Renewed: 24.02.2016, 12:36

24 February 2016 12:15

Commander of Defence Forces: We must stay confident in changing world

The address of the Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Riho Terras, to the parade in honour of the 98th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia on February 24, 2016 in Tallinn.

Most respected President of the Republic!

Honoured Speaker of the Riigikogu!

Mr. Prime Minister!

Excellences! Members of the Defence Forces and the Defence League!

My fellow citizens!


We stand here together today at Freedom Square on the occasion of the anniversary of the Independence of Estonia. The first Independence Day parade took place right here. They held inspiring speeches. Although the War of Independence was still ongoing, news from the front was exceptionally good. The Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces, Major General Johan Laidoner informed the people gathered at the first anniversary of the Republic that the enemy had been forced out of the territory of Estonia.

Here are the words of the Supreme Commander sent by telegram to the gathering many years ago: “On the occasion of the Independence Day of Estonia, it is my honour in the name of the provisional government, the Defence Forces of Estonia, our young Navy and the gallant Finnish volunteers to tell you that the enemy has been forced outside of our borders and the nation of Estonia is free of enemy forces. Their large attacks in the areas of Volmari, Pihkva and Narva have been successfully repelled by our forces. It is my hope that our brave and gallant forces will continue to defend our homeland, the democratic republic of Estonia in the future just as they have done so far.”

The provisional government decided on that same day, 97 year ago to establish the highest military award in the Republic of Estonia – the Cross of Freedom. This was a thank you from a young nation to our soldiers, officers, government officials and allies. This symbol of thanks can be seen to this day in this square. The history of the War of Independence above all is a tale of people who chose freely and with a higher purpose in their hearts to go to war in the name of independence.

Free will and a show of strong character were deciding factors in the birth of the Estonian nation. Long before we could talk about entertaining the thought of our own country, far reaching and clear thinking heads started up organizations that had meetings concerning Estonia and Estonians. In today’s context it was a citizens or grassroots movement. This was the cornerstone of the foundation of the Estonian nation.

In the same way without doubt the Defence League is the cornerstone of Estonian national defence. The Defence League was tempered in the fires of the War of Independence. Prior to WWII the Defence League had over 40,000 members. This was the largest voluntary force in Estonia.

Even today the Defence League is the largest voluntary force in Estonia. The Defence League has a membership currently exceeding 25,000. This represents a significant increase just in the last year alone. The Defence League brings together individuals who take national defence as a normal part of their everyday lives. They are our sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. They live in the cities and in the country, in every corner of Estonia and they are many. They are the most informed and fastest reacting active force on the spot – they are our first line of defence.

Today on Independence Day, I want to bring forward an individual, one of many outstanding members of the Defence League. His name is Aare Kabel of the Järva malev (section) of the Defence League and he was named the 2015 Defence League member of the year. His outstanding dedication and diversity is shown even more so in the fact that he was named father of the year by Estonian Women´s Union 15 years ago. He is here today, with us in Freedom square. Let us all wish him a thank you!

The growth of the Defence League is a reflection of our surrounding security picture. Individuals who care about the progress of their nation and want to defend it, do not just lie around, they join the Defence League. By use of their free will they find the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills towards service in national defence.

Good citizens!

The Estonian Defence Forces is stronger and more wiser than a year ago. Last spring we had the largest military exercise in re-independent Estonia’s history. The entire nation of Estonia was involved. The large scale exercise Siil showed that we have taken the correct path and may feel comfortable in that our independent development of defence capabilities has the complete competent support of our reserves. As the exercise motto said “Every quill counts”. I thank all of the officers, non-commissioned officers, conscripts and reservists, members of the Defence League and allies who gave their contribution toward a lasting and more defended Estonia.

It is perfectly clear that these type of large exercises must be repeated in the future, this is the best way to be assured of the effectiveness of our national defence plan as well as how to improve it.

Similarly to the Defence League, the Defence Forces has also grown in the last year. We have grown in total personnel as well as increasing our strength with new military equipment. An up to date anti-tank system as well the recently sourced battle armoured vehicles for the Scouts Battalion has made the Estonian Defence Forces even stronger and more mobile.

Estonian history has repeatedly shown, that we have lived through hard times easier when we have had the support of allies as well as when we are understood.

Currently Estonia is understood, heard and supported more than ever before. We belong to NATO – the world’s strongest union. NATO has quickly, decisively and appropriately responded to the changing security climate.

Allied jet fighters conduct operations out of Ämari Air Force Base as well as Estonian and US soldiers train shoulder to shoulder at Tapa. Training together and consequently getting to know each other better has created a force that no enemy dare put to the test. In the next months we are awaiting German and Polish units as well as other NATO Allies to Estonia. This broadens our military deterrence capability even more.

It has already become customary that on the Republic of Estonia’s most important day our friends march beside the Estonian units. I greet our Allies from the United States of America, Belgium, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the United Kingdom.

My dear Estonians!

Just as our security is important to our Allies, it is imperative for Estonia to be as one with our friends in thought and actions. We see and feel every day that the world is not a worry free place. Wars and conflicts that precipitate large public attention are many. The corridors of power that shape the relationships between countries and people are not written in stone but are constantly changing.

The task before Estonia in this changing world is to remain true to our traditions, principles and values, to be responsible and if necessary to give our own contribution and reach out a helping hand. In the last twenty years the Estonian Defence Forces have used their skills and knowledge in various places in the world. We must be ready in the future to intervene where the international community sees as places where we can possibly prevent violence and change the security of people’s lives for the better.

As for the development of our own national security we must remain true to the principle that all our military forces, whether they are deployed in the Middle East, Mali or Afghanistan, must always be entirely ready to be committed to the defence of the Estonian nation because they are the Defence Forces of the nation of Estonia. The defence of Estonia is also the most important task of the Defence League.

Finally – the independence and freedom of our nation has never been nor ever will be self-evident. The Estonian nation was created for the purpose of defending our people and our freedom.

Long live the Republic of Estonia!

Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces, 717 1900, mil[at], Juhkentali 58, EE15007, Tallinn, Estonia.

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