Estonia: Identity and Independence

By Jean-Jacques Subrenat; David Cousins et al. | Go to book overview

Toomas Hendrik Ilves


An Opinion

Your professional activities could be regarded as an illustration of the theme of Estonian identity. Before you settled in Estonia, was the objective of your activities — as a scholar, a teacher and a journalist — the preservation of the Estonian identity in Estonian communities abroad or had you believed for some time that you were doing preparatory work for the restoration of independence?

You were an outside observer of the events which led to the restoration of the independence of Estonia: at what point did you begin to feel that it was really possible?

To the author himself, the classification of the following short essay under the heading [What do exile Estonians think?] would seem to be arbitrary and subjective. A Europe without frontiers, where each citizen has the right to live and work wherever he or she wishes is in actual fact just a contemporary version of a practice which has been functioning and developing in Europe for more than one thousand years.

The history of Europe has never attached any real importance to where anyone has grown up, but rather to what they have done and to who they consider themselves to be. What nationality was Charlemagne? Was Rousseau French or Swiss? Was Napoleon Corsican or French? Was Éamon de Valera American? Spanish? Or was he the founder of the Fianna Fail political party and the president of Ireland? Was the 19th century French industrialist family William Cockerill et fils from England, France or even Belgium?

I have lived for fairly long periods in five different countries: Sweden, the USA, Canada, Germany and Estonia. For some reason, presumably because I speak English with a certain accent — not an American accent, which is nonsense, but a Manhattan, or rather an Upper West Side accent — it is thought that my philosophical convictions, my ethical opinions, my aesthetic preferences and my political leanings are American. This is a rather peculiar but unbelievably widespread version of the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis: that language shapes thinking and that it shapes conscience. And so what should be thought of my son, who was born in Germany, who has lived there, but

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