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Estonian diplomat and politician Vaino Väljas dies

Vaino Väljas (1931-2024).
Vaino Väljas (1931-2024). Source: Raivo Tiikmaa/ERR

Vaino Väljas, the last leader of the Estonian communist party and in office when Estonia's independence was restored, a development he contributed to, has died. He was 92.

Ants Veetõusme, president of the 20 Augusti Klubi, informed ERR of the news on Tuesday, while President Alar Karis has also expressed his condolences.

Writing on his social media account, the head of state offered his: "Heartfelt condolences to the relatives and friends of Vaino Väljas. The diplomatic courage of the native of Hiiumaa, who returned home during the singing revolution – for instance in his adoption of the declaration of Estonian sovereignty in 1988 – helped lay the cornerstone for the restoration of Estonia's independence, which, as a member of the Supreme Council, he even voted in favor of, on August 20, 1991."

"Alas, Vaino Väljäs will also be characterized by the "Great silent one" ("Suure vaikija") moniker, although he can also be remembered for the many things that have opened important pages of our recent history," President Karis continued.

Vaino Väljas was born on March 28, 1931 in Külaküla, Emmaste municipality, on Estonia's second-largest island, Hiiumaa. After the occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union during and after World War Two, Väljas joined the communist party, in 1952, graduating from Tartu State University three years later.

He had been a member of Komsomol, the Soviet youth organization, and later became the communist party's Tallinn regional leader.

While he was chair of the 6th Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR in the 1960s and secretary of the central committee of the Estonian communist party in the 1970s, suspicions of his "nationalist inclinations" led to his removal from the Moscow leadership, after which he became a diplomat.

From 1980-1986, he worked as the Soviet ambassador to Venezuela, then to Nicaragua, 1986-1988, returning to Estonia on the eve of the "Singing Revolution," the events leading up to the restoration of Estonian independence in August 1991.

From 1988 to 1990, Vaino Väljas became first secretary of the communist party of Estonia, effectively leader of the Estonian SSR. Known to be a moderate, led a restructuring of the Communist Party of Estonia, after the hardline Karl Vaino (1923-2022) had been recalled to Moscow.

In 1988, Väljas led the adoption of the declaration of sovereignty of the Estonian SSR, the precursor to full independence.

After the communist party split, Väljas led its pro-Estonian wing in 1990-1992, and went on to be chair of the Estonian Democratic Labor Party after independence was restored, and in the years 1992-1995.

He also appeared in the 2006 English-language documentary "The Singing Revolution."

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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