The President of the Republic of Estonia, HE Arnold Ruutel, at the World Affairs Council of Northern California on 19 January 2006
Ladies and Gentlemen,I would like to thank the World Affairs Council of California for the opportunity to share my thoughts about the challenges and opportunities facing today’s world. I will do this using the experience of the development of Estonia as well as other Baltic countries, Latvia and Lithuania, over the past 15 years.
It is a long way from here to Estonia in Northern Europe. The first Estonian who once arrived in this beautiful corner of the world must have travelled for a very long time. But the times when also news travelled several months between California and Estonia have long become history. Today, we see events on television or on the internet in real time, perhaps using the Skype software developed in Estonia. It is not a question any more how fast we learn about something. Today, the question is rather whether we learn about all relevant circumstances in order to be able to fully understand the events that are happening and see them in connection with others.
This summer, Estonia and the other Baltic States will celebrate the 15th anniversary of their liberation from occupation. Our so-called Singing Revolution was one of the favourite topics of the media at that time. It was, however, perceived as a somewhat separate and perhaps even exotic event. The whole world was following with interest and attention such great events as perestroika or the fall of the Berlin wall. However, the picture of that period should be seen in its entirety. We should carefully analyse why events happened precisely the way they did, how and why the communist system collapsed and what was the role of different states and politicians in this process.
Recent revolutionary events in several countries such as Georgia, Ukraine or Kyrgystan have raised the question about the ability of these countries to radically change their societies and to anchor these changes. When looking back to the events in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, we can generalise their experience and learn lessons for today. Against this background it will also become explicit what kind of support countries involved in democratic reforms need from their partners.
The events that took place in Estonia in the late 1980s and early 1990s become comprehensible when we fully understand their actual content. Clarity about the objective was decisive – for Estonia and the other Baltic States it was about putting an end to the Soviet occupation and restoring of their own statehood. Estonia was occupied by the armed forces of the Soviet Union in 1940. A year later, the Nazi occupation followed. As the Nazi regime started to collapse in 1944, Estonia immediately tried to restore its independence in the spirit of the Atlantic Charter. But the restored activities of the Estonian State authorities were suppressed a few days later by both the withdrawing German and the attacking Soviet forces.
The restored Soviet occupation and our incorporation into the Soviet Union’s common political and economic system lasted for decades, until we managed to put an end to it in 1991. Estonian independence was restored on the basis of legal continuity. Many countries simply re-established their pre-war diplomatic relations with Estonia in 1991. Legal continuity also served as a basis for the regulation of issues related to property and citizenship.
It is of particular importance to mention that the US and other democratic countries never recognised the occupation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union. During all these years, Estonian diplomats worked in the United States. I would like to use this opportunity to once again thank the people and the government of the US for their consistent policy of non-recognition of the violent incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union.
The first important lesson and experience for today derives from this. Values continue to play an important role in the world. The US did not abandon its value-based recognition of the Baltic States for the sake of some goals of realpolitik. Yet this was about three small countries. In a similar way, the consistent valuation of the principles of freedom and democracy by the US and other western countries remains crucial today. It is an incentive for those currently moving towards democracy and market economy, and it is a firm compass also in case of the most complicated conflicts.
For us, people of small countries, law and justice are a very important protection of our independence. In today’s world where for example energy interests play a considerable role, the temptation to abandon values might be rather high. Today we see all this in the behaviour of various countries regarding the nuclear problems of Iran. We have heard statements about the impossibility of a value-based foreign policy from several capitals in the world. Estonia does not approve building inter-state relations solely upon interests. Often, a poorly interest-based approach is only a smoke-screen for abandoning widely recognised values.
It is important to understand the striving of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian people for the restoration of their independence in a peaceful way. In Estonia, victory was achieved without human victims. Unfortunately, our neighbours Lithuania and Latvia could not avoid human losses. As a matter of fact, we moved steadily towards the restoration of freedom, the liquidation of the totalitarian regime and of the ineffective economic system already between 1988 and 1991. Along this road, we could not have stopped or been satisfied with incomplete solutions.
At the same time, defining of goal and a common understanding of it among people was essential. Our goal was freedom, but not only freedom. The Baltic people stood for their opportunity to make their own decisions and to take the widely recognised principles of democracy and market economy into reality.
