Chronology of Estonian History
Chronology of Estonian History
Estonian ancestors settle along the Baltic coast.
German crusaders conquer and Christianize pagan Estonia. Until this time, the Estonians have lived as free peasants organized under local leaders. The Germans become landed gentry and wield huge influence for 700 years.
Estonia is conquered by Sweden; the Russians are repelled. Swedish King Gustav II Adolph founds Tartu University in 1632.
Russia conquers Estonia to acquire a “window to the West,” though Germans retain local control.
Agrarian reform laws abolish the age-old system of serfdom in Estonia.
An Estonian cultural awakening takes root; many Estonian cultural and economic societies are founded. Some leaders become more daring in their demands for greater political rights.
The Estonian-language newspaper, Johann Voldemar Jannsen’s Pernu Postimees begins publication, laying the foundation for Estonian-language journalism. The national epic Kalevipoeg, compiled by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, is published in a series of separate booklets.
A new Agrarian Law separating the core lands of each manor from the peasants’ lands takes effect. Peasants are granted the right to purchase farms in perpetuity. The population of Estonia is about 760,000.
The first All-Estonian Song Festival is held in Tartu. Great strides are made in education and music, reflecting Estonia’s overall cultural awakening and growth.
Russification is imposed upon Estonia. Russian becomes the language of instruction and official business in Estonia. In response, the Estonians begin a vigorous campaign of Estonian folklore collection. Thanks to the gathering and preservation of Estonian folklore initiated at that time, the Estonian folklore collection is the second largest in the world, after Ireland’s.
Strikes and unrest break out as revolution erupts. The Russian tsar sends punishment units to Estonia.
Estonians stage a large demonstration in Petrograd, demanding autonomy for Estonia. The Russian Provisional Government signs the Law of Estonian Autonomy on April 12. Estonian soldiers serving in the Russian Army are brought to Estonia to form the nucleus of the new Estonian Army. The Maapäev (Estonian Diet) fears that the Russian Bolsheviks will not abide by the assurances it has given to the Provisional Government, and declares itself to be the highest authority in Estonia.
The Manifesto to the Peoples of Estonia, which declares Estonia an independent republic, is printed and read out publicly in Pärnu. The Manifesto adresses all the peoples of Estonia and promises the right of cultural autonomy to all minorities, including Jews, Russians, Swedes, and Germans. The independent Republic of Estonia is proclaimed in Tallinn on February 24. The Rescue Committee appoints Konstantin Päts to be head of the Estonian Provisional Government.
MANIFESTO TO THE PEOPLES OF ESTONIA
In the course of centuries never have the Estonian people lost their desire for independence. From generation to generation have they kept alive the hidden hope that in spite of enslavement and oppression by hostile invaders the time will come to Estonia “when all splinters, at both end, will burst forth into flames” and when “Kalev will come home to bring his children happiness.”
Now that time has arrived.
An unprecedented fight between nations has crushed the rotten foundations of the Russian Tsarist Empire. All over the Sarmatian plains ruinous anarchy is spreading, threatening to overwhelm in its wake all the nations living in the former Russian Empire. From the West the victorious armies of Germany are approaching in order to claim their share of Russia’s legacy and, above all, to take possession of the coastal territories of the Baltic Sea.
In this hour, the Estonian National Council, as the legal representative of our land and people, has, in unanimous agreement with Estonian democratic political parties and organizations, and by virtue of the right of self-determination of peoples, found it necessary to take the following decisive steps to shape the destiny of the Estonian land and people.
within her historical and ethnic boundaries, is declared as of today an
INDEPENDENT DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC.
The independent Republic of Estonia shall include Harjumaa, Läänemaa, Järvamaa, Virumaa, with the city of Narva and its surroundings, Tartumaa, Võrumaa, Viljandimaa, and Pärnumaa with the Baltic islands of Saaremaa, Hiiumaa, Muhumaa, and others where the Estonians have settled for ages in large majorities. Final determination of the boundaries of the Republic in the areas bordering on Latvia and Russia will be carried out by plebiscite after the conclusion of the present World War.
In the aforementioned areas the only supreme and organizing authority is the democratically supported Estonian Salvation Committee created by the Estonian National Council.
