TMW 2021 opening ceremony speeches President Kersti Kaljulaid

30 September 2021 ConferenceMusic Festival
Photo: Jelena Rudi

Dear Tallinn Music Week guests and organisers! 

I am very glad that Tallinn Music Week survived the pandemic and came back to us. It came back because Helen is brave. And resourceful. And creative. 
The festival is back because everyone on the organising team is also like her – brave. Creative. Resourceful. 

After all, creativity is a sign of bravery. When it comes to creating, that’s how it is – some like it and others don’t. Creative and brave people, in turn, are a sign of a free society. Because only truly free people are creative.  

We talk with concern about the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama described the peak of this beautiful and increasingly opening world, about how freedom is somehow becoming more and more limited. 

Why does it happen again and again, now, during our time as part our life stories as well, that here and there people get weary of freedom and start supporting something else? 

Because freedom is a heavy burden to bear. A free person also has responsibilities. There is always something that can be done. A free person never has to say, “There’s nothing I can do about it.” A free person never has to stay silent, when the right thing is to speak out. A free person is responsible for themselves, their close ones, their community and their country. 

And that’s hard. That is why people might opt for something else. Opt for staying silent, turning a blind eye, calming themselves and others – no need to say anything, do anything or take any responsibility at all. 

Why is it that those who create, people in culture, are often the ones who still do stand up and say something, do something, take responsibility, stand up for freedom? 

Only a truly free person can be truly creative. 

But a great part of our people don’t consider themselves creative in any sense. Of course, you can create very different worlds, from music to start-ups and cosy restaurants, from image and film to beautiful gardens to great craft beer. From a kindergarten music lessons to Physics 101 courses. From a play tent made for a child out of a blanket and a chair to a finely diced potato salad for a teenager’s birthday party. It’s all creation, but sometimes it seems to people that what they’ve created isn’t worthy of that noble word. 

If daily activities turn from creating and freedom to a sombre perception of inevitability, freedom somehow becomes lifeless. Even pointless, in any case – insignificant. 

And when freedom becomes insignificant, it is easy to give up parts of it in order for someone to share that burden even a little bit, to take away some of my responsibility. 

So societies that have been liberated, that have grown and developed, might start fearing their freedom, looking for someone, who would be responsible for everything and everyone. 

How can you tell when a society has grown weary of freedom? I think that the first signs are when societies start showing expectations towards the state caring for them. The state has to stand for everything, organise everything and if the chosen politicians can’t deliver, we choose others, who promise to give us all that. What’s more, we are especially adamant to elect those, who promise to relieve us of our freedoms. 

There are countries in the world, where a citizen doesn’t really bear any responsibilities at all, because all freedoms have been stripped of them. Our society too comes from a past like that – no salaries to negotiate, no taxes to pay, no right to come and go as you please, no right to say or think what you want. 

In that society too, as the story of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich tells it, there are small joys and delightful moments. 

Then there are countries in the world that give their citizens absolute freedom and take nearly no responsibility at all in offering them a sense of security. In a country like that, people very quickly divide into those who can manage buying that sense of security and freedom and those who are different, still not quite free, because they have no choices. 

So how to find that golden road down the middle, how to even recognise that balance, where we’re free enough, have an easy time and are even eager to bear the burden of freedom? Where we do carry our freedom and responsibility on our shoulders, but at the same time we know – there will be moments in life, when we’ll need the support of the rest of society and that support will be available to us? 

How do we not give up and ask for others to make our decisions, give away our freedom and responsibility for a seemingly easier environment in which to cope?

In our personal history, there has never been a time before 2020, when mankind drew apart like we did during the pandemic. The world stopped, many unfortunately had to get off. The rest of us had time to really think about things. 

We see light at the end of the tunnel today. Vaccines are liberating us from our pandemic jailer. Everyone’s part may save someone else’s life, we all on our part are saving the world. When I spoke to students going to school on September 1st, I saw the pride in their eyes at the thought of actually saving lives and the whole world with their decision to vaccinate. 

