Ilves, Toomas Hendrik (Estonia)

Reference work entry


Toomas Hendrik Ilves began his first 5 year largely ceremonial term as president on 9 Oct. 2006, replacing Arnold Rüütel, and was re-elected in Aug. 2011.

Early Life

Ilves was born on 26 Dec. 1953 in Sweden, his parents having fled Estonia during the Soviet occupation in the 1940s. He studied psychology in the USA, first at Columbia University before completing his MA at Pennsylvania University. He then lectured in Vancouver on Estonian literature and linguistics before working as an analyst and researcher for Radio Free Europe.

He returned to Estonia in 1993, 2 years after the country regained independence. In the late 1990s he served as ambassador to the USA, Canada and Mexico. He also had two spells as minister for foreign affairs and was chairman of the North American Institute. From 2004–06 he was a member of the European Parliament, representing the Social Democratic Party.

Career Peak

Ilves’ principal duty as president is to represent the country abroad. In Nov. 2006 George W. Bush became the first US president to visit Estonia. Ilves justified the participation of Estonian forces in Afghanistan as a necessary duty of NATO membership, and an increase in the Estonian deployment was approved by parliament in June 2009.

Ilves has sought greater integration of Estonia’s large Russian-speaking minority. Relations between Estonia and Russia were tense during the early months of his tenure, particularly over the relocation by the Estonian government of a prominent Soviet war memorial out of the centre of Tallinn. However, in Feb. 2014 Estonia and Russia signed a new treaty ending a long-standing dispute over border formalization.

Ilves was re-elected for a second presidential term by parliament in Aug. 2011. Having served the maximum permitted two terms, he was succeeded by Kersti Kaljulaid in Oct. 2016.

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