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The speech on the Estonian 92nd Anniversary Celebration  in New York

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our “aktus” on the occasion of the 92nd anniversary of the birth of the Republic of Estonia - a small windswept country situated on cliffs and with rocky soil in a geopolitically rather inhospitable corner of Northeastern Europe. Still, the Estonians persevere. This is our 4th of July, and I congratulate you - I congratulate us on this festive occasion!
I grew up in an Estonian refugee family in the US, but I returned to Europe in 1979, and for the past two decades I’ve lived in Pääsküla on the periphery of Tallinn.

So I’m going to share my impressions, mostly in Estonian, and also dwell on some the rather serious challenges that I see Estonia facing. 
An "aktus" is a ceremonial Estonian meeting. A ritual, really. Openings of new buildings, graduations, concerts, commemorations - all of them call for an "aktus". 
Estonian Independence day is a celebration, and a review, and a status check on how the nation and community are doing.  It’s a way to come together and touch base. While Estonia was still occupied, the Independence Day aktus was also a way of keeping up spirits during a drawn out difficult period. 
I’m going to switch back to Estonian now, because the tradition includes trying to keep the language alive.
Dear English speakers, today I talked about the experience of a person from a refugee family moving back to the old country. The country of one’s parents, reduced to a rather wretched condition by being held in Soviet captivity for half a century, literally having one’s opportunity to develop in a normal way impeded.
Things have gotten better in Estonia in many respects. They were worse. We simply haven’t recovered by far from the Soviet train wreck that we were in, figuratively speaking.
There are positive sides to living in Estonia, many of them not material ones. If you like black bread, particularly peenleib - a kind of rye bread with caraway seeds, then Estonia is the place for you. The simple things in life - peenleib with sweet dairy butter. Or my favorite, peenleib with sliced eggs and anchovies. There are many privileged moments that I’ve experienced in Estonia, starting with my first days there, when I lived in simple quarters dating back to medieval times in the highest part of the Tallinn Old Town up on Toompea, where my alarm clock was the Estonian anthem being played from the uppermost tower of the ancient castle there.
Nature experiences - storks and deer and moose up close, the wild strawberries of summer. Ingmar Bergman type of stuff. Even before Estonia was independent, being the guest of some farm people whose daughter had dressed in folk costume in our honor, and getting to partake of a smoke sauna - the best kind of sauna that there is, with country ham served afterwards, with freshly milked milk - this is how we put together strings of pearls consisting of privileged memories - the chapters of one’s life. 
For someone of Estonian extraction, it’s good to be close to the wellspring - the fountainhead, and to spend time in the company of people whose narrative is similar to one’s own and whose collective temperament and sense of humor and way of being feels good to you. Yes, Estonia has been through the Soviet Russian and the Nazi grinders and yes, in a way you can’t go home anymore, but at the same time, it has been a heck of an experience to be in Estonia right here, right now, as she transits back to her own destiny.

If the world economy were to stay in a slump - in other words, the long emergency or the long quasi-emergency, Estonia has the tradition of subsistence farming and cottage industry to fall back on. More difficult is to make the leap from a cheap labor economy to one that is higher up the value chain. The time to make the transition is now upon us.
Estonia, the Ukraine, Georgia, and the other Baltic States are in the same boat, and to a lesser degree, Poland and other former satellite states as well. The Baltic Sea and the Black Sea and their hinterlands are areas that Russia is geostrategically contesting. Spheres of interest and direct action are back, but Western Europe and sometimes Secretary of State Clinton are to a substantial degree behaving as though Baltic and Georgian and Central and Eastern European security concerns did not exist. In the worst case scenario, what we are seeing is not rapprochement, but appeasement instead.
Russia is too unsavory and too aggressive for a Western policy that emphasizes cooperation and cooperation alone, although this looks like the trend. If Russia artificially creates security vacuums in the Baltic Sea area through things like the Nord Stream gas pipeline, and in the Caucausus as well, and then fills these vacuums, the West has fallen down on its job and is forfeiting the ground gained when the Berlin Wall fell.  Concern number one for me in the relatively short term is hard security for the Baltic States.
The state of the demographics of the Estonian nation - I am not talking about the country but the Estonian language and culture - is in a poor way. We don’t need chauvinism, we don’t need jingoism, but we do need an analytical metrics based approach to restoring the Estonian culture to viability and health. Easy to say, harder to do. It is imperative to approach this methodically. Aino Järvesoo, a woman from the former exile community, who returned to Estonia and died there some years ago, was a shining example in the support that she provided to couples in Estonia who had fertility problems and needed special medical help. 
The size of the population of Estonia is set to decline by a full fifth by 2050 if current trends continue. If we don’t want to court language death, it’s time for elected officials to look this problem in the face. The best strategy would entail public-private partnership.
This, including a sociological portrait of overall national poor health and insufficient entreprenurial spirit and skills, has to do with the issue of social capital and how to create and foster it, in the way that the Finns know how, and in the way that the Jews, in their almost unique ability to survive and flourish, are capable of applying through fitness strategies.
I am not going to recap what I said in Estonian, other than to say that for a country as small as Estonia, and in as precarious of a geopolitical location as Estonia, to simply continue to exist is both a miracle and a gift. A luxury that many larger and smaller peoples without their own countries do not possess. Let us then give thanks to that which our ancestors and we ourselves have helped to create. Happy birthday to you all! Thank you for your attention!
Jüri Estam



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