Strasbourg, July 4, 2006
It is with gratitude and humility that I accept this prestigious award. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to you all. Of all the founding fathers I feel a particular affinity for Robert Schuman. I am honoured to join the ranks of such distinguished colleagues in the European Parliament like you, Hans-Gert Pöttering, Karl von Wogau, Nicole Fontaine, Ingo Friedrich, and my good neighbour Vytautas Landsbergis.
This event brings back memories of Egon Klepsch, former President of the EPP faction, who in January 1990 - already 16 and half years ago - invited me together with three other representatives of the newly emerged center-right parties of Estonia to visit the EP and EPP group here in Strasbourg. It was an imaginative and bold gesture of solidarity. At that time Estonia was aspiring to become free from Soviet dominance – and we succeeded in making those aspirations reality just one and a half years later.
It is a very special satisfaction for me to here today, together with all of you, representing my country as an equal member of the European community.
However, just three years ago I was very clear about my future plans and those did not include becoming a member of the European Parliament. I had decided that I did not wish to become a junior once again at this stage of my life - to learn a new business from scratch, to prove myself to my colleagues, to take a plane twice a week.
I have had the the privilege to be the first one on many occasions: the first appeal from occupied Estonia to the United Nations, the first political demonstrations, founding the first non-Communist party, leading the first democratic transition time parliamentary body, leading the first delegation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, becoming the first Chairman of my parliament’s European Affairs Committee.
Nevertheless, as Chairman of my party, I had to lead Pro Patria Union’s quest for the first Estonian seats in the European Parliament. Our campaign resulted in a nice surprise of getting the greatest number of votes. So I had to obey the voters’ decision.
Today I can say that a lasting reward from this new engagement has been gaining a real understanding of what it means to be a member of a political family. This experience I had heretofore lacked and for this I am truly grateful to you all.
I come from a distant part of Europe. Not distant in a geographical sense - it takes only 2 hours and 20 minutes to reach Tallinn from Brussels. But it has been distant for the mind-set of most Europeans in the political sense.
I come from that part of Europe which was extinct from the political realities and consciousness of Europe for half a century. While Poland, Hungary and other Eastern and Central European countries subjugated by the Soviet empire retained at least a formal framework of statehood, the three Baltic states - pre-war members of the League of Nations - were completely wiped off the European political map almost as if they had never existed. They were considered to be an integral part of the Soviet Union.
Parallel to the political terror, genocide and suppression of their basic rights, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians faced an existential challenge - how to retain their cultural identity and language in the flood waves of Russification and Sovietization. How to survive physically as a nation and a people?
My first trip abroad was in July 1939 when my parents took me to Finland where we spent several weeks with their Finnish friends and also celebrated my 3rd birthday. Just six weeks later Hitler and Stalin fell in love and started World War II.
As a direct result of this, my country was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union and my next visit abroad was postponed for a half a century. It took place in August 1989 and brought me through Helsinki to Canada and USA to promote the cause of restoration of Estonian independence.
During my lifetime, I have seen two models of European integration: one totalitarian, the other democratic. For three fourths of my life I experienced the totalitarian model. Nevertheless, spiritually and mentally, I was gradually integrated into democratic values and thinking, thanks in part to the BBC English language broadcasts. So my life became a continuous quest for independent information and a search for alternatives to the seemingly omnipotent suppressive system which was especially intolerant of any differing points of view and poised to crush them immediately.
It was also a personal fight for my own identity and integrity, a persistent effort not to let myself be integrated and absorbed by the existing Orwellian system. Following a subtle inner voice, I gradually reached the same conclusion that was presented later by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his famous letter "Let us live without lies". In my experience, the key for changing a dictatorship lies in a person’s moral resolve to abstain as much as possible from being made a puppet of the system’s massive camouflage of lies. Ascertaining the truth, at first individually, about the real situation is the beginning of the end of tyrannies.
But I also followed the first steps of the democratic model of integration under Schuman and Adenauer, De Gasperi and Spaak. Professor Voldemar Vaga, a respected Estonian historian of art, who had published in 1937 his great classic The General History of Art inoculated me with his optimism about the future of European integration in the early 1960s. His book had been one of my favourites already in childhood. For a teenager living under Soviet dictators whose primary concern was to prevent their subjects from voting with their feet to the West, I was most impressed by the fact that Professor Vaga had been able to travel freely across pre-war Europe, personally getting impressions of European art. Having become his student in 1961, I immensely enjoyed our intimate conversations about international politics at his home.
I can still remember the confidence in his voice: "Look, young man, it is my impression that they are bound to succeed. Of course, they will have their disagreements, they can even stop for a while, but they will then resume their talks and finally they will come to terms". This was in complete opposition to the ubiquitous official Soviet propaganda which portrayed European unification as an imperialist plot doomed to failure.
What strikes me even today is the fact that this man with his deep knowledge of European cultural tradition was able to envisage far better the future of our continent than most professional politicians. In the 1990s the guiding star for my work on behalf of Estonia’s accession to the European Union was the Maastricht Treaty article which declared that the EU is based on our common European cultural heritage.
Based on my experience, the message I would like to bring to you is the following:
1. Nothing is impossible. Only 20 years ago – in 1986 – the great majority of observers believed the Soviet Empire would exist forever. In spite of its obvious crisis, people in the West could envision no alternative to this existing reality. Yet, today, I stand here, representing together with my colleagues from Eastern and Central Europe a new reality. This is because our experience shows that within the existing, seemingly omnipotent reality it is possible to imagine and fight for a different reality for tomorrow. It can be said that the biggest losers of the Cold War were the sovietologists, who – having accumulated extensive data about the situation in the Soviet Union – proved impotent to draw the appropriate conclusions. In fact, they were unable to imagine any real change. As someone who has lived under the Soviet totalitarian system I can assure you that so-called realpolitik will never succeed in long term. It can never offer satisfactory answers to the challenges of injustice, oppression and aggression. Since Munich 1938, innumerable attempts have been made to work out seemingly sensible compromises with dictators. This is mostly done in the hope that dictators are reasonable people, committed at the end of the game to the same rules as the rest of us and thus can be expected to keep their word. Decent people just cannot understand that a dictator can at any moment switch from playing chess to playing hockey on the chessboard. This is because they follow the rules only as long as it suits them. The only thing they respect is strength and resolve in defending non-negotiable principles.
