Flags hoisted across Estonia for tricolor's 137th anniversary

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The Estonian flag. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

In celebration of the 137th anniversary of the flag of Estonia on Friday, June 4, all state and local government authorities and legal persons governed by public law are to hoist the Estonian flag to mark the occasion.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote on Twitter on Friday: "Today we celebrate the 137th anniversary of the Estonian flag - the beloved tricolour of blue, black and white or as we say in Estonian: sinimustvalge."

From fraternity flag to national symbol

The first Estonian flag was consecrated as the flag of Estonian Students' Society (EÜS) in the hall of Otepää St. Mary's Lutheran Church in a secret ceremony on June 4, 1884, 14 years after the first ethnically Estonian student organization's founding in 1870 and 15 years after the yet-unformed Estonia's first national song festival was held in 1869, both in Estonia's university town of Tartu.

The ceremony was intentionally held outside of Tartu as the color combination of blue, black and white had not been officially approved by the umbrella organization governing ruling local Baltic-German fraternities at the time, and as a result, it had already had an inauspicious public debut two years prior when the organization's president at the time chose to wear a cap and ribbon in the fraternity's unapproved colors in public and suffered grave consequences as a result.

Over subsequent decades, the colors and the flag took on an increasingly important meaning as symbols of a growing nationalist movement, and in November 1918, the blue, black and white tricolor, originally the flag of EÜS, was officially adopted as the national flag of the Republic of Estonia, which had declared its independence for the first time nine months prior, on February 24, 1918.

Original Estonian flag to be placed on permanent display

When Soviet occupying forces outlawed the activities of all student organizations in June 1940, EÜS' leadership decided to undertake an operation to save and protect the original tricolor consecrated in Otepää over half a century prior, first by switching out the original flag being stored in a stronghold of the Estonian National Museum (ERM) for a duplicate, then burying the carefully wrapped up original flag in the base of the chimney on the Kõola village farm of then-fraternity president Karl Aun.

The Estonian flag was retrieved from Aun's farm only four months after Estonia regained its independence on August 20, 1991. The flag is now on display at the Estonian National Museum.

The original Estonian flag from 1884 was moved to its permanent future home at the new Estonian National Museum. Sept. 15, 2016. Source: (Aili Vahtla/Private library)

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Editor: Helen Wright, Aili Vahtla

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