President Ilves on Independence Day: 20 remarkable quotes

The Estonian head of state, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, gave his last Independence Day speech as president. In many ways, it was his most profound yet. Estonian World compiled the most significant quotes from the speech.

In his last Independence Day speech as the president, Ilves was at his most candid yet. The president did not make a secret of the fact that he is worried about the current feeble situation in Europe. He also appeared to agree with the perception that the current Estonian coalition government seems sluggish (while acknowledging that it is probably the best possible coalition within this parliament) as well as criticising the general lack of tolerance and openness in the society, making many onlookers, who had gathered at the Independence Day reception, visibly uncomfortable. Yet, he also emphasised the progress Estonia has made through changing times in last 25 years and encouraged to embrace the opportunities, rather than succumb to pessimism in the face of challenges.

On the changing world, responsibility and aspiration

“The world, Europe and Estonia in Europe have again arrived at the threshold of change. The world is changing a lot, changing rapidly and it is up to us, to make sure it is for the better.”

“To date, it has been acknowledged countless times that the collapse of the Soviet empire was not accompanied by a positive end to history. Free societies, along with a general increase in people’s spiritual and material wellbeing, did not achieve a final victory everywhere.”

“There is nothing predetermined or inevitable about the progress of history. Therefore, it is filled with opportunities.”

“It’s true, that great or even revolutionary times and great deeds require people who want to, know how to, and dare to accept responsibility. Knowing that they will be thanked afterwards. If at all.”

On the refugee crisis and tolerance

“Estonia’s concern is amplified by the fear that everything that has been restored and created anew during the last quarter century may disappear again. We are always worried about our survival. This distinguishes us from other states and peoples. In the same way, we are distinguished by the conviction that Estonia is not like the others. We find and invent solutions. And this is what we have done for a quarter century.”

“Our constitution establishes the realm of Estonia’s values, which is based on freedom and equal rights, with the objective of preserving, protecting and developing the Estonian state, people, and culture. The Estonian government cannot, must not, or even plan to, abandon these principles. This is our nation’s agreement, which marks the red lines that we will not cross nor will we let others do so.”

“Those who have fled from war do not threaten Estonia’s security. Those who wish to live in Europe and therefore to live in Estonia’s realm of values like us, must be accepted. The remainder, or those who are just economic migrants or fortune seekers, must be sent back as, for instance, Finland has exemplarily started doing.”

“Not all the arrivals are coming from war zones. They must be helped to create wellbeing back home. But the real refugees are a totally different story. We must help them as people and as Europeans.”

“We know that the “Polish plumber” is an unfair and offensive image, as is the “Estonian criminal” who has been berated in the Finnish media. The unjust label of “Syrian terrorist”, which had been attached to an entire nation, sounds the same.”

“U.S. soldiers are in Estonia to protect us, and if necessary, to fight for our freedom. For this, they deserve respect, at the very least. Not the recommendation made by a local politician (far-right Estonian Conservative People’s Party MP – Estonian World) that Afro-American soldiers should wear their uniforms at all times in order to avoid confrontations.”

On the importance of European unity

“This attitude that Estonia can be a mini-Switzerland alongside Russia is absurd. How does anyone create such a self-deception?”

“I am afraid that the current refugee crisis may end with the disintegration of the European Union – one of the pillars of Estonia’s safety and security.”

“I am already seeing how Estonia is pulling and pushing the rest of Europe into the 21st century based on its example and its efforts, and thereby helping our united Europe compete in a rapidly changing world.”

On Estonia at crossroads

“Life in the 21st century is not progressing along the same peaceful path for Estonia that we seem to remember from the past few decades. Nevertheless, there is no sense in wishing for the past to return.”

“Each one of us counts, and we must care about everyone’s fate. We must not reconcile ourselves to a single lost individual. Every successfully completed course in the Estonian language, every access created for a disabled person, every successfully retrained person who gets a job is a victory for all of us.”

“In the current troubled times, Estonia had make use of its small size, flexibility and agility. By making decisions and finding solutions. Critical times provide opportunities for the smart and daring. Just like 25 years ago, and almost 100 years ago.”

“We have been masters of our land for another 25 years. We have free and honest elections. Everyone can realise themselves here if they have the skill and initiative. Yes, you have to make the effort, be it with your studies, at work, in associations or when starting your own business. Nothing is served to you on a silver platter. And besides, do we really appreciate that is served to us on a platter?”

“If we think back on Estonia’s last quarter century, we see that we have primarily achieved success when we have dared to do something in a new or different way. Rapid and decisive reforms, implementation of modern technology, and during the last decade, the powerful rise of a civil society that is impacting social development.”

“On today’s day of celebration each of us should ask ourselves a question and formulate the answer: Are we shutting ourselves off or opening ourselves up? Are we fearful or daring? Estonia became free almost a century ago because people believed and dared. As a nation, not as politicians.”

“During the past few weeks, videos have appeared on the internet in which people from other countries speak about Estonia. We see and hear how people who have come from other countries find opportunities to work in Estonia, to realise their dreams and to feel safe. They derive peace and a sense of balance from our nature and don’t notice the grey skies or cold weather. They have learned our language. They want to live here. They are also convincing us – yes us! – that Estonia continues to be a land of opportunity.”

“We will arrive at such an Estonia when we start treating our success stories as lessons from the past, instead of focusing on the narrow historical injustices and the suffering experienced by our people. When we start to use this to learn where and how Estonia has managed better than the others. Innovative and creative thinking, the courage to act.”

“Openness makes Estonia greater, pettiness makes it smaller.”


You can read the full speech on the president’s website. Cover: Toomas Hendrik Ilves (photo by Andres Putting)

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