President Kersti Kaljulaid with a Christmas tree.

Kaljulaid: Estonia is more prosperous than ever before, but is everyone included?

President Kersti Kaljulaid said in her New Year’s speech on 31 December that it was gratifying to see Estonia being more prosperous than ever before, but raised the concern whether everyone has the same perception and whether everyone feels included.

Dear residents of Pärnu, beloved people of Estonia!

Long live Pärnu, the birthplace of Estonian independence!

In just a few minutes, we will give the Republic of Estonia’s national centenary year a cordial send-off and ring in a year dedicated to the Estonian language. Although the centenary year is packing up its tent, the celebrations of our beloved republic’s birthday will last for some time to come.

Tonight’s celebration will reach all corners of our land, exactly as the centenary year reached the forests of Kurgja, the streets of Tartu, Virumaa and Võrumaa alike, and hopefully every house and home in Estonia. I hope that during this past year, everyone found moments to cheer and reasons to stand proud and united.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this centenary year a success. It was awe-inspiring!

The year about to begin is the year of the Estonian language. Listening and speaking, arguing, agreeing or not agreeing – all are best done in one’s native tongue. Only we can fully comprehend references to Tammsaare, Luts and Kivirähk. This is our secret language, which only one million of our compatriots understand.

It is our solemn duty to ensure that the number of speakers of Estonian grows and does not shrink. Everyone who considers the language theirs has something to gain from it.

It is gratifying to see that Estonia is more prosperous than ever before. Viewed objectively, we are indeed doing better and better. The concern is that not everyone has the same perception. A single mother raising a disabled child might not share in this feeling. Or elderly people in the twilight of their lives – in nursing homes or solitary apartments. Those who have endured violence – either for years or even just on one occasion – may also be deprived of this sense of prosperity.

Do those of us who are weaker feel included? Or do they feel abandoned at a time when Estonia is truly better off than before? This is a question that deserves to be asked, even on this celebratory evening.

Because they are all part of who we are. People who are content with the way things are going, and those who feel that the success story of Estonia has not reached them yet. Those who think that this is the Estonia we wanted all this time, and those who think that there is still some way to go before we get there. Both those who express the majority opinion in surveys and those whose view is shared by fewer people but who are all the more vocal for it. Those who speak Estonian at home, and those who converse in another language yet carry Estonia in their hearts. Our Estonia needs all of these people; “they” are actually “us”. We have to remember this, and if necessary, remind each other.

As we step into the New Year with great anticipation, is everyone with us? Perhaps somewhere someone is very sad? What can we do better? And furthermore, are we able to give up something we are attached to, so that the people who are sad could be a little happier? No doubt we will learn – and learn next year as well – how to better harness our prosperity in places, which badly need it.

My dear fellow citizens,

One hundred years ago, when World War I ended and the War of Independence started, Estonia was not welcomed with open arms into the fold of the world’s independent nations. While there were those who backed our independence, the net of security we are used to now, was nowhere in sight. It is a safety net we now see from month to month, at NATO and EU summits. If something is taken for granted, it will quickly become invisible. But at the end of the year, it is always a good idea to check that the net is intact. Have people around us, or we ourselves, done anything to make the net less sound?

This New Year will dawn amidst spirited debate, for after all, elections are coming up. That is a good thing.  Energetic debate is a prerequisite for progress in society. Thinking is pleasurable. It is a fine thing to hear well-crafted and argumented debate in good Estonian.

This is the kind of Estonia we wanted – one that is prosperous and where there is time to think, the courage and confidence to express ourselves, compassion and love, debate and resolution. The self-confidence to do things ourselves, and enough faith to always help those in trouble, to the best of our abilities.

Every person in Estonia has their part to play in all that we have achieved. Absolutely every one of us made their contribution to building our home, like ants carrying spruce needles into one of the great ant hills in Estonian forests. Every one of us has a role, the right, the responsibility, the possibility. May we all continue to enjoy such an Estonia in 2019!

Happy New Year, Pärnu! Happy New Year, Estonia!

I

Cover: President Kersti Kaljulaid with a Christmas tree.