On the other hand, the goal was not a precisely defined form of democracy or market economy. Such questions concerning the normal evolution of a state are not directly connected with the general goal of restoration of independence and were solved after the achievement of this goal. An excessively early focus on details would only have divided the broad majority supporting independence. Our new Constitution was adopted 10 months after the restoration of independence. Many important specific but disputable applications of the principles of market economy – such as privatisation or a strict monetary system based on a currency board – were approved later.
The lesson learned for today is the importance of the ability to keep pro-reform forces unified, and of the peaceful achievement of the goals as far as possible – often through a moral victory. Georgia and Ukraine have proved that such an approach is also possible today. At the same time, guaranteeing the rule of law may be a very complicated task in the so-called failed states. But also here, the use of force should be avoided if at all possible.
In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, we considered coordinated activities for achieving our common goals essential. Mutual consultations, and foremost the Council of Baltic States, established in spring 1990 at the top level, served this purpose. Through this channel, the aspirations of the people of the three Baltic countries reached the world in a unified message.
Even during the most complicated moments, we also attached value to precisely enshrining radical changes in laws and other legal acts. In a generalised way, the lesson learned is to link democracy and the legal order.
A legal order cannot be created in a preset way. Law can only regulate actually existing relations and provide a future direction for them. The compass for this direction is the protection of democratic values and principles. Since 1988, Estonia restored its state step by step by bringing its life more and more out of Moscow’s control. The decisions of the then transitional State authorities laid ground for the restoration of the Estonian Statehood. On 20 August 1991, Estonian independence was declared to have been restored. In fact, a lot had been done by this moment. This approach made it possible to avoid indecisiveness and a weakening of the legal order in crucial moments.
It is equally important to point out that these decisions were made with strong popular support, broad participation and readiness to contribute. Moreover, people were ready to sacrifice a considerable part of their welfare of the moment. In the early 1990s, the Estonian standard of living fell by half within a few years. We told our people that three difficult years would be ahead. And indeed, after the shocks of the reforms during that period, the economy started to grow again. Estonia became one of the fastest developing countries in Europe. We understood that when expecting sacrifices from the people, serious reforms must indeed be translated into practice. Gaining trust for a second time is very difficult. If the first momentum of events is not used for carrying out a profound reorganisation, confusion and internal fights will emerge and it will be much more difficult to implement changes in society.
Estonia’s experience during the last 15 years also shows the need for leadership with a mission. The restoration of independence and the construction of a new life has demanded courage and quick action by the politicians, but also thinking beyond their popularity rating of the day.
Corruption, clan and tribal interests and the pursuit of personal gain in the public administration constitute a particular threat for value-based policy. This has spoiled new periods of life, however optimistically started, of a number of nations in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa or South America. Honesty belongs to the fundamental values along with freedom and democracy. A corrupt politician cannot be a democrat – if you allow me to put it straight. People are not coming to the streets in order to exchange the steering of the state by the interests of one economic group for those of another. People want an honest state where decisions are made openly and democratically. Estonia is therefore widely using the possibilities of e-governance in the interest of the exercise of state power. Last autumn, we also took first steps to introduce e-elections.
Nobody can take difficult decisions and do the work in implementing them for other nations. But we can support those peoples and countries where reforms are necessary and where stakes are put on clear values. In countries with a weak political culture, democratic mechanisms can sometimes lead also to an undesired outcome and bring extremists or populists to power. Yet if we retreat from democracy, we undermine our values in their entirety.
The events that happened in Estonia and the other Baltic States were as open toward the world and their own peoples as was at all possible. We knew that our goals were clear and comprehensible for other nations. We neither invented new theories nor particular models. Our goal was bringing back a normal European state among others, the restoration of our place in the world. This course found wide support and understanding in the world.
The events in the late 1980s and early 1990s formed a whole of a number of intertwined processes. The Baltic States were among the first to awake. They therefore played a role in accelerating events in the Soviet Union as well as other countries of the Soviet block.
Russian democrats, the activities of the people of Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries and the consistent policies of the West all played a big role in the collapse of the Soviet system. They all had a role in influencing the general direction and the speed of events. The Berlin wall could not have fallen in November 1989 if the Soviet Union had not been internally weakened. This happened also due to the activities of the Baltic people, who performed the role of a detonator precisely in 1987-1988.
At the same time, the activities of the Soviet regime were contained by an elaborate and firm policy of the US and other Western countries. Those revolutionary events of such astonishing speed and with few victims could take place precisely because of the interaction of a number of factors. The media took all this to the world, and the vanishing Soviet regime could not isolate itself any more and use violence.