The Republic of Estonia wishes to maintain absolute political neutrality towards all neighbouring states and peoples and expects that they will equally respond with complete neutrality.
Estonian military troops shall be reduced to the extent necessary to maintain internal order. Estonian soldiers serving in the Russian military forces will be called home and demobilized.
Until the Estonian Constituent Assembly, elected by general, direct, secret, and proportional elections, will convene and determine the constitutional structure of the country, all executive and legislative authority will remain vested in the Estonian National Council and in the Estonian Provisional Government created by it, whose activities must be guided by the following principles:
1. All citizens of the Republic of Estonia, irrespective of their religion, ethnic origin, and political views, are going to enjoy equal protection under the law and courts of justice of the Republic.
2. All ethnic minorities, the Russians, Germans, Swedes, Jews, and others residing within the borders of the republic, are going to be guaranteed the right to their cultural autonomy.
3. All civic freedoms, the freedom of expression, of the press, of religion, of assembly, of association, and the freedom to strike as well as the inviolability of the individual and the home, shall be irrefutably effective within the territory of the Estonian Republic and based on laws, which the Government must immediately work out.
4. The Provisional Government is given the task of immediately organizing courts of justice to protect the security of the citizens. All political prisoners shall be released immediately.
5. The city, county, and township local governments are called upon to immediately continue their work, which has been violently interrupted.
6. For maintenance of public order, people’s militia, subordinated to local governments, shall be immediately organized and citizens’ self-defence organizations established in the cities and rural areas.
7. The Provisional Government is instructed to work out, without delay, on a broad democratic basis, bills for the solution of the agrarian problem, and the problems of labor, of food supply, and of finances.
You stand on the threshold of a hopeful future in which you shall be free and independent in determining and directing your destiny! Begin building a home of your own, ruled by law and order, in order to be a worthy member within the family of civilized nations! Sons and daughters of our homeland, unite as one man in the sacred task of building our homeland! The sweat and blood shed by our ancestors for this country demand this from us; our forthcoming generations oblige us to do this.
May God watch over thee
And amply bless
Whatever thou undertake
My dear fatherland!
Long live the independent democratic Republic of Estonia!
Long live peace among nations!
The Council of Elders of the Estonian National Council
Tallinn, February 21, 1918
Estonians fight the War of Independence against the Russian Red Army as well as the German Landeswehr.
A treaty ending the hostilities is signed in Tartu with Soviet Russia on February 2. In the Tartu Peace Treaty, Russia recognizes the independence of the Republic of Estonia and renounces in perpetuity all rights to the territory of Estonia.
Estonian becomes a full-fledged member of the League of Nations. A radical land reform is begun: the manor lands (58 percent of all agricultural land) are nationalized and redistributed to 55,000 peasant farmers. The former German large landowners are compensated.
The Soviet Union, with the help of communists operating underground in Estonia, attempts to overthrow the government of the Republic of Estonia, but is unsuccessful. The Communist Party is outlawed in Estonia.
The Law on Cultural Autonomy is passed in Estonia for the protection and development of the culture of national minorities, giving national minorities in Estonia the right to operate schools in their native language and organize cultural life with the support of the Estonian government. Under the law, the German population in Estonia is given cultural autonomy. One year later, the same is achieved by the Estonian Jewish community. The Cultural Endowment of Estonia is founded to support cultural life.
In a referendum, a draft Constitution proposed by the League of Veterans of the War of Independence veterans passes, giving the head of state much greater power. The Estonian kroon is devalued, and the consequences of the 1929 world-wide economic crisis begin to ease. In late 1933, National Socialism is outlawed in Estonia as a hate-mongering ideology.
Tartu University creates a Chair of Jewish Studies in its Faculty of Philosophy. Leipzig University Professor Lazar Gulkovitsch, persecuted in his native Germany, is invited to serve as its chairman. Similar faculties had already been established in Oxford and Cambridge.
