Independence Day in Estonia is celebrated every 24 February to mark the day in 1918 when independence was declared from the Russian Empire.
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It was also on 24 February 1989 that the flag of a free Estonia replaced the flag of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic on the historically significant Toompea Hill in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city.
The Estonian people have their own language, culture, and history, but from the 13th Century A.D. on, they were dominated by various empires vying for power in the region, including Russia, Poland, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark. Independence was long desired, but only in the turmoil of the waning years of World War I did it become attainable.
On 8 April 1917, over 40,000 Estonians, including military members, demonstrated in St. Petersburg, Russia, demanding an independent Estonian Republic. Only four days later, on 12 April, Russia acquiesced to the degree that they established an Estonian “autonomous region” with an ethnic Estonian leader over it. This was far short of independence, however.
On 15 November 1917, Estonian leaders declared the local Estonian government to have greater authority within Estonia than that of the new Bolshevik rulers of Russia. On 3 and 4 February 1918, elections were held, and two-thirds of the people supported independence. On 24 February, full independence was finally declared. Immediately, Estonia was in the midst of a war both against the Soviet Russians and against Prussians still invading Estonia as part of the action of World War I.
With help from the UK, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark, the Estonian military beat back the Prussians, most famously in the Battle of Vonnu on 23 June 1919. Both Prussia and Russia were defeated in World War I, and Russia recognised Estonian statehood in the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920.
In 1940, however, Soviet forces occupied the Baltic states, including Estonia. Estonia would remain under soviet domination for around 50 years, during which time the celebration of their 24 February Independence Day was suppressed. In the 1980’s, Estonians began publicly celebrating 24 February regardless of state disapproval, and by 20 August 1991, the Soviet occupation of Estonia had fully come to an end.