The Estonia 100 centennial program began Sunday with a national day of hiking in springtime snow along the former border which once divided modern-day Estonia into the Governorate of Estonia and the Governorate of Livonia.
"One hundred years ago, North Estonia and South Estonia were separated by a governorate border which we will symbolically erase from the map with this hike," said Margus Kasterpalu, Estonia 100's director of major events, according to a Government Office press release. "In this way, we will celebrate the emergence of our country, which was an important milestone on the road to independence."
Groups of hikers headed out along the over 400 kilometer long former border which ran from the northwestern shore of Lake Peipus to Tõstamaa in Pärnu County. Hikers carried GPS devices which allowed others to follow their paths on a virtual map as the border line was erased by hikers on the move.
An additional 2,500 hikers joined in the effort by making their way to nine community centers located within close proximity to the former border — Tõstamaa, Lõpe, Järvakandi, Lelle, Kurgja, Oisu, Päinurme, Sadala and Avinurme — where they were welcomed with soup and cultural programs organized by locals.
Connecting this summer's upcoming Youth Song and Dance Festival "Here I'll Stay" to the day of hiking was a preview concert held at Kurgja, where singers and dancers lit the festival's torch afterward as well.
Kaljulaid: Estonia never before so free and prosperous
President Kersti Kaljulaid addressed attendees at the event in Kurgja, highlighting the resilience of generation after generation which allowed the Estonian people to persevere even in difficult times.
"Today we have reason to reflect and be thankful to all those who showed us the way and determined our fate and direction," she said. "As we think about them, we can indeed feel touched by time, as the 2014 song festival taught us. All of our predecessors have names, some of which are significant to us. However, it is always only the combined ambition of a people that matter."
The president noted that the Republic of Estonia had never before seen an era as free and as prosperous. "We are protected and we are supported by a common understanding of a nation of free citizens that is shared by other democratic nations," she said. "Furthermore, we represent one of the few global success stories — we have made it from occupation and misery to a digital, middle-income society in 25 years. We punch far above what our size on a map or our population statistics show."
Kaljulaid highlighted that telling Estonia's story, including by introducing its history and culture on an unprecedented scale by means of various centennial event, will help foster pride in Estonians and those with a connection to the country.
"Today, here in Kurgja, in a small place in Estonia with a great history, we can clearly feel that there is more goodwill in Estonia than good weather in April," she quipped. "And it is goodwill that is decisive. It is crucial to allow the jubilee year to fulfill its role with dignity. People don't celebrate anniversaries in order to simply rest on their laurels but to confirm mutual respect and appreciation through shared events and by being together.
"Our ancestors have left us with the most precious gift — an independent Estonia," the president said. "We have come together here, in Kurgja, and will come together many times in the future to fulfill our responsibility to time — to pass this gift on to future generations."
Editor: Aili Vahtla