Riigikogu thanks those instrumental to state's creation, preservation

Toompea Castle, seat of the Riigikogu.
Toompea Castle, seat of the Riigikogu. Source: (Siim Lõvi /ERR)

The Riigikogu adopted a declaration on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia on Thursday to thank all those who were instrumental to the creation, defense, preservation, and restoration of the Estonian state.

The declaration that was adopted with 77 of the Riigikogu's 101 votes states that the independent Estonian state is "the joint creation of our people's sons and daughters and was their supreme endeavor decades before it was achieved." With it, the Riigikogu in the name of the people of Estonia thanks all those who were instrumental to the republic's creation and the preservation of its independence.

While the document thanks all those who remained in Estonia and strived to "keep the Estonian people alive," it also mentions those who worked for the preservation of the state and in the name of its legal continuity in exile. "Their work built a precious bridge for Estonia between its different generations and made our return into the family of free European states easier," the declaration reads.

"It is our common goal to enter our country's second century as a free people, and to work in the spirit of national unity to advance and sustain the Estonian state. The Riigikogu expresses its deep respect and recognition of all those who have remained true to the ideal of Estonian statehood, made sacrifices in its name, and lived for the good of Estonia."

Estonian government-in-exile established in 1953

Following the illegal annexation of Estonia on June 14, 1940, the Soviet authorities deported President Konstantin Päts. With him gone, Prime Minister Jüri Uluots became acting head of state. Uluots tried to form a government after the Germans occupied Estonia just over a year later, but Nazi Germany didn't recognize Estonia as a sovereign state.

On Mar. 23, 1944, the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia came together. On Aug. 1 the same year, the committee declared itself the supreme authority of the Republic of Estonia.

Several members of the Estonian government at the time had discussed options to continue the government's work already two years earlier. Hiding from the occupying forces, the government declared Päts' appointment of his last prime minister illegal. Johannes Vares had been forced on Päts to run a puppet government controlled by the Soviets.

Shortly after naming Otto Tief acting prime minister, Uluots, at this point suffering from cancer, left Estonia for Sweden. With the German forces withdrawing from Estonian territory, Tief declared the Estonian government restored, but by Sept. 22, 1944, the Soviet forces were back in control.

Tief and most of his government were caught after attempting to escape. They were arrested, deported, some executed. Minister of Agriculture Kaarel Liidak was the only government member to escape. He died in hiding in early 1945. Tief himself spent ten years in Siberia, and eventually died in Soviet-occupied Estonia in 1976.

With Uluots' death on Jan. 9, 1945, August Rei took over as acting head of state. Rei was Estonia's last ambassador in Moscow before the annexation and had managed to escape to Stockholm in 1940. Under Rei's leadership, Estonia's official government-in-exile was declared on Jan. 12, 1953.

Government-in-exile ensures legal continuity of Republic of Estonia

There was initial disagreement about the position of head of state. Alfred Maurer, who before 1940 had been second deputy chairman of the National Council of Estonia (the Riiginõukogu, the Riigikogu's second chamber between 1938 and 1940), was elected acting president by another group in Germany later on in 1953.

Though Maurer claimed the position as head of state, and that he superseded the role of Acting Prime Minister August Rei, he declared it unnecessary to appoint another government, pointing to Rei's as the existing and rightful one. Upon Maurer's death in September 1954, the role of acting head of state was with Rei and his successors.

Until the reestablishment of the state after the Soviet Union collapsed and the Soviet occupation of Estonia ended in 1991, five governments-in-exile were formed.

Heinrich Mark as the last acting head of state handed over to incoming elected President Lennart Meri on October 8, 1992.

Because of a disagreement about the legal basis of the Estonian government after the country regained independence in 1991, a group of activists around Mihkel Mathiesen, Kalev Ots, and Ahti Mänd formed a continuing government-in-exile that insists that no Estonian government can be legitimate unless it is derived from the Constitution of 1938. This government still exists and is today based in Nõmme in Tallinn.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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