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Toomas Hendrik Ilves

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Toomas Hendrik Ilves
Ilves in 2012
President of Estonia
In office
9 October 2006 – 10 October 2016
Prime MinisterAndrus Ansip
Taavi Rõivas
Preceded byArnold Rüütel
Succeeded byKersti Kaljulaid
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
25 March 1999 – 28 January 2002
Prime MinisterMart Laar
Preceded byRaul Mälk
Succeeded byKristiina Ojuland
In office
November 1996 – October 1998
Prime MinisterTiit Vähi
Mart Siimann
Preceded bySiim Kallas
Succeeded byRaul Mälk
Personal details
Born (1953-12-26) 26 December 1953 (age 70)
Stockholm, Sweden
Political partySocial Democratic Party (Before 2006)
Independent (2006–present)
(m. 1981; div. 2004)
(m. 2004; div. 2015)
(m. 2016; div. 2023)
Alma mater

Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonian pronunciation: [ˈtoːmɑs ˈhendrik ˈilves]; born 26 December 1953) is an Estonian politician who served as the fourth president of Estonia from 2006 until 2016.

Ilves worked as a diplomat and journalist, and he was the leader of the Social Democratic Party in the 1990s. He served in the government as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1996 to 1998 and again from 1999 to 2002. Later, he was a Member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2006. He was elected as President of Estonia by an electoral college on 23 September 2006 and his term as President began on 9 October 2006. He was reelected by Parliament in 2011.

Early life and education[edit]

Ilves was born in Stockholm, Sweden; his parents Endel Ilves (1923–1991) and Irene Ilves (née Rebane;[1] 1925–2018[2]) fled Estonia after its occupation by the Soviet Union during World War II.[3] His maternal grandmother was supposedly a Russian from Saint Petersburg,[4][5] but Toomas Ilves denies this fact stating that his maternal grandmother were an ethnic Karaim.[6]

He grew up in the United States in Leonia, New Jersey, and graduated from Leonia High School in 1972 as valedictorian.[7] 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.[8] He also received an honorary degree from St. Olaf College in 2014 in recognition of his relationship with the college.[9] In addition to Estonian, Ilves also speaks English, German, Latvian and Spanish.[10] By Ilves's own admission, he speaks Estonian with a comparatively strong American accent, on account of spending his formative and young adult years in America and Germany.[11]


Toomas Hendrik Ilves

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.[8] Ilves then moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; from 1981 to 1983 he was director and administrator of arts at Vancouver Arts Centre[disputed (for: Institution didn't exist then)  – discuss][12][13] and from 1983 to 1984 he taught Estonian literature and linguistics at Simon Fraser University.[8]

Ilves during the MSC 2016

From 1984 to 1993, Ilves worked in Munich, Germany as a journalist for Radio Free Europe, being the head of its Estonian desk since 1988.[8] As Estonia had restored its independence in 1991, Ilves became Ambassador of Estonia to the United States in 1993,[14] also serving as Ambassador to Canada and Mexico at the same time.

In December 1996, Ilves became Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs, serving until he resigned in September 1998, when he became a 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.[15]

In 2013, it was announced that Ilves had accepted a position on the Council on CyberSecurity's Advisory Board.[16] In 2015, it was announced that Ilves had agreed to join the group of advisers to the World Bank president Jim Yong Kim.[17]

During his presidency, Ilves has been appointed to serve in several high positions in the field of ICT in the European Union. He served as chairman of the EU Task Force on eHealth from 2011 to 2012 and was chairman of the European Cloud Partnership Steering Board at the invitation of the European Commission from 2012 to 2014. In 2013 he chaired the High-Level Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms convened by ICANN. From 2014 to 2015 Ilves was the co-chair of the advisory panel of the World Bank's World Development Report 2016 "Digital Dividends" and was also the chair of World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Cyber Security beginning in June 2014.

Beginning in 2016, Ilves has been co-chairing The World Economic Forum working group The Global Futures Council on Blockchain Technology. In 2017 he joined Stanford University as a Bernard and Susan Liautaud Visiting Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. From July 2017, Ilves has been a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.[18]

Ilves belongs to the advisory council of the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

On 25 September 2020, Ilves was named as one of the 25 members of the "Real Facebook Oversight Board", an independent monitoring group unaffiliated with, but created in response to, the Oversight Board, Facebook Inc.'s content moderation review board.[19]

Presidential elections[edit]

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and President George W. Bush, in Estonia 2006
Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Dmitry Medvedev in 2008
Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Fredrik Reinfeldt in 2011

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). 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-thirds 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.[20]

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.

On 29 August 2011, he was reelected by the 101-seat legislature to a second five-year term. His opponent was Indrek Tarand. 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.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Ilves meets with President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen as part of APEC Digital Innovation Forum (2018)

Ilves has been married three times. With his first wife, American psychologist Merry Bullock, he has two children.[22] In 2004, Ilves married his longtime partner Evelin Int-Lambot, with whom he has one daughter.[23] They divorced in April 2015.[24] In January 2016 he married Ieva Kupce, the head of the Cybersecurity Division in the Defense Ministry of Latvia.[25][26] They have a son. They divorced in December 2023.[27]

He maintains a Twitter account, personally posting on a regular basis to comment on both current events and his own interests, usually in English.[28]

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.

He is a member of the Estonian Students' Society.