This is quite a gift to take along for the road through life. These children and young people know with wonderful clarity that their actions and decisions can save the world. They have decided to take responsibility. They have been free in their decisions, but they have also now experienced inevitability. 

Just like us, they too want to take responsibility along with the others – often they went to vaccinate with their classmates. This is exactly where the key to the persistence of free communities lies – in doing our part, we know that everyone else is doing it too. Or at least all those, who are able. 

A free society will remain free as long as it is fair. If everyone really is free in the same way, responsible in the same way. Every time a society has to cope with a significant change, we seek new balance so that after the change, but first and foremost during the period of change, everyone’s freedom would be just big enough that other people can keep theirs too. So that the burden of change would be shared equally between us. 

How do we find and build that balance? If there is time – and our generation in Estonia actually has luckily always had time to solve the crises that wound our society, because our crises – transitioning to a free society, turning economic chaos into success, now the pandemic and the need to stop burning polluting energy sources – is not comparable to wars, severe natural disasters or occupation. 

How do we do it? The most gentle way to influence each other’s thinking, to share our thoughts, is a creative solution. That is why it is no surprise that it is people in culture, the creators, who help us grow in our difficulties towards a place where we find solutions. 

In order for us not to fight each other, for some of us not to shrug off our responsibilities, for others to not be stripped of their responsibilities, we have to make our expectations, our hopes, fears and concerns accessible in a way that doesn’t trigger a fight or flight reaction but instead makes us stop, listen, look, marvel and think along. 

Surely you’ve felt that feeling, when you’re walking home after hearing a piece of music or seeing a play that touches on an important topic in society – you somehow feel that you’re better, more idealistic, full of the desire to go help and get something done? 

I believe we’ve all felt it. And it counts. That is why it is so important that culture that echoes reaches many people in the whole of society. Because those who have lost their ability to see creation in their daily lives can easily lose the will to think about the creation of others. 

That is why culture must be accessible in kindergartens, so that we would get used to it being there. In schools, so that we would get used to leaning on it and getting those first experiences of wanting to be better somehow. In every far corner of Estonia, for us to have a shared cultural space. 

But it has to be real culture. The kind that makes you think. The habit of leaning on culture like that must grow in us over time. If that has been neglected for a long time, sooner or later a society faces the question – what joins us anyhow? How do we really cope when things actually get complicated? What makes us find a new balance between each other’s rights, for instance, when it comes to vaccination? Or finding balance between the rights of different generations – what are fair efforts for us and what can we reasonably give up in order for our children and their children to have a beautiful city to live in, country to live in, a beautiful world to live in?

Without leaning on culture, we come to conflict, not resolutions. But this leaning isn’t just about bringing together a plenary of creative unions or just making cultural performances that support balance and solutions. 

Instead, when we feel that it is hard to be on the same wavelength, it must be because we’ve been growing apart for a long time. We have too little cultural space that we all know, feel and perceive. We don’t read the same books. We don’t listen to the same music. We see a lot of very different art, but this kaleidoscope is so different for everyone – what we’ve noticed, seen and explored. 

At the same time, we’re happy that the world of culture is a global one, so immensely diverse, and we all just getting a small piece of it, not like in the 20th century, when every nation had its great figures and there were few enough to know them all?

How do we create a shared cultural space with common customs? Especially when every free society in our times is made up of those who are newcomers, the old residents and those passing through, who will most definitely move on?  

I don’t know the answers to those questions. But even discussing them, I think, definitely takes us closer to a new balance between different people, societies and generations. That is what Tallinn Music Week is for. Culture is politics. Slow, but effective. 

The world will start turning again. At first slowly, then faster. But it is up to us to make it so that this silence, this slowing down would give rise to as much good as possible. A greener planet. A more considerate society. A more supportive community. A free society for as many as possible on this Earth. The courage to be free and the courage to take responsibility. 

Thank you for listening!