A new exhibition will present the struggles Estonia has faced as an independent nation in establishing its own military forces, both during the period of the First Republic, between the two world wars, and since the Restoration of Independence in 1991.
The new, permanent exhibition is entitled "Oma Vägi. Eesti riigikaitse 1920-1940 ja alates 1991" ("Our forces: Estonia's national defense 1920-1940, and from 1991") and opened Wednesday at the Estonian War Museum (Eesti sõjamuuseum) in Viimsi, just outside Tallinn.
Exhibition curator Sandra Niinepuu says that accommodating two very different eras in the one space was a challenge in itself. "A comparative approach is interesting, as then you notice how, formally speaking, plenty has changed, but in essence both the basic principles of national defense and the life of a soldier have remained the same."
"For instance a film clip from 1992 will be running next to a display case containing contemporary Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) equipment from 2022," she continued, adding that the acting chief of staff of the Kalev battaltion, one Riho Terras – now an MEP – presents the equipment in the 1992 video.
The exhibition also treats the differing challenges facing two different eras, "before" and "after" [World War Two] in parallel, and provides an overview of the development and nature of military service and reserve forces, uniforms, equipment and armament, military education and training, cooperation with allies, the Estonian defense industry and, of course, a soldier's day-to-day life.
Also not overlooked is a dark chapter in the history of Estonian national defense, namely the Soviet occupation and the resulting liquidation of the defense forces of the formerly-independent state, which ended for many Estonian officers with imprisonment, deportation to Siberia and in many cases, death.
Estonia started building its modern defense forces in 1918, necessarily as a matter of urgency as the country was defending its independence in the war with the fledgling Soviet Russian state, a conflict which lasted to 1920.
From 1940, Soviet occupation and then World War Two halted the defense forces' functioning as noted, making it necessary to start from scratch again from 1991.
The exhibition's opening on Wednesday afternoon involved the EDF orchestra (Sõjaväeorkester), and the participation of Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) and EDF commander Lt. Gen. Martin Herem.
The exhibition is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesdays to Sundays.
The war museum's site is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming