to defend if necessary, to preserve and to cherish.

This is our truth and our justice. It is truth and actuality that we must honour and appreciate more. Truth. The rule of law is impossible without justice, but justice is also impossible without truth.

Some time ago, probably in 1988, the Virulane, the newspaper of the Viru collective farm, flew like the first swallow into the dawning sky of freedom from this very area, Virumaa. The newspaper had a blue-black-and white border, and its motto was Truth rises, lies sink.

Fortunately, truth did rise. But recently we are seeing that the advance of Untruth is underway. This undermines the foundations of democracy and freedom. We are faced with a situation where verifiable and empirical truths, as well as actual facts are successfully being questioned.

We are told that such a thing as Truth does not exist. That everything is relative and all versions of the truth are equal. Here a tragic example from last spring, when different versions of the crash of Malaysia flight MH17 started to be presented to the public. The causes of the crash included:

A) a Russian rocket
B) Ukrainian fighter plane
C) the passengers were already dead and the plane was flown into Ukrainian airspace to explode;
Or UFOs did it.

It is asserted that all of these are equal “truths” and we are asked, “Who are we to decide which of them is most truthful?”

The Enlightenment period started after the triumph of the natural sciences, which is still underway, disrupted the concept of absolute godly truth.

After this authority, which was based only on Aristotle and biblical dogmas, was overturned, an understanding developed that people themselves discover the truth. It is not handed down from somewhere above, truth can – and as much as possible — must be proven.

Based thereon, the understanding grew that non-elected kings and emperors do not have the godly right to rule. As an alternative, the idea arose that it is the people that have this right. And this is reflected in our Constitution: Estonia is an independent and sovereign democratic republic wherein the supreme power of state is vested in the people.

Or more simply put, our modern democratic principles grew out of the triumph of truth over blind faith.

The contemporary approach has expanded the concept of Truth. And asserts that there are many truths, and none of them is better than any other. An intellectually interesting and very Western idea, but if harnessed to the wagon of an authoritarian ideology it can become dangerous, especially when supported by power. If we do not aspire to Truth, we will discover that we are back in the Middle Ages, where the truth is forcibly delivered from above. Then Power possesses Truth. And this is what we are seeing in Ukraine today.

Fine. There can be many truths and often there are. But a shield against conscious lies must be maintained. Just like Karl Popper once said, “We cannot prove the truth, but we can prove what is untrue”.

Therefore it is extremely important for the media to stop searching for the truth and to rely on the facts. At this point, I would like to praise the Estonian press. The TV viewers, Internet followers and newspaper readers have probably noticed that the Riigikogu candidates are under much greater fire and only making promises will not take them far. The professional reporting on the election campaign makes our democracy stronger, it develops Estonia as a society and a state.

This brings me back to the beginning of the speech:

The elections provide the Riigikogu and the government with direction. As people, we make decisions every day that give our lives direction. We can decide ourselves and we do. But only as long as we utilise this right, which an independent democratic Estonia has provided us.

Dear Estonians,

Your vote is the state. Your vote is an order to those who are elected. Vote!

Who you vote for is a question related to your worldview and conscience. Vote!

Your vote is the democratic state.

Today, exactly 50 years ago on 24 February 1965, the great Estonian author Karl Ristikivi wrote the following lines in his diary:

The anniversary of the Republic. I have barely had time to think about it. What’s it to me –
was it my republic? It only became mine after it ceased to exist.

Half a century later, many people in their homes, sitting around a table, or alone think this way: is it my republic?

My answer is: It is your republic and my republic. Everyone’s Republic of Estonia!

If this is true, we do not have to curse ourselves or fate,

Then Estonia truly is our republic,

And then it will endure.

Long live,
Long live Estonia!

I

Cover: Toomas Hendrik Ilves (credit: Ilmar Saabas).

The New Year’s Eve speech of President Toomas Hendrik Ilves

The New Year’s Eve speech of Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on 31 December 2014.

Good evening, my dear compatriots!

I hope you are spending the last evening of this year with the people who are important for you. Even if they’re just in your thoughts.

Many things touched us this year: the elation of the Song Festival, the triumph of the film “Tangerines”, the inclusion of the smoke sauna tradition of Võru County on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Rasmus Mägi winning a silver medal at the European Championships… The autumn was also exceptionally rich in mushrooms.

However, there is also reason for concern as we look back at the year that’s just about to end. We want the troubled times to disappear. We want more security.

