Independence Day marked nationwide and beyond in variety of ways

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Independence Day 102 flag raising ceremony in Tallinn. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Independence Day, February 24 2021, Estonia's 103rd birthday, has been and gone, and ERR has been active traveling the length and breadth of the land, and beyond, to capture a glimpse of how the big day was marked in different locations.

The eastern town of Narva, due to its location, sees dawn arrive a little under 15 minutes earlier than does the capital, meaning the town had the first flag-raising ceremony, at 7.18 a.m.

Tallinn's ceremony started at 7.32 a.m. and saw the traditional speech in the governor's garden on Toompea from the Riigkogu speaker, and blessing from the head of the Lutheran Church in Estonia, in a skinned-down version of the annual event, which socially distanced members of the public could watch from afar.

At 10 a.m., the head of state, President Kersti Kaljulaid, head of government, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, and Riigikogu speaker Henn Põlluaas, together laid wreaths at the Victory Column in Tallinn's Vabaduse väljak (Freedom Square).

Schoolchildren from the Jakob Westholm upper secondary school in Tallinn read out the 1918 independence manifesto in Jüriöö Park in Tallinn, while, as per tradition, a freedom bonfire was lit there.

A video below (with commentary in Estonian) shows some of these gatherings.

Estonia's second city, Tartu, marked the day in a more sparse format than in previous years, due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the memorial ceremony and wreath-laying by members of the volunteer defense league (Kaitseliit) at the Kalevipoeg Statue of Liberty (Vabadussammas ) went ahead.

Further to the south, and outside Estonia altogether in fact, the day was officially marked in the nearest neighboring country, Latvia, where the blue-black-white was raised at Riga Castle, residence of the Latvian president.

Current president Egils Levits was last in Estonia on an official visit last summer; the two countries share a common history – in the later middle ages and beginning of the early modern period, much of the territory of both countries made up the region of Livonia, a territory which remained in name under Swedish rule in the 17th Century, which incorporated South Estonia.

More robust ways of marking the day were seen in the village of Voka, Ida-Viru County, where a public ice swim was held in a small lake there, attracting over 30 participants, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported.

The dip lasted over an-hour-and-half, with social distancing requirements factored-in.

On Saaremaa, which has been seeing a new upsurge in coroanvirus cases after being the scene of the largest outbreak in the initial spring wave last year, celebrations were necessarily also more sparsely populated than usual, though wreath-laying also took place at the war of independence monument.

Local store staff also wore national costume on the day.

Back in the capital, recent rising temperatures, combined with rainfall, has seen the snow receding at a rapid pace, meaning a planned snow sculpture event in front of the Museum of Occupations and Freedom (Vabamu) was out of the question. Townspeople resorted to constructing an ill-defined snowman out of the remaning slushy snow instead (see video below).

As evening arrived there was no let-up in pace. While the president delivered her annual speech from the town of Paide, and the traditional concert also went ahead, coronavirus considerations meant both the customary reception and an audience to view proceedings could not go ahead. 

Meanwhile in Tallinn, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia's (EKRE) annual torchlight procession did still go ahead, from 7 p.m., with smaller, simultaneous marches taking place in other towns.

EKRE torchlight parade in progress, Independence Day 2021. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

ERR reports around 250 torches distributed – one per person – which is a smaller number than usual, while the procession's route was shorter than previous years, again all the result of the pandemic.

Meanwhile in Tallinn, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia's (EKRE) annual torchlight procession did still go ahead, from 7 p.m., with smaller, simultaneous marches taking place in other towns.

After wending its way through the Old Town, attendees reached the Victory Monument, where speeches and a concert were held.

In Haapsalu, the republic's anniversary was celebrated with a 12-minute sound and light production in the courtyard of the town's castle (see AK segment with Estonian commentary below).

The show, by Argo Valdmaa and based on music by Põlva band Eia, saw light projected on to the castles walls.

The 12-minute spectacle was run several times through the evening, to allow socially-distanced spectators the chance to see it.

Another traditional event which could still go ahead was the distribution of food parcels to the homeless, at Tallinn's Oleviste Kirik (St. Olaf's Church).

An earlier food package distribution drive at Tallinn's Oleviste kirik from late last year. Source: ERR

While the traditional indoor concert was canceled, the parcels were still given out, outside, AK reported, and in fact all 400 packages ran out, prompting volunteers to go to local stores to get more supplies. The annual food parcel distribution has been going on for 20 years.

Internationally, too, independence day saw plenty of events take place in different time zones.

Estonian Navy (Merevägi) personnel aboard the ENS Ugandi, a minehunter currently in Danish waters where she is serving with Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1, issued their greetings via a video (below).

Meanwhile, land-based NATO troops, serving with the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) in the West African country of Mali, as part of the French-led Operation Barkhane, also marked the occasion, while the Estonian embassy in Washington linked to events taking place in Estonia and viewable online.

The government had encouraged the public to mark the event at home, within the immediate family circle, which many did, while the flying of the Estonian flag from outside private residences is standard every independence day.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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