Ilves: European Values East of the Urals

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves walked out of the Fifth World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples during a speech by Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Kosachev’s remarks were widely interpreted as a retort to President Ilves’s speech at the opening ceremony of the World Congress. It would therefore perhaps be useful to quote passages from President Ilves’s speech:

What is the big idea in Finno-Ugric common efforts? Are language and a language tree of people’s relatedness drawn long ago in the past enough to be the altar tryptich we bow down to? Is this enough to confirm our faith and provide the cement for remaining true to ourselves everywhere and for everyone? Can they be the inexhaustible source of pride?

[…] Language, and the preservation and development of languages, are truly important. But this can only occur successfully when we are engaged not in a narrow philological activity or garnishing for vacational ethnography, but a socially encompassing, in other words political, theme.

[…] The European Union umbrella has given the Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian languages new guarantees they have never before possessed in their history. In no other continent do such guarantees exist, nor does any other international entity take the health of languages so seriously.

[…] At the same time, if a still stateless people declares its indigenousness to be its sole remarkable characteristic, it thereby conveys a message that, in today’s world, calls upon others to bear responsibility for it. Presumably because of some historic injustice, as such a declaration always has a price tag attached.

If, however, we draw no distinctions and do not create artificial or emotional divides among ourselves, cooperation will come to rest upon a strong foundation, upon common values. Hungarians, Finns and Estonians have chosen so-called European values, which today manifest themselves in the use of liberal democracy to order society.

[…] The EU and its members are the motor that has driven the harmonization of protections for minority rights in Europe. [W]ould Finno-Ugric concerns be on the European agenda if Hungary, Finland, and Estonia were not members of the Union? Hardly. And herein lies the answer to why European values are also useful east of the Urals.

[T]he more multifaceted the underlying basis of our cooperation, the more securely it rests on common basic values, the more assuredly the Finno-Ugric wagon will roll in the right direction. As a start, freedom and democracy, and by extension Europe, are not at all bad basic values. And, to be honest, there is really no alternative.

Read President Ilves’s speech in Estonian, English, and Russian:

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