Europe was tested in 2014. The security situation, which had even survived the Cold War, came crashing down. This happened because a country right here next to us attacked one of its neighbours. Europe passed the test and demonstrated its unity in standing up against the annexationist.

Estonia was also tested during the passing year. At present, our security is stronger than ever thanks to our cooperation with our friends. We have reason to be confident. Estonia is protected.

There are three keywords that are important for the future of Estonia. They are education, security and people’s subsistence.

We learn. Each and every one of us learns every day. Let’s not do things by halves. Contemporary education and educated people are the foundation of a smart Estonia. Only then can we make the decisions that make Estonia more successful and the future of Estonia more secure for everyone who lives here.

Education also means openness. Openness to the world, openness to dialogue and disputes. An educated person is not afraid of different opinions and does not give in to intolerance and small-mindedness. Intolerance and hostility are not things that will help us move forward.

The months before the parliamentary elections are the time of demanding dialogue between politicians and voters. There are no closed or forbidden topics here. We also have to talk about the correct taxation policy for us and whether we need to change something in the present system. What kind of a state can our people afford, how can we promote enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit?

I advise voters to demand answers from the parties: what is the price of the promises they make, why are their priorities what they are and where does the necessary money come from? We have to ask the people seeking a place in the parliament: how will you give people more security, both in their everyday lives and on a broader scale? Without this, casting a vote on 1 March will be difficult.

Dear friends,

The security of Estonia covers more than military defence, it covers security in a broader sense. Security also means sticking together and understanding each other. Estonia is truly protected when we know that everyone matters, irrespective of their origin, gender, nationality.

Estonia has done big things from Tiger Leap to e-residency and will be doing more in the future. But as we do these big things, we must also notice the people right here next to us. The issue is everyone’s subsistence, the ability to succeed.

The people who live here are the really big and good thing about Estonia. Estonia is for them, for all of us. Good life is more than good things. Good life is a good, friendly and supportive living environment. It is security for the elderly, children and people with special needs. For youngsters, teachers, police officers. Security for everyone.

I would like to thank everyone who believes in Estonia and has made Estonia a better place with their work. We would not be able to succeed without you. A strengthening third sector, the Defence League, voluntary emergency workers and everyone who does their job well, our friends and loved ones with their support – we need you all.

In addition to the wishes that concern Estonia and the world, we also have our personal dreams that we’re hoping will come true. Let 2015 be the year when big and small dreams alike come true for all of us.

Happy New Year, my dear Estonian people!

I

Cover: Toomas Hendrik Ilves/Credit: Ilmar Saabas/Delfi.

President Ilves: Estonia has a “revanchist and revisionist neighbour”

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’s speech at the Estonian Victory Day celebration on 23 June in Valga.

Today ninety-five years ago the Estonian forces, together with Latvian units, defeated our common enemy, known as the Landeswehr, in the Battle of Võnnu. The Cēsu kaujas.

But let us call the Landeswehr – and the Red Army, our other opponent in our War of Independence –, by their proper names. Among them, there were empire savers, pillagers and terrorists.

If we understand that it is our victory over them that is the essence of Victory Day; if we understand what it was that the Estonians and Latvians fought here on the Southern Front, then we can understand how little the world has changed in 95 years.

Let us not live in illusions. The foundations of the security architecture on which we, along with our allies, relied for 23 years, are gone. We’ve been constantly soothed by people who insisted that no more territories would be annexed in Europe; no more countries would be militarily attacked.

Yet, it turns out that countries are still attacked, territories are still occupied and annexed. During the last six months, all of the significant treaties that guaranteed the independence of European states have been violated. Raw power, brutal use of force, injustice covered by lies, that is, flagrant propaganda and distortion of facts – everything that the young Estonian Republic fought against five generations ago is still there. Only during the last quarter of a century have we got used to peace and European development, to constitutional protections, justified expectations and improved wellbeing.

What we see in Eastern Ukraine today, we saw in Estonia in 1940 and 1919. We cannot, and often don’t even want to imagine how fragile the wellbeing that we’ve got used to really is; how fragile is the peace around us, our independence and our freedom. Just like no one could imagine it in the cafés of Tartu or the farms of Valgamaa in 1938.

Now we know how costly this illusory sense of security soon turned out to be.