Estonia has a population of 1,126,000, of whom 89 percent are Estonian, 8.8 percent Russian, 1.5 percent German, 0.7 percent Swedish, 0.5 percent Latvian, and 0.4 percent Jewish. The country prepares for presidential elections. Since a victory by the candidate of the far-right radical League of Veterans seems likely, Head of State Konstantin Päts thwarts their plans with a pre-emptive coup, establishing his own authoritarian rule until a new constitution can come into force. Meanwhile, Estonia prospers, with GDP reaching or surpassing Nordic levels.
With political passions running high, political parties and organizations are disbanded, and restrictions placed on freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
Stalin launches an anti-nations campaign: Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Tatars, Koreans, Chinese, Kurds, and Iranians are declared criminal peoples. The campaign has its roots in 1934, when Stalin told the Party 17th Congress that the issue of nationalities presents a danger to the people’s political and moral unity. A plan to politically persecute and destroy these people is initiated on the territory of the Soviet Union.
A new Constitution is enacted in Estonia, significantly more liberal than the previous one.
Under the threat of war, the Soviet Union forces Estonia to sign a mutual assistance treaty. The USSR brings its troops onto the soil of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Answering Germany’s call, more than 12,000 Baltic Germans leave Estonia.
On June 16-17, 1940, the Soviet Union extends an ultimatum to Estonia and sends in the Red Army to occupy the country. After farcical elections, the Riigikogu (Parliament) convenes under the “protection” of the Red Army and sends Moscow its “request” to have Estonia admitted into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which Moscow immediately approves. Private property is abolished. Estonian currency is replaced by the Russian ruble. Arrests, executions, and persecutions sweep the country. All Estonian political, judicial and military leaders and their family members are subjected to complete terror and liquidated. The Russian SFSR Criminal Code enters into force on the territory of Estonia. On June 14, 1941, nearly 12,000 persons are deported from Estonia to Russia, where many are executed or starve to death. The cultural autonomy of Estonian Jews is abolished, because “it insults the Soviet working people.” Estonian Jewish leaders become victims of political persecution. Among those subjected to particular terror are the Russians who live in Estonia. Soviet authorities begin destroying books.
Estonia is overtaken by German occupation. The Gestapo arrives. A new wave of persecution ensues. Most of the Jews who escaped Soviet terror to remain in Estonia are now annihilated. Estonian Gypsies also fall victim to extermination.
The Soviet Army occupies Estonia once more. Before the Soviet conquest is complete, approximately 70,000 people have fled to Sweden and Germany and from there to other places around the globe. Estonian communities are established in Sweden, the United States, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. The Swedish government grants residency to all Swedes who had lived in Estonia. In Estonia, a large number of men and women take to the forests to begin conducting resistance against Soviet authorities. A new wave of mass arrests and executions sweeps the country. Estonians are accused of deceiving the Soviet Union.
Soviet security agencies in Estonia begin to fight, arrest, and exterminate “bandits” and their families.
Soviet security agencies make preparations for the collectivization of agriculture. To stamp out resistance to Soviet rule and support for the Forest Brothers (partisans) in rural areas, approximately 21,000 people are deported to Russia in the night of March 25 to be kept under KGB control.
An official Estonian government-in-exile is formed in Norway to keep the West informed about developments in occupied Estonia.
After the death of Stalin (1953), Estonians who survived their years in Russian prison camps are released and allowed to return to their homeland.
A regular ferry line begins operating between Tallinn and Helsinki.
Estonian émigrés organize the first Worldwide Estonian Festival (ESTO) in Toronto, Canada. Demonstrations are held in favor of restoring Estonian independence.
Russification intensifies in Estonia: Russian is forced upon educational institutions, from kindergarten through university, as the language of instruction. Soviet industries serve as a magnet for migration, enticing Russians to live and work in Estonia with the promises of better pay and living conditions. Nearly a third of the people living in Estonia are now immigrants who do not speak Estonian. Students hold anti-russification demonstrations. Many students are arrested; many fall victim to the psychological and physical terror of the KGB and Soviet police. Forty Estonian cultural figures compose a letter of protest against russification.
All Estonia joins a grass-roots campaign opposing phosphorite mining on Estonian territory. This paves the way for Estonia’s separation from the Soviet Union. Estonian press begins to write more freely. The concept of economic self-management for Estonia (IME) is introduced.
