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Prime Minister Jüri Ratas.  Photo by Ulla Vinkman

Dear Estonians!    Good Friends of Estonia!   Honored ladies and gentlemen!


I am sincerely happy to be here before you today, and bring you greetings from our homeland. It is so good to see that so many of you are here, and that there are so many Estonians and friends of Estonia in Washington.


101 years ago the Republic of Estonia saw its beginning with “The Manifest to all Peoples of Estonia.” This was our first constitutional document. The Estonian nation is founded to preserve the Estonian people, language, and culture for all ages. That is said in the preamble to our constitution.


Every Estonian is important to Estonia, whether he or she lives in the country or abroad. For us it is important that we keep alive that world, that essence, whose name is Estonia. Only we can do that, no one else. Always ourselves and with our own intelligence, strength, initiative, and from time-to-time, also with our crazy-sounding ideas. A small people has to be hardy, it has to have force and the will to succeed, which keeps pushing us to make us work together even when we are far from home, and does not let us dissolve into the wide world.


Our small size unites and binds us into various forms of togetherness and interaction. The prime and uniting reason for the existence of active Estonian organizations in the world has not disappeared anywhere. It has morphed and changed over time, but one goal, the preservation of all things Estonian, is still the same as it was decades ago. We live in times when the world around us changes faster than ever before. Spiritual values take on a larger importance. Understanding the Estonian cultural being helps us better understand who we are today.

 

Dear Friends!


Estonia managed to regain its independence 28 years ago without shedding a drop of blood, thanks to the fact that Estonians abroad – in Canada, the United States, Australia, Sweden, Germany, everywhere in the world – had for long years believed in the legal continuity of the nation and worked in its name. You tirelessly explained to the governments in the countries where you resided, that Estonia was an independent country, despite being occupied. Because of your efforts, the United States never recognized that Estonia was a part of the Soviet Union. Heartfelt thanks to you for helping Estonians in the homeland during very dark and depressing times to keep alive hope and faith in Estonia`s future.


But your work did not stop in 1991 with the re-independence of Estonia. The Estonian American National Council continues its active and multi-faceted work – which includes political advocacy, support for the undertakings of Estonian Americans, maintaining contacts, disseminating information, and explaining our endeavors to the US Congress and administration.


It is remarkable, that here in far-off America you have managed to preserve the Estonian language and spirit. The thanks of the Estonian government belong to all of you. Thank you, to you while studying, working and living, keep dear our language, our blue-black-white flag, and our homeland. Often it is just Estonians living abroad who are our country`s first introducers, our cultural ambassadors abroad.


We are used to thinking that Estonia is a small country. But is it really so? Estonia`s reputation in the world is helped by familiarity with its culture. Our culture on the world stage helps the development of our economy, diplomacy, foreign policy, security, education and science, as well as the furthering of all other areas.
For instance, ESTO festivals have been very important in preserving Estonian culture and identity in our worldwide communities. The fate and story of Estonia and its people is reflected in both song festivals and ESTO. This year saw the continuation of ESTO as a strong unifier, a generations-long tradition, calling together Estonians from all over the world. ESTO and the following song and dance jubilee festivals was a time full of joyful reunions and joint undertakings. Singers and dancers from both Estonia and abroad performed. Thank you, for helping to make this great celebration a success!

 

Dear compatriots!


We know what an important place Estonia holds in the hearts of our compatriots throughout the world, and we should not forget to acknowledge them in Estonia. I pledge to you, that the Estonian nation values its communities abroad and searches for new ways to contribute to continuing cooperation and to keep the various communities in a common info world.


Support for Estonians living abroad and to their organizations has been very important to various governments. The first Compatriots Program was established in 2004. During the last 15 years, a remarkable amount of work in language teaching and furthering Estonian-language education, preserving and furthering our identity, as well as collecting our cultural history has been done by Estonians abroad and their cultural and educational organizations.


Because of this, I am very happy that a goal of the new government coalition agreement is the ongoing preservation and development of Estonianness worldwide, to build good and even stronger relations. The government work plan foresees that at the direction of the Ministry of Population, we will develop by July 2020 a Global Estonian program, which will replace the current Compatriots Program. Many talented and productive youth with Estonian roots live abroad, who would like to tie their future just to Estonia. They are proud of our people and wish to further their Estonian language and spirit. On our side we need to try to support their enthusiasm with various opportunities for study, practice, and work. Because of changes in emigration, the number of Estonian families and children abroad has grown, and during the past three years migration back to Estonia has also increased. In 2013, to our knowledge 3200 children abroad were learning Estonian, while in 2019, the number is already 3800.


From the perspective of Estonian identity, culture, and population preservation, it is of utmost importance to teach Estonian to children and youth of Estonian heritage who are living abroad. Knowledge of the mother tongue paves the easiest way to return to Estonia to study or to work, should they wish to do so in the future.
For various reasons we need to increase our efforts for Estonians abroad – develop new ways to learn Estonian, promulgate the culture, and contribute to the development of a network between Estonia and the communities abroad. So that people living abroad do not forget Estonia, and their offspring can speak Estonian. So that they can communicate with their grandparents, or later come to Estonia to study or work.


The number of our people abroad is difficult to say, but it is about 15% of the Estonian population, or about 150,000-200,000 people. Every one of them is our person, whose return is always awaited back home. That is why it is important that we invite them, await them, and help them adjust.


A large number of top experts, engineers, doctors, and talent live and work abroad, but talented are also those who work with their heart as teacher, fireman or ditch digger. These are people whom Estonia also needs. As a nation with a small population, it is vital to value the experience and opportunities of every person living abroad. This potential could also open doors abroad to Estonian cloud enterprises, import Estonian education, market our creative industry, and help investing in Estonia.

 

Dear Friends!


All nationalities want to be large, and that does not only mean our size, but also proper and equal presence among the world`s cultured peoples. We, Estonians, can measure our presence foremost with the vitality of our culture. Estonia is and will be in the future exactly that, which we desire. Not painted with words, but created with actions and choices. That will always remain so.


Protect our dear Estonian nation and let us make it better together - both those who are in Estonia, as well as those who are far from home. Every one of us is always awaited back – for a while, or for good. Power to Estonia!

 

Marriot Wardman Park,
Washington, DC,
November 9, 2019

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