On 20th March 2018, Member of the Estonian Parliament Igor Gräzin addressed the Bruges Group in the House of Commons.
Born 27th June 1952 in Tartu, Gräzin is an Estonian politician. He is serving as a Member of Parliament in Riigikogu, the Estonian Parliament, and won another term in the 2011 parliamentary election. Gräzin is a charter member of the Estonian Reform Party, which carried a sweeping victory in these elections.
He was the only Estonian Riigikogu member to vote against ratifying the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.
Igor Gräzin delivered the Estonian Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1991 to Mikhail Gorbachev, the Head of the Soviet Union.
Watch his address here, and find the transcript below.
"I stand up because I am professor by profession, so I want to talk while standing. I like this picture today for two reasons. Number one, you see that once I had more hair, and another thing, this is proof that I have a tie. I bought one yesterday for you, but of course it was the first thing I forgot when I came to the airport. So I'm sorry.
Now, I think that, how I can express my admiration, my respect, to this house, and to you, ladies and gentlemen, to these people. I think there is only one way to do that.It is to omit introduction and to get to the point – immediately. So I consider myself being here as a witness, providing here a testimony to you about the events that clearly happened, that I was part of them, to some extent, and I provide you with a testimony, a case regarding, let's say, slow gently moving out of the unions. I do not mean trade unions, of course, I mean other unions.
So what happened and how did it happen? My role in that story that I saw for myself was as witness, but a witness has to disclose the background. So in 1988 I was just a normal, average professor, I taught university but then started events that were called 'singing revolutions' in Estonia, 1988. And, in the course of events as being a member of popular front of Estonia I got elected to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union where I remained a permanent member until 1991. And it simply happened this way that the chairman of my committee was then a relatively unknown man, but he later became very popular, Boris Yeltsin. So it is simply being the right man in the right place. So after that I left politics and after many rounds I am back again. But the crucial point here is 1988 to 1991 because it is a unique case. A huge empire, the global Empire falls apart unexpectedly. I remember it was summer of 1991, Mr John Major visited Moscow and talked to us as well, and he insisted that Estonia was doing the wrong things. 'Don't do that, don't rock the boat, Gorbechev is a good man. You should not because if you are Western minded Estonians, you must understand – you must help Gorbachev, and not fight him. 'Perhaps even more famous for us, it was in July 1991 when George Bush senior came to the Soviet Union and delivered a speech where he said that the 21st century is going to be determined by the friendship and confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States of America. And here is my hand of friendship, and I want the Soviet Union to live forever, and survive, etc. And again, 'don't rock the boat.' And today, it's very noteworthy, where did he deliver that speech? Of all the places, in capital of Ukraine, in Kiev. And today it is known in history as the famous Kiev Chicken speech. What he said about confrontation between the Soviet Union determining the 21st century was just three weeks before the Soviet Union fell apart.
So, there, now in 1988, small Soviet country, Soviet Republic at that time, Estonian Sovet socialist Republic and movement here, movement there, but nobody really thinking about regaining independence. By the way, about what was the scientific knowledge at that time?Marshall Goldman, famous Sovietologist after that has said that the new slogan should be 'Sovietologists of the world, unite.' Because they all failed, in all their predictions. So today they are out of proper business, business consultants everywhere. But that was the situation.
So 1988, winds of change, but I don't want to go into this romantic side of politics. But there was one issue. But there was one issue, and I think we can, you can compare it to some situations in current Britain I believe. There was one issue that served as a spark, that ignited the whole – I think even to some extent forgot the national feelings, and that story was – to make, again, a long story short, the Soviet Union badly needed fertilizers because it was all the time short of grain, buying it from Australia, whatever. And it was strategic dependence. The only way to work, you need fertilizer.Important component of the fertilizer was phosphorite. They looked at the map in Moscow, and said there are huge reserves of phosphorites somewhere there, and it happened to be Estonia. So the risk was in reality there Moscow would start to dig for phosphorite that would have caused, not environmental damage, it would have caused simply death. The reason? Very simple. Our drinking water is very close to the surface and if you dig the phosphorus then the risk that you will perforate the layer is extremely high. Once it's contaminated, all Estonia, plus half of Latvia, no drinking water.And that was so evident, and it was so dangerous. Plus, of course, having about 5,000—it's a big number—5,000 additional immigrants from the rest of the Soviet Union, as minors and all these kinds of things. And this was the moment where really, very many people, starting from some leaders of the communist party of the Soviet Union, some dissident groups who were under surveillance of the KGB, they all started to think the same way.Wait a minute, is that now the promised proletarian paradise—we knew that it's not a paradise—but are they thinking in Moscow at all what's going on here? And then the game started. Estonians said, and the popular movement behind that, no phosphorite mining. Moscow insisting on, don't you think about the future of the Soviet economy, etc. And after all, it's in the federal interest. We still start to mine it.Estonians: 'no, we don't want that.'And paradoxically enough, it went even through all the stages of Soviet—let me repeat: Soviet—court and legal system.It may sound funny, but it went through the legalistic steps. And the decision was that Estonian arguments are not sound, the research does not prove the danger, etc., and so we are going to dig and mine them. And then, actually, sorry for quoting myself but who has the last word, after the last word has been said?
