I bring with me the friendship of the American people, and I’m honored to be the first president of the United States to deliver an address like this to the people of Estonia. I just had the opportunity to meet once again with the presidents of all the Baltic states, and I thank — president of Latvia and Lithuania for being here. We are joined by friends from throughout the region.
And I want to say a special welcome to everyone watching this out in Freedom Square. And I’m especially pleased to see so many young people here today, because like Oscar (ph), you are fulfilling the dream that your parents and grandparents struggled for but could only imagine, and that is living your lives in free and independent and democratic Baltic nations. That dream of freedom endured through centuries of occupation and oppression. It blossomed into independence, only to have it stolen by foreign pacts and secret protocols. It survived the mass deportations that ripped parents from their children. It was defended by Forest Brothers in the resistance, and sustained by poets and authors who kept alive your languages and cultures.
And here in Estonia, it was a dream that found its most eloquent expression in your voices, on a grassy field not far from here, when Estonians found the courage to stand up against an empire and sing: “Land of my fathers, land that I love.” And Heinz Valk, who’s here today, spoke for the entire singing revolution when he said: One day, no matter what, we will win. (Applause.)
And then exactly 25 years ago, people across the Baltics came together in one of the greatest displays of freedom and nonviolent resistance that the world has ever seen. On that August evening, perhaps 2 million people stepped out of their homes and joined hands — a human chain of freedom, the Baltic way — and they stretched down highways and across farmlands, from Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius. They lit candles and they sang anthems. Old men and women brought out their flags of independence, and young parents brought their children to teach them that when ordinary people stand together, great change is possible. Here in Estonia, when people joined the line, the password was “freedom.” As one man said that day, the Berlin Wall is made of brick and concrete. Our wall is stronger. And it was. Within months, that wall in Berlin was pushed open.
The next year, the Baltic peoples finally voted in elections. And when the forces of the past made their last grab for power, you stood up. Lithuanians faced down tanks. Latvians manned barricades. Here in Tallinn, citizens rushed to the TV tower to defend the airwaves of democracy. You won. You reclaimed your countries. And in your new constitution you declared the independence and sovereignty of Estonia are timeless and inalienable.
But the people of the Baltic nations also knew that freedom needs a foundation of security. So you reached out to join the NATO alliance. And we were proud to welcome you as new allies so that those words of your constitution, your timeless independence, will always be guaranteed by the strongest military alliance the world has ever known.
Today, people working to build their own democracies to Kiev to Tunis look to you for inspiration. Your experience cautions that progress is neither easy nor quick. Here in the Baltics, after decades of authoritarian rule, the habits of democracy had to be learned. The institutions of good governance had to be built. Economies had to be reformed. Foreign forces had to be removed from your territory.