The Independent Republic

History of Estonia between 1919 - 1940

Estonia as a unified political entity first emerged after the Russian February Revolution of 1917. With the collapse of the Russian Empire in World War I, Russia's Provisional Government granted national autonomy to an unified Estonia in April. The Governorate of Estonia in the north (corresponding to the historic Danish Estonia) was united with the northern part of the Governorate of Livonia. Elections for a provisional parliament, Maapäev was organized, with the Menshevik and Bolshevik factions of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party obtaining a part of the vote. On November 5, 1917, two days before the October Revolution in Saint Petersburg, Estonian Bolshevik leader Jaan Anvelt violently usurped power from the legally constituted Maapäev in a coup d'état, forcing the Maapäev underground.

In February, after the collapse of the peace talks between Soviet Russia and the German Empire, mainland Estonia was occupied by the Germans. Bolshevik forces retreated to Russia. Between the Russian Red Army's retreat and the arrival of advancing German troops, the Salvation Committee of the Estonian National Council Maapäev issued the Estonian Declaration of Independence in Pärnu on February 23, 1918.

German occupation

After the collapse of the short-lived puppet government of the United Baltic Duchy and the withdrawal of German troops in November 1918, an Estonian Provisional Government retook office. A military invasion by the Red Army followed a few days later, however, marking the beginning of the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920). The Estonian army cleared the entire territory of Estonia of the Red Army by February 1919.

Independence

On 5–7 April 1919 The Estonian Constituent Assembly was elected. On February 2, 1920, the Treaty of Tartu was signed by the Republic of Estonia and the Russian SFSR. The terms of the treaty stated that Russia renounced in perpetuity all rights to the territory of Estonia. The first Constitution of Estonia was adopted on June 15, 1920. The Republic of Estonia obtained international recognition and became a member of the League of Nations in 1921. In nearby Finland similar circumstances resulted in a bloody civil war. Despite repeated threats from fascist movements, Finland became and remained a free democracy under the rule of law. By contrast Estonia, without a civil war, started as a democracy and was turned into a dictatorship in 1934.

Republic of Estonia

The first period of independence lasted 22 years, beginning in 1918. Estonia underwent a number of economic, social, and political reforms necessary to come to terms with its new status as a sovereign state. Economically and socially, land reform in 1919 was the most important step. Large estate holdings belonging to the Baltic nobility were redistributed among the peasants and especially among volunteers in the Estonian War of Independence. Estonia's principal markets became Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and western Europe, with some exports to the United States and to the Soviet Union. The first constitution of the Republic of Estonia, adopted in 1920, established a parliamentary form of government. The parliament (Riigikogu) consisted of 100 members elected for 3-year terms.

Between 1920 and 1934, Estonia had 21 governments. A mass anticommunist and anti-parliamentary Vaps Movement emerged in the 1930s. In October 1933 a referendum on constitutional reform initiated by the Vaps Movement was approved by 72.7 percent. The league spearheaded replacement of the parliamentary system with a presidential form of government and laid the groundwork for an April 1934 presidential election, which it expected to win. However, the Vaps Movement was thwarted by a pre-emptive coup d'état on March 12, 1934, by Head of State Konstantin Päts, who then established his own authoritarian rule until a new constitution came to force. During the Era of Silence, political parties were banned and the parliament was not in session between 1934 and 1938 as the country was ruled by decree by Konstantin Päts. The Vaps Movement was officially banned and finally disbanded in December 1935. On May 6, 1936, 150 members of the league went on trial and 143 of them were convicted to long-term prison sentences. They were granted an amnesty and freed in 1938, by which time the league had lost most of its popular support. The independence period was one of great cultural advancement.Empty citation‎ (help) Estonian language schools were established, and artistic life of all kinds flourished. One of the more notable cultural acts of the independence period, unique in western Europe at the time of its passage in 1925, was a guarantee of cultural autonomy to minority groups comprising at least 3,000 persons, including Jews (see history of the Jews in Estonia). Historians see the lack of any bloodshed after a nearly "700-year German rule" as indication that it must have been mild by comparison.

Estonia had pursued a policy of neutrality, but it was of no consequence after the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact on August 23, 1939. In the agreement, the two great powers agreed to divide up the countries situated between them (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland) with Estonia falling in the Soviet "sphere of influence". After the invasion of Poland, the Orzeł incident took place when Polish submarine ORP Orzeł looked for shelter in Tallinn but escaped after the Soviet Union attacked Poland on September 17. Estonian's lack of will and/or inability to disarm and intern the crew caused the Soviet Union to accuse Estonia of "helping them escape" and claim that Estonia was not neutral. On September 24, 1939, the Soviet Union threatened Estonia with war unless provided with military bases in the country –- an ultimatum with which the Estonian government complied.

