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The President of the Republic handed over state decorations

President Arnold Rüütel today at noon, at the festive ceremony ''Estonia is Grateful'', which took place at Kadriorg Art Museum, handed over state decorations to 241 individuals whose activities have contributed to the restoration of Estonia's independence and reinforcement of the state, and the 1st class order of the Cross of Terra Mariana to Lech Walesa, and the 1st class Order of the National Coat of Arms to Arvo Pärt.

In his speech held at the ceremony, the President of the Republic thanked the people of Estonia as it was due to the unity and political enthusiasm of people that the independence of Estonia was restored 15 years ago - another War of Independence was won, this time without any bloodshed.

''The only real way to recognize the people is to acknowledge persons who took the responsibility as well as risks upon themselves. The persons whose commitment-inspired actions provided guidance to the process of the restoration of independence as well as the face to the Estonia of today,'' President of the Republic said in his speech.

The Head of State thanked Estonia's friends abroad who had supported us in difficult times and throughout many years. ''We recognise popular movements and leaders who stood against totalitarianism and violence both in Poland and all over the world. Also Estonia derived strength from them. I am really glad that we have remained good friends,'' the President of the Republic said.

Lech Walesa, President of the Republic of Poland in the years 1990-1995, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for 1983, and a long-time leader of the independent trade union movement ''Solidarity'', was the first to speak on behalf of the award recipients. As a supporter of Estonia's aspirations for independence he was awarded the 1st class Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana. In the words of President Walesa, in 1980-ies nobody could see any possibility that Poland, or Estonia could get back its freedom - there was practically no chance for us to get what we unforeseeably got after all. He urged to utilize our experience and already proven solutions, as over the next ten years we have to build up the foundation of Future Europe, and for that the voice of every person is needed.

Also Tunne-Väldo Kelam, who was one of the initiators of the movement of Citizens' Committees, Chairman of the Central Committee of Estonian Citizens in the years 1989-90, and in the years 1990-92 the Chairman of the Estonian Committee, an executive body of the Estonian Congress, spoke on behalf of the honourees. In the words of Kelam it is time to overcome the conception, originating from the totalitarian past, which recognises that only one force can be the legal and right one. ''Let us today recognise once again that our independence was achieved due to the cooperation between different forces. Let us also recognise that the diversity of movements was a treasure for our society, as in the crucial moment they were capable to join their efforts and choose the best and right way- the way that took us where we are today and allows us to celebrate the 88th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia,'' Kelam said.

On behalf of the honourees spoke also Edgar Savisaar, who at the time of restoration of independence was the leader of Estonian Popular Front and in the years 1990-1992, being the Prime Minister was at the head of the Government of the Republic. In the words of Savisaar, this year there have been more disputes over the list of recipients of state decorations than ever before, the general public has discussed the meaning and importance of state decorations: a clear sign that we all care about our state. Savisaar thanked President Rüütel for making a dignified contribution to the reunification of the Estonian people with this year's conferring of state decorations.

Also Rein Järlik, the president of ''August 20 Club'' that units the members of the Supreme Council who had voted in favour of the decision on restoration of independence, made a speech. ''It is so easy to write a black and white history, but it is the black and white history that is the greyest and dullest, and unfortunately also the least truthful,'' Järlik said.

On behalf of the honourees spoke also Robert Närska, who at the time of restoration of Estonia's independence was the Governor of Tartu County, and in the years 1989-1992 was the chairman of the Association of Estonian Rural Municipalities. In the words of Närska, he is pleased to meet again the people who 15 and even more years ago step by step were realising the dream of Estonian people - to restore the independence of the Republic of Estonia. ''Now, years later, it seems that there was no alternative to Estonia's independence - we have come to take the existence of the Republic of Estonia as self-understood. Nevertheless, there were other choices then, and I am convinced that if we had made a different choice, we would not have our own state now,'' Närska said.

This year, on the occasion of the 88th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia and in the 15th year of our restored independence, the President of the Republic conferred state decorations on 838 individuals, both from Estonia and abroad. Among them are those, on whom state decorations were conferred by the two decisions signed on February 6, and the four laureates, Olympic Gold Medal winners and their coaches, on whom state decorations were conferred by a decision signed on February 22.

Public Relations Department of the Office of the President
Kadriorg, February 23, 2006

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