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State Visit An out of the ordinary program was prepared for President Toomas Hendrik Ilves as he, invited by King Carl XVI Gustaf, made a State Visit to Sweden January 18-20 together with Mrs. Evelin Ilves and a big Estonian delegation. The coming March issue of focus, the magazine of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Estonia, will cover the State Visit's meetings and seminars on commerce, trade and investments, while this e-focus report will highlight the additional elements in the program making this State Visit very special. Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt described it like this in his blog:

"This morning a President of Estonia, born in Vällingby, Sweden, arrives with the ferry from Tallinn. His parents came as refugees over the Baltic Sea, escaping occupation and oppression. And he arrives as President of an independent and successful country. It will be a very special reception."

The Swedish-Estonian concert-pianist, author and actress Käbi Laretei was one of the guests at the gala dinner
Estonia and Sweden share an almost one thousand years long history and both King Carl XVI Gustaf and President Ilves addressed this in their speeches at the big gala dinner at the Royal Castle on the State Visit's first evening:

- Sweden and Estonia share a long common history and Estonia has a special place in the hearts of the Swedes. On behalf of the Swedish people it is a true joy for me and the Queen to welcome Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Mrs. Evelin Ilves to Sweden, said the King.

- It gives me great pleasure to visit Sweden, a friendly country that is close to the hearts of Estonians. No country on earth has had a greater influence on Estonia's history and present course. Our history and our current affairs have become entwined in a manner unprecedented anywhere in the world, replied President Ilves in his speech.

Pomp and circumstance, gala dinners, and ceremonial receptions are vital elements in every State Visit program. Given Sweden's and Estonia's long common history, President Ilves background and the intensity in today's bilateral relations between the two countries, some additional and out of the ordinary elements were added to this State Visit program:

Vabaduse Värav Vabaduse Värav - the Gate of Freedom, is an 8 meters high monument at Djurgården in Stockholm raised in 1994 by Estonians and Estonian-Swedes living in Sweden.

img - The Swedish State and the Swedish people reached out their hands and gave the refugees from Estonia roof over their heads. That is why this monument was raised with donations from Estonians and Estonian-Swedes in Sweden as a sign of gratitude to Sweden and the Swedish people, said President Ilves in connection with a ceremony at the monument.

The following words, in Estonian and Swedish, have been engraved on the monument:

"We came in small boats across the sea to escape terror and dictatorship. Thirty thousand men, women, and children made it – workers, fishermen, peasants, intellectuals... We were treated well; we got jobs and built ourselves safe homes and families. We never forgot the land that we were forced to leave, and we worked for the freedom of this land.

May the Gate of Freedom stand as a monument to the humanity and tolerance that the Swedish people had for these refugees, as we sought shelter during evil times, and may it remind us of a tiny part of a nation that found itself a new home here.

Estonians and Estonian-Swedes in Sweden 1944-1994"

Eesti Maja img Eesti Maja – the Estonian House in downtown Stockholm is a center for Estonians both in Stockholm and the rest of Sweden. This is also the place where you will find the offices of Enterprise Estonia, the Estonian Institute and Rootsi Eestlaste Liit - the Estonian National Congress in Sweden.

The latter organization is a network of Estonians and persons with an interest in Estonia in Sweden, and aims to promote the interests of the Swedish-Estonian community, to assist in the distribution of information about Estonia, img and to support Estonian culture in Sweden. The Estonian National Congress in Sweden has existed since 1956 and the organization has more than 2.000 members.

A visit to Eesti Maja was on the programme where President Ilves and Mrs. Ilves got the opportunity to meet all three categories of Estonians in Sweden; Estonian-Swedes, Swedish-Estonians and Estonians currently working and living in, or commuting to, Sweden.

Vällingby - During the autumn 1944, 25 000 Estonians and 7 000 Estonian-Swedes came to Sweden as refugees from their homeland. Mr President, we know that your parents were among these refugees, said King Carl XVI Gustaf in his welcome speech at the gala dinner at the Royal Castle.

img The Ilves family came to settle in Vällingby, a suburb west of Stockholm. Toomas Hendrik Ilves was born in 1953 and spent his first three years in the family's Vällingby flat. A visit to his former home was included in the State Visit program.

- Many years have passed and I was a small child when we lived here, but in general terms I remember the apartment. I especially remember that there used to be a swing mounted for me in one of these doorframes, said President Ilves to Swedish Radio in connection with the visit.

Eesti Kool - Nowadays many Estonians are coming to Sweden and more and more often you hear Estonian being spoken on the streets of Stockholm. Almost half of the pupils in the Estonian School here in the Old Town come from today's Estonia, said King Carl XVI Gustaf at the gala dinner.

img Eesti Kool – the Estonian School in Stockholm was founded in 1945 and moved to its present location in the Old Town in 1973. The school follows the Swedish study plan but Estonia, in terms of language, culture, music and history, is the backbone in the school's teaching.

Together with the King and Queen, President Ilves and Mrs Ilves paid a visit to the Estonian School.

"So, finally the big day came – Estonia's President with his wife and the Swedish King and Queen visited the Estonian School. They arrived in nice cars and brought a lot of journalists and security people", wrote the school at its website.

The University of Uppsala img Founded in 1477 the University of Uppsala is Sweden's oldest university and here Johan Skytte was appointed University Chancellor in 1622. Johan Skytte also took the initiative to the University of Dorpat (Tartu) which was founded in 1632 and thus became Sweden's second oldest university.

At the last day of the State Visit, President Ilves visited the University of Uppsala together with Prince Carl Philip and Sweden's Minister for Defence Sten Tolgfors. President Ilves held a highly appreciated lecture on safety policy titled "The Baltic Littorial in the New Europe".

The coming March issue of SCCE's magazine focus will cover the State Visit's meetings and seminars on commerce, trade and investments. Ambassador Jan Palmstierna, the Chairman of Eesti Pank – Estonia's Central Bank Jaan Männik, and the businessman Hillar Lauri were all participating in the State Visit and will share their impressions in the coming article. Among all his other impressions, Jaan Männik writes:

"Being born in Sweden, having got my education in Sweden and having lived in Sweden for a total of more than 40 years and now being a guest in the country, and coming on a visit like this, created some turbulence inside me"

"How interested are all these Swedish celebrities of the notably smaller neighbor country Estonia? Will it be their sense of duty ruling when we meet our Swedish hosts? I couldn't have been more wrong. Sweden showed heartiness, warmness, generosity, interest, and all of us from Estonia got the impression that it wasn't superficial but very real and genuine. On the flight back I thought; Estonia really has a very close friend in Sweden. I'm not exaggerating when I say that this was the journey of my life."

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