Editorial: a war for independence of all peoples in Estonia

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Photo: Rahusarhiivi filmiarhiiv

Today is 96 days sharp from the start of Estonian War of Independence. The victory, for Estonia, is impossible to overestimate. War is enforcing a will – while assessing the meaning of wars, we must ask what was the essence of the will which prevailed.

In February 1918, Estonian National Council – the Maapäev – issued the «Manifesto to the Peoples of Estonia» which was read in Tallinn on the 24th – the date we now celebrate as Anniversary of the Republic. That day, Estonia was declared an independent democratic republic. The deeply democratic document talked about securing personal freedoms and also of ethnic minorities.

By then, we had sufficient experience with red terror and the understanding of the individual and the power, the people and ethnic cultures that the Bolshevik regime was based upon. The latter became an extension of the czarist empire in its conquests and oppression of small nations. In terms of personal freedoms, culture and economy, however, this was a power altogether more barbarian.

What would Estonia be like, today, had the War of Independence been lost? Who knows, but perhaps a comparison will help with the dire straits of small nations then left under the Red Kremlin sway. The manifesto declared: «All ethnic minorities, the Russians, Germans, Swedes, Jews, and others residing within the borders of the republic, are going to be guaranteed the right to their cultural autonomy.» The Republic of Estonia kept the promise – to do that, without winning the War of Independence, would have been impossible.

Looking back, we may say the two decades till the occupation were a time of critical importance when the cultural foundations were established – thanks to which Estonia was able to regain independence, the republic thus restored by its citizenry. Again borrowing words from the manifesto, we are now «a worthy member within the family of civilized nations», an obvious part of the free world. This we are as a state, and this carries meaning to each inhabitant of Estonia.

The February manifesto expressed the Estonian will which, till the fall of 1918, was buried under German occupation. Starting November 28th, the people in Estonia had to defend this will from the advancing red army. Despite the hardship and confusion, it worked – the enemies were kicked out of Estonian borders, and on February 2nd 1920 Tartu peace treaty was signed between the Republic of Estonia and Soviet Russia.

Already, events are being organised for the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. Hereby, let Postimees urge the historians and those allotting the (science) money to also tackle War of Independence history. The independent Estonia turning a century old, it’s worthy of a contemporary academic discourse on the war to defend it – such as to also enhance interest towards history in us all.