Minu kõne Walther Rathenau auhinnatseremoonial

Mar 19, 2024, autor Kaja Kallas

Dear Foreign Minister Baerbock / dear Annalena /, Mrs Margot Friedländer, Mr von Rohr, Mr Jung, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very honoured to be here in Berlin today to receive Walther Rathenau Prize. It is an important recognition not only to me but also to Estonia. 

Most importantly, however, I want to devote this Prize to you, Ukrainian friends.

This is our joint struggle for freedom – except that you are the only ones fighting on the battlefield, paying with your lives. If aggression is stopped by Ukrainians, then no one else has to fight. 

We in the free world need to live up to our promises and deliver now what you need at the frontline. To help Ukraine win, we need to be very creative and quick – and continue convincing our partners to do the same. 

Some believe there’s a shortcut to end Russia’s war against Ukraine. They say if the Americans don’t give money and weapons, along with the Europeans, then the war will be over. This is to say that if Ukraine stops fighting, the war will be over. 

History has proved the opposite. Letting tyranny march through Europe is the road to unfreedom. It would be the breakdown of human values and norms. Hence, the motto of our times should be instead: if Russia stops fighting, there will be no more war. If Ukraine stops fighting, there will be no more Ukraine. 

We should also be learning from history that what happens elsewhere will quickly happen here – unless aggression is stopped, deterred, and contained. That is why the best way to secure ourselves is to make sure we help Ukraine to win its fight for freedom.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Pope John Paul the Second has said: “If you want peace, work for justice”. 

There was no justice for victims of Soviet terror after the collapse of the Soviet Union. No justice for kids who were deported to Siberia by the Soviet Russia. No Moscow tribunal to deliver justice for the victims of Soviet Russia’s massive crimes before and during its occupation in Eastern Europe. 

Russian crimes in Ukraine make it brutally clear why accountability matters – unless unpunished, it continues over and over again. This time Ukrainians are victims of Russian crimes, tomorrow it might be someone else.

Ukrainian kids are being deported to Russia. I can well imagine the feelings of those 75-year-old Estonians who returned from Siberia after being deported there as kids by Soviet Russia. My own mother was deported to Siberia when she was only 6 months old.  They were the lucky ones; many did not return. We must make a strong case on accountability now.

That is why it has special significance that the International Criminal Court has already issued several arrest warrants. Two of them are for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights. They are accused for deporting Ukrainian children to Russia. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Professor Timothy Snyder has rightly said that you don´t always win wars, but you never win unless you set victory as the goal. What worries me is that I keep hearing that some of us are hesitant to spell out the phrase “Ukrainian victory”. If we don’t set victory as a goal, if we are afraid to spell it out, if we hold back, then it is also unclear what actions and policies should follow. 

And some are afraid of spelling out the words “Russia’s defeat” – in fact, they try to convince others that Russia can never be beaten. Well, history says otherwise. Estonians are very well aware of this: in our War of Independence, Estonians fought against Russia and we won. It was in the year 1920 when the peace treaty was signed. Russia did not win the Crimean War, the Russo-Japanese war, or the first World War. In Afghanistan, it pulled out when it realized it had made a mistake. It lost the Cold War.  
There are no risk or cost-free paths for helping to defeat aggression. But when in history has securing freedom and sovereignty from outside attacks been risk-free?


As we commemorate Walther Rathenau, we must remember that his murder in 1922 was also an attack against the idea of democracy. 

That is why I also want to devote this prize to liberal democracy. 

It is a way of governance that has created unprecedented peace, individual freedom as well as prosperity all across Europe. That´s also the way of life that Russia has tried to avoid taking root behind its borders and is trying to battle against in Ukraine.

This year, Estonia is celebrating 20 years of NATO and EU membership. 

Estonia together with many other Central and Eastern European countries set an amazing example of EU and NATO enlargement. As a reminder, allow me to illustrate our journey with a few figures. In the beginning of the 1990s, our GDP was about $3,7 billion. 20 years later, our GDP is ten times higher – about $37 billion. 

Since the early 1990s, the average salary in Estonia has increased 45 times and the average pension 60 times. Even adjusted for inflation, our real GDP has increased by around 3,5 times – far faster than in Europe as a whole. For example, in terms of media and internet freedom and corruption perception indexes, Estonia has long topped the charts.

As a result, our living standards have rapidly converged towards EU average levels. In the process, we have surpassed several countries of the so-called Old Europe. 

EU enlargement has been the world’s greatest economic convergence machine. The EU is delivering to its citizens some of the highest living standards and the lowest levels of income inequality in the world. 

