Prime minister makes speech on 150th anniversary of Jaan Tõnisson birth ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Commemorative coin minted to mark the 150th anniversary of Jaan Tõnisson's birth and featuring his image.
Commemorative coin minted to mark the 150th anniversary of Jaan Tõnisson's birth and featuring his image. Source: Estonian Central Bank.

The life of Jaan Tõnisson, a leading figure in Estonia's assertion of independence and one of its first prime ministers, sets an example of how national ideals can be striven for even in the most trying of circumstances, according to current prime minister, Jüri Ratas (Centre).

Speaking at St. Paul's church in Tartu on Saturday on the 150th anniversary of Jaan Tõnisson's birth, Mr Ratas said that Tõnisson was a towering figure who was able to accomplish much for Estonia.

''He was able to serve our country in a various roles including head of the government, an ambassador for the country as one of its founding figures, minister of the interim governments, and president of the Riigikogu''.

''Tõnisson demonstrated to his contemporaries, through his life and activities, that by combining fidelity with lofty goals and purposeful work, it is possible to bring these ideals into practice," noted the prime minister.

Newspaper editor

One of Tõnisson's most prominent roles as as editor-in-chief of Postimees, the Estonian daily founded in the mid-19th century and still running today.

''His role as editor and being involved in the paper would not have been easy at that time. Nevertheless, we know all too well what a major force Postimees has been in our country's history,'' Mr Ratas continued.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Whilst Jaan Tõnisson was Postimees editor, his counterpart at rival Teataja was also a rival in politics, Konstantin Päts. Both men loom large in the drive towards Estonian independence and the establishment of a functioning government once that independence became fact, a journey which took them through events including the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905, an episode on which two men's stances differed, as they did on many other things (whereas Konstantin Päts was forced into exile and condemned to death in absentia by imperial Russian authorities in 1906, Jaan Tõnisson was able to remain in Estonia, still a part of the Russian Empire at that time).

Turbulent times

Jüri Ratas also noted that Jaan Tõnisson's portrait hangs in the hall of the elders at the Stenbock House, the seat of the Estonian government, along with those of other prominent statesmen.

''The portraits note the years that our great men passed away, and they are all too close together. On Jaan Tõnisson's portrait, the year of his death is given as 1941, but followed by a question mark. The fact is, we don't know too much about the last days of his life. It is also hard to imagine that those leaders would have even dared to dream of Estonia one day celebrating its 100th anniversary of independence. Whenever I am in the hall of the elders in the Stenbock House, I always get a sense that we too are engaged in our own daily battles, something that future generations will also come to realise'', Mr Ratas said.

Born near Viljandi on 22 December 1868, Jaan Tõnisson served as prime minister twice, though for a total time of less than a year, which hints at the turbulence facing the new Estonian republic. He was arrested in Autumn 1940 following the first Soviet occupation and put on trial. His exact subsequent whereabouts remain a mystery, though it is thought he may have been shot in the forest outside Tallinn in July 1941, the same month of Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union.

Elite army battalion also celebrating anniversary

Meanwhile the elite Kuperjanov Infantry battalion of the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) also celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding, on Saturday, 22 December.

Batallion staff marked the occasion with a ceremonial march in the South Estonian town of Võru on Saturday morning, and its nearby Taara base was open to the public in the afternoon, hosting an exhibition of weaponry, pictures and videos of the batallion's activities following the re-establishment of Estonian independence over a quarter of a century ago.

Mugs featuring the Kuperjanov Battalion's badge. Source: EDF

Famed for its esprit de corps, the Kuperjanov Batallion is at present part of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, covering the Southern Defence District. It has functioned as an infantry training unit since 2004. It was founded during the Estonian War of Independence by schoolteacher and Imperial Russian Army veteran Julius Kuperjanov.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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