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Decision on state funerals made on case-by-case basis

Gravestones at the Kalmistu Cemetery in Tallinn (photo is illustrative).
Gravestones at the Kalmistu Cemetery in Tallinn (photo is illustrative). Source: ERR

There is no standard and universal procedure pertaining to state funerals in Estonia, with the decision to down to the wishes of the family and in the context of the person who is being buried.

The question has been raised following the death of Edgar Savisaar last week.

A state funeral is to be held for Savisaar, a key figure in the drive towards the restoration of Estonian independence from the late 1980s onward.

State funeral means a service organized by and paid for by the state, and is not necessarily indicative of the scale of the event.

In the 105 years since the Estonian state was founded, there have been several state funerals of significant persons, Gert Uiboaed, a Government Office adviser specializing in symbolism, told ERR.

These have included re-interments, he said.

Edgar Savisaar's funeral is being held at the Concert Hall at the Estonia Theater in central Tallinn on Thursday. His family had expressed a desire to organize a state funeral with tributes from the state as well as from mourners.

Normally, state funerals would have been held for the heads of constitutional institutions, at the request of the family or if the individual had requested it during their lifetime

Uiboaed said: "Funerals with state honors are organized for former speakers of the Riigikogu and prime ministers, plus for incumbent government ministers and other incumbent heads of constitutional institutions."

Savisaar was not an incumbent head of a constitutional institution, but is a former prime minister and former Tallinn mayor.

State funerals are also permissible for Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), Defense League (Kaitseliit), Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), Rescue Board (Päästeamet) and other front line personnel, who have died in the line of duty, he added.

State funerals are organized and paid for by the state, while cemetery costs and subsequent maintenance costs are the responsibility of the family or an executor.

Uiboaed said: "The funeral service is generally organized by a relevant institution, for example, in the case of the head of government (ie. the prime minister-ed.), the Government Office."

"The exception is for [current and former] presidents, since these funeral services are organized via the state protocol and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," he went on.

The format and content of the service is always drawn up in close cooperation with the family of the decesead, he added, which may include instructions left by the decesed to, for instance, hold a church service, or for the service to have specific elements including national sympbols, an orchestra, military representatives, eulogies by state representatives etc., Uiboaed said.

Uiboaed added that since every funeral service is unique, so a set venue, type of music, invite list and official presiding over proceedings cannot be outlined.

Edgar Savisaar was a founding member of the Popular Front (Rahvarinne) in the wake of the Glasnost' and Perestroika policies put in place by Mikhail Gorbachev, and concomitant with the Singing Revolution in Estonia, from the late 1980s to early 1990s.

He was effectively the first prime minister of the newly re-independent Estonia, co-founder and chair of the Center Party, and Mayor of Tallinn 2007-2015, though remained a controversial figure during much of that time, due largely to allegations of corruption which were never proven in court. In later years he was much less visible.

His funeral service takes place on Thursday, January 5, 2023, at the Estonia Theater's Concert Hall in Tallin, starting at 11.00 a.m.

Members of the public wishing to pay their respects can do so from 9.15 a.m. onward.

Only one Estonian former head of state has passed away since the restoration of independence in 1991, namely Lennart Meri, whose state funeral took place in March 2006.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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