Alo Lõhmus: The restless Tartu peace treaty ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

At the time it was signed, the Treaty of Tartu was viewed critically by one local paper, Tallinna Teataja. Its words sound eerily prophetic today as well, finds Alo Lõhmus.

On the day of the signing of the Treaty of Tartu, on Feb. 2, 1920 at 7 p.m., the Russian delegation hosted a festive luncheon at Tartu’s Automaat restaurant to which members of the Estonian peace delegation, a number of important Estonian dignitaries and representatives of the Estonian and international press were invited.

Adolf Joffe, head of the Russian delegation, gave a brief speech, ending it with the words, "Long live the free Estonian people!" In his response, Jaan Poska, head of the Estonian delegation, emphasized the Estonian people’s wish to develop a friendly relationship with a new, democratic Russia.

The Feb. 4 edition of the Tallinna Teataja also quoted Joffe’s words to news agency ETA: "All of the material benefits of this peace treaty are Estonia’s; Soviet Russia will gain only political benefit. It has shut up all of its enemies by demonstrating that Soviet Russia is the only country in the world that does not practice an imperialist offensive policy but rather exercises the principles of self-determination by small states."

Tallinna Teataja’s leading article was considerably more skeptical, however. In fact, it was downright horrifically prophetic. I quote:

"We currently only know for a fact that that it is Soviet power that now rules in Russia. Let us suppose that this power will honor the treaty which has been signed, and that it will honor it for so long as it continues to rule over Russia. Let us suppose this. It is unknown what will happen to the treaty if Soviet powers leave governance to others. Were the treaty concluded with a different type of government, such as that in our neighboring Sweden, for example, we could have been worry-free about our future. Now we cannot be worry-free. We must still think about the future. That is why the current peace treaty does not set the mood that a peace treaty should have otherwise set. It lacks certainty regarding the future. This does not allow for joy."

Twenty years later these fears were in fact realized. The fate of the physical document of the Treaty of Tartu was a complicated one during our homeland’s pivotal years as well. At the beginning of 1940, three employees of the Republic of Estonia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were assigned to review the ministry’s secret archive and remove from there more important documents which would be safer to preserve at a foreign representation. In the course of this secret operation, four boxes of documents were sent from Tallinn to Stockholm via the icebreaker Suur Tõll, on March 14.

This was a timely step, as that summer the Soviet Union occupied Estonia and the Republic of Estonia became the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). Rumors about the evacuation of these documents reached the puppet government, however, and they were demanded to be returned by Sweden.

On July 13, three sealed document boxes and one box with a broken seal arrived in Tallinn from the Swedish capital. Someone — apparently the Republic of Estonia’s last Ambassador to Sweden Heinrich Laretei — had removed some of the most important documents to state law, including the Treaty of Tartu, from the last of these boxes and hidden them. These papers later made it into the hands of Prime Minister in capacity of the President of the Republic-in-exile August Rei. When Rei died in 1963, this document was turned over to the Baltic Archive in Stockholm.

The adventures did not end here for the Tartu peace treaty, however. It was only in 2002 that the treaty finally made it back to Estonia and was ceremonially handed over to the National Archives, in whose possession it remains to this day, on June 21 of that year. And beginning [Wednesday], on the anniversary of the Treaty of Tartu, through Saturday, everyone will have the opportunity to see the original Treaty of Tartu with their own eyes at the new National Archives building in Tartu (Nooruse Street 3).

One should recall then, however, the words of the author of the Tallinna Teataja’s leading article: "Now the time has come to begin building the Estonian state internally. If this happens and this work is done well, then we can be braver in the face of all the revolutions that may take place beyond the Peipus. On the other hand, we must through an alliance of border states fortify ourselves against all kinds of incoming revolutions."

This admonition is as timely today as it was 97 years ago.

Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla

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