Therefore, Victory Day, which commemorates the courage of our forefathers and mothers nearly a century ago, is far more significant than just a prelude to St John’s Eve. It is, first of all, the time for us to stop and think.

Estonia always retained a healthy scepticism, looking at the post-Cold War world order and the perpetual peace in Europe. The past has made us wary.

Therefore, even during economically tough times, we always found the funding for national defence. Therefore, we have participated in NATO missions far from home.

Now we see that these investments were worth it. Now people say at NATO ministerial meetings that everyone should follow Estonia’s example.

Because it turns out that we have a vindictive and revisionist neighbour who does not think that the European order, established by the peoples freed 25 years ago, should last. And whose emissaries declare that tolerance is just a sign of decadence and liberal democracy as we understand it is only a peculiarity of Western civilisation.

The talk about the empire is back. The propaganda mills are grinding ceaselessly.

But NATO is not asleep either. If 20 years ago NATO’s role in Europe was questioned in some quarters, then now the alliance is back in its fundamental business – protecting the territory and the freedom of its allies.

NATO is there in Estonia – in our waters, in our airspace, on the ground.

Some people have expressed doubts: will Estonia be helped if things get serious?

We will, I assure you. In Estonia, NATO is defending itself. Otherwise, no NATO allies could ever feel protected. The principle “one for all, all for one” has created a situation where no country has ever dared to attack a NATO member.

Therefore, Estonia, like every other member of the alliance, can feel strong.

This time everyone knows what the actual situation is.
This time we are ready to resist, if that would be necessary.
This time, together with our allies.

Dear Estonian people.

Estonia has a battle-ready defence force, which can deploy tens of thousands of well-trained men and women if needed.

We have a Defence League with a strong will to defend our country.

This is the answer to those who have questioned the meaning of compulsory military service. This is also the answer to those who have thought that members of the Defence League are like little boys who like to play war and run around with weapons instead of doing something useful.

And, as I said, we have our allies. We have NATO air force in the newest and most modern airbase in Europe. We have the allied ships in the Baltic Sea. Allied troops are stationed with our troops in Estonian bases, in Estonian NATO bases.

Dear Estonian people,

Victory Day is the day to recognise members of the Defence League and Women’s Home Defence – the people who dedicate their free time and their free will to protect the freedom of us all.

The events in Ukraine confirm the necessity of the Defence League. In Ukraine, they did not start to establish, train and equip voluntary defence units until the violence had already reigned for some time.

In Estonia, the Defence League was founded after World War I, when people witnessed the mob rule of the demobilised Tsarist soldiers in Latvia. Our Defence League was established to prevent this happening in Estonia.

It is the free will of the Defence League that deters any potential aggressors. The attitude of the men and women who defend their own homes is totally different from that of little green men, mercenaries or criminals.

Every potential enemy knows that its greatest threat is a nation seriously defending its way of life and its values. We can find examples of this from distant as well as recent past.

Dear Estonian people.

The most important lesson Ukraine can teach Estonia lies in a question that each nation and society must answer every day.

The question is: is our way of life, our freedom worth defending? Is it worth sacrifices?

Only we can answer this question – all of us, regardless of our age or gender, our profession or place of residence, our ethnicity or native tongue.

I am proud of the whole Estonian nation, because the answer has been unanimous from Supilinn to Lasnamäe, from Narva to Valga.

Yes, this is our country where we make our decisions and our choices.

Estonia must understand that this right to decide for ourselves is constantly being challenged. For some, we are too successful, too independent, too stubborn, too European, too anti-Soviet.

The Estonian people have proven that freedoms – the freedom of speech, opinion and movement – along with the rule of law, independent judiciary and democratic elections, bring progress.

We embody all the things that a neighbour of ours regards as an existential threat to itself. For that neighbouring country, Estonia and Latvia are the countries that embody the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century.

Dear Estonian people.

Now I have a question: Are we ready? Are we willing to do even more to defend our freedom?

Are we ready to give up some benefits or pre-election promises? Are we ready to be friendlier and more understanding toward each other? Can we stick together?

Estonia is our country. It’s our freedom, our personal liberty, our homes and our families. The defence of Estonia cannot be anyone else’s business.

Estonia is our business, it’s the business of all of us.

Estonia deserves to be cherished and protected.

Long live Estonia.

I

Cover photo: President Toomas Hendrik Ilves giving a speech at the Victory Day celebration in Valga. Photo by Ardi Hallikmaa for Estonian Defence Forces.

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