Soviet constitution, and that's a pretty interesting difference from the European Union, had an article. It was 38 I believe, or 39, sorry I do not remember. There was an article that said that each Soviet republic has the right to secede. By the way, just one sentence: Soviet republic has the right to secede from Soviet federation. Period. Nothing else. And then you start to think, excuse me: if we have the right to secede with all the stuff – the lands, factories, companies, people, resources, etc. – we secede as a republic, in its totality. Can't we secede in the question of phosphorites? So we leave all other things to you, Moscow, but we take our phosphorites out. Next step, the issue came, Moscow started to ask, and we started to consider: it was also a constitutional provision that the Soviet republic is a sovereign socialist state that has voluntarily joined the Soviet Federation. Okay, in the Baltic State's case it was not so voluntary, as we remember, and that has been confirmed by the Atlantic Charter. But anyway, let's put that aside. But now there is the issue: what, then, is sovereignty? This is something that I understand it is perhaps even foolish of me to talk about in this place because everybody knows, I believe, in Britain, who is sovereign, and what that means. But it was not so very clear then. Because the story was—and here, I see the déjà vu with Brussels—by the way, just in case, if I was a member of a group, we did not want to join the European Union so anxiously. We were not very much against, but at least we wanted to delay, but we failed, we are in. But anyway. So the same story – what is sovereignty? Sovereignty is shared responsibility: this is for Moscow, this is for the Republic, let's say financial system and central bank is for Moscow, and defence is Moscow, and then, let's say, textile industry and education is for the Republic, etc. So sovereignty is shared. So the question of who is going to dig phosphorites is still iffy. And now comes the crucial point in all that further development: November 16th, 1988: the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Supreme, issued declaration on sovereignty of Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. And it said just one thing – sovereignty means the supreme power over the given territory, period.It cannot be shared, it cannot be alienated, it cannot be given away. And Estonia is going to exercise its supreme power through the principle of separation of powers. That separation of powers was introduced to avoid this Soviet thing, because Soviet ideology was, not like the commune in Paris in 1871, that all power to the Soviets that they are executive, legislative, and so on, at the same time. So, introducing the separation of powers, we broke away also from the Soviet system. But it came as an appendix, or additional bonus, for that sovereignty declaration. But I'd like to point that one thing, and I firmly believe in it, sovereignty is an awfully important thing. You cannot negotiate it. You are sovereign or you are not. You cannot be a little bit pregnant. Either you are, or you are not. You are sovereign, or you are not. And it can be, in no way, that the president or chair, or head of sovereign state is subordinate, yes, we may have negotiations, we may talk about things, we may be nice. By the way, Gorby was and is a very nice person. Hector said he's a great guy, and great business – no doubt about that. Having had both bosses, Yeltsin was pretty brutal. He was not a nice person in that sense at all.By the way, he was not an alcoholic at all, I can testify that. Well, he drank once in a while, but who doesn't. So Gorby was a nice man, but it's not about being nice. And when the talks about the sovereignty was, there was one absolutely disarming sentence that Gorbachev said – 'you Estonians, why don't you love us?' Alright fine – this is not about love, this is about sovereignty – one and indivisible.
