Once again I return to Tallinn- clear and cold.
I am here to receive the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana- the senior order of the Estonian Republic. I attended the ceremony this afternoon, with around two hundred other recipients of various decorations: from the Metropolitan of the Estonian Orthodox church to a little girl who had made a real contribution to her community.
As we await the President of the Estonian Republic there is for several moments a total silence. It is a typically Estonian moment and I reflect how rarely a crowd ever falls completely still. President Ilves' speech is slightly defensive, reflecting the fact that the list is much shorter this year and many who had thought that they were due, did not get recognised.
As my turn comes I greet the President with thanks and take the award. I am proud and touched, but somehow sad. I thought of the many Estonians who I first met in the early 1980s who never lived to see the free republic restored. In particular I think of Anna Taru, who was the last person to run the old Estonian Legation- she had been, I think, the Minister's personal assistant. She befriended me and humoured my early interest in her country. I wonder what she might have made of this- I hope that she would be happy. I think of my family, who were not able to come. I hope, perhaps, that they too are happy with the way that what might have seemed my my slightly strange interest has worked out.
Although several of my friends have received awards none of them were collecting them today, but I take a glass of wine and listen in to other conversations. A jazz duo on piano and saxophone play. I recognise many Estonian tunes, including Raimond Valgre's "Snowflakes", which, although jaunty and cheerful, is said to have been written (in English) to remind people of the soldiers who were dying in 1941.
Several members of the Kaitseliit- the territorial defence force- received awards for service in Afghanistan, and others were life savers, teachers, blood donors - all the generally unsung heroes of a society that works well.
This place is special to me. These people, stolid, independent, taciturn, have I realise, inspired me for much of my adult life. Sometimes childish and petty, sometimes wise and strong, this culture, language and attitude reflect much that I respect and admire. Serious, honest, worthy- but with a sly and dark humour, the hard working Estonians touched me long ago. I realise that this award means perhaps more to me than I first thought, especially when it is offered with such sincerity.
Tanän väga kallis Eestlased !