Today, openness and transparency of state power have become serious challenges for many transforming countries and regions. In Estonia, state ownership of the printed media was quickly terminated. In addition to the public radio and television channels, we have a surprisingly wide network of private channels. I can assure you that also the Estonian President occasionally gets criticism of a kind which sometimes surprises observers from other countries.
Estonia also has one of the most liberal laws on freedom of information. In a small country, far-reaching public disclosure is an important element in the fight against corruption. According to the corruption index of Transparency International, Estonia has belonged to the countries with the lowest corruption in Central and Eastern Europe. In 2005, we were ranked 27th in the world.
Liberal market economy, the rule of law and competitive parliamentary democracy have worked well in the Baltic countries. From the beginning, the objective was to establish a highly competitive economy and a reliable legal system for investors. For example in the recently published index of economic freedom, Estonia has been granted the 7th place.
In this context, I would like to express my acknowledgement to a number of experts from different Western countries – for example the economist Jeffrey Sachs – who helped us by providing their advice during that period. The staff of different public organisations can also be praised. There are good memories of the young enthusiastic members of the US Peace Corps in quite a few places in Estonia. The representatives of international organisations did a lot of useful work. However, occasionally we acted differently than had been advised by the counsellors. For example, we were recommended a so-called softer way for the introduction of our own currency than the radical reform which by now has been repeated and appreciated elsewhere. This brings us to another lesson – the importance of the solidarity of countries in defending democratic values and ensuring a value-based development.
In today’s world, there are tens of different peace operations conducted by the UN, NATO, the European Union, the OSCE, the African Union and the various coalitions of the willing etc. Estonia participates in a number of such missions in the Balkans and in the broader Middle East. However, the soldiers participating in them are generally not prepared for post-crisis reconstruction, restoration and strengthening of state power, the anchoring of the principles of the rule of law in one or another society in chaos, the build-up of law enforcement authorities such as the border guards, the customs administration etc. Already now, the civilian components of the international organisations are dealing with these tasks. For example, the European Union is currently involved in strengthening the rule of law and helping the police and the border guards in Georgia, Bosnia, Macedonia and a few places in Africa.
In Afghanistan, the provincial reconstruction teams have started their work. In Iraq, the enormous reconstruction work has only begun. A number of African countries in post civil war chaos face extremely complex challenges. The possibilities of the international public and organisations to respond to these challenges have turned out to be limited and in some areas almost nonexistent. To a large extent, military operations and expenditures of billions of dollars for ensuring peace and stability are targeted at the creation of possibilities to restore life in the conflict areas.
At the same time, it is clear that we need considerably higher capabilities for the strengthening of the civilian component in crisis management and the following reconstruction than we have today, both at the level of states and international organisations. The more successful the reconstruction and the strengthening of good governance are, the faster our forces can be taken home from one or another region. In quite a few places, the functions of the soldiers to maintain peace and stability could be transferred first to military police and then to the police. They would develop local law enforcement in such a way that it could assume the necessary tasks. Similar missions may be necessary also in order to restore life after devastating natural disasters. At the same time, sending people who are active in these fields to remote countries is not easy – just consider for example the participation of policemen who are also so needed in our own streets.
IT-experience has become one of the so-called niches of Estonia. The Estonian E-Academy is doing a lot of work in teaching experts from many countries and generalising experience of various countries. I hope that the NATO reform, to be discussed at the forthcoming summit in the Latvian capital Riga, will devote full attention to the diversification of the capabilities of peace operations. A separate complex and important task is the unification of the military and civilian components and a more extensive cooperation and coordination between NATO and the European Union. Experience from the Balkans and elsewhere so far suggests the need for better coordination and, in particular, for the arrival of the civilian component in crisis areas at a possibly early stage.
The Baltic States restored their independence in a highly volatile international situation. They were very active in the world in order to achieve their goals. We got an impulse to participate in international life on the basis of firm values and principles. The independence of the Estonian State was not restored against somebody but for something – for the democratic values. Relying on these values, we closely cooperated with Latvia and Lithuania and the peoples and political forces of many countries of Central and Eastern Europe during the period of gaining of independence. In particular, I would like to mention intensive joint action with Russian democratic circles – Andrei Sakharov and many others were with us and we were with them. We supported each other in order to achieve adherence to certain values.
