Gallery: Defense minister commemorates War of Independence anniversary
Defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) led proceedings at a ceremony in central Tallinn Sunday morning, which commemorated the 101st anniversary of the end of the Estonian War of Independence and remembered those who lost their lives in pursuit of Estonia's independence.
Luik said January 3 represents a historic moment, when the independence war ended and freedom began.
A ceasefire on January 3 1920 effectively ended the Estonian War of Independence, between Estonian forces and those of the fledgling Soviet Russian state, and also the German Baltische Landeswehr, armed forces representing the Baltic aristocracy prevalent in Estonia prior to World War One. A minute's silence was also observed Sunday, a tradition which began just a few years after the end of the war and is starts at 10.30 a.m., the exact time the truce was signed.
"Victory in the War of Independence laid the foundation for the building of Estonian statehood," Luik said.
"We lower our heads in memory of our heroes and cherish their heroic deeds forever," Luik added, in remembrance of the close-to-4,000 Estonian volunteers who lost their lives in the conflict, along with those from foreign nations' armed forces, including the U.K., Finland, Sweden and Denmark.
The defense minister, who also laid a wreath at the foot of the War of Independence victory monument in Tallinn's Vabaduse väljak, added that Estonia's independence, confirmed by the Tartu Peace Treaty concluded with Soviet Russia in February 1920, was not a question of being freely given by grace, but rather required 400 days of fierce struggle and much sacrifice.
"The War of Independence was a determined and successful struggle of the Estonian people for self-determination," he said.
Of the legacy of the war of over a century ago, Luik said that 30 years has now passed since the restoration of independence, which followed decades of Soviet Occupation, and that Estonia's security was stronger than ever.
"Our homeland has never been so well protected, developed and integrated with its natural allies as it is today," he said.
"Granted, we have to face new challenges and threats, but we can successfully adapt and act in changing circumstances," he went on, calling on the example of the heroes of the War of Independence in acting unanimously, responsibly and decisively at critical moments.
"We must never forget that independence, freedom and true democracy need care and protection every single day," he went on.
In November 1919, around 100,000 Estonians, one-tenth of the overall populace, were under arms, Luik noted, a force which had the backing of the rest of the nation as it fought on two fronts in the east and south.
"Such a strong and self-sacrificing commitment to independence is rare in the history of the world," he said.
Luik was joined by Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander, Maj. Gen. Martin Herem and commander of the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit), Brig. Gen. Riho Ühtegi at Sunday morning's ceremony, which will be mirrored by representatives from both organizations at memorial services nationwide.
Wreaths were also laid in Tartu at the Kalevipoeg monument by representatives of the City of Tartu, the Tartu Brigade of the Defense League, the 2nd Infantry Brigade of the Defense Forces and the Defense Forces Academy.
A truce was reached on December 31, 1919, during negotiations between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic - the forerunner to the Soviet Union and itself still embroiled in a vast and brutal civil war - which led to the ceasefire a few days later, and the Treaty of Tartu the following month.
Editor's note: This article was updated to add information about events in Tartu.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright