Nation takes a break for Victory Day and Midsummer celebrations (10)

(Postimees/Scanpix)
6/22/2015 1:48 PM
Category: Society

The double-holiday, Victory Day on June 23, which marks a crucial military victory against German forces in 1919, Midsummer Eve on the same night, and St John's Day festivities a day later, will bring the nation to a standstill, with most shops closed and many people heading to their country houses.

For many, if not most, Estonians, the two dates are more important than Christmas as the first helped Estonia gain independence, while Midsummer is a traditional holiday marking the year's brightest day.

Victory Day (Võidupüha) marks the decisive battle during the Estonian War of Independence in which the country's military forces and their allies defeated the German forces who sought to re-assert control over the region. The day has been celebrated on June 23 every year since 1934 until 1939 and then again after the restoration of Estonian independence from 1992. Although it marks the important historical battle, the annual parades also commemorate and recognize the contributions of all Estonians in their fight to regain and retain their independence.

Midsummer Eve (Jaaniõhtu) and St John's Day (Jaanipäev) hold special significance for Estonians. St John's Day is celebrated around the world as a Christian holiday, but in Estonia, the day has more of a non-religious feel, with most preferring to spend the day and night lighting bonfires, drinking, dancing and singing, rather than heading to a church.

The Victory Day celebrations will happen all over the country, but the main parade will take place in Kärdla, Hiiumaa island. Two US platoons will march alongside with Estonian soldiers and weather permitting, the number of US A10 Thunderbolts, currently based in the country, will grace the skies over Hiiumaa.

Smaller defense-related events will occur elsewhere, with American units present in Viljandi, Põltsamaa, Väätsa in Järva County, Kiviõli in Ida-Viru County and Vinni in Lääne-Viru County.

The Kärdla parade will begin 11:00 local time and can be watched live on ETV. ETV will air other Victory Day-related programs, including a concert at 12:00, straight after the parade.

Bonfires will light up the sky across the country on Midsummer Eve. Most people celebrate among friends and family, but if one is looking for a big party, then for the ninth year, Otepää’s beautiful Pühajärve park will host the biggest Midsummer bonfire in Estonia. Pühajärve Midsummer Night Bonfire 2015 brings together thousands of people, as well as local and foreign concert acts. Local artists include Smilers, Tanel Padar & The Sun, Ott Lepland, Terminaator, Bombillaz, Karl-Erik Taukar and Elina Born and Stig Rästa, who represented Estonia at Eurovision this year.

Victory Day background

At the end of World War I, Estonia was engaged in a war for its independence with two former major powers. At the time of the armistice that ended the World War I on November 11, 1918, the Estonian Provisional Government was forced to defend its declaration of independence against attacks by Soviet-Russian troops and a Baltic-GermanLandeswehr army under General von der Goltz. By the end of December 1918, the Soviet-Russian forces, in an effort to re-establish the borders of the Tsarist Empire, had succeeded in occupying half of Estonia.

However, the tide began to turn in late December 1918 when Finnish volunteers as well as British naval assistance began to arrive in Estonia to support Estonia's defense. By the time the volunteers and equipment reached the front, the Soviet advance had been halted and in less than a month Estonia was virtually cleared of all Soviet forces.

However, intermittent fighting continued on the eastern and southern fronts throughout 1919. In northern Latvia, a mixed Estonian-Latvian force under the Estonian command of General Johan Laidoner defeated the Red Army troops operating in Northern Latvia. However, half of Latvia was still occupied by the troops of General von der Goltz.

In early June 1919, General von der Goltz advanced and attempted to isolate the right wing of the Estonian Army. Despite his well-equipped and experienced troops, his army was defeated. The final battle at Cēsis (Võnnu) on June 23 saw the collapse of the von der Goltz army. Following this victory, Estonian and Latvian forces co-operated to ensure the fall of the puppet regime that had been established in Riga. Latvia's freedom was regained and Estonia's borders were secured.

The defeat of the two invading forces in 1919 and the signing of the Tartu Peace Treaty in 1920 between Estonia and Soviet Russia marked the successful achievement of Estonia's independence after centuries of struggle, and thus June 23 became a day to celebrate this victory.

It is important to note that a multi-national force helped Estonia to win its independence. Along with 85,500 Estonians, 3,700 Finns, more than 5,000 Russians of the North West White Army (under the command of the Estonian Defense Forces General Staff), 9,800 Latvians, 3,000 British, 400 Swedes and 250 Danes and up to 700 Baltic Germans (who were Estonian citizens, but had a separate Baltic Battalion) fought for the country.

J.M. Laats, S. Tambur

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