National honours[edit]

Toomas Hendrik Ilves (2012)

Foreign honours[edit]

Arms as knight of the Royal Order of the Seraphim

International awards and honorary degrees[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Obituary of Irene Ilves". Fort Lee, New Jersey, US: Frank Patti. 5 January 2019. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  2. ^ "Eile suri Toomas Hendrik Ilvese ema" [Toomas Hendrik Ilves's mother had died yesterday] (in Estonian). Estonia: Postimees. 26 December 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  3. ^ "U.S.-Educated Diplomat Wins in Estonia". Associated Press. 23 September 2006. Retrieved 23 September 2006.
  4. ^ "An Interview with Toomas Hendrik Ilves" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 February 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2013.
  5. ^ "Interview to the Russian daily "Nezavasimaya Gazeta"". Archived from the original on 6 March 2014.
  6. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20141006084153/http://www.delfi.ee/news/paevauudised/eesti/ilvese-vanaema-nimekaim-vene-teenistuses.d?id=13572493
  7. ^ Jackson, Herb. "From Estonia to Leonia" Archived 14 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, The Record (Bergen County), 23 April 2008. Accessed 30 March 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."
  8. ^ a b c d "Toomas Hendrik Ilves". Columbia University. Archived from the original on 23 January 2012.
  9. ^ College, St Olaf (25 May 2014). "President of Estonia speaks at St. Olaf commencement".
  10. ^ "Toomas Hendrik Ilves (social democrat party, sde) was elected president of the republic of estonia by the electoral college in the first round of the election on 23rd september". www.robert-schuman.eu.
  11. ^ Tom Murphy (12 February 2016). "Estonia's president, son of refugees, delivers powerful #refugeecrisis speech" (in Spanish). Globalcitizen.org. Retrieved 14 April 2022.
  12. ^ "Ilves, Toomas Hendrik". B.C. BookWorld. Retrieved 5 April 2022. In his CV," says Mona Fertig, "he says that he was director of the Vancouver Art Center, which didn't exist. The Literary Storefront must have sounded too unofficial for a political candidate.
  13. ^ Fertig, Mona (2007). "THE LITERARY STOREFRONT: A BRIEF HISTORY". B.C. BookWorld. Archived from the original on 26 February 2012. ... I decided it was time for me to leave the Storefront [...] in April 1982 ... it took me many months, of turning everything over to 5 committees and the Board of Directors (Gordon Cornwall, Cathy Ford, Dona Sturmanis, Jennifer Alley, El Jean Wilson, Tom Ilves). The week I departed (April 13th), Wayne Holder and Tom Ilves, [...] two Americans who had joined The Storefront earlier that year, took over the reins. ... By 1983, the Literary Storefront was in debt, there was a great shortage of volunteers and energy, the doors were shut and the phone disconnected. Wayne and Tom had left the Storefront and a new Board was elected at the AGM.
  14. ^ List of Estonian ambassadors to the United States , U.S. State Department website.
  15. ^ "Estonian President Ilves re-elected". CBS News. 29 August 2011.
  16. ^ "Advisory Board". Archived from the original on 17 September 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  17. ^ "Estonian president to become adviser to World Bank president". ERR. 27 January 2015.
  18. ^ "Toomas Hendrik Ilves". Hoover Institution.
  19. ^ "While Facebook works to create an oversight board, industry experts formed their own". NBC News. 25 September 2020.
  20. ^ "80 kultuuritegelast hakkasid Ilvese usaldusmeesteks". Eesti Päevaleht. 13 September 2006. Retrieved 23 September 2006.
  21. ^ Ummelas, Ott (29 August 2011). "Estonian Lawmakers Approve Second Term for President Ilves". Bloomberg. Retrieved 29 August 2011.
  22. ^ Pauts, Katrin (21 February 2008). "Merry Bullock: olulisim pärand Toomaselt, peale laste, oli see, et ta tõi mind Eestisse". Õhtuleht (in Estonian). Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  23. ^ Pauts, Katrin (13 October 2004). "Evelin Int-Lambot ja Toomas Hendrik Ilves abiellusid". Õhtuleht (in Estonian). Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  24. ^ "EKSPRESSI SUUR LUGU: Presidendipaar lahutab. Mis saab edasi? Kuhu kolib Evelin? Kuidas jagatakse vara?". Eesti Ekspress. 17 April 2015.
  25. ^ "Estonian president is engaged to Latvia's top cybersecurity official — Meduza". Meduza.io. Retrieved 14 April 2022.
  26. ^ "President Ilves to wed this week". ERR. 28 December 2015. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  27. ^ "Toomas Hendrik Ilves lahutab abielu" (in Estonian). Postimees. 21 December 2023. Retrieved 10 January 2024.
  28. ^ Seddon, Max (23 September 2013). "The President Of Twitter". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
  29. ^ "Det Norske Kongehuset" (Norwegian), List of awarded medals Retrieved 2015-05-20
  30. ^ "Biography on the official web page of the president". Archived from the original on 9 May 2016. Retrieved 14 October 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  31. ^ "John Jay Awards Dinner Honors Alumni, Supports Exceptional Students". Columbia College Today. 5 January 2017. Retrieved 28 April 2022.
  32. ^ "Global Cybersecurity Day Program Honors Estonia Past President Toomas Ilves at Harvard Talks. – Boston Global Forum".
  33. ^ "Honorary Doctorates". www.kul.pl.
  34. ^ Committee, Faculty Life. "Honorary Degrees Awarded in the 2010s – Faculty Life Committee".

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
New office Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of Estonia
Succeeded by