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The President of the Republic at the XIII Congress of the Estonian People’s Union in the Estonia Concert Hall on June 18, 2006

Honourable Chairman of the People’s Union!
Delegates to the XIII Congress of the People’s Union,
Ladies and Gentlemen!

More than five years have passed since I last talked at the Congress of the People’s Union. I was then nominated as a candidate for the candidate of the President of the Republic. On September 21, 2001, here, in the very same hall I was elected the President of the Republic with 186 votes.

For Estonia the time of my presidency has been a period of rapid development and has been full of changes. Many institutions and our people have made big efforts in the name of preservation and further development of Estonia. Though a popular Chinese saying is that one picture is worth more than a thousand words, sometimes figures can be more expressive than pictures or words. I would like to give a couple of comparable figures: in 2001 Estonia’s annual state budget was 30 billion kroons, this year our budget together with a supplementary budget is around 64 billion kroons. Over the last five years the capability of Estonian state to invest in its people and its future has more than doubled.

If we include the fact that the Republic of Estonia has meanwhile become a member of the European Union and NATO, then even the biggest pessimists have to admit that our development has been very rapid. The beginning of a long leap, which started for the people of Estonia at the end of 1980-s and that will take us among the family of free, prosperous people who are content with their life, and confident about their future is now over. On August 20, 1991 we restored our state and with this we pulled ourselves away from the burden of our difficult past. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we shall land where we intended to land. Our leap forward is not completed yet, and we should not and must not stay hanging in midair. The independence of the Republic of Estonia cannot be taken for granted, and the same goes with the future of Estonian people. In the historical year of 1991, Hando Runnel wrote: “Eesti riiki pole olnud, / aga meil on mõte tulnud, / et me tema praegu loome, / tulevikus maha joome.“ (“There has not been an Estonian State, / but we have had an idea, / to create it now, / and drink it away in the future.”)

Those lines written by Runnel indicated the threats waiting for us in the future, and indeed, among mostly successful privatisation transactions there were some that caused big scandals. This was the context in which in 2001 I wrote ten commandments for the future President of the Republic of Estonia. They were carried by one thought – Estonia needs more than ever a president whom we can not only admire and respect, but whom we can honestly and individually believe in.

This autumn we have again presidential elections. I have reiterated several times that I hope that the next president will be elected in the Riigikogu. The prerequisite of that is our ability to find a candidate who is capable to unite the whole nation. Election of the president in the Riigikogu would be a sign of the emergence of cooperative politicians and politics. If we succeed in this, I shall salute the new president. Only if the Riigikogu fails to fulfil its constitutional task I am ready to justify your trust in me and come forward as a presidential candidate to be elected by the electoral college. Consequently, I cannot be a presidential candidate before the Riigikogu has made its decision, and my speech today does not contain my programme for the next five years.

Dear audience!

Next I would like to focus on a topic that I consider as the most important for Estonia’s development. In May this year, 1360 babies were born, but over 1500 people died. It means that in average Estonia loses 150 people every month. At first sight that figure seems to be not very big, but demographic processes are long-term processes. Estonia has had a negative population growth for decades, and the decline of birth rate at the beginning of the last decade can be characterised as a collapse. If we sum up all the children that were not born over the last fifteen years, we could get a figure that is much bigger than the size of the population in several villages and small towns taken together -- we could fill the entire city of Tartu and half of Pärnu with those children.

Those unborn children indicate also that the decline in population growth is gathering speed. There are less and less people who wish to and are capable of having children. We see in our elementary schools what is the consequence of low birth rate. Many classrooms are half empty and more and more small village schools are being closed down. This small-sized generation will reach the gymnasium age, then will go to university, and we will need them to serve in our defence forces, to become policemen, rescue workers, doctors, teachers and artists. We already have a shortage of people in many areas, and there is no hope that a small generation would increase later.

According to the darkest prognosis by the middle of this century there would be less than a million Estonians left, and that could lead to the vanishing of our nation and loss of statehood. It is difficult for me to understand politicians and other public figures who do not see it as a problem or do not wish to admit the truth. Statesmen have to be ready to talk about painful or difficult topics even if their voters do not like it and there is no short-term political gain expected.
The Estonian people have to admit that we are about to reach a point of no return. According to the preamble of our Constitution the Estonian state is a pledge to present and future generations to guarantee the preservation of the Estonian nation and culture through ages. This means that the state has to prepare a clear and precise plan to halt the negative population growth and guarantee the increase of birth rate. Currently we do not have such plan and unfortunately there is no sign indicating a clearly expressed wish to work out a serious strategy. It is easier to argue whether the “bronze soldier “ should stay or should be removed, how many kilometres of Tallinn-Tartu highway should be reconstructed and how many lanes it should have, or while discussing the state budget to split an hair not only into two parts but into four or even eight parts over a couple of million kroons. Those are the problems that have to be solved but they are not the key issues from the viewpoint of the preservation of our nation.

Certainly, there is no easy solution that will increase our population growth. It is impossible for the Riigikogu to pass a law that will change the situation so that starting from tomorrow more children will be born. Those who are responsible can adopt a decision that would prevent money or lack of will to become an obstacle for making comprehensive plans. For a dozen years Estonia had a cross-party goal: to become a member of the European Union and NATO. We made joint efforts for that. We were ready to forget all our quarrels and resentment, as this was needed for the well-being and security of the people of Estonia. Those joint efforts bore fruit; we have achieved our foreign policy goals and have managed to become part of the common Euroatlantic space. But we must not forget that alongside with new opportunities we now have also an obligation to contribute to the development of that common space.

Our new internal cross-party goal has to be the restoration of social security of people. In my speeches I have suggested many solutions for that. Only the feeling of security concerning our future will save us from hanging in midair, and help us to avoid the threat of falling back behind the starting line again. Today an Estonian woman has to think how many children she can raise alone. I would like to give you some more illustrative figure: in May this year 360 marriages were registered, but the number of divorces was 270. Three out of four marriages break up! If a woman lacks economic security and confidence that she can get support in difficult moments, then there is no reason to expect that she would like to become a mother. No responsible mother is ready to put her children at risk. Faith is never rational, faith is deep inside a person and it is a matter of feeling.

The Estonian state, through the cooperation between the parties, has to create necessary faith in the future and to confirm it. We need strong families, secure homes, developed state where also children who live in rural areas have a chance to go to school near their home, their parents can find jobs and grandparents can be cared for. With efforts made for the sake of our foreign policy goals we have proved that we are capable to act in unity. Our goal now is even further away in the future and is very concrete but it is more difficult to reach and there is much more at stake.

For the people of Estonia there is no place where to flee. We have to stay here and fight for our survival; we have to be united, wise and resourceful. During the 20th century the Estonian people have made history twice: in the War for Liberation and in the days of the Singing Revolution. In the 21st century we have an opportunity to be a growing nation in Europe and to make history once again. If we fail, we ourselves would become history in the 22nd century.

© 2006 Office of the President l tel: + 372 631 6202 l fax: + 372 631 6250 l