Minister of Defence Jüri Luik commemorated those who gave their lives in the War of Independence and marked the ceasefire between the Republic of Estonia and Soviet Russia exactly 101 years ago by placing a wreath on behalf of the ‘Estonian people’ at the foot of the War of Independence Victory Column.
According to Minister of Defence Luik, we celebrate the historic moment when the war ended and freedom began, and we are commemorating the men and women of Estonia, schoolboys and girls who fought for Estonian statehood.
‘Victory in the War of Independence laid the foundation for building the Estonian statehood’, said Luik.
He stressed that Estonia’s independence – confirmed by the signing of the Tartu Peace Treaty on 2 February 1920 – was not achieved by an act of mercy on anyone’s part, but by 400 days of fierce resistance and great sacrifices.
‘The War of Independence was a committed and successful struggle by the Estonian people for self-determination’, said Luik.
He explained that in November 1919, during the crucial phase of the war, the Estonian army was comprised of nearly one hundred thousand swords and bayonets, that is, almost one in ten Estonian residents picked up a weapon to protect freedom, and the whole nation supported fighters on the eastern and southern fronts.
‘Such a strong and self-sacrificing commitment to one’s independence is rare in the history of the whole world’, Luik said. Around 5000 soldiers lost their lives while fighting for Estonia’s freedom. ‘We bow our head in memory of our patriots, and we will forever cherish their heroic deeds’, Luik added.
Luik noted that for nearly 30 years we have been living in the Republic of Estonia that regained its independence – our fatherland has never been as well protected, developed and integrated with its natural allies as it is now.
‘True, we must resist new challenges and threats, but we are able to successfully adapt and act under changing circumstances’, said Luik, who called on the country to view the heroes of the War of Independence as an example of acting unanimously, responsibly and decisively at critical moments.
‘We must never forget that independence, freedom and true democracy need care and protection every day’, the Minister of Defence said.
Wreaths were also placed at the foot of the War of Independence Victory Column by Major General Martin Herem, Commander of the Defence Forces, and Brigadier General Riho Ühtegi. Today, representatives of the Defence League and the Estonian Defence Forces are laying wreaths and lighting candles at War of Independence memorials located across Estonia.
The Tartu peace negotiations, held between the Republic of Estonia and Soviet Russia, resulted in an armistice that was signed on 31 December 1919. The agreement foresaw the cessation of hostilities on the Russian front, between Estonia and the Soviet Union, at 10.30 on 3 January 1920.
In the 1920s, the tradition began of holding a minute of silence each year at 10.30 on 3 January, at the moment the ceasefire entered into force, in order to honour the Estonians and foreigners who fought in the War of Independence and gave their lives for Estonia’s freedom.
Appended is the speech by class 10b student Mona Reisberg, winner of the Tallinn Secondary School of Science Speech Contest, which was not delivered during the memorial ceremony due to restrictions on the spread of Covid-19.
Honourable people of Estonia!
For a moment, let’s look away from the troubles and joys of this winter and together commemorate this one day, one of the most important events in Estonian history, the War of Independence. The time when the sons of Estonia laid the foundations for a free Estonian state, their courage putting an end to foreign rule and helping us to find our faith, the ability to live in our own country, to be the shapers and leaders of our own destiny, who fully deserve their own country. Thanks to which I am able to stand here and say that I live in the Republic of Estonia.
As at the beginning of the war, the Estonian people did not see victory at first sight, but fear of the impending War of Independence. But by fighting side by side, as a common nation, we achieved everything we could have ever wished for – freedom and independence, our own country. In this war, we saw how great and courageous soldiers grew up out of young, school-age youth, who did not allow themselves to be scared by death, instead sacrificing everything so that we could live in a better future, better than they were, free of suffering. These student soldiers believed in us, even when their comrades in arms died alongside them, they did not give up, instead drawing strength from their deaths. This honour is eternal and belongs to all of us, to all of the people, both to those who fought and suffered for this country in the War of Independence and to those of us who are here now, able to feel pride of our country and forefathers.
I would end this speech with a quote from Johan Laidoner: ‘If the idea of the Estonian national spirit, homeland and freedom are cherished, then we can look boldly into the future’. Keeping and preserving the Republic of Estonia is our job; previous generations have done their part, now it is our turn. Let us not quarrel over small worries, but learn to look at the bigger picture, to care about each other just as much as the courageous and persevering youth of that time cared about Estonia’s independence.
Long live Estonia!
A peaceful anniversary of the ceasefire to all of us!
Photos from the ceremony: https://pildid.mil.ee/index.php?/category/60261
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