Nash – Introduction of Dr. Mart Laar
Introduction of Dr. Mart Laar
The Philadelphia Society
April 11, 2008
In his book Understanding Europe, published in 1952,
the historian Christopher Dawson declared:
“Western civilization cannot be saved either by Europe or by America;
it demands a common effort which cannot be limited to immediate political ends,
but must involve a deeper process of co-operation based on common spiritual
Dawson”s provocative assertion provides a useful point of
departure for the conversation we shall have this weekend.
The theme of our common effort is “Europe,
the United States, and the Future of Western Civilization.”
It is a deliberately capacious theme, reflecting the breadth and gravity
of our concerns at this juncture in the history of the West.
As one token of this breadth and gravity, we have assembled a
roster of distinguished speakers from eight different nations.
This may well be the most geographically diverse lineup for any program
in our Society”s history.
As always, we propose to address our concerns in the
tradition of the Society—in the words of our bylaws, seeking “understanding,
To launch our deliberations, we are pleased indeed to have
as our keynote speaker a son of Europe, a respected historian, and a man who has
made a considerable imprint on European politics.
Mart Laar was born in Estonia in 1960, when that nation of
fewer than 2,000,000 people was under the iron heel of the Soviet Union.
As a graduate student and teacher of history in the 1980s, he set out on
a most unusual research project: a study of the armed Estonian resistance
movement against the Soviet occupation of his country after World War II. It
was, to say the least, an unorthodox choice of subject matter.
When Laar and his colleagues began bicycling around Estonia and
interviewing former Estonian freedom fighters, the Communist authorities were
Harassment and intimidation followed.
When Laar published the first fruits of his research on the
postwar Soviet reign of terror in an opposition magazine, the secret
police—the KGB–accused him of “slandering the Soviet regime” and
instituted criminal proceedings against him.
But Laar”s timing turned out to be fortunate.
The sentiment for freedom was surging throughout Estonia, and his
countrymen publicly rallied to his cause. The
Communist government backed down and dropped the charges.
In the next several years the so-called “singing revolution” gripped
his nation, leading to its successful declaration of independence in 1991.
During this tumultuous period, Laar became Head of the
Historical Memories Department of the Ministry of Culture and a member of the
Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia. In 1992 his riveting history of
Estonia”s long guerrilla war against the Red Army was finally published and
translated into English under the title War in the Woods: Estonia”s
Struggle for Survival, 1944-1956.
In its Foreword Laar had the satisfaction of writing: ” The past, left
for dead by the aggressors, lives again.”
In 1992 Laar became prime minister of his country at the
age of 32. His newly independent
homeland was in a catastrophic economic condition.
In short order he initiated an audacious array of free-market-oriented
reforms, including a flat tax system, massive privatization of enterprise, and
banking reorganization. His
inspiration for all this was a book of economics—the only economics book that
he had ever read before he became prime minister:
Milton Friedman”s Free to Choose.
Laar served as prime minister from 1992 to 1994 and again
from 1999 to 2002. The economic
shock therapy that he administered proved to be marvelously transformative.
No longer an economically shackled and traumatized captive nation,
Estonia soon became known as the “Baltic Tiger.”
In 2002 Laar retired from political leadership and resumed
his much-interrupted career as a historian. In 2005 he received his doctorate
from the University of Tartu. But he has remained a member of the Estonian
parliament and in 2007 became
chairman of the union of two right-of-center Estonian political parties: the Pro
Patria and the Res Publica. I
suspect that we may see him again on the international stage in the years ahead.
Dr. Laar is married and has two children.
He maintains a blog in the English language on the Internet, where he
comments about European politics, the crimes of Communism, and other subjects.
He has received many honors, including two of special interest to this
audience: the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing of Liberty, conferred in 2006
by the Cato Institute, and the Faith and Freedom Award, bestowed in 2007 by the
As much as any person in this room, Dr. Laar knows from
personal experience the terrible cost of Communism, the priceless value of
liberty, and the moral prerequisites for a sustainable free society.
We are greatly honored to have him with us tonight.
Please join me in welcoming Dr. Mart Laar.