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Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Assumed office 
9 October 2006
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip
Preceded by Arnold Rüütel

Born 26 December 1953 (1953-12-26) (age 56)
Stockholm, Sweden
Political party Social Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Evelin Ilves
Alma mater Columbia University
University of Pennsylvania
Profession Diplomat

Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonian pronunciation: [ˈtoːmɑs ˈhendrik ˈilves]; born 26 December 1953) is 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.


Childhood and education

Ilves was born in Stockholm, Sweden; his parents were Estonian refugees.[1] He grew up in the United States and graduated from Leonia High School in Leonia, New Jersey in 1972 as valedictorian.[2] He received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Columbia University and a master's degree in the same subject from the University of Pennsylvania.

As a result of his upbringing, Ilves speaks English with an American accent. He also played tennis at Leonia High School.


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;[3] 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.

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). 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.[4]

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.

Ilves has promised to concentrate more on foreign policy; according to Ilves, "The road to Moscow goes via Brussels." 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.

Personal life

Toomas Hendrik Ilves has been married twice. With his first wife, American psychologist Dr. Merry Bullock. He has two children: son Luukas (b. 1987), graduated from Stanford University in 2009 and is currently attending military service as a conscript in the Estonian army, and daughter Juulia Kristiine Ilves (b. 1992). In 2004 he married his long-term partner Evelin Int-Lambot with whom he has one daughter Kadri Keiu Ilves (b. 2003).

In public, Ilves almost exclusively wears bow ties. He says that this is because his late father used to do so.[5]

Toomas Hendrik Ilves has a brother, Andres Ilves, head of the Persian and Pashto World Service of the BBC. Andres is an avid follower of hip hop, graduated from Princeton University in the early 1980s and was awarded a fellowship with the public affairs leadership training program Coro Southern California based in Los Angeles, California. Until the early 2000s, Andres Ilves was head of the Afghanistan bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Prague, Czech Republic.


See also


  1. ^ "U.S.-Educated Diplomat Wins in Estonia". Associated Press. September 23, 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-23. 
  2. ^ Feibel, Carolyn. "Baltic president has N.J. roots", The Record (Bergen County), 29 November 2006. Accessed 2 January 2008. "Toomas "Tom" Ilves grew up in Leonia, which not only rhymes with Estonia, but was the perfect nursery for his foreign political ambitions, his 79-year-old mother said.... The irony of the whole thing was that Toomas clearly had no problem expressing independent thought, and his later success in life reflects well on Leonia High School."
  3. ^ List of Estonian ambassadors to the United States, U.S. State Department website.
  4. ^ "80 kultuuritegelast hakkasid Ilvese usaldusmeesteks". Eesti Päevaleht. 13 September 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-23. 
  5. ^ "Online intervjuu: Toomas Hendrik Ilves". Eesti Päevaleht. 3 September 2002. Retrieved 2006-09-23. 
  6. ^
  7. ^

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Siim Kallas
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Raul Mälk
Preceded by
Raul Mälk
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Kristiina Ojuland
Preceded by
Arnold Rüütel
President of Estonia


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