First ever commander of the restored Defense League passes away

Kalle Istvan Eller (1940-2023).
Kalle Istvan Eller (1940-2023). Source: Defense League

Kalle Istvan Eller, first post-war commander of the volunteer Estonian Defense League (Kaitseliit), has died. He was 82.

The Defense League announced that Eller had passed away on January 10. He remained an honorary member of the organization, which lowered its flags to half-mast and has opened up a book of condolences.

The Defense League's current commander, Brig. Gen. Riho Ühtegi, said that Eller was a role model for many who joined the organization or took part in national defense generally, in the immediate aftermath of the Restoration of Estonian Independence, in August, 1991.

Ühtegi said: "For me personally, he had always provided inspiration in that conflict is an art in which the knowledge and experience that life has offered me in various fields must be applied, in the best possible way."

"He and his teaching could be compared to a well-known story from the Japanese samurai culture, where the master of the tea ceremony (the person who prepares the way) was able to defeat an experienced traveler-samurai in a duel, as his defense, based on the ritual of making tea, was simply so perfect that his opponent could not find a single flaw there," Ühtegi went on.

"Eller's teachings, which he gave us – we who in the early days of the Defense League idealistically, albeit ignorantly, attempted to create Estonia's national defense – were so far ahead of their time that often it is only today that we realize the extent to which we have instinctively, or through blood, sweat and tears, come to the same conclusions that he had already given us in 1990."

The fact that Eller was the first commander of the post-war, post-Soviet occupation Defense League must not be overlooked, Ühetgi went on, noting that this in fact dated back to the dying days of the Soviet Union.

"This cannot be ignored even by those who have tried to question or to diminsh his contribution to Estonian national defense."

"Those times were difficult and the fight for the necessity and existence of a defense league was not at all easy at that time; the Soviet occupation was still extant in Estonia, and although the struggle for freedom, was underway Estonia was also engaged in a tight internal struggle between the different political forces. In the midst of all this, the decision to keep the Defense League out of politics was a bold, but to some extent almost 'suicidal' action," Uhtegi continued.

Eller was decorated with the Defense League's highest honor, the Order of the White Cross of the Defense League, First Class (Kaitseliidu Valgeristi I klassi teenetemärk) and was elected an honorary member of the organization.

In July 1990, then acting prime minister of Estonia, Heinrich Mark, made Eller a colonel, after he had started to build up the beginnings of a restored league during the Glasnost' and Perestroika era of the late 1980s.

The genesis of this was the Tarapita heritage protection club, in which he provided basic military training to youths.

Prior to this, the only option for Estonians within Estonia was via the armed forces of the Soviet Union, into which young men were drafted, usually dispersed across a vast array of units and so separated from their compatriots.

In February 1990 the activities culminated with the full restoration of the Defense League, which took place in Järvakandi, Rapla County, and event at which Eller was elected the league's commander.

He held the post till late on that year, and 1992-1994 was an adviser to the Riigikogu's National Defense Committee.

Eller was also a publisher, educator, poet, cultural researcher and a practitioner of neo-paganism, the latter via the Maavalla Koda organization

He was an alumnus of the University of Tartu, while teaching, forestry and lecturing on religious affairs also appeared on his resume.

He was also active in the Estonian Heritage Preservation Society (Eesti muinsuskaitse selts), the Võro ​​Society and the Võru Institute.

The Defense League is staffed by volunteers and has analog women's (Naiskodukaitse), girls' (Kodu Tütred) and boys' (Noored Kotkad) branches, and supplements the regular Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), including an important role in cybersecurity. Its personnel are often on exercise with regular troops, including those from NATO nations, and have been deployed overseas, including to Iraq.

An interwar Defense League existed from 1918 and continued through to the Soviet occupation from 1944 onward.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

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