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Marina Kaljurand

We had the honor of having our first interview with former foreign minister of Estonia, Marina Kaljurand.

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Decision-making time

Marina was “at the right time at the right place” in 1991 when Estonia became independent. With the plan of becoming a lawyer in mind, she was invited to join the foreign service, in part thanks to her fluency in Russian. She needed some time to make her final decision to stay, but in retrospect, she does not regret it. On the contrary, it was “the best decision of (her) life” as she received the exceptional opportunity to see her country regain independence from day one. “Everyone has choices to make in life, not all of them are easy and should hence be carefully considered. In the end, you just have to listen to your heart”.


Marina Kaljurand is a confident woman. The daughter of a Russian mother and a Latvian father served as ambassador of Estonia to the State of Israel, the Russian Federation, Mexico, Kazahkstan, Canada and the US - at a time when women ambassadors were very rare. She was the Estonian foreign minister from July 2015 to October 2016 and even ran for presidency in 2016, having the highest popular support with over 42%. That was “an important” decision. It meant stepping down from her post as foreign minister, knowing that  if things did not work out she would be jobless. And although she did not get elected, today (a year later) she is convinced that it was a smart move after all. It gave her the chance to meet many great people of her country and learn about life outside of the foreign ministry. Since March of this year, she is the Chair of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace and likes it a lot.


When I ask her how she knew the time was ripe for a career change, she refers to a 6th sense. “You must feel ready for new things and then take your own decision. I am not just referring to plus and minus. Mathematics won’t help but rather being a human and listening to your heart”. Kaljurand does not believe in a career that is planned from A to Z. “Life gives you opportunities that we cannot dream about”. However, one must embrace any opportunity that comes along. For younger generations, this means getting used to changing jobs various times throughout their careers and always being open to new challenges. She mentions other things like life-long learning, Information Communications Technology, yet unknown fields, open-mindedness, and again challenges...I have already started pitying myself when she summarizes her thoughts with “I envy your generation”. A life full of challenges and opportunities: “no problem”, I hear, “as long as you are confident”.


Men publicly share their dream of wanting to become CEO or Minister one day. Women keep their dreams private.


The confidence game

But how do you develop confidence? “I never felt my gender was an obstacle for my career and ambition but it is true that young and beautiful women must be smart to be listened to and be respected.” Stereotypes can be overcome by convincing people of your competence. But is that enough to become self-confident? “Everyone needs a network, someone who supports you and allows you to be weak and make mistakes”. Apart from education and profession, of course. Kaljurand reiterates the importance of the independence of women to be able to do what they want. Unfortunately, we tend to underestimate ourselves, I learn. We must ask more questions, raise our hands during conferences, be brave, express our thoughts. We should not expect that everyone knows more and is more intelligent than us. She tells me about her experience that men always share their ambitions with her; they want to become ministers, ambassadors or CEOs. But women? They dream rather than sharing their vision: “Nobody knows about their dreams”. I conclude that ambition as such is not enough but must be complemented with the drive to share a vision with the world.


Setting the example

Strange, when you know that there is academic evidence indicating that women are good communicators and diplomats by nature. They are often more willing and able to come to peaceful solutions. Kaljurand refers to studies suggesting that peace negotiations including women are more successful. The knowledge is there, including at UN level. The missing key is implementation. According to Kaljurand, international organizations should be leading role models, to be followed by nation states. What about a female Secretary General, or a female Stoltenberg successor? Nevertheless, Kaljurand is not a friend of quotas. “It can work in some countries, in others it doesn’t”. States should rather focus on providing support, e.g. when it comes to child care, the availability of part-time jobs, long-distance work and the right home-work balance. States must encourage and support women that seek a challenging career. However, one should not underestimate the need for individual support either: “We cannot be perfect mothers, wives, employees and housewives at the same time. We are just human. We need support, be it from the husband, the family or anyone that helps us to pursue our wishes and dreams”. I like that, I think. So, I don’t need to be a super-woman after all.


Kaljurand never had a mentor - at least not a ‘main’ one that she met on a regular basis to discuss her professional development. “I learned from many people”, she says, “persons coming from the foreign service, of course, and other women like Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton”. During her time as ambassador in Washington she met all of them and read their memoirs. “They did not necessarily teach me what to do but to be open to learn from everybody”. Nowadays, she learns from her daughter about how the younger generation thinks.

“In the end, it is important to behave as human and talk while maintaining your self-respect and dignity. What helps is knowing that you are doing the right thing. And I knew.”

Still, there are moments when you need to deal with a difficult situation on your own. Kaljurand has found her own way to relieve pressure: she goes for a walk with her dogs. “Men play bridge or golf. If you want my attention, join me and my dogs for a walk”. Another means for her to disconnect is badminton. Kaljurand was an Estonian badminton champion various times. Although she does not play anymore, it bonds her entire family, to her son, daughter and husband. She likes badminton because on the court “one has to take quick decision to be the best - either alone or together”. Next to fast reactions, trust and teamwork are also essential. Indeed, smart and quick reactions helped her in many difficult situations in life. For instance, in 2007, when she was ambassador in Moscow after Estonia had just experienced Russian cyberattacks. At a low point in bilateral relations, Kaljurand managed to communicate with the right officials, nevertheless. “In the end, it is important to behave as human and talk while maintaining your self-respect and dignity. What helps is knowing that you are doing the right thing. And I knew.”

Her life


Marina Kaljurand served as Estonian Foreign Minister from 2015 July – 2016 October.


She began her career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1991 and held several leadership positions, including Undersecretary for Legal and Consular Affairs (Legal Adviser), Undersecretary for Trade and Development Cooperation, Undersecretary for Political Affairs. She served as Ambassador of Estonia to the State of Israel, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Canada and the United States of America. Kaljurand was a member of Estonian Governmental delegation in negotiations with the Russian Federation on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia and Border Agreements between Estonia and Russia. Kaljurand headed the legal working group at the Estonian accession negotiations to the European Union and was the Chief Negotiator in Estonian accession negotiations to the OECD.  


Marina Kaljurand has served twice as the Estonian National Expert at the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security (GGE), in 2014-2015 and in 2016-2017.


Starting from March 1, 2017, Marina Kaljurand is the Chair of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC).


Marina Kaljurand graduated cum laude from the Tartu University (1986, LLM). She has a professional diploma from the Estonian School of Diplomacy (1992) and MA from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University (F95).

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