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Commander of Defence speech for Estonia’s 106th Independence Day

Honourable President of the Republic of Estonia, President of the Riigikogu, Prime Minister, General Burkhard, Excellencies! Dear Estonian people and friends of Estonia!

Happy 106th Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia!

As always, we celebrate our country’s anniversary with a parade of the Defence Forces, where we showcase our military, but also our broad-based defence capability. But before the troops and equipment pass in front of you, I would like to share, as the Commander of the Defence Forces, my insight into the parade that has taken place over the past year in our country, around us, and within us.

The war in Ukraine and the threat posed by Russia have undoubtedly awakened many of us. This has brought along the maturing of society. The citizens’ will to defend has grown. We have developed an understanding that THIS ESTONIA is OUR COUNTRY. And that WE – citizens, institutions, organisations and businesses, all of us who live here – have a duty to protect this country and its people, and to contribute to the development of society… if we want to live free in OUR COUNTRY.

Last year, over 19,000 reservists participated in the reservist trainings of the Defence Forces. This is the largest number of participants in our history. None of this would have been possible without the support of family members, friends, employers, and society as a whole for the participation of reservists in reservist trainings. But even more remarkable is that employers continued to pay the salaries to more than half of the participants. They were not required to do so, but they still did. Never before has this happened to such a large extent. This fact speaks for itself. This could also be called a part of broad-based national defence.

From parade to parade during the year, the Defence Forces have been approached by many companies, scientists, farmers – citizens of Estonia. They have all had similar questions: ‘What can we do for the defence of Estonia? What do the Defence Forces need to defend Estonia?’ Their wish has not been to sell their products or services. They are willing to support THEIR COUNTRY at the expense of their own business and well-being.

Over the past year, I have attended seminars, general assemblies and conferences of various organisations, where I have been asked: ‘What can we do? How can we help? What is our role in national defence?’ They do not ask for resources – instead, they ask for a mission to use their resources in the interests of Estonia and its people.

Earlier this year, teachers went on strike for their future and an increase in salary. We all understood that this also is an indicator of the strength of a FREE country. But it is remarkable that during the negotiations and the strike, not once was there a public proposal to take the missing millions from the defence budget which runs into the hundreds of millions.

As the Commander of the Defence Forces, I sincerely thank the society as a whole for this attitude. As a citizen of Estonia, I am happy that we have such a country and that I belong to such a nation. I am convinced that our grandfathers and grandmothers who won the War of Independence fought for this exact country and its people, and would be happy to see this national parade.

And if any of us, such as some politicians, should put the wrong foot forward when marching in this parade and look awkward as a result, then they should be forgiven, at least today. The great desire to participate in this social parade is understandable. The resulting anxiety sometimes makes the arm and leg on the same side of the body move together, making the marching step appear funny. But their efforts are commendable. We are all part of the same formation element. All we need is to be a little more considerate of others, and practice.

The Estonian parade can also be seen outside Estonia. In supporting Ukraine, our country has undoubtedly been a role model for other countries. But it is not important to be ahead of others. It is important that we stand up for our values. To act according to our words and principles. Even if, and especially if, it weakens us and attracts the dangerous attention of Russia. Otherwise, we would have no values and we would not be free. We would also have no hope for help when we need it ourselves.

Today, as a nation, we have our own country that is 106 years old. We have fought to obtain it, have lost it, regained it, and rebuilt it ourselves.

We can proudly say, quite certainly today – that we have a pretty great country and a pretty great nation to stand up for!

Long live the Republic of Estonia!

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