Address by President of the Republic Kersti Kaljulaid at the Charity Dinner of the Carolin Illenzeer Fund at the Seaplane Harbour, 19 April 2017


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Given how the world is today, we can never speak too much about defending our state, for security always remains our greatest concern.

The global security situation gives cause to alarm. Over the past months we have been getting conflicting news about security policy. There has been a lot of change, re-assessment and re-positioning. Luckily in practical terms our activities, as well as those of our allies, have been considerably more stable and focused than public sentiment.

During the last decade Estonian national defence has seen many important developments: reorganisation of national defence administration, significant increase in our self-defence capability, modernised serving conditions for conscripts, successful reserve training, expression of the will to defend our country through the Defence League, combat experience gained by Estonian servicemen on foreign missions and the presence of our NATO allies in Estonia. Estonian national defence plans for the next decades must be equally ambitious, but realistic. So that we would have real defence forces, real defence capability and real support from the allies.

What are the next national defence tasks? Our national defence is built on two pillars – self-defence capability and collective defence. An important facet of self-defence capability is our readiness, both physical, but even more importantly, moral readiness. Readiness to actually contribute: for reservists to turn up for snap exercises, if need be; for employers and family members to be understanding about the exercises; the readiness to make training areas available for the military. When it comes to collective defence, the decisions taken at the NATO Warsaw Summit were historic. The NATO battalion has arrived in Estonia and together with our own two infantry brigades, territorial defence battalions, the Estonian Navy and Air Force it forms a part of the NATO northeast forces. I would like to thank from all my heart everyone in the Ministry of Defence, Defence Forces, Defence League, Defence Resources Agency, Information Board and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who has contributed towards achieving all this.

When we think about national defence we usually think of machines, men and munitions. However, our defence forces are structured as a reserve force and for us national defence starts from our citizens’ values and will to defend. The will to defend and the will to value being ourselves. Our approach is based on the conviction that security is created in order to protect human rights, fundamental freedoms and basic human values. These are the values that determine our way of life and these are the values Estonia stands up for globally as well. We can only defend the state if the citizens have a shared desire to do so. This desire is derived from understanding and understanding comes from participation. Opinion polls show that those who have participated in the defence forces as conscripts or reservists have a considerably higher regard of the forces than those who have had no such experience.

Much of what we have today has been built on the real contribution by our men and women in the battlefield.

Among us are 2 800 men and women who have served on foreign missions in defence of Estonia’s security. More than 20 years of participation in the missions has convinced our allies and partners that Estonia must be defended. Must be defended not just formally, because we have the NATO membership card, but because we deserve it. We have deserved it because of our real contribution to international security. This is the contribution of the 2 800 servicemen and women.

It is a real blessing for a small country to be able to defend her independence and sovereignty by doing our duty as allies. Estonia is safe today thanks to those who are carrying out these duties. Thanks to them the NATO battalion is deployed in Estonia as of 2017. This is to convince those who have doubts, both in Estonia or elsewhere, that our country is protected. Thanks to them NATO deterrence in Estonia is real, not illusory. Obviously our own self-defence capability forms an important part of the deterrence. Today this deterrence is also real and not illusory, and our servicemen and women who have real mission experience have contributed to this.

Let me repeat, it is only our more than two decades of participating in creating international security, cooperating with allied forces and our UN partners that makes us contributors to international security. Without those missions we would be mere consumers of security, someone who depends and always has been depending on the actions and goodwill of others. Well, one could say that formally this is not so, formally NATO has the obligation to defend the whole territory of all its members. But then, this could also be achieved by applying merely formal measures, in the hope that the adversary is fooled by just formal deterrence.

However, one can not have a formal attitude towards allies who have sacrificed so many lives on the missions. One takes one’s brothers-in-arms seriously. If a brother-in-arms is threatened by a serious force, requiring real deterrence, such steps are easy to take. These steps were taken in Wales and Warsaw. Thanks to the work of our soldiers the NATO battalion is here to defend us and NATO members understand that in addition to plans on the ground we have to put in place plans for the air and the sea as well.

The Carolin Illenzeer Fund is an opportunity for the rest of us to show our gratitude and also to make our own contribution to comprehensive national defence.

Those of us who will probably never go on patrol and carry a weapon also need an opportunity to participate in national defence. The Carolin Illenzeer Fund is a private initiative established out of the desire to participate.

Civil initiative is gaining an ever larger role in organising life in Estonia. This shows the growth of the society as a whole – although the state deploys the soldiers, it is remarkable that the citizens have taken the initiative to support and help them.

The money raised tonight will be used by the Carolin Illenzeer Fund to support the education and recreational activities of the children of members of the Estonian Defence Forces who have been killed or severely injured in the line of duty. The Fund, which has become a natural part of comprehensive national defence, is a pledge to our soldiers that those near and dear to them will be taken care of even if they no longer can do so themselves.

I would like to thank the Fund for creating this sense of security, I would like to thank the Estonian Defence Forces for recognising the Fund as a necessary and important part of the national defence system and last but not least, I would like to thank each and every one of you for the donations.

In comparison with more developed societies not enough is done in Estonia when it comes to charity. On the average, per every person in Estonia who gives even the smallest amount to charity there are four who give nothing. An average donor in Estonia (i.e. one out of every five) contributes to charity 1% of his or her income. I hope you understand that we can do far better than that. It is easy to find excuses – our limited traditions in philanthropy, or lower incomes, especially in comparison with many Western countries. However, as in most cases in life, the actual solution is so much easier – we just have to think more about what can be achieved by our free will, if we so wish. A voluntary investment into the society is by no means less important than a contribution to one’s own pension fund.

Dear friends,

Here and now we demonstrate how we care about our own Estonia, our own people; how we respect our injured servicemen; how we want to defend our state. I thank all of you, who care.

We can never thank enough those who are committed to national defence – members of the Defence Forces and the Defence League and their families. But even so, I thank you from all my heart!

Let’s take care of Estonia!