Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Toomas Hendrik Ilves is the fourth and current President of Estonia.

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Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonian pronunciation: [ˈtoːmɑs ˈhendrik ˈilves]; born 26 December 1953) is the fourth and current President of Estonia. He is a former diplomat and journalist, was the leader of the Social Democratic Party in the 1990s and later a member of the European Parliament. He was elected to the post by an electoral college on 23 September 2006 and his term as President began on 9 October 2006.

Early life and education

Ilves was born in Stockholm, Sweden; his parents were Estonian refugees.[1] He grew up in the United States in Leonia, New Jersey and graduated from Leonia High School in 1972 as valedictorian.[2] He received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Columbia University in 1976 and a master's degree in the same subject from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978.[3] In addition to his native Estonian, he is fluent in English, German, Spanish and Latin.


Ilves worked as a research assistant in Columbia University Department of Psychology from 1974 to 1979. From 1979 to 1981 he served as assistant director and English teacher at the Open Education Center in Englewood, New Jersey.[3]

During the 1980s, Ilves worked as a journalist for Radio Free Europe and became actively involved in politics prior to Estonia's independence in 1991. Ilves subsequently became Ambassador of Estonia to the United States in 1993;[4] he also served as Ambassador to Canada and Mexico for several years.

In December 1996, Ilves became Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs, serving until he resigned in September 1998, when he became member of a small opposition party (Peasants' Party, agrarian-conservative). Ilves was soon elected chairman of the People's Party (reformed Peasants' Party), which formed an electoral cartel with the Moderates, a centrist party. After the March 1999 parliamentary election he became foreign minister again, serving until 2002, when the so-called Triple Alliance collapsed. He supported Estonian membership in the European Union and succeeded in starting the negotiations which led to Estonia joining the European Union on 1 May 2004. From 2001 to 2002 he was the leader of the People's Party Moderates. He resigned from the position after the party's defeat in the October 2002 municipal elections, in which the party received only 4.4% of the total votes nationwide. In early 2004, the Moderates party renamed itself the Estonian Social Democratic Party.

In 2003, Ilves became an observer member of the European Parliament and, on 1 May 2004, a full member. In the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, Ilves was elected MEP in a landslide victory for the Estonian Social Democratic Party. He sat with the Party of European Socialists group in the Parliament. Katrin Saks took over his MEP seat when Ilves became President of Estonia in 2006. In 2011, he was re-elected for a second five-year term.[5]

Presidential elections

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and President George W. Bush, in Estonia 2006

Ilves was nominated by the Reform Party, Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica and his own Social Democratic Party on 23 March 2006, as a candidate for the 2006 presidential election.

On 29 August, Ilves was the only candidate in the second and the third round of the presidential election in Riigikogu, the Parliament of Estonia (he was supported by an electoral coalition consisting of the governing Reform Party plus the Social Democrats and the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica which form the parliamentary opposition). The elections were boycotted by the Centre Party and the People's Union (the MPs were called upon by the party leaders not to participate in the election).[citation needed] Ilves gathered 64 votes out of 65 ballots. Therefore, one deputy of the three party alliance supporting Ilves did not vote in favour of his candidacy. A two-third majority in the 101-seat Riigikogu was required, so he was not elected in Riigikogu. His candidacy was automatically transferred to the next round in the Electors' Assembly on 23 September.

On 13 September 2006, a broad spectrum of 80 well-known intellectuals published a declaration in support of Ilves' candidacy. Among those who signed were Neeme Järvi, Jaan Kross, Arvo Pärt and Jaan Kaplinski.[6]

On 23 September 2006 he received 174 ballots in the first round of the presidential election in the Electors' Assembly, thus having been elected the next president of Estonia. His five-year term started on 9 October 2006.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Dmitry Medvedev in 2008

