As has become a custom in Estonia, the country is celebrating a national flag day on June 4. The Estonian flag turns 131 today.
The origins of the flag lie within the national movement – the Estonian Students’ Society adopted blue, black and white as the colors of their student fraternity. On June 4, 1884, the flag of the Students’ Society was blessed, but it wasn't until 1918 when the flag officially became the country's national flag. The tricolor has since become one of the most important symbols in the independence, consciousness and solidarity of the Estonian people.
There are several interpretations of the national colors. According to the most popular one, blue represents the reflection of the sky in the lakes and the sea, symbolizing endurance – “until the skies last”; black stands for the black greatcoat of an Estonian man or for the earth that feeds its people; while white marks an aspiration towards light and purity.
Following the occupation of Estonia by Soviet forces in 1940, Estonia’s national symbols were forcibly replaced by Soviet ones. The raising of the Estonian flag or even the possession of the tricolor was considered a criminal offense for which some people were arrested or sent to Soviet prison camps, where they ultimately died.
The colors, however, lived on in the free world. In early autumn 1944, up to 80,000 Estonians fled their country in order to escape persecution and deportation by advancing Soviet forces, and established large exile communities in Sweden, Canada, the US, Australia and the UK. The expatriates maintained the tricolor and other national symbols and promoted their use at every opportunity. The 100th anniversary of the Estonian flag was celebrated in exile.
Following the Soviet Perestroika, a strong Estonian national awakening took place, culminating in 1987 and 1988 with massive open-air meetings and concerts where the national tricolor was openly waved again. The Singing Revolution of the late 1980s and the weakening hold of the Soviet power over Estonia paved the way for the raising of the blue-black-white Estonian flag to the top of the Pikk Hermann tower on 24 February 1989, ahead of Estonia officially regaining its independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991.
Today, many celebrations across Estonia take place, to give a nod to one of the most important symbols of the nation's identity.
Editor: S. Tambur