The prime minister of the Republic of Estonia, Jüri Ratas, visited Indiana University to deliver a public address on Tuesday, Aug. 29, in the Global and International Studies Building's auditorium as a guest of the IU School of Global and International Studies and the Department of Central Eurasian Studies. The prime minister spoke to a packed auditorium on four topics: Estonia’s history and current role, the country’s new role in the presidency of the Council of the European Union, digitalization in Estonia, and the centenary of the Republic of Estonia.
Prime Minister Ratas opened his speech with some background detailing his own personal connection with Indiana. Having an aunt and cousin living in Indianapolis at the time, Ratas first visited Indiana in 1994. The aforementioned cousin, Ain Haas, is an Indiana University Bloomington alumnus, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at IUPUI, and the chairman of the Indianapolis Estonian Society. During this first summer visit, Ratas insists that he discovered the true meaning of Hoosier via Indy 500 cars, Indiana University basketball, and Reggie Miller. However, his personal connections were not the sole motivator for his 2017 tour. Ratas was keen to note Indiana University Bloomington’s long-standing Estonian language program, developed in 1952, as well as the presence of many Estonian immigrants living in the state.
Ratas then shifted towards themes of Estonian history and its current role in the world, capturing the essence of Estonian foreign policy via former US President Dwight Eisenhower: “We must be firm, but friendly.” The prime minister likened Estonia to having taken up this phrase as an unofficial motto, as Estonia has learned to be firm from its former occupation, whilst simultaneously appreciating and taking time for its friends in the international community. In 2004, Estonia became a member of both the European Union and NATO and has been actively contributing to these organizations since. In July of 2017, Estonia began its first term in the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Currently, the Estonian presidency’s European focuses are the development of an open and innovative economy; the promotion of safety and security; the cultivation of an inclusive and sustainable society; and an emphasis on a digital society characterized by the free movement of data.
Though small in area and population, one could say that Estonia is a giant in the realm of digitalization. Ratas explained how his country had saved two percent of its annual GDP solely by going digital. 99.8 percent of the country’s banking transactions and 95 percent of income tax filings occur online, saving more than 300 meters of paper per month, or as the prime minister explained, “Twelve Eiffel Towers a year.” Estonia has not had any technological incidents in the past fifteen years, allowing for more than 800 years of work to be saved. The prime minister remarked that public services are now “hassle-free” and “more convenient for the people.” A notable example Ratas provided is the average completion time in filing taxes at roughly 3 minutes, also comically noting the 18-second record. The growth in digital services has also allowed Estonians to develop resilient cybersecurity leading to the establishment of the NATO Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn in 2008.
The prime minister closed his speech remarking on the Estonian 100th anniversary. The centennial celebration began in April 2017 and will continue until February 2020, paying tribute to its persistence, tenacity, and the sacrifices made in its fight for independence. Apart from the promotion of Estonian culture and national memory, Prime Minister Ratas wishes to use the centenary as a platform to craft a vision for the future, setting ambitious goals, focusing on the nation’s youth development, and globally raising the Estonian profile. Ratas invited (and encouraged) all present to visit Estonia for the occasion, also mentioning anniversary celebrations that will take place around the United States for those looking to celebrate from this side of the Atlantic. Following his address, Prime Minister Ratas answered questions from participants inside the auditorium, followed by a reception in the atrium of the Global and International Studies Building. Here, the prime minister mingled with students, faculty, staff, and community members. He returned to Tallinn after the opening of West Coast Estonian Days in California.