The central Estonian town of Paide has a long-standing position in the birth of Estonia as an independent republic, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Sunday night, ahead of this Wednesday's independence day events taking place there.
President Kersti Kaljulaid will be giving her annual address from the town, population c. 8,000, in a skinned-down version of the traditional events necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The lengthy evening reception, which sees the head of state and her consort having to greet a seemingly never-ending line of worthies in a process which takes at least two hours, is now off the table, as is the traditional military parade earlier in the day.
Paide one of several towns where indepdendence manifesto was read out in February 1918
Nonetheless, what is going ahead will be beamed out by ETV from Paide, Järva County; a fitting location since it was one of several towns to see copies of the independence manifesto, whose original is housed in the local museum, get printed and read out, when independence was declared in 1918.
Ründo Mülts, research director at the Järva County Museum, told AK that: "Thanks to a writer named Jaan Lintrop, the original text of the manifesto arrived here [in Paide, on February 24], and then, with the vigorous cooperation of some national figures, the manifesto was reproduced and distributed county-wide on February 25."
AK reported that Paide had a strong Baltic German presence, which made the reading out of the independence manifesto bolder still.
That this was possible was thanks to an "Estonian-minded" battalion based in the town, and led by Jaan Maide.
Indepdendence day marked vigorously in 1920s
While the subsequent war of independence primarily saw a struggle between units like Maide's battalion and red forces – following the Bolshevik seizure of power in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) – the Baltic German dimension provided an alternative front at times, one which also opposed an independent Estonia, preferring a restoration of the old imperial Russian Empire. This alignment also saw "White" Russian forces fighting ostensibly on Estonia's side, against the Reds, though with an eye on a post-war settlement along the lines of the status quo shattered by the outbreak of World War One.
Estonia's victory in the war of independence, and the ensuing Treaty of Tartu, celebrating its 101st anniversary last month, led to the reading out of the independence manifesto becoming a tradition in Paide, albeit on February 25 rather than 24.
The same process was seen in Tallinn, Pärnu, Viljandi and Rakvere between the evening of February 23 and February 25.
Paide to become focal point for the day
The 1920s saw commemorating the independence war reach a crescendo, with concerts, ceremonies and more getting a boost with the arrival of electrification, and a community center built at the end of the decade, dedicated to national freedom fighters.
In the present-day and despite the pandemic, local tour operator Piret Sihver welcomed the town's being the national focal point this week.
"Naturally, this is very important for me being involved in tourism. We had a campaign created in autumn, which is along the lines of: "Come to vist us, it's easy to get here, it's good to be here', and now that really works in full," Sihver said.
Local entrepreneur Indrek Ammer told AK that: "Personally, I really like the fact that high-ranking state officials have made the decision to celebrate the anniversary of the Republic of Estonia [here] and get closer to the people, so to speak."
Cultural director Martha Beryl Grauberg opined similarly that: "For me, the president's arrival in Paide is a clear sign that what is happening in our city has been noticed in Kadriorg (seat of the president – ed.). We consider this important."
The actual venue of the president's speech on Wednesday is the local music theater, which some Paide residents consider the unofficial "fifth" concert hall (after those in Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu and Jõhvi – ed.).
The traditional flag-raising ceremony will still go ahead in Tallinn on Wednesday morning, while the annual military parade is to be replaced by a NATO flyover, with jets from several countries taking part.
Editor: Andrew Whyte