Estonian leaders, neighbors mark 1991 restoration of Estonian independence

Toompea Castle, with Pikk Hermann visible to the left.
Toompea Castle, with Pikk Hermann visible to the left. Source: Erik Peinar/Chancellery of the Riigikogu

Late on the night of August 20, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia voted in favor of a resolution restoring Estonian independence after more than 50 years of occupation. Estonia's leaders and neighbors alike are sharing congratulations, greetings and reflections on Saturday in honor of the national holiday.

"Happy Day of Restoration of Independence, dear Estonia!" President Alar Karis briefly wrote on Facebook on Saturday morning.

"Today there is reason to think of all of us, thanks to the wishes and actions of which Estonia took back its independence," Karis wrote in a separate post later Saturday morning, which also included photos from a small ceremony held at the August 20, 1991 memorial stone on Toompea Hill.

"That was a courageous stunt by the whole nation, finally a time of extraordinary consensus, when the Supreme Council and the Committee of Estonia's minds became one in the 11:03 p.m. Resolution on the National Independence of Estonia at Toompea on August 20, 1991," he recalled. "At the same time, the bravest of us stood in front of the armored vehicles that had come from Pskov, defending Toompea Hill, the TV and Radio Buildings and the TV Tower."

Nonetheless, the head of state continued, the people mustn't forget that Estonia has not been completed, nor will it ever be completed.

"Today's concerns require solutions that look 10, 20, even 50 years into the future," he said. "We'll manage ⁠— we always have."

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) tweeted a brief message on Saturday morning as well, which also included a reminder that Estonia knows "the price of freedom and the value of democracy" and a call to help those fighting for it now, "especially Ukraine."

Foreign minister: We commemorate everyone fighting for freedom

"Today marks 31 years since Estonia restored its sovereignty, which was brutally taken from us," Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said according to a ministry statement. "Estonia, a free and democratic thriving nation, had to endure Soviet and Nazi occupation for more than half a century. Although whole generations grew up whose freedom was abducted from them, we as a nation never surrendered to slavery. With the help of democratic nations, we restored our independence."

At this moment, however, Russia is conducting a genocidal war against Ukraine, the minister continued.

"Our duty to humanity is to stand up against this evil," he said, noting that countries supporting Ukraine must ramp up defense aid and impose further sanctions on Russia and that the price of their aggression must rise without delay.

He added that this is the moral duty of democratic nations, but also in the interest of Estonia's own security.

"Today as we celebrate the restoration of Estonian independence, we commemorate everyone who lost their lives in the name of our freedom," Reinsalu said. "The women and men who are defending the right to freedom on the front lines in Ukraine are in our prayers."

The Estonian Embassy in Washington likewise echoed support for Ukraine in Russia's ongoing war, but also highlighted the role that Estonians both at home and abroad played in making the restoration of Estonia's independence possible.

The U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs were among those to share congratulatory messages on social media as well.

August 20 Club

Just after 11 p.m. on August 20, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia voted in favor of the Resolution on the National Independence of Estonia.

The 69 individuals who voted in favor of the resolution and now belong to the August 20 Club are Ülle Aaskivi, Mati Ahven, Andres Ammas, Tõnu Anton, Uno Anton, Lembit Arro, Hillar Eller, Kaljo Ellik, Ignar Fjuk, Illar Hallaste, Liia Hänni, Arvo Junti, Jaak Jõerüüt, Rein Järlik, Ants Järvesaar, Villu Jürjo, Hillar Kalda, Teet Kallas, Peet Kask, Johannes Kass, Kalju Koha, Valeri Kois, Mai Kolossova, Jüri Kork, Toomas Kork, Heino Kostabi, Ahti Kõo, Tiit Käbin,Ants Käärma, Mart Laar, Marju Lauristin, Enn Leisson, Jüri Liim, Jaan Lippmaa, Alar Maarend, Tiit Made, Mart Madissoon, Tõnis Mets, Aavo Mölder, Ülo Nugis, Ants Paju, Eldur Parder, Heldur Peterson, Andrei Prii, Priidu Priks, Jüri E. Põld, Enn Põldroos, Koit Raud, Jüri Reinson, Andrus Ristkok, Jüri Rätsep, Arnold Rüütel, Tõnu Saarman, Edgar Savisaar, Hanno Schotter, Lehte Sööt, Aldo Tamm, Rein Tamme, Andres Tarand, Indrek Toome, Enn Tupp, Ain Tähiste, Uno Ugandi, Ülo Uluots, Heinrich Valk, Ants Veetõusme,Rein Veidemann, Helgi Viirelaid and Vaino Väljas.

The vote for the restoration of the country's independence was confirmed with a strike of the gavel by Ülo Nugis.

Click here to read more about the history and events leading up to the historic vote.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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