Since the spring of 2004, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are members of NATO and the European Union. The pursuit of democratic values in the activities and goals of these organisations is crucial for us. Estonia considers it essential that both NATO and the European Union are strong, influential, efficient and that they cooperate. Estonia is interested in further integration and effective cooperation within these alliances, as well as a distribution of tasks between them.
It is crucial for us that NATO and the EU preserve their effectiveness also after their enlargement and that they enlarge further at the same time. This is of utmost importance for the further spread of democratic values. The perspective of joining is itself an important incentive – the doors must not be kept closed. However, there must be clear criteria for accession and their fulfilment by the newcomers is expected.
I see the perspective of further peaceful radical reforms in a number of countries in the neighbourhood of NATO and the EU precisely in this context. If NATO and the EU firmly pursue democratic values when communicating with these regions, better opportunities will be ensured for these nations to move on in a peaceful way, safeguarding legality and using democratic mechanisms. Both organisations must put particular emphasis on values precisely when one or another partner tries to place other approaches in the forefront – on the pretext of economic gains of the moment or a different traditional structure of society. Activities of the UN such as the Democracy Fund are also important for the promotion of democracy.
Today, Estonia is active in foreign policy precisely in a number of regions east of the European Union as well as the Balkans and the broader Middle East. Ukraine, Georgia as well as Moldova are important partners for us. We assist them through our experience and we support their aspirations to approach NATO and the EU and to develop democracy and market economy. Together with the Nordic countries, the Baltic States cooperate with the US in the framework of the E-PINE program in order to pursue common interests through joint action in Eastern Europe. Cooperation in the fight against terrorism remains a high priority.
Estonia is very interested in the success of the stabilisation process and the reconstruction of democratic statehood in Iraq. Both Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania participate in the composition of the coalition forces. Unfortunately, we have suffered human losses, too. Estonian soldiers operate as part of the US forces. I am pleased to say that the cooperation has been successful and the good level of preparation of our soldiers has brought acknowledgement from our American colleagues. In December, the Estonian parliament extended our participation in Iraq for another year. The recent parliamentary elections have opened a new phase in the development of Iraq. We hope that success in reconstructing a new Iraq will make a reduction of the coalition forces possible as the situation improves.
This year, Estonia will increase its contribution in Afghanistan. Earlier, we dealt mainly with searching for and defusing of different explosives. We are preparing today for participation in much more serious operations to ensure peace and fight against terrorism. For this purpose, our soldiers must be very highly qualified and equipped with the most modern means. Unfortunately, Afghan heroin reaches also Estonia and this is another reason for our State to give its contribution to the reconstruction of the future Afghanistan. As a continuation of our military contribution we also plan providing civilian assistance to the Afghan authorities for their reconstruction effort.
By contributing actively to peace and security in different parts of the world and to the fight against terrorism, the Baltic States also strengthen their own security. Our soldiers participate in peace operations and at the same time, NATO aircraft are patrolling our airspace as part of the common airspace of the alliance.
Having achieved freedom, we actively support nations which are on their way to this goal. As soon as our economic development made it possible, Estonia started giving development and crisis aid. Our rescue and medical workers have been active in the regions devastated by the tsunami in the Indian Ocean as well as the Pakistani earthquake. In addition, we provide a considerable part of our development cooperation through common activities of the European Union. Estonia has supported many international organisations. Recent campaigns have shown that also the direct readiness of our people to donate to people in need is constantly increasing.
We Estonians are naturally interested in events in our direct neighbourhood in the Baltic Sea region. Our close cooperation partners Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have adapted themselves equally well within NATO and the European Union. Our countries are no longer transition countries. Of course, we are very interested in Russia’s movement towards democracy and prosperity. Unfortunately, however, we have to be concerned together with the rest of the world about a number of developments which are not based on democratic values.
NATO and the EU need a commonly designed and implemented policy of partnership towards Russia, which in our view must be clearly based on values. Some Russian politicians say that Russia and the West do not have common values and that common interests will serve as a basis for cooperation. Estonia cannot consider this attitude towards the partnership right. In the longer perspective, the cooperation of NATO as well as the European Union with Russia and the security and prosperity of the members of both organisations will face serious challenges if the interests of the other party rely on totally different values.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Baltic States are again part of the democratic world and they face all the challenges of the globalising world. We are conscious of our values that help us to find the right way and we also know our obligations and responsibilities in making the world more democratic. We can use the lessons of our history and the support of our partners for this purpose.
Thank you for your attention.