Reference: Wikipedia

Popular sites founded between 1919 and 1940 in Estonia

Estonian Maritime Museum

Estonian Maritime Museum (founded 1935) is located in the cannon tower, Paks Margareeta (Fat Margaret), forming a part of medieval defence system. The exposition on the history of Estonian maritime - ship- and boat building, ports, navigational aids on the ships, lighthouses – is displayed on the four floors of the museum. In addition to the main exposition the exchangeable exhibitions take place on the ground floo ...
Founded: 1935 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Metsakalmistu

Tallinn's most famous cemetery Metsakalmistu was officially opened in 1939. Among its most famous permanent guests are Estonia’s presidents Konstantin Päts and Lennart Meri, writers Lydia Koidula and Anton-Hansen Tammsaare, chess player Paul Keres, composer Raimond Valgre and singer Georg Ots. Even if you don't visit these celebrity graves, a stroll through the rest of the cemetery is still a fascinating and pe ...
Founded: 1939 | Location: Pirita, Estonia

Angla Windmills

There has been a windmill park in Angla about hundred years. Five of the original nine windmills still remain, most of them built in 1920’s. One of them is a Dutch-style windmill with turnable tower.
Founded: 1920's | Location: Saaremaa, Estonia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Castle de Haar

Castle de Haar is the largest and most fairytale-like castle in the Netherlands. The current buildings, all built upon the original castle, date from 1892 and are the work of Dutch architect P.J.H. Cuypers, in a Neo-Gothic restoration project funded by the Rothschild family.

The oldest historical record of a building at the location of the current castle dates to 1391. In that year, the family De Haar received the castle and the surrounding lands as fiefdom from Hendrik van Woerden. The castle remained in the ownership of the De Haar family until 1440, when the last male heir died childless. The castle then passed to the Van Zuylen family. In 1482, the castle was burned down and the walls were torn down, except for the parts that did not have a military function. These parts probably were incorporated into the castle when it was rebuilt during the early 16th century. The castle is mentioned in an inventory of the possessions of Steven van Zuylen from 1506, and again in a list of fiefdoms in the province Utrecht from 1536. The oldest image of the castle dates to 1554 and shows that the castle had been largely rebuilt by then. After 1641, when Johan van Zuylen van der Haar died childless, the castle seems to have gradually fallen into ruins. The castle escaped from total destruction by the French during the Rampjaar 1672.

In 1801 the last catholic van Zuylen in the Netherlands, the bachelor Anton-Martinus van Zuylen van Nijevelt (1708-1801) bequeathed the property to his cousin Jean-Jacques van Zuylen van Nyevelt (1752-1846) of the catholic branch in the Southern Netherlands. In 1890, De Haar was inherited by Jean-Jacques' grandson Etienne Gustave Frédéric Baron van Zuylen van Nyevelt van de Haar (1860-1934), who married Baroness Hélène de Rothschild. They contracted architect Pierre Cuypers in 1892 to rebuild the ruinous castle, which took 15 years.

In 1887, the inheritor of the castle-ruins, Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt, married Hélène de Rothschild, of theRothschild family. Fully financed by Hélène's family, the Rothschilds, the couple set about rebuilding the castle from its ruins. For the restoration of the castle, the famous architect Pierre Cuypers was hired. He would be working on this project for 20 years (from 1892 to 1912). The castle has 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms, of which only a small number on the ground floor have been opened to be viewed by the public. In the hall, Cuypers has placed a statue with his own image in a corner of the gallery on the first floor.

The castle was equipped by Cuypers with the most modern gadgets, such as electrical lighting with its own generator, and central heating by way of steam. This installation is internationally recognized as an industrial monument. The kitchen was for that period also very modern and still has a large collection of copper pots and pans and an enormous furnace of approximately 6 metres long, which is heated with peat or coals. The tiles in the kitchen are decorated with the coats of arms of the families De Haar and Van Zuylen, which were for this purpose especially baked in Franeker. Cuypers marked out the difference between the old walls and the new bricks, by using a different kind of brick for the new walls. For the interior Cuypers made a lot of use of cast iron.

In the castle one can see many details which reminds one of the family De Rothschild, such as the David stars on the balconies of the knight's hall, the motto of the family on the hearth in the knight's hall (A majoribus et virtute) and the coat of arms of the family right underneath on the hearth in the library.

The interior of the castle is decorated with richly ornamented woodcarving, which reminds one of the interior of a Roman Catholic church. This carving was made in the workshop of Cuypers in Roermond. The place where later also the interiors of many Roman Catholic churches were made, designed by Cuypers. Cuypers even designed the tableware. The interior is also furnished with many works of the Rothschild collections, including beautiful old porcelain from Japan and China, and several old Flemish tapestries and paintings with religious illustrations. A showpiece is a carrier coach of the woman of a Shogun from Japan. There is only one more left in the world, which stands in a museum in Tokyo. Many Japanese tourists come to De Haar to admire exactly this coach, which was donated from the Rothschilds collections.

Surrounding the castle there is a park, designed by Hendrik Copijn, for which Van Zuylen ordered 7000 fully grown trees. Because these could not be transported through the city of Utrecht, Van Zuylen bought a house and tore it down. The park contains many waterworks and a formal garden which reminds one of the French gardens of Versailles. During the Second World War many of the gardens were lost, because the wood was used to light fires, and the soil was used to grow vegetables upon. At this time, the gardens are restored in their old splendor.

For the decoration of the park, the village Haarzuilens, except for the town church, was broken down. The inhabitants were moved to a place a kilometer further up, where a new Haarzuilens arose, where they lived as tenants of the lord of the castle. This new village was also built in a pseudo-medieval style, including a rural village green. The buildings were for the most part designed by Cuypers and his son Joseph Cuypers.