President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, members of the Riigikogu, Prime Minister and other members of the government, diplomats.
To my surprise I am but forced to begin this speech with an appeal to protect one of the corner stones of democracy – a person’s right to the freedom of speech. Why am I talking about this? The topic of refugees is a very delicate and complicated issue for many, and whenever it is brought up, we keep hearing one and the same accusation. Now, one person has given it a name. Apparently, the people of Estonia have been hit by nothing more or nothing less than a “tolerance attack”. No, it is definitely not the case, since their right to their own opinion is exercised by Anna-Maria Penu in her warmhearted column; and by Helen Sildna, when she organizes the “Friendly Estonia” event with her friends, and by everyone, and I repeat – everyone! – who took part in it; and by Jüri Käo, when he examines the economy aspect of the refugee issue together with other entrepreneurs; and even by the President of the Republic, as he did during his Victory Day speech in the town of Kärdla; and by the Prime Minister and the government in their daily work; and by the members of the Riigikogu, and even by its President.
Contrary to this, however, torching a building where children are sleeping inside is not an expression of opinion. It is a crime. A crime against humanity. Hate speeches in any form are nothing more than vulgar name-calling.
Some have said that open-minded people who respect diversity could leave Estonia, which is so full of hatred at the moment. No, they will not! Dream on! Instead, it would be better if they come back. And continue building up Estonia. A friendly Estonia.
I am speaking of this because we are soon to turn up the heat even more in our society that is already heated up by the refugee issue: we need to pass the implementation provisions of the Cohabitation Act – something that the previous Riigikogu left for us to finish. What irritates and frustrates me particularly is the fact that the people who feel hit by the so-called tolerance attack claim that they are protecting Estonia and the Estonian identity. Who gave you this right? In every country and nation there are more of some, less of others. It all depends on how we treat the minorities. Do you really not know that an Estonian can be a homosexual? There are even Moslem Estonians! There are people with dark skin! Granted, only a few or very few, but they are Estonians nevertheless. They speak our language, sing our songs. They work and study. They are born and they die.
At this point, only we can and must take care of the present and the future of the Estonian people, language, and culture. In order to do that, we need to create and build, not hate and burn.
You see, it is possible to approach the question of tolerance both emotionally and rationally. Why should the majority be against allowing everyone in this country to organize their lives in a dignified way? To live together, to be happy. I understand that there are people who believe in God. But I believe that a religious person will also understand that I, as an atheist, do not have this God. Or that there are people who believe in a different God. And when hundreds of thousands of people are forced to leave their homes to escape death, we need to give them the possibility to build up their lives anew. After all, that possibility was given to thousands of Estonians after 1944.
Rationally speaking, I ask you what possibilities do we have to continue in this world, when there is clearly a struggle going on between an open, democratic and tolerant way of life, and dictatorships that are based on creating enemy figures and inducing hatred? What chances do we have to even survive when we do not choose a side while living at the very dividing line of this opposition? We might think we are a tough nut to crack, but between two hard rocks we would be pulverised to dust.
Estonia’s choice is the free world. And this is a world that respects the multitude of opinions, human freedoms, including the right to be different. This world will not turn a deaf ear to those that need help, and it values human lives. In this world, the big and the small cooperate and make agreements, and common values are protected. This includes us as members of the EU and NATO. In simple words – all those who wish to show dark-skinned people to the door also want us out of NATO. I hope this comes out of naivety and nothing more. After all, an interactive world is nothing new in the history of humankind. Nations have shared the values they have created with others and, at the end of the day, we have all became richer. Perhaps the question I am about to ask seems too black-and-white, but it should be understandable to all. If you feel that a Syrian family who fled to Europe in order to survive poses a threat to our culture, why do you use Arabic numbers in your everyday life? I have been accused before and certainly will be accused again of subservience to Europe. It is not true. Why? Because I am European. Why would I be subservient to myself? And it is high time for all those who are making such accusations to finally leave the Estonian SSR and join the Republic of Estonia.
Members of the Riigikogu! I hope that whenever the refugee issue is brought up, we would mostly speak of ways to take them in. Let us teach them the Estonian language, explain our traditions, provide education for the children and work for the parents. If we respect them, they will respect us.
I hope that during the discussion of the implementation provisions of the Cohabitation Act no one gets insulted, not in this hall nor during committee sittings. After all, the Act itself has already passed. Our task is not to evaluate whether we need it. Our task is to implement the consequent changes into other legal acts. And if the Riigikogu fails to do this, it would not be a wonder if the Supreme Court, for example, forces us.
Not for a moment should we forget that there is a de facto war going on in Europe, not far from us. It is basically the same conflict between open and closed views of the world. The ceasefire that one side ignores has not put a stop to the war. This forces us to invest more into national defence, to be more active in our foreign policy. Hopefully this will be supported by mostly unanimous decisions of the majority of the parties of this Riigikogu as well.
I would like to use this opportunity and thank everyone, both current and former members of the Riigikogu, and our officials, who have sincerely and often next to their official tasks contributed to ensuring a better future for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. I strongly believe that we and our friends in Latvia and Lithuania are the ones who can understand all of this and explain it to the rest of the world.
This speech could not incorporate dozens of other current topics: salaried poverty, situation in agriculture and management of state enterprises, administrative reform, and many more where resolute actions are needed. But we can speak of those during the working process, as the tradition goes.
Colleagues! I hope that the elections of the Riigikogu are finally over. There is a lot of work, hard decisions and very difficult choices ahead of you. I wish you luck, willingness to cooperate and respect for your colleagues. Thank you.