Central and Eastern Europe is also a living example of the economic and social benefits that come from belonging to the strongest military alliance in world history. We can all be proud of these decisions. 

The benefits of life in Europe have also (at least partly) been noticed by the wider global community. Global polling recently revealed that Europe and the US win the soft power contest. Asked where you would like to live if not in your own country, clear majorities in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey answered Europe or the US – and almost nobody wants to live in Russia. 

It’s a separate challenge how to communicate these positive effects to our citizens.

Ladies and gentlemen,

President Steinmeier has said: one of the great lessons to be learned from the death of Rathenau and others political victims is that our democracy must be capable of defending itself against its enemies, both at home and abroad. 

I couldn’t agree more.

Heavy-heartedly, I notice parallels being drawn between democracies in the beginning of the 20th century and now: the rise of nationalist right-wing parties, the mainstreaming of radical ideas, the demonization of minorities. The loss of faith in democratic institutions and paralyses brought about in those very institutions, the longing for a strong leader. And finally, the danger that democracies would be unable or unwilling to work together. 

They say history rhymes, but it’s up to us to make sure it wouldn’t. 

The tendencies I spoke about are fertile soil for the Kremlin to pursue its goals. It is wrong to think that us within the free side of Europe are somehow not being targeted. 

The frontline of Putin’s so-called shadow war runs through the hearts of our own democracies: universities, parliaments, media and other institutions. The aim of influence operations is to create distrust and change our policies, they aim to deter our societies from supporting Ukraine, spark domestic divisions, and influence democratic decision-making – including the decisions we make at the ballot-boxes. 

The disinformation is reaching wide audiences via social media; it sits literally within our pockets, phones and apps. While fear is one tool that the Kremlin uses to prevent democratic leaders and societies from supporting Ukraine, then disinformation and influence operations are another one. 

Disinformation, AI-generated content, and fake news threaten to distort our democratic processes. In Germany, France, and elsewhere in Europe, extensive disinformation networks have been uncovered, where Kremlin trolls attempt to disseminate lies by mimicking credible news channels.

For example, in Germany, a vast anti-Ukraine disinformation campaign via the social media platform X was discovered. The target was the support of the German government for Ukraine – more than one million German-language posts were sent from an estimated 50,000 fake accounts.

Fortunately, these attempts are often clumsy and even laughable, but there are also forgeries that may initially mislead even an informed media consumer. Kremlin trolls may not be the smartest, but they should not be underestimated as their systematic work often lands on fruitful soil in our own polarized political debate.

As already Thucydides said, “Most people, in fact, will not take trouble in finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first story they hear.” 

Ladies and gentlemen,

According to some estimates, around half of the world’s population is taking part in more than 80 national elections in 2024 – including European elections in June. This makes it even more explicit how important it is to safeguard an independent and trustworthy media space. 

It is good to note that most of the world’s largest tech companies, including Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, recognize their responsibility in this field and have committed to fighting voter-deceiving content. We also need clear regulation for companies to protect our shared information space from misinformation and deep-fakes. 

The recently enacted EU Digital Services Act is a significant step towards a cleaner and safer information environment. It is important that this law would become applicable for all parties involved. 

For example, on the messaging platform Telegram, disinformation is spreading openly and completely unchecked today. We see it as a platform with a wide enough reach, so similar due diligence obligations should apply to it, as with other very large online platforms, such as Facebook, X, YouTube, and others.

We in Europe have every reason to be proud of our ability to successfully regulate complex issues. However, regulation can only be applied to what we are aware of or can anticipate. 

Technology is advancing at such a rapid pace today and we cannot rely on regulations to follow this pace. Therefore, in Estonia, we have set the goal of increasing overall societal resilience to be able to adapt and cope as successfully as possible with changes that legislators may not foresee.
We may be a digitally advanced nation rapidly embracing new technologies, but the most crucial component of various smart solutions is the presence of smart individuals using them. 

Now, as artificial intelligence has entered our focus, our primary goal is to foster intelligent and educated members of society who can successfully navigate a complex information environment. It’s hard to overstate the importance of media and information literacy in today’s world. The sooner we start systematically teaching it to our children, the safer the society where we live in the future will be.

Ladies and gentlemen,
In conclusion, democracy and freedom are a shared enterprise. And unity and cooperation are the biggest strength of democracies. It is well captured by the words of the Estonian poet Paul Erik Rummo:

we keep together like this
and go through the sea
that rises cruelly against us
and go through the sea
and we need no other support
than each other’s clear shoulders