Honorable members of the Estonian American National Council’s Board of Directors
Dear guests! Head sõbrad!
It is an honor and privilege for me to address you tonight at this wonderful Gala. It is good to be back in the U.S. and it is good to be back in San Francisco. Last time I was here in 2013 for ESTO and Lääneranniku Eesti päevad, when Estonian culture, dance, songs, language conquered San Francisco, or at least part of it.
Several things have happened since then, several things have changed since then but it is good to know that something stays unchanged and untouched, stays as a bedrock – I mean the Estonian American National Council and Estonian Community in the United States.
When I was preparing for today’s remarks I recalled the lyrics of Mis maa see on, by Peeter Volkonski. Do you remember the Song Festival when the song was performed by Siiri Sisask, the choirs and the audience? It was something that I will never forget.
What kind of a land is this?
There are no mountains here.
But people here are full of magical might
And their songs are mystical
Only endless forest and bog-pool swamps.
Sometimes night eats the day
Sometimes day is so long that swallows the night
Both pass here in the same manner
What kind of a land is this?
It is a very good question – what kind of a land is it, that remains in our hearts wherever we go or whoever we are? What kind of a land it is that brings together young and old, rich and poor, those who speak Estonian and those who don’t, those who were born in Estonia and those who have only visited Estonia, Estonians, Americans, and even Russians?
On August 20th we celebrated the 25th anniversary of restoration of the Republic of Estonia. Estonia has changed a lot and has achieved a lot in 25 years and there is a lot we all can be proud of. Yes, all of us. Because there is no country without people and there are no achievements without people who love and who care about a country.
Estonia’s fate has been difficult. Estonia’s road to freedom and independence has been full of challenges and tragedies. But Estonian history has also been filled with love, hope and joy. Estonians kept love and hope in their hearts. In the hearts of those who lived in Estonia and in the hearts of those who were forced to live in exile. We might be raised in different countries and different cultures but there is something that unites us all. It is the land that is sometimes wierd and sometimes wonderful, sometimes happy and sometimes unhappy.
What kind of a land is that which can hold on to me?
And I don’t know by which means she does that
Well, she doesn’t cover me, and doesn’t feed
But still with herself she drags me
What kind of a land is this?
Can I ever understand her?
Can I do without her anymore?
How could she ever deprive her children of their mother?
For 25 years there has been no iron curtain between Estonians and the meaning of the word “väliseestlased – Estonians abroad” has changed. Today it unites different generations and different reasons for living abroad. We talk more and more about global Estonians. Many people say that thanks to today’s open borders and open media, particularly Skype and social media they don’t feel like “väliseestlased”. I would like to cite (once again) a young entrepreneur Rainer Sternfeld, who is doing business both in Estonia and in the U.S. He said last summer at the Paide Opinion Festival that for him Estonian border is where Estonians are. Think about it. I think he is right. I feel that a piece of Estonia is today here.
Dear väliseestlased and friends of Estonia! You played a crucial role in Estonia’s story of regaining independence. You spoke up when we, living in Estonia could not do it. You reminded about Estonia when Estonia was erased from books and maps. You talked to politicians who preferred not to remember the tragic history of the Baltic States. You did not only talk or remind, you also demanded freedom to Estonia – in your speeches, articles, letters, demonstrations, even – banners. You were living examples of history’s injustice and hope.
The world has changed and Estonia has changed. Estonia has restored her position in Europe and globally. Estonia is not alone anymore. We are together with our allies, partners and friends. I would like to recall what president Obama said in Tallinn in September 2014. He said: NATO Article 5 is crystal clear: an attack on one is an attack on all. So if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, “who will come to help”, you’ll know the answer – the NATO Alliance, including the Armed Forces of the United States of America…. We’ll be here for Estonia…You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose again.
We needed to hear it. We needed to hear it not in DC or in San Francisco. We needed to hear it in Tallinn, in a concert hall full of our people – meie inimesi.
Today we are more confident than ever before in the light and prosperous future of Estonia. We know that we will never be left alone, again. We remember our history. We will never again surrender quietly, without resistance.
We are committed to our obligations in international organizations, including NATO. We are committed to doing our fair share, being it protection of the external borders of the EU, fight against terrorism, assisting developing countries or receiving war refugees from Syria. We are committed, because we know what solidarity means, because it is the right thing to do and because we know that independence and freedom are not automatically granted. Democracy has to be protected, nourished and cherished. And if needed – then fought for. That is why we stand today shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainians and support their democratic reforms. Each and every nation should have the right to decide about their future.
Commitments to our allies, partners and friends are also commitments to our people and our country. We all have the chance and the privilege to contribute to Estonia’s future and development.
I’ve been asked sometimes: what we, Estonians living abroad, can do for Estonia today, when Estonia is free again. My answer is always the same – a lot.
We are a small country where every person matters and every person counts. Every Estonian is an ambassador of Estonia. You are the ones that leave the first impression about Estonians, you are the ones who are promoting Estonia every day – by your personalities, by your thoughts, by what you say about Estonia.
Often you are doing more than professional diplomats or Ambassadors can ever do. During my Ambassadorial tenure in Washington I tried to visit as many universities and colleges as possible. And in every audience there was at least one Estonian, or a person who had been to Estonia or a person who knew an Estonian or a person who knew somebody who knew an Estonian. They were referring to you. Thank you for what you are doing every day.
Do you remember the concert of Arvo Pärt at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC? It wouldn’t have happened without your personal commitment and financial assistance. Together we raised enough money to give the best present to Americans – a free concert of Arvo Pärt’s music in the presence of Maestro Arvo Pärt. I still feel goosebumps when I think about that wonderful concert.
If we could do that concert we can do anything.
In 2018 we will be celebrating Estonia’s 100th birthday in Estonia, but also abroad. Your ideas, your participation, your support is more than welcome.
Let’s do it team is working hard to organize a world clean-up day on September 8th 2018. They hope to get 150 countries engaged. They are looking for good will ambassadors who will assist and support them in fulfilling this ambitious project.
The mission of the EANC is to help preserve and promote the Estonian cultural heritage in the United States; to foster ties with, and to represent the interests of, Estonian Americans and their organizations; and to support the maintenance of democratic institutions in, and cultural exchange with, Estonia.
So, there is a lot you can do and we can do together. Estonian Embassies, as well as Estonian ministries and institutions are your partners in those endeavors. I can assure that your mission – our mission – will never end. Estonian schools, language courses, churches, folk groups, children’s camps, businesses need us.
Ladies and gentlemen
And finally, I would like to congratulate the receives of the EANC awards – Arne Kalm, Lehti Merilo, Liina Teose, Steve Jürvetson, Estonian League of the West Coast and especially Lonnie Cline for being the first person in the world to receive the EANC award of a friend of Estonia. I have to admit that the EANC Board of Directors did a great job, once again, when choosing the nominees for the awards. You all have made Estonia bigger and more visible, starting from Silicon Valley and finishing with Portland, Oregon. I had the opportunity to participate in the celebration of Estonia’s Independence Day in Portland, Oregon. I heard the Clackamas Community College Choir singing, I saw the Estonian folk dance group dancing. That was something to remember forever.
There is a saying: tell me who is your friend and I’ll tell you who you are. Look around. This Ballroom is full of friends. Special friends of a special country.
Mis maa see on? Siin pole ühtki mäge
Vaid metsad lõputud ja laukasood
Kuid siinne rahvas täis on imeväge
Ja kummalised nende laululood
Elagu Eesti! Long live Estonia!