On the 20th of August we, Estonians, celebrate.
Estonian Restoration of Independence (juridically defined as the Restoration of the Republic of Estonia, first proclaimed in 1918) is celebrated on 20 August as in 1991 at 11:02 pm local time, the Estonian Supreme Soviet, in agreement with the Estonian Committee, proclaimed Estonian independence from the Soviet Union.
There was a road to restore the independence, there were key moments on the road to the independence, and there is a deeper meaning to the road taken.
Between 1987 and 1991, we restored the historical justice and human dignity that were severely violated. We did not fear an enemy who was much bigger and stronger than us. Barricades were built – but more importantly, there was strength in our unity, in our songs and in our joined hands. This is the deeper meaning.
These were the key moments as follows.
February 1987 – Phosphorite War
Phosphorite war was an environmental campaign in the then-Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, against the opening of large phosphorite mines in Estonia, Virumaa region, as per Moscow’s plans. The nationalist movement is regarded as a catalyst that led to the destabilization and dissolution of the Soviet regime.
August 1987 – Deer Park Rally
Nearly 2,000 people took part in the first political demonstration demanding of the publication of the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Russia and Germany in 1939.
September 1987 – IME
Estonian economic/political leaders published in Tartu newspaper the Programme for Economic Independence of Estonia (IME). The view of the Soviet Union that the Federal Republics cannot take care of their economy alone was refuted.
December 1987 – Heritage Society
The Estonian Heritage Society started its activities, which involved a study of Estonia’s history in political way.
April 1988 – Popular Front
TV show Let’s Think Some More initiated an idea of a democratic, peaceful people’s movement – popular front. Many events followed and later culminated in the Baltic Chain.
February 1989 – Citizens’ Committees
Estonian Citizens’ Committee published an article how to restore the republic of Estonia by peaceful means on the basis of legal continuity.
1989 – Singing Revolution
The greatest event under this popular movement was gathering for Estonian Song, attended by 300,000 people, and the “Five Awakening Time Songs” were born.
1989 – Baltic Chain
Two million people joined their hands and formed a 600-kilometer long human chain that stretched from Tallinn to Vilnius, on the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
1991 – Property reform
Estonia was still under the soviet-rule but passed a law under which people whose ancestral home had been taken from them could reclaim it.
1991 – August coup
On August 20, 1991, there was an attempted coup in Moscow in which the old leaders of the Soviet Union tried to seize power. In the process, soviet troops were sent to take over strategic points in Estonia. On the afternoon of August 21st, the failure of the coup in the USSR was clear, the confusion of that situation was enough to win some time and give the Estonian Supreme Soviet the opportunity to take a decision on Estonia’s national independence.
August 1991 – Recognition of Estonian independence
Iceland was the first to recognise Estonia’s independence. Lithuania, Latvia and followed by Russia, recognised Estonia’s independence by the 24th of August. In a short time, about a hundred countries recognised independent Estonia.
1992 – Money reform
Between 20.-22. June, every Estonian person was invited to exchange soviet money to Estonian kroons, and after that the only means of payment was kroon. More than one million Estonian residents exchanged money. The exchange rate of the Estonian kroon was tied to the German mark – 1 DEM = 8 EEK.
1992 – Constitution
On 28 June 1992, the fourth Constitution of the Republic of Estonia was adopted as a result of referendum. The 1992 Constitution incorporates many elements of the earlier Constitutions. It declares the legal identity of the Estonian state, and its continuity with the state which was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.
1994 – Soviet troops
In July 1994, Estonian President Lennart Meri and Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed to remove Russian troops from Estonia. The Russian military left Estonia by 31 August 1994, and with this, the last tangible sign of Soviet rule in Estonia had disappeared.
Wishing to all Australian Estonians happy celebrations on the 20th of August.
May the sense and the strength of unity be part of our life, as in the past so in the future, as in Estonia, so in Australia.
May the milestones of this clever, peaceful and successful road one day be woven into the fabric of a legend! A legend, that captures the thought – it is the spirit only that can’t be conquered.
Happy Independence Day to all Estonians,
Sirje Jogi Rivers,
On behalf of AESL