Independence Day 2018 and 2019
Independence Day in Estonia is celebrated every February 24th, the day in 1918 when independence was declared from the Russian Empire.
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It was also on February 24th, in 1989, that the flag replaced 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 April 8th, 1917, over 40,000 Estonians, including military members, demonstrated in St. Petersburg, Russia, demanding an independent Estonian Republic. Only four days later, on April 12th, 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 November 15th, 1917, Estonian leaders declared the local Estonian government to have greater authority within Estonia than that of the new Bolshevik rulers of Russia. On February 3rd and 4th, 1918, elections were held, and two-thirds of the people supported independence. On February 24th, 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 the 23rd of 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 foreign domination for around 50 years, during which time the celebration of their February 24th Independence Day was suppressed. In the 1980’s, Estonians began publicly celebrating February 24th regardless of state disapproval, and by August 20th, 1991, the Soviet occupation of Estonia had fully come to an end.
In general, Estonian Independence Day is celebrated with parades, fireworks, and family get togethers. Some things do should you visit Estonia for Independence Day include:
- One the “Independence Day Eve,” February 23rd, watch the laying of wreaths on the graves of famous Estonians at Forest Cemetery in Tallinn. The president will also give out special awards at the Parnu Endla Theater, where a photography competition called “Homeland Pictures” takes place.
- On the 24th, in Tallinn, there are even more events. Wreaths will be laid at the Independence War monuments in Parnu Alevi Cemetery and in Vabaduse Square. There will be flag raisings in Ruutli Square and at Hall Hermann Tower. There will also be a military parade in Central Square, further awards given out at the Parnu Endla Theater, and a patriotic concert at the Parnu Concert Hall.
- Already in Tallinn for Independence Day, it is a perfect chance to explore the old medieval section of town, which is one of the most well preserved in all Europe. There is Toompea Castle, two cathedrals and other old churches, the city wall and several towers, and much more.
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