Estonian PM, formin commemorate anniversaries of refugee flight, Baltic Way in New York

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Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas and Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, along with Lithuania’s Finance Minister Vilius Sapoka and Latvian Ambassador to the UN Andrejs Pildegovics, welcomed the local Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian communities in the New York Estonian House on Sunday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the great refugee flight and the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way.

In his speech, the prime minister of Estonia recalled that 75 years ago, tens of thousands of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians were forced to leave their homes behind, the government press office in Tallinn said.

“They were fleeing the Soviet occupation and red terror and they had no idea whether they would ever be able to return or see their homeland again,” the prime minister said. “Many of those people found their new home here, where they got a chance to start again and have a hope of a free future,” he said.

Ratas said that New York was among the places where the dream of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian independence was kept alive.

“The Estonian diplomat Ernst Jaakson was active here and he was the official representative of the Republic of Estonia to the United States until the restoration of Estonia’s independence in 1991,” Ratas said, highlighting Jaakson’s legacy and the efforts of the Baltic community throughout the long years of occupation.

Foreing Minister Urmas Reinsalu said that the great flight was a time when nearly 300 000 Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians had to leave their homeland at a pivotal moment in World War II, and embark on a dangerous and difficult journey to a new and unknown world.

“The Baltic nations preserved their culture during the Cold War and bravely resisted the Soviet occupation with their various initiatives,” the foreign minister said in his speech.

“Today we are marking the day of resistance. The government of Otto Tief made sure the legal continuity of the Republic of Estonia was preserved, and defined the position of the Republic of Estonia towards both occupations,” Reinsalu said.

Close contacts between the state and the communities is vital and cherishing your people and maintaining your language and culture is a lifeline for the survival of a small state.

“Being Estonian is something to be proud of everywhere in the world. It also means being responsible for the preservation of our people! It is our common task to reinforce our ties with the Estonian community abroad. All our children must have a chance to grow up as Estonians!” the minister said.

According to Ratas, the dream of the restoration of independence and freedom was also nurtured in the Baltic States.

“Thirty years ago, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians formed a human chain from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius. Together we stood side by side for our right to live in independent, fair and democratic countries. I was among the nearly two million people in Nomme in Tallinn, holding hands with my parents and many others,” Ratas said.

The foreign minister added that fighting for our country took a lot of courage, shared by everyone who took part in the Baltic Way as well as those who supported them. The cooperation of Baltic communities is also needed now to spread our message of freedom in the world and protect the peoples whose freedom is under attack.

Ratas pointed out that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania began their journey back to a democratic and free Europe 30 years ago.

“This year, we have already celebrated the 15th anniversary of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joining the European Union and NATO. Thanks to our efforts, friends and allies, our independence is secure and well protected. I hope that all our current and future generations remember past events and understand the value of freedom,” the prime minister said.

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