Toomas Hendrik Ilves: I think that any country can become a fully European country
Interviewed by Mykola SIRUK, The Day. Kyiv — Tallinn
In the 1990s The Economist, an influential British periodical, called Toomas Hendrik Ilves “Europe’s most successful minister of foreign affairs.” The Swedish-born Estonian-American, a former journalist for Radio Free Europe, took helm of Estonia’s department of foreign affairs when the country gained independence and convinced the European Union and NATO to accept the former Soviet republic into the prestigious Western clubs. In October 2006 Ilves was elected Estonia’s president. Why is historical memory so important for this small Baltic country? How did Estonia managed to convince the EU to grant it membership, despite its reluctance to do so? How has Estonia managed to place 26th in the Corruption Perception Index, ahead of its neighbors? What are Estonians’ attitudes toward our country? How do they assess the steps taken by our current government on our way to European integration? These and other questions are raised in The Day’s exclusive interview with Mr. ILVES, which took place on May 13.
Mr. Ilves, we noted your appeal on March 2 this year regarding the publication of a book series entitled Estonian Memory to “people who still remember the Soviet era to write their memories down so that we can understand how things operated back then. This is also important for young people who do not remember those bygone days themselves, so that they may understand what happened to our country and our people in occupied Estonia before our independence was restored. Books of memories must be read to get a sense of history.” You also stated that a common historical commission should not be established with Russia until Russian archives are opened, what made us ask you for an interview. We sincerely thank you for such an opportunity.
Why is it important now, with the ongoing globalization and the growing pragmatism of both politicians and the people, to maintain good historical memory, which, according to you, your country, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have?
“Because if you don’t know where you’re from, you become a Soviet mankurt, to use the terminology of Chingiz Aitmatov. Just a sort of wandering, languageless mass that knows nothing. Civilization is based on knowing who you are, where you are from, and I prefer to be more civilized.”
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Mankrutism, post-Soviet world vs investments in the future