2. Nothing can be taken for granted. We need to fulfil our commitment to freedom and democracy, to truth and justice, to our common cultural heritage and immutable values every single day. At times I am alarmed about today’s rather simplistic understanding of progress which seems unable to conceive that there might be a negative alternative to the general trend towards more liberty, peace and affluence. Therefore, it may be useful to look at one model of development which has been attributed to various authors. The progression is from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from great courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance (the new member states are situated between these two stages while the old EU nations have already entered the latter one).
But at this point, what comes next? At this critical point, it is important to know that a negative sequence is also possible: from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back to bondage.
The key words are: spiritual faith, leading to great courage and resulting in liberty, and selfishness - leading to complacency and apathy. Selfishness is opposed to spiritual faith. Its derivations - complacency and apathy - lack courage to solve challenges and result in the opportunism of realpolitik.
Here the vibrant example of Robert Schuman has a practical importance for today: his spiritual faith in the possibility of a basic change in war-torn Europe, his courage to start creating an alternative to the existing historic “realities”, and his perception of solidarity as the guiding principle of European cooperation as opposed to selfishness. The result has been the positive miracle of the 20th century that we all share in.
True, even in reunited Europe, the problem of small and large nations continues to exist. We may have differences concerning our national interests but all these are intertwined through shared interests, common values and ideals. In my experience, solidarity between small and large is a two-way street – the large need solidarity and understanding as well as the small. Let us compete not in securing the biggest subsidies but rather in becoming net contributors as quickly as possible.
One more aspect. Robert Schuman as well as Winston Churchill adhered to the Marshall Plan of 1947, they supported President Truman’s doctrine to stop the expansion of Stalin’s empire and contributed to the founding of NATO. Without the Marshall Plan and NATO, the creation of the European Common Market would not have been possible. It is our task today to strengthen, not to loosen trans-Atlantic solidarity and cooperation, which was the basis of the victory of Western democracies in the Cold War and is the only basis to achieve victory over modern terrorism.
Robert Schuman was clear about the basics - about European values. He perceived a vital balance between economic and political cooperation on the one hand, and spiritual values on the other hand. Today we are used to valuing mostly economic progress, globalization, and achieving more affluence.
However, Pope Benedict XVI, whom our group visited this spring, presents the problem this way: can we identify as European culture the technological and commercial civilization that has spread over the world? What is our identity, if we are hesitant and ambiguous about our own cultural and religious heritage? Can we expect respect and equal treatment from other civilizations if we don’t show serious respect for the spiritual and moral heritage of our own civilization?
Here I come to a recent personal discovery. While writing the introduction to the Estonian language edition of Robert Schuman’s speeches and articles from 1949 and 1950, I came across his definition of democracy:
“Democracy is either Christian, or it is non-existent. Anti-Christian democracy is a caricature which results in tyranny or anarchy.”
Fifty-seven years later, this poses a real dilemma for the disciples of Robert Schuman. The Convention on the Future could not agree even to mention the Christian roots of European civilization. At the same time, there is great admiration for the far-sightedness and political leadership of Robert Schuman. How can it be that such a great leader could hold such narrow and outmoded views which many of his successors prefer to brush aside? With his personal ethics and values, could the founding father of Europe today, half a century after the Rome Treaty, even qualify for the post of Commissioner? This is a paradox we cannot ignore, if we are genuinely committed to the heritage of Robert Schuman. This is not an abstract problem.
I can testify that the ethics and beliefs of persons like Robert Schuman strengthened me to resist the pressure of the anti-human Communist regime and to see the light of hope in European cooperation, based on freedom, solidarity and our common spiritual heritage.
Last but not least, the spiritual heritage of Robert Schuman commits us to the reunification of European history. Political and economic integration cannot be completed without a basic change in our perception of 20th century history. The debate on the consequences of World War II, initiated by the EPP-ED group last year was an important step forward - this debate contributed to the general understanding that the nations of Eastern and Central Europe did not become free as a result of the victories of the Red Army.
However, in everyday life, in politics as well as in our schools, the knowledge gap concerning the experience of Central and Eastern European nations under a half a century of surreal Orwellian dictatorship is still overwhelming. We speak about dictatorships which caused real material as well as moral devastation in this part of Europe, including the killing and imprisoning of millions of persons after the official end of World War II and the resulting hardening of the souls of tens of millions of survivors, to quote Pope Benedictus XVI. Therefore, it is the task of the EPP-ED group to take the lead once more to organize further study days and conferences on these themes. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Polish “Solidarity” in Gdansk last autumn proved a remarkable success. This year there is an opportunity to commemorate together the 1956 Poznan uprising of the Polish workers and the Hungarian revolution. In 2008 we will mark 40 years from the Prague Spring, and so forth.
In conclusion I would like to return to the role of a political family. Thomas Jefferson once said that if he could not go to heaven except with all the members of his party, he would not go there at all. I am happy to say that my two years in our political family allow me to draw the opposite conclusion. This is a unique and great political family I have found here and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your friendship, solidarity and for today’s special recognition.
Speech on the occasion of receiving the Robert Schuman Award and Diploma