Ilves promised to concentrate more on foreign policy; according to Ilves, "The road to Moscow goes via Brussels."[citation needed] He also wishes to move Estonia politically more towards the centre of Europe. With regard to Estonia's domestic policies, he has supported re-affirming the president's role as a moral arbitrator in case of leading politicians' misdeeds. Ilves has severely criticised alleged political pressure exercised by the Centre Party and People's Union leaders over their parliamentary deputies and local politicians. Edgar Savisaar in turn has expressed dissatisfaction with Ilves' victory.[citation needed]

On 29 August 2011, he was reelected by the 101-seat legislature to a second five-year term. He received support from 73 members of the legislature, and is the first candidate to be elected in the first round since Estonia regained independence in 1991.[7]

Personal life

Ilves has been married twice. With his first wife, American psychologist Dr. Merry Bullock he has two children: son Luukas (b. 1987), who graduated from Stanford University in 2009 and daughter Juulia Kristiine (b. 1992). In 2004 Ilves married his longtime partner Evelin Int-Lambot with whom he has one daughter, Kadri Keiu (b. 2003).[citation needed]

In public, Ilves almost exclusively wears bow ties. He says that this is because his late father used to do so.[8]

Ilves has a brother, Andres Ilves, formerly head of the Persian and Pashto World Service of the BBC. Until the early 2000s, Andres Ilves was head of the Afghanistan bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Prague, Czech Republic.


Toomas Hendrik Ilves (2012)

  • 1999 Knight First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit
  • 1999 Grand Cross of the Order of Honour of Greece
  • 2001 Commander of the Légion d'Honneur of the French Republic
  • 2004 Third Class Order of the Seal of the Republic of Estonia
  • 2004 Three Star Order of the Republic of Latvia
  • 2006 The Collar of the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana (Estonia)
  • 2006 The Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath of Great Britain
  • 2007 Order of the White Rose of Finland
  • 2007 The Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum of Japan[9]
  • 2007 The Golden Fleece Order of Georgia
  • 2007 The Order of Isabella the Catholic with Collar of Spain[10]
  • 2008 The Collar of the Order of the National Coat of Arms (Estonia), also known as the Presidential Chain
  • 2008 The Order of Vytautas the Great with the Golden Chain of Lithuania
  • 2008 The Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Netherlands Lion
  • 2008 Grand Cordon of the Order of Leopold (Belgium)[11]
  • 2009 The Chain of the Order of the Three Stars (Latvia)
  • 2009 The Grand Cross of the Order of Merit (Hungary)
  • 2010 The Order of St. George of Georgia
  • 2011 National Order Star of Romania in rank of Collar
  • 2011 "Dostyk" (Friendship) the Star of Award I of Kazakhstan
  • 2012 The Grand Collar of the National Order of Merit of the Republic of Malta
  • 2012 The Cross of Recognition of Latvia, I class


  1. "U.S.-Educated Diplomat Wins in Estonia". Associated Press. September 23, 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-23.
  2. Jackson, Herb. "From Estonia to Leonia", The Record (Bergen County), April 23, 2008. Accessed March 30, 2011. Copy of article at the official website of the President of Estonia. "Leonia High School helped make the Baltic Sea nation of Estonia one of the most Internet-reliant in the world, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves says. How? By including Ilves, who grew up in Leonia, in an experimental four-year math program that featured computer programming."
  3. "Toomas Hendrik Ilves". Columbia University.
  4. List of Estonian ambassadors to the United States, U.S. State Department website.
  5. "Estonian President Ilves re-elected". CBS News. 29 August 2011.
  6. "80 kultuuritegelast hakkasid Ilvese usaldusmeesteks". Eesti Päevaleht. 13 September 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-23.
  7. Ummelas, Ott. "Estonian Lawmakers Approve Second Term for President Ilves". Bloomberg. Retrieved 29 August 2011.
  8. "Online intervjuu: Toomas Hendrik Ilves" (in Estonian). Eesti Päevaleht. 3 September 2002. Retrieved 2006-09-23.
  10. "Noblesse et Royautes" (French), State visit of Spain in Estonia, May 2009
  11. Belga Pictures, State visit of Belgium in Estonia, 10–12 June 2008