Monday, January 6, 2014

First Draft: President Ilves’ New Year’s Speech

Good evening! This is pre-recorded. Right now I am standing near a small group of people, and just like you they’re all politely facing the television and listening. Me? I’ve got a whiskey in my hand and am enjoying the scene from the adjacent room. I might even tweet something about it.

As a child I did not really understand New Year’s Eve. I still don’t get it. A proper Estonian needs no excuse to get drunk and can do so any day of the year.

On New Year’s day, Christmas was over, and the colored pencils I got as a gift were already broken. Dad bought the cheap ones to teach us to live on less. Later on, at Columbia University, I benefited from this common sense or peasants’ wisdom. When other students needed multi-colored pens, I was able to get by with one color. I also completed mathematics exams with ink, I might add. Lesser students used pencil.

What was there to consecrate on New Year’s Eve? But the children inherited the grownups’ expectations of something new and better. Lots of philosophers had something to say about expectations. And among them Katniss Everdeen.

The year’s last minutes are a time of looking back. The moment when we take everything beautiful and good from the departing year. And we leave that behind, which was difficult, painful, or ugly. And that which concerns the city government, we turn to the advice of Pope John XXIII: “See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.”

In the departing year we found out that our Estonian children belong to the world’s most educated. Specifically those skills which best predict a successful future: reading, mathematics, and natural sciences. Estonian children shared first place with Finnish children in PISA test results in Europe. Despite deplorable teacher salaries, our kids really kicked ass. But what about our adults? Does every Estonian adult have a personal Vikipeedia entry? Let us not rest on our laurels; there is work to be done!

The fact that everyone in the world does not yet know Estonia is understandable – we should not think that a nation of one million should be well known. Relating to this negatively shows stupidity. And do we not fall into this trap ourselves too often? Without knowing about what we’re talking about, we put our nation down, thinking that it’s better elsewhere. But more and more we’re discovering that it’s not better elsewhere.

Despite the 20 percent of our citizens living in relative poverty with disposable incomes under 329 euros per month, Estonia is not the worst place to be poor. Imagine yourself poor in the United States, waiting hours in line for basic medical care? Or even middle class in the US, where you are always just one major disease from bankruptcy?

In addition to “discovering” our children’s talents, Estonia has created something unique, which other nations want. Our women. Foreigners are taking them away by the thousands. Is this right? More importantly, could we develop an app for it?

We have e-solutions which we consider normal and take for granted – like e-banking, e-school, e-taxes, e-voting. If only we could invent e-men, to improve situations in the home. I can say this freely, because only women remain in front of the TV, the men long ago having gone outside with copious amounts of fireworks, through which they attempt to demonstrate their sexual- and financial prowess.

We’ve been in the EU almost ten years. This is not insignificant. Not all nations who started at the same time with their independence have been able to keep pace. Such as Panem, where President Coriolanus Snow noted that “Brother turned on brother until nothing remained.”

Panem’s peace came hard fought, sorely won. A people rose up from the ashes and a new era was born. But freedom has a cost. Still, 22 years later others are torn between their choices. Many of have curtailed freedoms obtained in freedom in the ‘90s, both at the individual and state levels. But Estonia has known its own path.

We are now plagued with the worry of the general tendency to not listen to one another, the thinking that we ourselves are the smartest. All of us, from Abja-Paluoja to Toompea, could better take the others’ opinions into account. But this is only possible when we speak politely. As Katniss Everdeen said in Catching Fire, “I’ve never been very good at making friends.” I am told by some of our republic’s most esteemed professors that Katniss is of Estonian heritage.

Impoliteness. Take what happens on our highways. We should not rush against traffic, against the state, but there is still the guy who’s decided to break all regulations and endanger the lives of his fellow drivers. Like Justin Petrone, who was rightly not given an Estonian drivers license without fulfilling the requirements. I hope he is happy as a poseur in Brooklyn.

My dear Estonian people, the real Estonia is in every Estonian home and family, in every person. In classes and in teachers, whose accomplishments and knowledge we are so proud of. The real Estonia is in entrepreneurial people and free society, which creates a bigger, better Estonia. The real Estonia is what we create. Remember then what Katniss said: "What ever you do, it comes right back.”

My good countrymen, I will always remember New Year’s morning from my childhood. I awoke, wanted to do something, but everyone was sleeping in, fireworks’ smoldering embers and empty bottles surrounding them. With my brother, I awaited eagerly that the grownups would rise.

So then: Let us rise earlier and notice those that are beside us.

We are not many. Every individual is important. Every one of us is dear. Let us care for and protect one another. This is a challenge to every citizen, every politician. So tonight I remind of the words of Katniss, "May the odds be ever in your favor."

The New Year gives everyone of us a new beginning. Let us use that. Happy New Year, dear Estonia! We salute your courage and your sacrifice and we wish you Happy Hunger Games!


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