Toomas Sildam: Do we need new national days?

Group picture from the Estonian Congress 30 celebration.
Group picture from the Estonian Congress 30 celebration. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

More than new national days, we need professional research and explanation of contemporary history, journalist Toomas Sildam writes.

President Arnold Rüütel, businessman Jüri Kraft and economist Ivar Raig have made a proposal to declare December 24 a national day – "The anniversary of the revocation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop secret protocols." On Christmas Eve 1989, the Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union condemned the secret protocols of the pact between foreign ministers Molotov-Ribbentrop to divide Europe into spheres of interest, or the deal between Hitler and Stalin, from August 23, 1939.

Estonian deputies of the congress played a big part in the Soviet Union admitting the protocols existed and eventually condemning them.

Looking at contemporary history, we have the national holiday of the Restoration of Independence Day on August 20 and the national Rebirth Day on November 16. Estonia restored its independence on August 20, 1991, taking advantage of a coup attempt by communist hard-liners in the Soviet Union. On November 16, 1988, the Supreme Council of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, the legislator of the Soviet era, passed Estonia's independence declaration that declared local legislation of occupied Estonia to be superior to the laws of the Soviet Union.

Do we still need more national days to recall the restoration of independence?

It is a time to be remembered.

Poet Hando Runnel, one of the brightest stars in our intellectual sky at the time, has described the period between 1987 and 1991 as a soup in the making – a constant process where every day mattered, every step toward taking back the country was crucial.

This Saturday, we celebrated the first assembly of the Estonian Congress – the first representative body of citizens of the Republic of Estonia and their offspring – on March 11, 1990. Runnel's soup metaphor was used on several occasions.

Even though the soup saw different chefs and even different recipes, it was nevertheless the same dish. Now, looking back 30 years later and 30 years wiser, we can see how all of them were necessary.

We needed the uncompromising spirit of the Estonian Congress that did not allow the supreme council to be too cautious and the latter's persistent steps to build a country. We needed the Phosphorite War, needed Night Song Festivals, People's Front, independent youth forum, a pro-Estonian Communist Party, the heritage protection movement, Savisaar's government, the National Independence Party, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact disclosure group… We needed Tunne Kelam, Edgar Savisaar, Trivimi Velliste, Marju Lauristin, Vaino Väljas, Hando Runnel, Kalle Eller, Sirje Endre, Enn-Arno Sillar, Lagle Parek, Jüri Raidla, Tõnis Lukas, Arnold Rüütel, Indrek Toome, Liia Hänni, Mart Laar, Hagi Šein, Eve Pärnaste – everyone who wanted Estonia to be free.

We even needed differences that seemed insurmountable at times 30 years ago; needed endless debates in our first almost democratically elected parliament; needed the passion, defiance, hope and even despair that was soon replaced with hope again.

We could ask whether we have all shared in the soup we prepared back then. There is still heat to the old differences and hurt feelings in addition to whole new ones, with domestic politics having lifted up some and left others behind since then.

More than new national days, we need professional and unbiased research and explanation of contemporary history. Because while an 18-year-old high school graduate finding the program "Estonian Congress 30" enlightening is good on the one hand, the fact they were not aware of it in the first place is sad on the other. National days in all their formality cannot help with that.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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