Speech by President of the Riigikogu Henn Põlluaas at the concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Riigikogu at the “Estonia” Theatre and Concert Hall on 26 April 2019.
Former and current members of the Riigikogu, President Rüütel, members of the Government of the Republic, Excellencies and guests, people of Estonia,
I have the honour to greet you in the beautiful Estonia Theatre Hall. We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Estonian parliament. The 100th anniversary of the Estonian democracy.
90 minutes and exactly one hundred years ago, the fourth meeting of the Constituent Assembly was concluded right here. The participants were committed to their work and understood its gravity. After all, the War of Independence was still raging.
The night before, Russian cannons had lit a massive fire in Narva. One week before, the enemy had launched an offensive on the southern front. Men were being mobilised and our forces were mounting a counter-attack. The frontline was being held by the most patriotic and brave fighters. Our heroes.
The Constituent Assembly was also like a frontline unit in 1919. The average age was 36 years. They knew that by laying the foundations of democracy, they themselves would be under attack. However, the Constituent Assembly was supported by the whole Estonian society. They did not see themselves as the elite, but as part of the people.
The Constituent Assembly was brimming with self-confidence and courage to walk their own path. They adopted a radical Land Act, although their opponents called it alien to European values. This, as well as the Constitution, were passed against the backdrop of fiery but well-argued debates. They also introduced the right to conduct referendums by public initiative. However, we no longer have the possibility of public initiative that would lead to a referendum, the adoption of an Act, or an Act not being promulgated.
The Constituent Assembly did not worry about how we would be seen elsewhere, nor did they wait for foreign guidelines. They were thinking about how to serve the best interests of the Estonian state and people. They declared that the people of Estonia wanted to live independently in a nation state. Forever, as our Constitution confirms to this day.
In 1920s, Estonia was among the twelve most democratic states in the world, and among the top seven in Europe. Women’s suffrage had already been introduced here in 1917. Nearly thirty years before France or Switzerland.
By autumn 1944, more than one half of the members of the 1919 Constituent Assembly were either dead or missing. Half of the rest had to flee Estonia. They shared the fate of their people. The occupied Estonia remained at the mercy of the communist regime and Russification policy for half a century.
But we did not just accept that. Our yearning for freedom and democracy never went out. We survived as a people and restored our country in 1991. Our nation state. We clearly remember the emotional moment when we hoisted our national flags again. We had to start everything from the beginning once more. Just like the Constituent Assembly, the Riigikogu began to draft legislation, procedures, and provisions. Today, we are a member of the European Union and NATO.
Our time may not be as dramatic and dangerous as it was between the two world wars. Yet sometimes it feels like we have been our own worst enemy. Low self-awareness, lack of critical thinking when it comes to the recommendations of others, ignoring the real values, steam-roll policies that disregard the will of the majority, provoking polarisation… However, we can already sense the positive changes coming.
In his political testament, member of the Constituent Assembly Jaan Tõnisson said that ’If our generation wishes to rise to the height of a sovereign nation who would be capable of supporting the independent nationhood of Estonia and ensuring our national future, we must open our souls to the ideals that would take us further and higher.’
On the centenary of Estonian democracy and parliamentarianism, the key to our future is in our own hands. The courage, patriotism, and truly democratic attitude of the Constituent Assembly are an example to us. This has taken root in the mindset of our people. What brought us here will also take us forward.
I thank all the members of the Constituent Assembly and the Riigikogu throughout history. All those who have carried and still carry the spark of freedom and democracy in their hearts.
We are facing the future with optimism. Long live Estonia!
Photos of the concert meeting (will be uploaded with a delay).
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