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Speech of Foreign Minister Sven Mikser at the Public Ceremony Celebrating the 97th Anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty

2. February 2017 - 22:22
Foto: Estonian Defence Forces

Honourable President of the Republic, honourable President Arnold Rüütel, President and members of the Riigikogu, ministers, ambassadors, Commander of the Defence Forces, ladies and gentlemen!

Today, 2 February 2017, marks the 97th anniversary of the day when a historic peace treaty was signed in Tartu between the Republic of Estonia and Soviet Russia. The Treaty ended the Estonian War of Independence and laid groundwork for the international recognition of the Republic of Estonia declared two years earlier. A peace treaty ends a war and on anniversaries of peace treaties we traditionally remember the heroism of those who fought or died in battle or those who won. Less frequently we remember the determined, smart and visionary diplomats who moulded the hard won victory into a lasting peace.

As this year is the centenary of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Estonian diplomacy, please allow me to look back in history today, on the anniversary the Tartu Peace Treaty, and talk about three important milestones.

The first one actually dates back before the Republic of Estonia. A hundred years ago, on 7 September 1917, the Estonian Provincial Assembly discussed the creation of Estonian national foreign policy for the first time. In the new political situation, a foreign representation was founded in order to protect Estonia’s interests, with the aim of gaining support from European countries for Estonia’s independence. The legitimacy of Estonia’s first foreign representation was firstly based on foreign policy being the will of the entire people, and secondly, and more specifically, on the mandate given by the Estonian Provincial Assembly as an authoritative body representing the will of the Estonian people. Furthermore, action had to be taken quickly, as is always the case in times of political turmoil.

The members of the foreign delegation travelled to European countries to seek recognition for Estonia already from late 1917 to early 1918. History is forged by specific people rather than abstract events. Jaan Poska played a central role in the activities of the foreign delegation. Thanks to his actions as well as those of Jaan Tõnisson, Ferdinand Kull, Mihkel Martna, Karl Menning, Ants Piip, Karl Robert Pusta, Eduard Virgo, Julius Seljamaa and Johan Laidoner, Europe was made aware of the steadfast desire of our people to found an independent Estonia. The actions of the foreign delegation yielded two important accomplishments. First, accomplishments abroad: we delivered our message to Europe. Second, accomplishments at home: we understood that we would have to fend for ourselves in this endeavour.

The second milestone of our early diplomacy took place before the War of Independence. Even in conflicts today we can see that diplomats act while war is raging. When German forces landed in Estonia on 20 February 1918, the brunt of stopping them was borne by the Estonian 1st Infantry Regiment at Haapsalu. In order to declare the independence of the Republic of Estonia, the front had to be slowed down and time had to be bought. Diplomacy and negotiations were crucial to the solution. The guns fell silent as diplomacy spoke. Major General Ernst Põdder and Karl August Hindrey, a government delegate, declared the independence of Estonia and its neutrality in the armed conflict between Germany and Russia. Ants Piip, who later served as Foreign Minister, considered this the first foreign policy action of the Republic of Estonia, which enabled the declaration of the republic on 23 February in Pärnu and on 24 February in Tallinn.

Third, the best known and most important milestone, is the Tartu Peace Treaty and its negotiations. The fight for Estonian independence on the battlefield culminated at the negotiating table. Following the Estonian War of Independence, it was anchored with the Tartu Peace Treaty. William Tomingas, who acted in the peace treaty negotiations as a delegation secretary, said that the treaty was evidence of the foresight of Estonian diplomats and their correct foreign policy measures. He was right, because thanks to the Tartu Peace Treaty, the Western Allies recognised Estonia de jure on 26 January 1921, and on 22 September the same year Estonia became a member of the League of Nations.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Tartu Peace Treaty was the first and one of the most fundamental major achievements of the diplomacy of the young Republic of Estonia. Steps, which turned out to be vital for the foundation and reinforcement of Estonian independence, were based on national interests and timeless values, but also on the correct evaluation of realistic circumstances and the international state of affairs. The same prerequisites for successful diplomacy apply today.

In foreign politics, the recognition granted by an adversary hallmarks one’s achievements. As the negotiations drew to a close, Adolf Joffe, Head of the Soviet Russian delegation, concluded: “I cannot but observe and wonder – a small nation with no political experience, with no experienced public servants and with no diplomatic academies – where have they found such diplomats?” Our diplomats are the heirs of such negotiators.

Ants Piip, a long-serving former Foreign Minister, stated that the objective of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to secure and safeguard the primary living condition of every nation – protection against outside aggression. Estonian diplomacy is committed to achieving this objective day after day – notwithstanding the political situation and the enormity of the problems that we face. We live in volatile times that are hard to predict regardless of the direction in which we turn our heads.

Former Heads of State have said: “It is beyond any doubt that in order to preserve the independence of the Estonian people and develop Estonia’s social structure, the most important prerequisite is the rule of law, since a nation this small cannot rely so much on its military power as on its sense of justice and moral self-assertion.” International law and European values are definitions on which our present foreign policy is based as well. In a situation where the opposition of values is ever more pronounced, it is essential to know one’s values, remain true to them and protect them as much as possible. An international rule-based and value-based order is vitally important, especially for small countries. This rang true in the days of the Tartu Peace Treaty, and it rings true today.

Jaan Poska, the head of the Estonian delegation in the Tartu Peace Treaty negotiations, said in a report delivered to the Estonian Constituent Assembly following the conclusion of the treaty, quote: “Let us taste peace, but let us maintain and grow our military power so that we can protect the peace of our homeland,” unquote. I am sure that the representatives of the Defence Forces of Estonia as well as all other members of the audience here today understand the meaning of these words very clearly. It is the mandate we have inherited. While diplomats are focused on ensuring the security of countries by means of an international order based on rules and values, their efforts would have limited impact without the dedication of the Defence Forces. Diplomacy and defence capabilities go hand in hand and work towards a common goal.

We cannot change Estonia’s geographic location. Estonia is a border country today just as it was one a hundred years ago. But today we do not stand alone – we stand together with our allies. The implementation of the decisions made at the NATO Warsaw Summit and the presence of allied forces confirm this.  Our alliance is a security safeguard in which we believe and to which we contribute.

Tartu Peace Treaty ended the War of Independence, the Anniversary of the Treaty is sometimes referred to as the day of peace. Therefore, it is appropriate that on this day we think what peace and stability really mean to us. When former US President Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize, he said that peace is much more than the absence of war. He was right, unfortunately we do not appreciate peace until guns rattle again, until international tensions reach their peak and relations between states become difficult. The situation in Eastern Ukraine, Syria and other conflict zones serves as a reminder to us that peace and stability can never be taken for granted. Peace and stability require work, effort, harmony and often surpassing oneself, but first and foremost a belief that peace is possible.

Happy Anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty!

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