Lucky are those nations that history has given the chance to exact their right to self-determination – to establish a state of their own. Estonians got that chance on 24 February 1918, when the "Manifesto to the Peoples of Estonia" penned by the Estonian Salvation Committee declared Estonia an independent republic.
A state, however, is not born overnight. And a declaration of independence, while being the most important document when a state is established, is still just a formal birth certificate. It took some time before that for people to even dare to start considering national autonomy or independence.
After the Russian Empire’s February Revolution, the Estonian people had started to voice demands for the administrative unification of their historic area of settlement, which culminated in the unification of the Estonian Province with the northern part of the Livonian Province on 12 April 1917: roughly when the familiar shape of Estonia was born.
On 14 July 1917, the democratically-elected Estonian Provincial Assembly convened, taking advantage of the increasingly unstable situation of the Russian Empire and declaring itself the highest power in Estonia on 28 November 1917. This date has sometimes been seen as the true anniversary of Estonian statehood. Take a look at the video about the events of 1917 here.
On 19 February 1918, the Council of Elders of the Provincial Assembly formed the Estonian Salvation Committee, granting it all administrative power in Estonia until a normal state of affairs was reached. This was, after all, the time of World War I, when the Red Army was exiting Estonia and the Germans were edging closer. By initiative of the Salvation Committee, the Estonian Independence Manifesto was drafted and publicly declared in Pärnu on 23 February 1918.
German troops reached Tallinn the following day, and it was only when WW I ended that Estonia was relieved of the German occupation. The Provisional Government of the Republic of Estonia convened on 11 November 1918 – the Kaitseliit (Estonian Defence League) was founded and ministries were formed the same day. The first Estonian stamps were issued, and other elements of a functioning state took shape – it was the beginning of true sovereignty. Even so, on 28 November 1918, the Estonian War of Independence started with a battle near Narva.
The key battles of the War of Independence, aimed at halting enemy onslaught and starting a counter-attack, took place all along the frontline in early January 1919 and, after that, the process of liberating the country began.
On 23 April 1919, the Estonian Constituent Assembly convened - this was the birth of the Riigikogu, Estonia’s Parliament.
On Midsummer Eve in 1919, a decisive victory was scored near Võnnu (Cēsis).
In October 1919, the historic Land Law was passed, the Pallas Art School opened in Tartu, and on 1 December, the Estonian-language University of Tartu opened its doors.
The final armistice of the War of Independence took effect on 3 January 1920, and on 2 February, the Tartu Peace Treaty was signed. After the conclusion of this treaty, the Republic of Estonia was recognized de jure by the international community. Estonia had become a full-fledged state.
Over the period lasting from April 2017 to February 2020, 100 years will have passed since all the events mentioned above (as well as a large number of other significant dates) – from the unification of Estonia’s territory to the Tartu Peace Treaty.
The Estonian state and its people look forward to celebrating all these anniversaries – especially the centenary of the Republic of Estonia on 24 February 2018.
So that we can look in the future firmly together.