Speech by the President of Estonia
Lennart Meri at the reception for
Finno-Ugrian writers on August 29, 1996

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, welcome to the Kadriorg palace garden.

You have congregated under the Finno-Ugric sign. This research area has fascinated me for decades. Hence I have so many friends among you.

You have congregated at a writers congress. This, too, has been my work during decades.

Would you therefore permit me not to address you as ladies and gentlemen but to say, welcome, my dear kindred, my dear colleagues!

During the last decade I was not with you, I was busy with politics. My work was interrupted when I was trying to find an answer to the question whether the compass that came from China reached Europe through the Mediterranean or through Siberia and the Zyrian Komi hunters. At long last, someone will one day find the answer. I must confess to have been pleased more with questions than with answers. I know that new generations of scientists are coming and new methods are applied. In the August issue of the Estonian academic magazine Keel ja Kirjandus ("Language and Literature"), Professor Ago Künnap asserted that, today, the traditional model of Finno-Ugric language tree has lost its importance, since tracking the genetic chain gives more accurate knowledge of our origins.

Be it so. Today, anyhow, of greatest importance to us is what Oskar Loorits meant when he spoke half of century ago about the thirst TO SUSTAIN and to observe as a quality inherent to the attitude of Finno-Ugrians.

I would like to repeat this word again, syllable by syllable, letter by letter SUSTAIN.

As for the last decade, though, the Looritss definition seems to be inadequate. For the word CHANGE seems to be more precise, meaning the thirst FOR CHANGES AND FOR CHANGING ONESELF TO SUSTAIN.

I am happy that we have managed to achieve this. We managed it in Estonia, as well as in Finland and in Hungary. All our peoples have been more or less fortunate in this.

Along with changing times, we ourselves have changed and our goals for sustention have shifted as well. Incapability to change means getting into a sort of tin can, a mausoleum, a touristic-cosmetological place of final rest.

The end of this century is abundant in paradoxes. With each year, it becomes still easier to embrace the whole world; distances cease to exist and the information community cultivates a totally new cast of mind.

This is the way to unity.

Beside this, however, there is an importunate and intense need, which is developing and growing, to keep distinctions, to support genuinness and singularity, to protect and defend small peoples and cultures, since they are unique in this world and without them the world would be poorer.

The great and mighty do not always understand this, either in the West or in the East. It is our task to explain this, to argue, to assert patiently.

Let us think politically, too. The United Nations Organisation is owing the increase in its membership for two last decades to the small states only. Indeed, a global international organisation can extend only by engaging small states. In the next decade, that is already in the next century, countervailing role of small states will certainly reach the consciousness of great powers, too.

Connection between the various and the general is followed by the work of your congress. You protect diversity and make it a world-wide property, which results in making attitudes around the world more tolerant, more serious. The future of mankind depends on whether it will perceive its variety of cultures, languages and worldviews as a danger or as a wealth.

I noticed that one of the topics of your discussion was THE CHANGE IN THE MEANING OF A MESSAGE IN THE PROCESS OF TRANSLATION. Certainly it does change, for a word has a variety of senses and shades. I know it well from my own experience in translation. However, a single word or a sentence, being subordinated to the whole, may change its meaning for the sake of keeping the meaning of the entire text.

Generally, it is possible to sustain in two different ways.

For twenty centuries, the town of Pompeii was kept unchanged under the layer of ashes and lava.

Unlike Pompeii, our genes, our language and the worldview that our language produced, have sustained much longer and much more intensely because they have always been engaged in a dialogue with the changing world. They changed themselves by altering the world: this manner of sustention differs from that of the dead Pompeii, for the open dialogue leads small cultures to the future.

In the name of that, on this beautiful day of the late summer, may I wish you a lot of energy and a lot of successes, hopes and happiness.