For several decades I have felt towards the French spirit a debt that I will now repay, or at least acknowledge with pleasure. As the president of this small country, I repeatedly emphasised that the purpose of all Estonian history has been the realisation of the right of self-determination, the restoration of independence and the establishment of a sovereign state. We succeeded in that objective on 24 February 1918, in the aftermath of the First World War, which transformed many peoples, previously almost anonymous, into subjects of international law. On the eve of the new millennium this is hindsight, too self-evident to justify wasting words on. But ten years before the Manifesto of Estonian Independence, who would have had the courage to speak of the Republic of Estonia, of the Estonians' own country, in 1908? Yes, Estonian author Juhan Liiv did dare to dream of this, and even put his dream on paper, but he was just a poet, and therefore a madman: even those who quoted him did so condescendingly. Who in 1936 would have predicted that India would achieve independence, or in 1979 that the Berlin Wall would fall ten years later? When politicians quote politicians, history becomes a collection of banalities which, like Jonathan Swift's island of Academia, floats above the real world without ever touching it.
One man who did not quote politicians, and who did not float above reality, but travelled through Estonia's real landscapes, asking, comparing, thinking, and breaking through the wall of political banalities, was Louis Léouzon Le Duc. In his book La Baltique, he, for the first time, alluded to the possibility that Estonia would regain its [ancient independence.] The date? 1855.
That indeed is my debt to France and the French spirit.
(President of the Republic of Estonia, 1992–2001)