Kersti Kaljulaid: Children should be better equipped to understand democracy

At the opening session of the Estonian parliament, Riigikogu, the country’s president, Kersti Kaljulaid, drew the attention of the MPs to many challenges, including offering better education on democracy and human rights in Estonia’s school system.

Kaljulaid stressed the role of the parliament as the warden of the rule of law and drew the attention of the members of the parliament to the challenges in the energy sector, ageing e-state and, notably, comprehensive schooling.

The president said Estonia must pay special attention to developing children’s communication skills and their ability to function together as a society.

“In civic studies classes, children should be better equipped to understand democracy, the opportunities an individual has to participate in democratic processes and the accompanying responsibilities. The youngsters’ knowledge of why the rule of law matters, why choices cannot always be made by simply listening to the majority, what universal human rights are and why free speech and media are important must be improved,” Kaljulaid said in her speech. “How to make yourself heard without bullying others both at school and later at work. A violence-free society is the result of well-developed social skills. Here we still have a long road ahead of us.”

Wardens of the rule of law

She also posed a rhetorical question to the parliament, no doubt impelled by the anti-democratic rhetoric by one of the parties in the Estonian governing coalition, the radical-populist EKRE, and its affiliates, which include local troll factories that poison the social media in Estonia.

“Today, continuing to stand up for universal human rights and democratic values is often uncomfortable, easily attacked and belittled. But then again, these the more difficult moments, are the times in history that help us figure out what Estonia is really like,” the president said. “Do we value democracy or a totalitarian still life? Do we love freedom or are we afraid of it? Do we trust power or values? Do we look for smart solutions or spend funds to stick to old ways? Are we curious to take up opportunities the world presents us with or distrusting and isolated?”

“You in this hall are the ones who are directly responsible for making sure these questions get answered. You are free to design the answers but only as long as you abide by the constitution approved by the Estonian people. You are free in your decisions but not completely – according to the constitution, you must keep in mind the expectations of all people in Estonia, rather than those of your voters,” Kaljulaid said in her address to the parliament.

“You are the wardens of the rule of law – this is a bigger responsibility than simply being a legislator. You cannot escape this duty or hide behind a group identity or your political affiliation,” the president added.

Cover: Kersti Kaljulaid.

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