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Tartu peace talks postponed due to excessive consumption of liquor

Tartu Peace Delegation. From left: Ants Piip, Major General Jaan Soots, the head of the Estonian delegation, Jaan Poska, Julius Seljamaa and Mait Püüman.
Tartu Peace Delegation. From left: Ants Piip, Major General Jaan Soots, the head of the Estonian delegation, Jaan Poska, Julius Seljamaa and Mait Püüman. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Tartu peace talks were held both in private meetings and in the sauna. Historian Ants Siim told "Ringvaade" that the signing, originally scheduled for February 1, had to be postponed due to excessive alcohol consumption.

The Tartu Peace Treaty was signed on February 2, 1920, but peace talks began on December 5, 1919. A delegation of about 30 people arrived from Russia and stayed in Veski tänav on the city's outskirts.

"The reason was that Veski tänav was known as the street of the [Baltic] Germans, and it was safe to place the revolutionary Bolsheviks here in the peaceful suburbs, where the more affluent community lived," historian Ants Siim said.

The Estonian delegation was housed in the center of the city. The head of the delegation, Jaan Poska, in his own house, while the other members, Julius Seljamaa, Mait Püümann, Jaan Soots and Ants Piip, were given a house, which was also a significant one. "Exactly a year before the signing of the Tartu Peace Treaty, Julius Kuperjanov [an Estonian military officer who was well-known in Estonia for being one of the Liberators of Tartu during the War of Independence] died here," Siim said.

"Those were difficult times, and the more active pro-Estonian Tartu ladies took it upon themselves to provide the delegations with the furniture, dishes and bedding they needed for the peace conference," Siim continued.

"All this stuff was then borrowed from the city. Bed linen from hostels, dishes from restaurants, a lot of things were lost or spoiled. Allegedly, these were items associated with the Russian delegation that had to be returned to their owners later."

Things were agreed upon in private meetings. Especially between Poska and the head of the Russian delegation, Adolf Joffe. "Strong drinks were often involved," Siim said. "Poska was no stranger to liquor. You could say he was a functioning alcoholic in today's terms. Poska started every morning with a few glasses of cognac."

The diplomats also often went to the sauna together. Poska and Joffe's banter was once the only news from the negotiations, and Jaan, the sauna man, was the journalists' favorite leak.

The signing was originally scheduled for February 1. Poska's right-hand man, Villem Tomingas, has fond memories of the day: "The signing of the peace treaty began at noon. Then suddenly the Russian leader, Joffe, announced that his delegation had found a typographical error in the treaty. The text was reprinted. But the banquet began on time. They sat at the tables in their shirts and drank 24 bottles of French champagne. Then came the announcement that the new text was ready. But the men had drunk too much, and so the signatures were added on February 2, after both sides had had a little nightcap."

The Estonian Literary Museum has now received the legendary Peace Table.

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Editor: Annika Remmel, Kristina Kersa

Source: Ringvaade

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