On this Day Oct 21, 2018 – President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid visits the Archive

Two years ago today, the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, visited the Estonian Archives in Australia at the Sydney Estonian House. Archivists Maie Barrow and Reet Simmul introduced the collection and showed off some of the treasures in the Archive. The President praised the important work of the volunteers in collecting and preserving the history of the Estonians in Australia and showed great interest in the collection

The index cards of the prewar Consulate hold information about the early Estonian migrants and were very much in demand when people were establishing their Estonian heritage prior to applying for Estonian passport.

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid visits the Archive, October 2018
Archivists Maie Barrow (right) and Reet Simmul (left) introduced the President Kersti Kaljulaid to the Estonian Archives in Australia. The consular records of the 1920s created a lot of interest.These file cards contain the data about Estonians who had already arrived in Australia at that time. Photos: Aale Kask-Ong

The President was also very interested in the photo album of the flight by small boats from Estonian to Sweden. The following year, 2019, marked 75 years since the Great Escape, and both archivists – Maie Barrow and Reet Simmul – were in the last group of ships that left Tallinn on September 21, 1944 headed for Germany.

The Estonian Archives in Australia also holds the personal papers of President Kersti Kaljulaid’s grandfather Ilmar Raudma. Ilmar Raudma was an Estonian civil servant who came to Australia in 1948. He was a founding member of the newspaper “Meie Kodu” and the first editor-in-chief until his death in 1951.

We are reproducing an abbreviated version of the article and the interview by Aale Ong from Meie Kodu nr 22 (3247) 7 November 2018 in English for the first time below 

The President of the Republic of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid met with Estonians at the Sydney Estonian House


The presidential visit in 2018 was undoubtedly of historical significance. Although the Estonian community in Australia is quite large, no Estonian head of state has visited Australia before. The fourth president of the newly independent Republic of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, is the first head of state to visit Australia and meet with the local community. 

On October 21 in 2018, the Embassy of the Republic of Estonia and the Estonian Society in Sydney organized a reception, which was attended by 160 community members with invitations and pre-registration.  Although President Kaljulaid was in Australia for the first time, her ties with Australia (moved many in attendance) were of long standing. At the beginning of her speech, President Kaljulaid noted that Australia had always been a mythical place for her.

"When I was 3 years old, I had a T-shirt with a picture of the Sydney Opera House"

President Kaljulaid shared with those present. “The year was 1973 and my aunt living in Australia visited Estonia for the first time.” “I have always had a particularly warm feeling for Australia, and it has been especially good to look around Sydney,” Kaljulaid continued. 

"I have received cards from Balmain all my life. This sums up the feeling of growing in the Soviet Union - Australia was as far away as Mars at the time, and I am glad that Estonia is now closer to Australia"

Her aunt Tiia Raudma now lives and works in Estonia, at the Ministry of Education and Research. Tiia Raudma’s half-brother, Sulev Kalamäe, is the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Estonia in Sydney.

President Kersti Kaljulaid's maternal grandfather Ilmar Raudma was a member of the newspaper “Meie Kodu ”, founder and first executive editor. Almost 70 years later, she is interviewed by reporter Aale Kask-Ong Photo: Sulev Kalamäe

My first question is about dual citizenship at birth. It has been said, talents return home and I understand that I am always welcome back home – to Estonia. 

Kersti Kaljulaid: Of course!

But under the current law, my children are not expected. When they reach the age of 18, citizens of birth should make a choice under the current Citizenship Act and choose one citizenship. Would you have a message for those parents who have this concern? 

Kersti Kaljulaid: I actually have a message for those politicians who think that citizenship after birth could be taken away. I don’t think so. At present, the law is that if you have citizenship at birth, it cannot be revoked. In that sense, no need to worry. We all know that a great many Estonians have dual citizenship. As here in Australia. 

I think it makes sense if you are a member of the Estonian government, a member of parliament, a police officer, a border guard officer – then you should not have two citizenships. It has to do with the loyalty of those who are very close to the country, and it is a common practice in other parts of the world. For example, Finland does not tolerate double citizenship of hostile countries in its army. 

Ordinary people who do not have this conflict, and who have dual citizenship at birth, could stay that way and not have much headaches. 

This is my personal opinion, but I do not make laws in Estonia. In my opinion, citizenship should not be revoked in accordance with the Constitution. If this procedure is to be tightened up, we will have to look at whether and how it is in accordance with the Constitution, and I am inclined to think that it is not. 

In the light of this question, the Estonian media has raised the question of who are the real Estonians and who are the refugees of comfort. 

Kersti Kaljulaid: It is not worth paying too much attention to those forces that are narrow-minded and closed and do not see Estonian widely. Being an Estonian is a matter of pride and will and choice, it must not be harassed by the Estonian state itself. What does comfort refugee mean? Those who live elsewhere than in Estonia are refugees of convenience? We ourselves wanted, when we fought for independence, that we had the right to move freely. It was one of the main goals for Estonians. We wanted to be free and go to work in the European Union. I hear here in Sydney today that young people are taking Estonian passports so that they can work in the European Union without restrictions. I am very proud of that. An Estonian citizen uses the opportunity we have fought for and the right to be a free person in the world. This is a huge value to stand up for and the more Estonians the better. 

But yes, if you are a member of the Defense Forces, then you cannot be an Estonian and a Russian citizen at the same time. That is also quite clear. Ambivalent situation – not allowed, but no one takes it away, there is a lot of it in other parts of the world and it is not a rare situation. 

Could there be more communication between Estonians, those living in their home country and those living elsewhere, so that there would be more cooperation and mutual understanding between them? 

Kersti Kaljulaid: There can be communication between communities if communities contribute to it. Estonian communities abroad, if they want to communicate with Kodu-Eesti, have quite a lot of opportunities, we support cultural exchange, support camps for Estonian children abroad in Estonia. All this is for those who want to find an opportunity to work closely together. Of course, it is not worth waiting for the state to do this today. It’s still in the community’s interest to pursue that and do it yourself. 

In my opinion, the Estonian people are ready to cooperate. Australia has been a place where many have visited and then returned home, thanks to a two-year work and leisure visa. I don’t think it should be hard to work together between these two communities, whatever generations we’re talking about

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