Toomas Hendrik Ilves: Let's call August 20 'Continuation Day'

Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Source: Rene Suurkaev / ERR

Estonia's Restoration of Independence Day (Taasiseseisvumispäev) might be appropriately renamed "Continuation Day" (Jätkupäev) finds former president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves. His rationale is that, in addition to the current, official term being rather wordy, it neither reflects nor honors those who struggled and suffered over half a century to make Estonian independence a fact once again.

Writing on his social media account, Ilves, who was president for two terms, 2006-2016, said that August 20, which marks the 1991 reassertion of de facto Estonian independence, was the most important day of the year for Estonians, in a spiritual sense, trumping even the February 24 anniversary.

"Independence Day" thus carries a too passive meaning, Ilves finds, suggesting that the liberation of Estonia from several decades of Soviet occupation had either been predestined or somehow happened all by itself.

"'The anniversary of the restoration of independence' is more precise in content, but it is a little wordy, to the extent it stays specific and usable," Ilves wrote.

For this reason, "Continuation Day" would be a better choice, he proposed.

Since it is well within living memory, unlike the February 24 1918 declaration of independence, this heightened the subjective aspect of the anniversary, he noted.

"February 24 will always remain in its 20th century traditional context. But August 20 means something more, more personal; a feeling that you were there, you were present – or your parents were – when an independent Estonia became a reality again; never go beyond the consciousness of any person who has survived the occupation," he wrote.

The current name minimizes the contribution of all those who worked towards making independence a reality again, as well as those deported to the Gulag system or otherwise imprisoned, and those who were slaughtered by the Soviet regime, he noted.

August 20 1991 is the date on which, at three minutes past eleven at night, the Supreme Council of Estonia declared de facto the restoration of the Republic of Estonia, which had existed from 1918 until the first Soviet occupation of 1940. This occupation was followed by two-and-a-half years of Nazi German occupation during World War Two, with the Soviet Union returning in autumn 1944.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves himself was born in Sweden to emigree Estonians who had been driven out of the country following its occupation by the Soviet Union in World War Two.

The supreme council's decision also led to a constitutional assembly being formed, which drafted the current Estonian constitution, and the holding of the first full, free and fair democratic elections for several decades, the following year.

The Republic of Estonia was declared as a continuation of the inter-war republic in international law.

"Happy Continuation, dear Estonian people. Long live Estonia!" Ilves signed off his post.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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