Dear people of Estonia, distinguished guests,
My dear fellow citizens of the city of Paide,
Today we mark the passage of a century since the day on which the independent Republic of Estonia was declared. As Paide citizens, we can be proud that our hometown is one of the places where the Declaration of Independence was read aloud one hundred years ago.
Estonian independence was declared amidst the chaos of the World War I era nearly concurrently with Lithuanians – whom we congratulated on their centenary a few days ago – and Latvians, with whom we can celebrate together a few months from now.
Our experience, and that of our closest neighbours, teaches us that for small nations, global upheaval holds both threats and opportunities. It is important to be vigilant and ready at the right time, to recognize and seize opportunities, and secure oneself mentally and physically against threats.
Today, as we rejoice and sing of the beauty of our homeland and the pain it has gone through, we sense our unity and strength. We are strong as a people because we care for one another, we are one with this land, language and culture and those who have been here, lived and loved, worked and fought their battles, long before our time.
A scholar of culture once said that national identity is a common set of imagined memories. That’s not in the sense of our collective memory being imaginary. No, it means that although none among us witnessed the birth of Estonian statehood or the heroic battles of the War of Independence with their own eyes, we know that as a people we remember all of it. And thus everyone who can and desires can say that we proclaimed our independence one hundred years ago, and we defended our nascent freedom in the War of Independence, that we survived despite the atrocities committed by the occupation forces. And that we sang ourselves back to the fold of Europe’s free nations. And that everyone who feels that they can say this is one of us, one of our people.
Today we need to take concepts like nationalism and reclaim them, as happy, positive concepts. A kind of nationalism that lets us feel proud of what we have accomplished over the century and everything that makes us Estonia and Estonians. We need a cheerful nationalism that doesn’t build walls between Estonia and the world, but gives us strength and self-confidence to remain Estonia and Estonians in a free and open world.
There’s an old folk saying that if you want to get somewhere quickly, go alone, but if you want to get far, you should set out with your friends. Our independent nation was born a century ago because allies stood beside our valorous warriors. When, due to the twists and turns of history on the eve of World War II, we found ourselves isolated, we once again came under foreign occupation. That is why we knew, as we shook off our shackles a quarter century ago, that we need friends and allies to maintain our independence, and today they are here, standing beside us. Not just during celebrations but every day, defending Estonian statehood and independence, and our common values and international order founded on consensus.
Today we mark the 100th birthday of our state, but our story as a people goes back much further. Where better to reflect on this than Paide? We are just couple hundred metres from the memorial to the old Estonian leaders who in April 1343 rose up to defend their people, their hopes and birthrights. It is because of this that we are confident that the first century of the Republic of Estonia is not an incidental, passing moment in history, but rather that our finest days, years and centuries lie ahead and are up to us to build!
Many happy returns, and long live Estonia!