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President Ilves at the Dinner on the Occasion of the State Visit of the President of the German Federation, Joachim Gauck at the Tallinn's Seaplane Harbour, 9 July 2013


Dear President Gauck and Madame Daniela Schadt,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to Estonia – a country that is linked to Germany by centuries of intertwined history. During this more than half a millennium we have, through challenges, arrived together in the present, in a reunited Europe.

It is thanks to our age-old cultural ties that we are self-evidently close partners in today's Europe. We hold the same values, and it is our common aim to keep Europe together and to create a responsible Europe that cares for its future and at the same time remains true to its fundamental values.

It is by virtue of our close ties to German culture that literacy spread here. Both German philosophy and the Baltic Germans played an important role when we started to become conscious of our national identity. At the same time, we know that when Johann Gottlieb Herder sought inspiration for his vision, he found it here. Many Baltic German pastors, men of letters and scholars supported the flowering of our national culture. When Estonia's first official and very talented poet, Kristjan Jaak Peterson asked

Couldn't the language of this country here,
On the wind of song,
Rising up to the heavens,
Seek immortality for itself?

the Livonian churchman and writer, Johann Heinrich Rosenplänter was the one who answered "Yes" with his Beiträge zur genaueren Kenntniss der esthnischen Sprache. The Baltic Germans – be they Karl Ernst von Baer, Hermann von Keyserling, Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen or others – constitute an integral part of Estonian cultural history. And I am glad that we have begun to understand this.

Our encounters later on in history have, however, been fairly different. We have a common experience of the grip of totalitarian regimes – moreover, the memory of a divided Germany and an occupied Estonia still remains fresh –, but also one of standing up against them, and of the triumph of liberty over repression.

President Gauck, it would be difficult to overestimate your personal contribution in this field. You stood for democratic values before the reunification of a free, democratic Germany and Europe, and also thereafter, even today, you help Europe recall what we are united against, but above all, united for.

Both Estonia and Germany had a role to play in the stormy process of the reunification of Europe, and we stand for the same goals in Europe. We have done all that we could in order for the European Union to be strong and efficient, economically stable and prudent, trusted by its citizens and respected by its partners. Concurrently, we must not forget the responsibility to defend ourselves.

Looking back in history, we need courage to continue what has stood the test of time, to reject and to learn from what we are not proud of, and to understand why that which should never have occurred must not happen again.

Germany has thoroughly dealt with its past and its more painful chapters. You also led the so-called Stasi working group that investigates the crimes of the Communist East German regime. In Estonia, the Institute of Historical Memory that we created in 2008 in order to systematically map our human rights situation during the years of Soviet occupation has a similar task.

In the past decades, Germany has actively participated in international organisations. You have proved yourselves worthy when standing up for human rights, democracy and freedom also in those parts of the world where these values unfortunately do not yet apply in the reality of day-to-day life.

After the restoration of its independence Estonia has also not shied away from sharing our experience with emerging democracies and transition societies. Thus, we are glad that you also do not agree, for the sake of some realist purposes, to remain silent when people are imprisoned merely for expressing their views or when they are silenced with violence. When large and powerful democracies unconditionally stand up for human rights, the world becomes a safer place for us all.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

Our common Europe needs the same kind of focused dedication. The current financial crisis constitutes a reminder of how important it is to move forward on the road of further European Union integration, and a warning of how populist and irresponsible policies pull Europe apart.

Many past mistakes require fixing, and stalled processes restarting. It is customary for our people – both in Estonia and Germany – to conscientiously finish what we have started, and to follow the rules that we have decided upon jointly. We do not easily turn back from a road that we have diligently chosen to follow.

If we look back at the history of the formation of Europe, we see that continuing on the path of integration is the only right choice.

In conclusion, allow me once again to return to the world of language and poetry. Heinrich Detering, the president of the German Academy for Language and Literature, who was in Tartu this May has said that German-Estonian relations are influenced by an asymmetry of mutual awareness. According to him, Germans have all but forgotten the part of their history that concerns the Baltics.

But Estonians also have too often neglected the role of the Germans who lived here. We tend to forget where our Europeanness, which we are so proud of, derives from. We no longer remember that there was a time when the mother tongue of Goethe was the first foreign language of every Estonian who had gone to school.

More than ever, in today's Europe we have the opportunity to learn about each other's best qualities. Regardless of size, countries that share the same values can support each other, whereas the larger one does not necessarily have to be the giver and the smaller one the receiver – sometimes it can be the other way around.

I sincerely hope that your visit, Mr President, will significantly increase the symmetry of mutual interest and support between our people. We have a lot to share with each other.

And now I raise my glass to Germany, and Estonian-German friendship.