I acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and pay my respects to their elders past, present & future.
Apologies to all Estonian speakers, but I will speak in English today, to ensure that the maximum number of people here in the audience can understand me.
Happy 105th Estonian Independence Day!
February 24 is the birth date of the Estonian Declaration of Independence, a birthday celebrated every year since 1918. Over 105 years ago, just after the October 1917 Revolution, the Estonian people commenced a two year long war of independence, to win the right to exist as a sovereign nation.
At the time they faced a new foe, Soviet Russia, which in all respects appeared to be just as imperialistic as the Czarist regime that the Estonian people had lived under for centuries.
Last month also marks 103 years since the signing the Tartu Peace Treaty, whereby Soviet Russia guaranteed to “recognise for perpetuity” the existence of the new Estonian Republic. Of course this treaty was ignored by Moscow, who in 1940 proceeded to occupy and then annex Estonia.
As we know, after five decades of Soviet occupation Estonia finally reclaimed it’s independence in August 1991, during the disintegration of the Soviet Unon. In the 32 years since then, Estonia has developed into a leading modern European society, was accepted into the European Union, and became a full member the NATO defence alliance.
We have much to celebrate!
More recently however, our nation’s birth date of February 24, has developed a second much sader meaning – it now marks the anniversary of last year’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation.
There has now been a full year of war in Ukraine. Over a quarter of a million soldiers & civilians on both sides killed and wounded. Some 13 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced or become refugees in neighbouring countries. Such unimaginable horrors and loss of human life and property has not been witnessed on the European continent, since the end of World War II, some eight decades ago.
Despite the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of Soviet communism, it is clear that Russia’s mindset towards it’s neighbours has never really changed. The attack on Ukraine is a continuation of the imperialism that Russia has displayed for centuries.
At the risk of saying ‘I told you so’, Estonians have been warning the world about Russia for decades, but until last year such claims were often ignored and dismissed as bordering on paranoia. However, the nations of Europe and the world are now almost unanimous in their condemnation of Russia:
Finnish Prime Minister Marin Sanna said this week that
“Russia poses a threat to all of us and that is why we must help Ukraine win this war’.
Our own President Alar Karis made a statement a few days ago –
“If anyone was thinking Russia is interested in peace any time soon then think again……Moscow’s aims are unchanged, they are ready for a long & hostile confrontation with the West, and will not tolerate dissent. Stalin must have smiled in his grave.”
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Antonio Guterres, has said
“The invasion is an affront to our collective conscience. It is a violation of the United Nations Charter and international law.”
It is highly doubtful however, that such verbal condemnations will sway Russia from it’s chosen path of warfare to achieve it’s imperialistic ambitions. In fact, intelligence organisations are reporting that Russia is now rebuilding it’s army as a top priority, with no financial constraints. Russia’s defence budget for 2023 is already 1/3rd of their national budget.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the reaction of the world, has caused people to question and try to better understand what they value – both as individuals and as nations. Recent events have forced us to contemplate, not only what kind of a nation we want to live in, but how much worse our lives might be if we don’t stand up for our values, the principles of sovereignty and a rules-based international order.
105 years ago Estonia’s forefathers had to consider the same issues, when they made their fateful decision to fight for their values, their way of life, and to achieve independence and sovereignty for Estonia.
As our Prime Minster Kaja Kallas has said
“Let us ask [ourselves] do we grasp the magnitude of what is happening in Ukraine and what is at stake here? Is our response adequate and what would be the price of failure?”
After twelve months since the invasion, Ukrainians have clearly demonstrated that this war is winnable, but they need continued support. I am proud to note that the Estonian nation has provided the highest amount of humanitarian and military assistance within Europe, on a per capita basis.
By helping Ukraine resist the Russian invasion, we are helping prevent a similar future outcome for Estonia.
If Russia wins in Ukraine, then there is a real possibility that Estonia and the other bordering states may soon become the next targets of Russian imperialism.
So if on Estonia’s birthday we wish to give an effective present to help guarantee the existence of Estonia as a nation, then one of the best ways we can do so, is by continuing to provide assistance to Ukraine.
By ensuring Ukraine’s survival as nation, we are also protecting the future of the Republic of Estonia.
Palju õnne Eesti. Soovin Eesti Vabariigile kaunist sajaviienda sünnipäeva!