Urmas Reinsalu Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia held a lecture at the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) titled „30 years after Hungarian Rendszervaltas and Baltic Way: Why we need a strong Transatlantic bond?” on 18 November. Following IFAT’s director Márton Ugrósdy’s welcome speech, the Foreign Minister praised the achievements of the past 30 years and emphasized the importance of the strong transatlantic relations.
The Minister began the lecture by praising the excellent Estonian–Hungarian relations, then revealed numerous similarities between the two countries’ history. He said the Hungarian revolution of 1956 was the first in the series of events during which the people called out for freedom and democracy. But the revolution was oppressed brutally thus change was not possible for generations. Reinsalu then continued with reviewing the landmark events of 1989, including the Baltic Way, during which more than 2 million people demonstrated for freedom in the Baltic states. He also emphasized Hungary’s role, referring to German Chancellor Helmuth Kohl saying it was in Hungary where „the first stone was kicked out of the Berlin Wall”.
Reinsalu said the Baltic Way, similarly to the events of 1956 drew widespread international attention, but this time the Baltic peoples’ efforts were supported from both sides of the Atlantic. The Minister highlighted the importance of the United States’ support during and after the events of 1989. He said without the United States’ support the fall of the Berlin Wall and the later unification of Germany among others would not have been possible.
In his lecture, Reinsalu also praised the achievements of Estonia and Hungary in the past 30 years. He emphasized the significance of the countries’ accession to the European Union 15 years ago: joining the European Union „was an opportunity, not a prescription” the Minister told the audience. He also expressed Estonia’s view on the European Union, in which it is a union of nation-states, rather than a federation. 2019 is not only the 30th anniversary of Hungarian Rendszervaltas, the Baltic Way and the 15th anniversary of Estonia’s and Hungary’s accession to the European Union, but the 70th anniversary of the foundation of NATO – Reinsalu pointed out.
With regard to NATO, he further emphasized the importance of strong transatlantic relations. The Foreign Minister expressed the view that Europe and the US are subject to mutual dependence, thus strong relations are a necessity. According to Reinsalu, European defence initiatives like the Permanent Structured Cooperation are not to replace NATO mechanisms, they are, however, to create a more capable European Union, which is in NATO’s interest as well.
The Estonian Foreign Minister also highlighted the US’ favourable view on the Three Seas Initiative (TSI), citing the participation of high-level US representatives in TSI summits, next of which Estonia is expected to host on 16 June 2020.
In his closing remarks, he reinforced Estonia’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance, saying it has brought „peace, security, and prosperity.” He also mentioned Estonia’s participation in the United Nations Security Council as the country’s next great challenge and the possibility of stronger transatlantic cooperation in the UN Security Council.
The questions of the audience following the lecture raised various topics, including among others handling of the apparent US sentiment that European defence initiatives are competitors to NATO, Estonia’s view on the EU’s Ukraine policy, Russian disinformation activity in Estonia, and the difficulties of shaping an EU-level Russia policy. Apart from security-related questions, topics regarding the differences between Estonia and Moldova, but also the linguistic relation between Hungary and Estonia were touched upon.