Renee Meriste: It’s time to listen to the people

Renee Meriste, the president of the Estonian Society of Los Angeles, said in a speech given on the occasion of the Estonian Independence Day that the Estonian government shouldn’t ignore the people it has to serve, including the 200,000 Estonians living outside Estonia.

The speech was given at the Lakewood Estonian House, NJ, on 19 February 2024; lightly edited for clarity by Estonian World.

I would like to wish you all a sunny and warm welcome from California, even though we have had a lot of rain lately. Let’s all celebrate Estonia’s Independence Day here in Lakewood.

On this happy occasion of Estonian Independence Day, we gather to celebrate our existence as a free nation. More importantly, we all have a moment to look back at the past, accept the present and build the future. In February 2024, we have much to be thankful for, but there is also uncertainty in Estonia, in Europe, in America, so we must keep our faith and support each other.

106 years is a long time, but from a certain point of view it is not long at all, because we have had two beginnings, two world wars and we have to act together to make sure that the third world war does not happen.

Sometimes a young person or a country only sees the small immediate future of the things they want right now. Like a child in a sandbox, they see toys and want them all – they do not think about friends to play with, whose toys are these; they just want everything for themselves. As they get older, this becomes a very selfish way of taking and not giving. This is reinforced by our all-too-familiar mobile world, where selfies that show “what I have done, where I have been, how kind I have been, who I have helped today”, seem to be more important than anything else.

It’s time to grow up

If a young country stays this way for too long, looking for constant support from others, it will soon be seen as that child with no values – who only wants to take, never gives to others, and can be easily bought with cheap gifts and small amounts of money.

It’s time to grow up, be kind to those who have supported you, respect them, support others with the same values and work together to make the world a safer and better place. Not just run after the next person who gives you toys and free money.

Relationships are key. It is often said that when you know someone better, you treat them better. That is the power of building relationships.

The author (second left) with guests at the Lakewood Estonian House reception on 19 February 2024. Photo: Lakewood Estonian House.

Good relationships unlock not only personal success, but also freedom and the security of freedom as we get to know each other better. Instead of a self-centred focus, the emphasis should shift to contributions to others and the excitement of working and doing business together. We must express gratitude to those who help us and recruit people who are capable of cultivating relationships based on true moral values.

Personal relationships with our allies

In the last two years we have seen the rise of evil again and it is very close to us, closer than it has been in the last 30 years. We have to remember that the war that Russia started two years ago by invading Ukraine is the biggest in Europe since the Second World War and we are entering the third year of the war.

Discussions about continuing support for Ukraine are intense and may become even more so in the coming weeks, months and years. Please remember that Ukraine is fighting for the core principles of a free democracy, they are fighting for us – the same principles shared by Estonia and the United States of America. Freedom and independence are never given. Freedom should not be taken for granted, and perhaps not even as a right, but as an opportunity to do what is right for humanity.

Estonian Independence Day event at the Los Angeles Estonian House on 27 February 2024. Photo by Enn Auksmann.

Support people who fight for you, support people who are kind, support people who give you credit, support people who want to make your life better. Always be optimistic, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is harder now than ever. It is very important to keep it and if you see a friend losing it, take the time to bring them back to the light.

Freedom, a cornerstone of our existence, resonates in the very essence of who we are as Estonians. As we reflect on our journey, we recognise the invaluable importance of personal relationships with our allies, especially here in America, which is also Ukraine’s greatest supporter.

In today’s increasingly interconnected world, evil creates disruptions globally to create chaos and get what it wants. In a world of social media and two-second attention spans, it is very easy to manipulate people with short videos and messages.

Courage to do what is morally right

We need to stand together and be heard. Unfortunately, people don’t want to get involved, they’re afraid, they’re shy, they’re afraid of what their friends will say, how the community will act – all of that feeds the evil to do what they want. And yes, often you are cancelled by your own people and government for fighting for them, because their ego doesn’t allow them to say they were or are wrong.

We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right, no matter what forces try to stop us.

Estonian Independence Day event at the Los Angeles Estonian House on 27 February 2024. Photo by Enn Auksmann.

We had a really great moment in the Estonian American community last year after the Estonian government decided to close the country’s consulates in America. We came together and fought together, unfortunately the government did not listen to us – and we should ask, who are they listening to? Who will benefit from closing this very important relationship?

It’s time to listen to the people: don’t ignore the people you have to serve, don’t ignore the teachers, the culture, the emergency workers; don’t ignore the 200,000 Estonians living outside Estonia. In today’s global world, those 200,000 could be the strongest force to fight when support is needed from other countries. There are only a million of us and 20 per cent is a lot – maybe it’s time to create a new political party of people living outside Estonia?

Estonians are free people who love and support freedom

Together we stand united in the pursuit of common values – democracy, freedom and human rights.

Let’s not be shy anymore, let’s speak up and show our strength together, let’s offer hope and support, let’s show the world that better days are ahead of us.

Who are we, Estonians?

Estonians are free people who love and support freedom, who are worthy of freedom, and who are committed not only to remaining so, but also to fighting and helping others to keep and gain their freedom. Our commitment to freedom transcends borders, political and geographical boundaries. In a spirit of solidarity, we recognise the importance of fostering alliances that promote peace, stability and prosperity for all nations.

Estonian Independence Day event at the Los Angeles Estonian House on 27 February 2024. Photo by Enn Auksmann.

It is through cooperation, relationships, respect, support and mutual understanding that we build a future of freedom and peace.

Let us embrace the principles that define us – tolerance, support and respect for diversity.

As a nation, we seek to inspire and demonstrate that our true strength lies in our ability to uphold these fundamental values of humanity.

We, Estonians in America, ensure that our nation is known and recognised, thereby guaranteeing our freedom for present and future generations.

On this momentous day, let us rekindle the flame of freedom in our hearts and reaffirm our commitment to a world where the aspirations of every individual are met with respect and understanding. May the spirit of Estonian independence continue to shine brightly, lighting the way to a future where freedom and friendship flourish.

Happy Independence Day, Estonia!

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