The Popular Front is established. The Estonian Heritage Society brings the Estonian national colors of blue, black and white, strictly banned during the Soviet era, out into public once more. Spontaneous Night Song Festivals take place between June 10-14; about 100,000 people gather each night to sing patriotic songs. These events give birth to the name “Singing Revolution.” On November 16, a special session of the ESSR Supreme Soviet adopts a declaration of sovereignty of the Estonian SSR. This is considered to be the first step in the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
On February 24, the anniversary of Estonian independence, the blue, black and white national flag is raised to the top of the Tall Hermann tower in Tallinn. On August 23, a demonstration to remind the world of the consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact takes place: a human chain of approximately two million people stretching more than 600 km (373 miles) across all three Baltic States.
In late February, delegates are elected to the Congress of Estonia, an alternative grass-roots Estonian parliament. The Estonian SSR Supreme Soviet passes a decision on the national status of Estonia, declaring the governmental power of the USSR to be illegal and proclaiming the re-establishment of the Republic of Estonia and the initiation of a transitional period. The country abandons its name of Estonian SSR and once again calls itself the Republic of Estonia. The use of the ESSR flag, coat of arms, and national anthem is abandoned.
Additional Soviet amphibious troops are sent into Estonia. After bloody clashes in Riga and Vilnius, barricades are erected in the center of Tallinn. In the referendum on independence, held on March 3, the people vote in favor of Estonian national independence and self-determination. The Estonian SSR Supreme Soviet declares Estonia independent of the Soviet Union on August 20. The first country to recognize Estonia’s independence is Iceland, on August 22. Russia (under President Boris Yeltsin) extends its recognition on August 24, and the USSR Supreme Council follows suit on September 6. The Soviet security police KGB is abolished; everyone who has collaborated with the security organization is given the opportunity to disclose their collaboration.
Estonia brings its own money – the kroon – into circulation. The popular constitutional referendum results in a 91.2 percent vote in favor of the new constitution. The Congress of Estonia disbands. Estonian athletes compete under their own national flag once more at the Olympic Games. With the support of Western democracies, Estonian begins rebuilding its civil society. National minorities begin seeking their roots. The Estonian Jewish Community is established. The Tallinn Jewish School and the Noarootsi Upper Secondary School for Swedes in Estonia opened their doors in 1990. Ingrians begin paving the way for their own community’s cultural autonomy. The Old Believers living in Estonia begin talking about their history, bring out the icons they have kept hidden during the Soviet years, and open up the places of worship that have been secret from over five decades.
Estonia is admitted to the Council of Europe as the body’s 29th member state. The Popular Front disbands.
The last Soviet troops leave Estonian soil on August 31. Estonia joins the NATO Partnership for Peace program.
Estonia requests admission into the European Union as a full member.
On March 6, the Estonian Life Histories Association is created at the Estonian Literary Museum in Tartu.
The association agreement between Estonia and the European Union takes effect, which recognizes Estonia’s goal of becoming a member of the European Union.
NATO recognizes Estonia as a potential candidate for membership. President Lennart Meri creates the Estonian International Commission to Investigate Crimes Against Humanity. Max Jakobson, a retired Finnish diplomat and journalist, is invited to serve as chairman.
As a result of the competition entitled “One Hundred Lives of a Century” announced in the spring of 1999, Estonian life stories are collected for the publication of a 20-volume anthology entitled Estonian Life Stories. One Hundred Lives of a Century in Two Volumes.
President Lennart Meri establishes the tradition of the Broken Cornflower Badge, which is presented to thousands of people who suffered persecution during the occupations.
On March 29, Estonia becomes a full member of NATO. On May 1, Estonia joins the European Union.
Diplomat and journalist Toomas Hendrik Ilves is elected President of Estonia. Ilves was born into an Estonian refugee family in Stockholm, Sweden. He grew up and was educated in the United States, and worked as a journalist for Radio Free Europe in the 1980s. From 1993 to 1996, he served as Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia to the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Ilves served as Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1996 to1998 and again from 1999 to 2002. In 2004, he became a member of the European Parliament. He began serving a 5-year term as President of the Republic of Estonia in October 2006.