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The speech of Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu at the formal ceremony dedicated to the centenary of the Tartu Peace Treaty at the Vanemuine Concert Hall on 2 February 2020

2. February 2020 - 17:00

President of the Republic, constitutional office-holders, freedom fighters, dear people of Estonia,

On 4 December 1919, the prospects for peace were described as follows: “Will it work – it is unknown. It is certain that the Bolsheviks want peace but it is also certain they do not want peace for peace’s sake; instead, they want to achieve some other objective. If the conditions that we lay out and cannot abandon prevent them from meeting these objectives, the negotiations are likely to end in failure. We, however, urgently need peace for peace’s sake.” These candid words were written by Jaan Poska to his daughter Xenia.

Nevertheless, the bravery of our soldiers, our people’s desire for freedom and the determination of the negotiators helped us succeed.

A hundred years ago, the peace treaty between Estonia and Soviet Russia ended the 431-day War of Independence. Today we remember all those who secured us the state that had been declared in February 1918. We are eternally grateful to those who came to our aid in the War of Independence – the squadron of the British Royal Navy that appeared at the Tallinn roadstead at a decisive moment, and the volunteers from Finland, Denmark and Sweden. The Defence Forces of Latvia, the Russian White Guard, and the Ingrian Finns also fought shoulder to shoulder with us.

The peace treaty was signed on behalf of Estonia by Jaan Poska, Ants Piip, Julius Seljamaa, Mait Püüman and Jaan Soots.   

I would like to ask you to rise for a moment of silence to honour the memory of those who fought in the War of Independence and the statesmen who signed the treaty.

The Tartu Peace Treaty ended the war and gave the people of Estonia the right to self-determination as a subject of international law in perpetuity. The peace treaty was the basis for a broad recognition of Estonia as an independent state. The Tartu Peace Treaty had a pioneering significance in the global system of international law because it was the first international act in the world that explicitly cited the concept of the peoples’ right to self-determination. The Tartu Peace Treaty, as well as the treaties between Russia and its neighbours Lithuania, Latvia, Finland and Poland that used it as a template, constituted a crucial step towards peoples’ right to self-determination becoming a part of international law. I am glad to welcome the foreign ministers of Finland, Latvia and Poland who honour our people on this great day.

The Tartu Peace Treaty is not merely a peace treaty signed a hundred years ago; it is the starting point of our statehood. I will now read Article 2 of the Tartu Peace Treaty:

On the basis of the right of all peoples freely to decide their own destinies, and even to separate themselves completely from the State of which they form part, a right proclaimed by the Federal Socialist Republic of Soviet Russia, Russia unreservedly recognises the independence and autonomy of the State of Estonia, and renounces voluntarily and for ever all rights of sovereignty formerly held by Russia over the Estonian people and territory by virtue of the former legal situation, and by virtue of international treaties, which, in respect of such rights, shall henceforth lose their force.

No obligation towards Russia devolves upon the Estonian people and territory from the fact that Estonia was formerly part of Russia.” End of quote.

On 30 January, the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation made an official statement that claimed, “The state of Estonia that functioned from 1918 to 1940 lost its status as a subject of international law due to its accession to the Soviet Union, and the Treaty of Tartu lost its force, since both parties that signed it were included in one subject of international law – the Soviet Union.” 

The statement continued, and I quote, “Unlike the Russian Federation (the continuator of the Soviet Union), today’s Estonia is a new state formed following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and one of its successors, recognised as such by the international community.” End of quote.

Every word in this statement is untrue. The position of the Republic of Estonia has been and remains clear: the Tartu Peace Treaty is valid, and it remains unchanged from the perspective of our statehood by the fact that it was violated by the legal predecessor of the Russian Federation, the Soviet Union with its illegal annexation of the Republic of Estonia in 1940. Secondly, the Republic of Estonia that restored its independence in 1991 is legally identical to the Republic of Estonia that was founded by our people according to their right to self-determination in 1918. The occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as a consequence of the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact resulted in the loss of a fifth of our population. The Republic of Estonia adheres to the principle of legal continuity in its international-legal actions and rejects any reading that contradicts it.

Dear guests,
100 years ago, Estonia greeted the news of the signing of the treaty with great joy but in a calm manner. “This peace born at midnight is not a peace of jubilation, it is a peace following some honest and difficult work, it is the peace of a hard worker,” Ants Piip has said.

Estonia believes that stability between states is based on agreements that are respected by parties. This requires universal respect for and prioritisation of international law by all nations regardless of their history, size or power.

As a country that has survived annexation, we have a closer and more personal relationship with the order based on common rules and international law, and the Tartu Peace Treaty is at the heart of this relationship. Therefore, the protection of the rules-based order is also our guiding principle at the UN Security Council, which is the most authoritative guarantee of this order, and where Estonia serves as an elected member for the next two years.

Just as in the War of Independence, we must not be alone now. It is only with allies that we can protect the freedoms and values we hold dear.

In the conclusion of his presentation on the peace treaty, Jaan Poska said, “Now, as the peace treaty is yet to be complied with and the war is raging all around us, we must not only attempt to maintain our military power, we must make every effort to increase this power. Because no country located next to such menacing neighbours can be confident in its independence, it must be alert at all times. Therefore, I believe I am not wrong in saying, ‘Let us savour peace but let us preserve and increase our military might’.” End of quote. These were Poska’s last words in the presentation he made a hundred years ago. May these words continue to accompany us when we are facing our future.

Today, on the great anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty, we are starting a new tradition by issuing the Jaan Poska Commemorative Medal to honour the people who have stood up for the principles of the Tartu Peace Treaty in the world. I have awarded the first two Jaan Poska medals to men who embody our people’s desire for freedom and bravery: Mart Niklus and Enn Tarto. May the bravery and ordeals of these men reassure us that we will not betray the principles of the Tartu Peace Treaty.

These men did not accept the violation of the Tartu Peace Treaty by the Soviet Union, and committed themselves to fighting for our birthright and the truth throughout the years of the occupation. In 1979, they were among the signatories of the Baltic Appeal. This document, sent to the UN Secretary-General, demanded an end to the annexation of the Baltic States, and recalled the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920 and its Article 2. It is only thanks to divine providence and their resilience that they did not perish in the Soviet concentration camps and are with us here today.

As an example of historical irony, the perpetrator of justice named Erich Vallimäe, who was repressing our freedom fighters, interrogated the elderly Vyacheslav Molotov to clarify the existence of the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in a political investigation.

I would like to ask Enn Tarto and Mart Niklus to the stage to accept their awards.

May the Heavens grant us strength!
Thank you!

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