On Aug. 20, 1991, an attempted coup by Communist hardliners in Moscow precipitated a succession of events in Estonia that, on the same day, led to a resolution of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR to declare the country's independence from the collapsing Soviet Union. Since then, Estonia has celebrated its regained independence on this date every year.
Twenty-eight years ago, on August 20 1991, volunteers rushed to protect Tallinn's TV tower after Soviet forces were sent to the country to cripple the country's communication systems. The events took place during a three-day attempted coup in Moscow by hardline members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union who were unhappy with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost reforms.
When the 76th Guards Air Assault Division arrived in Tallinn from Pskov, they were met by volunteers who had responded to a call to take up the defense of Toompea Hill as well as the city's radio and television buildings.
That night, at just after 11pm, 69 members of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia voted in favor of the Resolution on the National Independence of Estonia. The decision was announced to the public the following day. Latvia also declared independence the same day.
On August 22, Iceland became the first country to formally recognize Estonia's newly re-established independence. Sweden became the first country to open its embassy in Tallinn on August 29, and on September 6 the Soviet Union recognized Estonia's independence. On September 17, Estonia joined the United Nations.
On Christmas Day, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned, declared his office extinct, and handed over its powers to Russian President Boris Yeltsin. One day later, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved.
However, Russian troops remained in the country for another three years. On July 26 1994, Estonian President Lennart Meri and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed an agreement for the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonian territory, the culmination of years of negotiations. At the start of August, Russian troops were completely withdrawn from both Estonia and Latvia.
Below is a translation of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia's Resolution on the National Independence of Estonia, which was published on August 21, 1991 in the State Gazette (Riigi Teataja).
RESOLUTION OF THE SUPREME COUNCIL OF THE REPUBLIC OF ESTONIA
312: Regarding Estonia's national independence
Based on the continuity of the Republic of Estonia as a subject of international law, drawing upon the Estonian population's declaration of intent clearly expressed in the March 3, 1991 referendum to restore the Republic of Estonia's national independence, given the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR's March 30, 1990 decision regarding "The Estonian national status" and the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR's declaration regarding "The Cooperation of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR and the Congress of Estonia," taking into account that the coup which has taken place in the Soviet Union poses a serious threat to the democratic processes taking place in Estonia and has rendered impossible the restoration of the national independence of the Republic of Estonia by means of bilateral negotiations with the Soviet Union, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia has decided:
1. To confirm the Republic of Estonia's national independence and seek the restoration of the Republic of Estonia's diplomatic relations.
2. To establish for the development and submission to referendum of the Estonian Constitution the Constitutional Assembly, the composition of which will be shaped by delegation from the Republic of Estonia's highest legislative organ of state power, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia, and the representative body of the Estonian citizenry, the Congress of Estonia.
3. To hold parliamentary elections according to the new Constitution of the Republic of Estonia in the year 1992.
The resolution was signed on Aug. 20, 1991 by the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia, Arnold Rüütel. Rüütel would later go on to become Estonia's second president after it regained its independence.
Celebrations will be held across the country, and Lithuania's President Gitanas Nausėda will attend the annual restoration of independence day reception at Kadriorg Palace with President Kersti Kaljulaid.
Editor: Helen Wright