And all the later developments started from that point, the principal was established – even if Moscow tried to deny it. And it went so far that the Moscow Institute, that granted me a doctorate degree, invited me to academic council and said that they are going to revoke my degree. That they were going to take that away. It sounded to us, you know, I gave birth to you, I will take it away. I'll take it back. But there, again, history is always funny. The problem was that Gorbachev's closest buddy was the vice-chairman of that academic council. So I could say, sorry, you gave me that degree, and you can take that away, I have my employment, etc. But it was just an academic dispute. Sovereignty, sovereignty, sovereignty. And that determined all the further and other negotiations. It was a stated fact that perhaps we will not achieve everything, and nothing will happen immediately. But it was possible to start to talk once the positions were clear.Later, a little bit later on, started another thing that needs to be pointed at. As I said, the constitution had one sentence: Soviet republic has the right to secede. Well, outrageous was to use this clause, or to declare sovereignty, or actually to define what the sovereignty was. By the way, this definition – supreme power with the given territory – is nothing original. It's Jean Bodin, one of the founders of modern state theory, 400, 500 years ago, the definition had simply been forgotten. So one that had been stated, the further things became slowly possible. Okay, sadistic trick, by the way: the declaration of sovereignty was declared when Gorbachev was on his visit to India.It happened on Friday night. So Saturday, Sunday, declaration of sovereignty of Estonia.And journalists – New York Times, Boston Globe, pretty much whoever, the Tribune – calling to Gorbachev: what do you think about the events in Estonia? Gorbachev didn't have the slightest clue what was going on. But self-confident, and charmer, as he always was, and still is, he said: 'Well, Estonia, is our flagship of perestroika, whatever they do,' etc. And one Monday morning, he discovered, oops, two press conferences in the presence of the president of India were made. And actually, last time when we talked to Gorbachev it was by telephone in America in 1994, no it happened this way that we talked over the telephone, and he pretty honestly said with the dating of the sovereignty, you were just wise, be honest Igor. And that's how history works. So, but no bad feelings anymore, because everything worked out fine.
Now, perhaps to wrap up in this moment, then I'd be more than happy to answer the questions, is that talking, negotiations, arguments, are very, not easy, but they are relatively convenient if the positions are clear and non-negotiable. That you do not compromise that.Actually, it does not need even bravery, or courage. It is simply a little bit of heart, and a little bit of brains. And then it works out, and after that it is easy. And as I said, once we had declared that Gorbachev one moment had said okay fine, no decision is there, and we discussed with other comrades, and okay, then sovereignty. Later, we declared independence from the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union was still there, then Lithuania did the same thing. But what started then, was, they, Moscow, started to introduce legislation about procedure of secession. So, there must be a transitional period of two or three years, after that there will be separation, a little bit of money, and then stuff like that, then we will calculate assets and liabilities mutually and stuff like that. And, first we went along with it. But being lawyers, and then politicians at the same time and knowing the tricks, we realized that it is a trap. Once you go into these details, you may be finished. Where the substance is replaced by procedure, then the substance doesn't matter anymore. Because it was clear that we are going to negotiate this moving out forever. Arguments, experts, witnesses, whatnot, that was the trapping. That was not discovered immediately, but once it was discovered, then the Moscow side started to exploit it. 'Let's go into technicalities' – what do you mean, what's the Estonian budget? What are the principals, do we need international auditors for the assets and stuff like that? Wait a minute, let's declare first, we are we, and you are you. And we are separate. And if that is clear, then after that, we will see.And one, perhaps, last argument: I know that it is the Brexit case as well, etc.it is economic interests. That separation from the Union will be economically harmful, and it will cause damage. The famous Clintonesque saying: 'it's the economy, stupid. 'Coming from a Marxist country, I understand where this ideology comes from. And no doubt about that. Economy matters, prices matters. But they definitely matter much less than you think. Estonian independence of the Soviet budget and the industry was about 75 percent of its own GDP. We had military factories, we had industrial investments from the Soviet Union, etc. And they said, but you are going to lose all this business.And our answer, perhaps, was not very smart, but it was true: 'we are going to survive, comrades. We are going to survive, and don't ask how. Our survival in independent country is our business. We are very thankful for your concerns, but we accept it just as friendly advice, and nothing more.' This statement by me is perhaps too religious or whatever. But you know, having been through all this turmoil, etc., you know, I became much more of a person that relies upon fate than God. Let's take the step, and the things will work out. And if we do not have the exact blueprint or plan, it does not mean that it is not doable or must not be done. After all, the strongest, the biggest, the most influential planning organization was the state planning committee of the Soviet Union, and we see now the outcome. Thanks."