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EDL commander MG Riho Ühtegi's speech at the Victory Day parade in Viljandi 23 June 2023

Honourable President of the Republic of Estonia, President of the Riigikogu, ministers, Commander of the Defence Forces, fellow members of national defence organisations, residents of the City of Viljandi, all the people of Estonia!
30 years ago, I had the honour of participating in a parade bearing the flag of Tartu County
division at Tartu Town Hall Square, at which President Lennart Meri announced that he had given
the Commander of the Defence Forces a directive to host each Victory Day parade in the cities of
Estonia in rotation. So it has been and today, here in the beautiful City of Viljandi, we are holding this
event for the 29th time, as we had to cancel the parade once in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Back in 1993, we were not afraid of anyone, although the Russian armed forces were still present
in Estonia and we clearly remembered how we had stood up to the invading forces of Pskov with our
bare hands in 1991. Over the subsequent thirty years, Russia has constantly proven that its political
and military ambitions have not dissipated in the least. The fact that Russia fights dirty and brutally
should not be news to anyone either. In recent decades, we have witnessed the Chechen Wars, the
Georgian War and the invasion of Ukraine that started in 2014, not to even mention other conflicts
in which Russian troops have participated.
To those who are currently living in constant fear of Russia, I say one thing: Estonia has neither
moved closer to nor farther away from Russia and therefore the threat of war is no greater for us
than before – instead, our security situation is stronger today than ever before. And I’m not saying
this because Russia has re-deployed most of its forces and military equipment from our borders to
the war in Ukraine, but because over the past three decades we have managed to develop quite a
significant military capability of our own and gained powerful allies thanks to our successful foreign
My words are confirmed by the flags of our allies flying here in this square today. Our skies
are protected by the planes of various NATO countries, and British, Danish and French military
units have become an everyday part of our exercises. Military cooperation between the Baltic Sea
countries has never before been as solid as it is today. And I am not only speaking of our good
partners from Latvia, Lithuania and Poland with whom we have exactly the same understanding
regarding the security of this region. When Finland becomes a NATO member followed by Sweden,
our security situation here on the shores of the Baltic Sea will further change, ever more becoming
an inner sea of the alliance that can be overseen from both shores with modern monitoring and
weapons systems.
I would separately like to mention our long-standing cooperation with the United States. In spring
of this year, we celebrated thirty years since the beginning of military cooperation with the Maryland
National Guard, which has laid the foundations for Western development of the Estonian defence
Dear people, I can still not say that I am satisfied with the situation today. Just as we restored our
freedom through the joint efforts of the entire nation, our biggest security guarantee today is also
our own defensive will, onto which black stains are appearing regardless of all the strong indicators.
In his speech thirty years ago, President Meri succinctly formulated the recipe for preserving
our freedom. He said: “Defence forces constitute not guns or tanks, but the centuries-old will
of the Estonian people to live independently. Independence does not depend on one’s arsenal.
Independence lives in every citizen, in the balanced admission of their rights and obligations, their
will to act as a citizen and their joint will to behave as a country.”
As the Commander of the Defence League and a citizen of the Republic of Estonia, I cannot
be satisfied that we are forgetting these wise words. The polarisation of society, ever deepening
pessimism and cruelty, hostile remarks on national defence topics, failure to fulfil our national
defence duties and encapsulation into echo chambers – these are just some of the dangerous
trends currently spreading. I feel sorry and at times even ashamed for those who choose not to fly
our national flag on the Day of the Estonian Flag due to personal offence, call our defence forces an
army of occupation or publicly declare on social media that they will not defend this country. I ask
them: which country do they wish to defend? There are only two options – either our own country
or another’s, and let them know that such internal political convictions only give them these two
Fortunately, such extreme opinions are not too numerous, but I also get anxious when I’m told
that only the Ukraine War showed young men why mandatory military service is necessary. If this
is really the case, we have fallen short in raising our children. How much have we told our children
about the price of freedom? How many of us know even the story behind this monument to those
fallen in the War of Independence, which we once again unveiled here in this square this morning?
It is always harder to fight for freedom than to preserve it.
Luckily, we also have many positive examples. In one and a half years, more than four and a half
thousand volunteers have joined the Defence League, the defensive will among the participants
in reserve exercise gatherings is stronger than ever before and the belief that we can defend our
country is remarkably robust. As the President of the Republic already said in his speech, we
recognised many companies at the beginning of the week, which have supported the reserve forces
in a multitude of different ways or ensured payment of their full wages during the period of exercises.
Such acts also contribute to our national defence.
Here, I would like to appeal to today’s heads of state and to those in the future. Your balanced
and dignified actions create the best conditions for people to want to defend their country ever more.
Govern us wisely, let us together cherish what we achieved in 1991 and let our defensive will and
readiness to defend our country be strong, as this is the best way to protect Estonia from war. I truly
believe that thanks to these actions we have again been freed for thirty-two years.
I would like to quote President Meri again. He said: “The Estonian people have proven that we
want to be independent. Now we have to prove with our will that we know how to be independent.
A small country is strong and independent only when it acts collectively and wisely, when it raises
international trust among both its closest neighbours and far-away partners.”
Dear people of Estonia. With this thought I would like to conclude my speech. Today is Victory
Day, and Midsummer Eve awaits. I wish you all happiness, peace and a summer full of joy. Enjoy
the parade and National Defence Day.
For Estonia!