Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Second World War in Europe ended 75 years ago. We commemorate tens of millions of victims of war, the vast majority of whom were homeland defenders, simple soldiers who obeyed orders of aggressors and occupiers, and peaceful civilians of both belligerent sides.
Estonia’s fate during and after the Second World War was particularly difficult and tragic. Neutrality did not help our country to stay out of the war and avoid Soviet and German occupations because totalitarian powers do not respect international law and the love of peace and the right to independence of small states.
Nazi Germany signed the definitive and unconditional Act of Capitulation in the evening of the 8th of May, 1945. Weapons went silent, the unprecedented destruction and killing in the Old Continent stopped, but many nations in Central and Eastern Europe could not enjoy freedom and suffered under repressions by the Soviet Union and its imposed communist regimes. The Baltic states fell in 1944 the second time under the occupation of their “liberators”.
Estonia is one of the countries that suffered the most because of Second World War if we consider the entire period of occupations from 1940 to 1991. Our human losses were terrible. Almost no Estonian family remained untouched. Many Estonians and people of other nationalities died or were lost during the war. The tentacles of the NKVD, Gestapo, Red Army, SS hit innocent people on land and at sea, in dark cellars, in the woods, on the beaches and in ships that they sunk. In addition, Estonia lost tens of thousands of war refugees, victims of mass deportations and murdered freedom fighters.
The population of Estonia on the 1st of January, 1945, was on its present territory 200 thousand inhabitants less than before the occupations in 1940. Estonia lost in ten years after the outbreak of the Second World War – including the victims of mass deportations and other atrocities – almost a quarter of its population.
Western Europe rose after the war as a Phoenix from ashes. Economic assistance from the United States, but first of all own efforts and the establishment of NATO and the European Union brought long term peace and prosperity to Europe’s western half. The Cold War prevented the spread of the totalitarian ideology to the West. The Estonian people had to wait for the White Ship – which is a popular messianic belief in the arrival of salvation and a better life – for 50 years until a new window of opportunity opened. We also rose like a Phoenix from ashes if we look at where we were just 30 years ago.
World War II and especially the periods that preceded and succeeded it taught very clear lessons to Estonia. First, its geopolitical position makes Estonia’s independence unthinkable without economically and militarily powerful democratic Allies. Membership in NATO and the European Union is however not only an inevitable security policy choice. We are Europeans – this is our historic and cultural identity – and therefore we naturally belong to Europe.
Secondly, we must feel our eastern neighbour’s pulse. It means that we must follow permanently and understand thoroughly the developments in Russia because military and so-called hybrid threats have not faded away in pandemic conditions and will not disappear for an indefinite time. Estonia’s independence is very dear to us and thousands of Estonians have given their life to achieve and defend it. I thank veterans who fought for Estonia’s independence on Estonian soil. I am grateful to those who have fought and are fighting in on-going international operations. I bow my head to those who perished for our freedom. We will defend Estonia in any circumstances.
Finally, Estonia and its NATO Allies do their best to deter Russia and prevent war. A conflict might nevertheless break out not in the Baltic Sea region, but thousands of kilometers away, and that’s why Estonia cooperates with its Allies in the Middle East and in Africa.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The commemoration of the end of Second World War with demonstrations of rough military might is unthinkable in the common space of Western values. We also do not accept being silent about, altering or altogether reversing entirely the meaning of historic facts related to the Second World War. No, Great Britain and France did not plot and Poland did not instigate Second World War. Historian Yuri Dmitryev discovered the mass grave of thousands of people killed by the Stalinist regime in Sandarmokh, in Russia’s Karelian Republic, but he is now imprisoned by Kremlin as a “criminal”. The Kremlin follows its usual tactics and condemns now Finland of being a perpetrator of those atrocities. This is simply ridiculous.
The 8th of May is for Europeans and North Americans the day when they commemorate the people who lost their lives or their health in the war. The 9th of May is Europe Day and we should always remember that the main reason for the foundation of the European Union and its predecessors was the preservation of peace by cooperation in all fields, but also solidarity and friendly relations among Allies and partners.