“Under this sheet of glass is the original copy of the Declaration of Independence – the “Manifesto to the Peoples of Estonia”. It is the birth certificate of our country, the most important document in constitutional law,” said Prime Minister Andrus Ansip upon opening the exhibition. The photocopy of the declaration and a magnified photocopy of the original text in Juhan Kukk’s handwriting are from the State Archive, which placed them in the custody of the Government Office at the request of Secretary of State Heiki Loot. The prime minister said the Green Hall could also bear the name of Declaration of Independence hall as in addition to the declaration, portraits of Kukk and Jüri Jaakson can also be found hanging here.
Historian Ago Pajur said the manifesto of independence to all peoples was unique in Europe. “Today, 95 years ago at around noon the declaration was approved. It can be considered the date on which the independent Republic of Estonia was proclaimed,” said Pajur.
A committee was tasked with the drafting of the declaration. Its elected members were the writer Karl Ast, the advocate Jüri Jaakson, the engineer Ferdinand Peterson and the leader of a cooperative movement Juhan Kukk. Kukk was given the responsibility of compiling the first draft.
Juhan Kukk wrote the draft by hand on three loose-leaf sheets of paper and made corrections and changes to them. The handwritten rough draft shows a number of deletions and additions, rewordings of a few sentences; even a few paragraphs have been rewritten. The final draft incorporating these changes was approved on 21 February.
The Declaration of Independence was published for the first time on 23 February in Pärnu. During that day, the declaration was printed, posted on public bulletin boards and walls and distributed across the county. That evening at 20:00, a member of the Estonian Province Assembly, the advocate Hugo Kuusner, read the declaration to the people assembled at the Endla Society’s house.
Although German forces occupied all of Estonia in March, thanks to the publication of the manifesto, the independent country was de jure in existence and in November 1918, following the defeat of the German Emperor in World War I, the development of Estonian statehood could continue.