The first parliamentary representative body in the Estonian Province of the Russian Empire was the Provisional Assembly of Estonia, or Maapäev. It operated from 14 July 1917 until 23 April 1919, made several weighty decisions and proclaimed the independence of Estonia.
World War I created the conditions for national states to emerge in Europe on territories of former empires. This also gave the impulse to form the Provisional Assembly, or Maapäev. Maapäev, however, was not a freely elected parliament, but created by a decree of the Russian Provisional Government as a representative body of the Governorate of Estonia.
Maapäev convened for its first sitting in the White Hall of the Toompea Castle on 14 July 1917, with Artur Vallner elected as its Chairman. Among the members of Maapäev there were many well-known political and public figures of the time, including Jaan Tõnisson, Jüri Vilms, Konstantin Päts, Ado Birk, Karl Ast, Kaarel Parts, and others
On 28 November 1917, the Provisional Assembly of the Governorate of Estonia, or Maapäev, declared itself the supreme power until the convocation of a democratically elected Constituent Assembly. This decision was the first big step towards sovereignty.
After the decision was made, however, the Bolsheviks disbanded Maapäev, and its activities ceased for two years. The Committee of Elders of the Land Council and the Provisional Assembly nevertheless continued their activities underground.
Taking advantage of the events of 1918 in Russia and on the fronts of the World War I, The Committee of Elders of the Land Council decided to declare Estonia independent. This is why the representatives of the larger political parties formed the Salvation Committee on 19 February 1919.
The Salvation Committee
The Salvation Committee was given all the executive power in Estonia. The members of the Salvation Committee were Konstantin Päts, Jüri Vilms and Konstantin Konik who all had equal status, although many sources name Konstantin Päts the Chairman of the Salvation Committee.
A Manifesto of Independence was composed, in which Estonia was called an independent democratic republic for the first time. It was read aloud in Pärnu, from the balcony of the theatre Endla, on 23 February 1918. This was a great moment for the new nation state, and to this day it is one of the most important events in the history of Estonia.
On February 24, the Salvation Committee appointed the 13-member Estonian Provisional Assembly, led by Konstantin Päts.
At midday, on February 25, the Manifesto of Independence was read aloud in Tallinn; at the same time, German troops were entering the city. The German occupation of Estonia lasted from March to November. The supreme power was held by the German military, which did not recognise Estonia’s independence. The activities of Estonian political parties were stopped and national troops were disbanded.
The Provisional Government of Estoniacontinued its activities on 11 November. The first legal sitting was attended by the government comprised of Jaan Poska, Ferdinand Peterson, Jaan Raamot and Juhan Kukk.
A joint sitting of the Provisional Government and the Committee of Elders of the Land Council was held on 12 November, which formalised the composition of the new government and distributed the ministerial portfolios.
Maapäev convened for its last sitting on 1-5 February 1919, and handed over its mandate to the Constituent Assembly on 24 April of the same year.
The importance of Maapäev
The importance of Maapäev as the first representative body elected by the Estonian nation must not be underestimated. Under the leadership of Maapäev:
- Estonian independence was declared on 24 February 1918
- Estonians gained local administrative authority
- Protection of independence was organised during the War of Independence
- Estonian language was taken into use as the official language
- Estonian was also legalised as the language of instruction in schools
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