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The Adam Smith Award to Mart Laar

Speech by Gunnar Hökmark, MP and Chairman of Standing Committee on the Constitution in the Swedish Parliament, at the presentation of the Adam Smith-award on behalf of the Centre for New Europe, to the Right Honourable Mart Laar, MP and former Prime Minister of Estonia

Brussels, Belgium at Capitalist Ball arranged by the Centre for New Europe the 7th February 2003

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My name is Gunnar Hökmark. I am a member of the Swedish parliament, representing the Moderate Party, and chairman of the Standing Committee on the Constitution in the parliament. I’m a politician because I believe in freedom, liberty and the values of market economy.

I have the vision that Europe one day shall be the freest society in the world, open for every dream and every citizen. I cannot see there is peace without freedom for each and everyone. That is why I feel honoured and privileged to, on behalf of the Centre for New Europe, present the First Annual Award for an excellent and outstanding contribution to freedom and market economy in Europe.

I think it is a vision for every politician to make the difference in the service of the values and ideas you believe in. The great vision is to make the difference for your country, for your society and for history in a time when the future lies open ahead. I have the pleasure to know such a man and I am proud to count him as a personnel friend.

The first time I met him was 13 years ago at a breakfast meeting in one of Europe’s then forgotten capitals. He was at that time a freedom fighter, occupied with the task of restoring his country’s national heritage and modern history.

He was followed and harassed by the KGB. He took risks in a country that had seen so many of its citizens being executed, deported or jailed. The wind of the totalitarian dictatorship blew him in the face but he stood up against it.

I think it is fair, and not any overstatement, to say that he because of his courage, his determination, his open attitude and commitment for the open society became one of the most important politicians during the dramatically decade of the 90-ies. He showed that one person could make the difference for a whole country and nation.

He has not only a strong belief in the values embodied in market economy and freedom. Lots of us here tonight do have the same. But he differs from all of us in the one and most important meaning of all. He has proved that when things where really going tough, he was tough enough and stood up for his beloved nation, for freedom and independence.

A man has to do what a man has to do and– excuse me if I at this occasion would like to use the expression in a politically correct way because it is correct, he did what any man and woman devoted to liberty should do. Stand up and be counted when it counts whom stands up!

We have all seen the classical drawing with the boy asking his father in the wheeling chair: “Daddy, what did you do during the Great War?”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think there are few people who can give a better answer to that question than a person that became the first democratically elected Prime Minister of his country. Who was one of the leaders of the movement for the restoration of the independence of his nation and is a big market reformer!

Let me present to you the former Prime Minister of Estonia, the right honourable Mr Mart Laar. He is one of us but he is an outstanding personality among us. By personal action and courage he has made the difference for his nation, for his society, for Europe and for the history.

Mr Mart Laar was born and grew up in the suppressed and occupied Estonia. He did not yield to the dictatorship. In this communist society he went in to academically studies and made during the 80-ies important research about the Forest Fighters, the last remaining resistance movement after the Soviet troops had occupied Estonia and with overwhelming military power struck down every other resistance. It was a part of the struggle for a renewed national identity, to highlight that Estonians never by free choice gave their freedom up.

He was one of the leaders of The National Heritage Association, which was the cover for the early independence movement. And when Estonians in conflict with Moscow held their first elections to the Estonian Congress, claiming to be the representative power of the Estonian People, Mart Laar was there.

During these days he developed contacts with like-minded politicians in Western Europe and visited Sweden several times in the framework of activities sponsored by the Moderate Party and the Swedish think tank Timbro. He knew what market economy was but he learned the grounds from among others some of the leading Swedish academic friends of market economy.

When Estonia became a free nation Mart became the first elected Prime Minister. When in office for the first time he founded the Estonian market economy and the rapid process of transformation from the planned economy through deregulation and privatisation.

As I said, and as you all know, Estonia has been very successful in liberalising its economy. But what should also be noted is that there is no corner of the territory that was once controlled by the Soviet Union – the evil empire – where standard of living is as high as in Estonia. Indeed, the life of most pensioners or young parents or civil servants in low-paid sectors is not easy in Estonia, but it is more easier than anywhere else in that huge part of the world. There is no corner of that former empire where democracy and civil and human rights are as well entrenched by today as in Estonia. This was neither a gift by nature nor by divine authority, it was made by man, it was achieved by people who got their visions and priorities right.

His determination made Estonia to be in the lead of socialist economies reforming for a free economy. But he also saw to safeguard the freedom and human rights of all citizens of Estonia, both the Estonians and the Russians. Being Prime Minister twice and a party leader for a good part of the 90-ies he could also secure the follow up and the success of the Estonian wonder.

And this explains the peaceful transformation of Estonia, from a planned Soviet economy to an open European society. Estonia has been and is one of the most fast-growing economies during the 1990-ies, maybe even the fastest growing. But there is something even more important in this development than the economical success, important to the whole of Europe.

We all have to acknowledge the peaceful fight for independence and the respect for every individual in Estonia that gave the peaceful transformation of the Estonian society. It contributed to the peaceful and stable Europe of today. We all have to thank Mart and his fellow countrymen together with their Latvian and Lithuanian colleagues for their peaceful struggle for freedom. They gave Europe of today a peaceful start that is of historical significance.

So Mart, for your personal courage and determiantion, for your devotion for freedom and liberty, for your standing up for the open society and for the results in national independence, economical development, a peaceful foundation for the new Europe and Estonian membership in the European Union, there is today no more worthier receiver of this award from the Centre of The New Europe, than you.