At the Special Sitting of the 14th Riigikogu and the August 20th Club on the 30th Anniversary of the Restoration of Estonia’s Independence, speeches were heard from President of the Riigikogu Jüri Ratas, President of the Republic Kersti Kaljulaid, President of the August 20th Club Ants Veetõusme, student Marcus Ehasoo, President of the 4 May Declaration Club of Latvia Velta Čebotarenoka, President of the Signatories of the Independence Act Club of Lithuania Birutė Valionytė, and President of the European Parliament David Sassoli.
President of the Riigikogu Jüri Ratas started his speech by quoting the first President of the reborn Estonia, Lennart Meri. Meri writes in his foreword to the book Estonia: Identity and Independence that ““the purpose of all Estonian history has been the realisation of the right of self-determination, the restoration of independence and the establishment a sovereign state.”
Ratas recalled that the mandate from the people to restore the Republic of Estonia brought to Toompea the politicians who passed the historical Resolution on the National Independence of Estonia eighteen months later, on 20 August 1991.
Ratas emphasised that this decision was historical because not only did it win us back our country, but it also won us back our history, which, as is clear from the quote by Meri, had been one long road towards the establishment of Estonia’s independence. “It might sound like a paradox, but this Resolution made the future generations the heirs of their future. It was thus that you, former MPs now in the August 20th Club, were the restorers but also opened the gates of the future for the decision makers of today. Nothing can sully this honour and our gratitude to you for laying the first stone in the foundation of the enduring Estonian era,” he said.
Ratas highlighted the future aspect in these historical events. He also pointed out that the role of the Supreme Council back then was not limited to this one resolution that changed the fate of Estonia. The year running up to it and the period that followed, until the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia by referendum as well as the elections of the President of the Republic and the first post-war parliament, were spent laying the foundation of the Republic with legislation and resolutions. “This is the foundation that all the following parliaments and generations of politicians will need to continue building, in order to alleviate when needed the sometimes unfair twists of history and unintentional injustices. Everyone in Estonia must be able to trust their country and feel that Estonia is standing up for them just like for everyone else,“ said the President of the Riigikogu.
President Kersti Kaljulaid said that this was the day we were waiting for all through the years of occupation, and it was in the hope of its coming that we took part in all these popular movements and actions which can be condensed in the beautiful expression “Singing Revolution”, along with its powerful pre- and after-story. The day came when the people’s representation of the transition period – the Supreme Council – passed the resolution “On the National Independence of Estonia”.
Kaljulaid continued that this Resolution was born out of cooperation between members of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia and the Congress of Estonia, and was based on the majority wish of the voters of both representative bodies – to restore the Republic of Estonia. This wish – restoration of an independent and sovereign Republic of Estonia – was confirmed by 77 of those who voted in March 1991 at the independence referendum.
Both the Congress of Estonia and the Supreme Council had declared in March 1990 that they both aim at ending the occupation and restoring independence. “Of course, opinions differed about how to achieve this goal, which was of such a pivotal importance for Estonia, and there were intense debates about which road to independence should we take. But we must remember that nobody knew beforehand how we would finally break free of the occupation that had oppressed us for half a century,” Kaljulaid said.
“This Resolutions, born in cooperation between the representatives of the Supreme Council and the Congress of Estonia thirty years ago, did not only restore Estonia’s independence, but also set a very important future goal. The Constitutional Assembly was established to draft the text of the new Constitution of the Republic of Estonia, and this was handed over to the people for a final assessment. It was crucial that the Constitutional Assembly included all the political forces, which allowed all the principles of organising the public sphere to be discussed calmly by everyone,” the President continued.
She emphasised that on that night in August, Toompea understood with statemanly wisdom that a free and democratic Estonia can only be founded on a social agreement that recognises different opinions and tries to find common ground among these.
President of the August 20th Club Ants Veetõusme started by extending his special thanks to everyone who was ready to fight till the end for the actual restoration of the Republic of Estonia 30 years ago. “It is only together with the people of Estonia and thanks to their firm support that we won the fight for the independence of Estonia.”
He recalled that it has been thirty years from the memorable day when the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia made the decision to fully restore the independence of the Republic of Estonia. “We saw the materialisation of what almost the entire Estonian nation had worked for over the previous years. 30 years ago, you could feel the expectations and the anxiousness in the corridors and offices of Toompea Castle. Nobody knew how the day would end outside the walls of the castle. And yet it was clear to everyone that this was the very day when the Supreme Council (because there was no other body with the same authority) needed to restore the independence of the Republic of Estonia, because this is what the nation had given us a mandate for,” Veetõusme mused.
“And when the gavel strike of Ülo Nugis confirmed that the resolution on the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia had been passed, the people who had gathered on the square in front of Toompea Castle greeted it with jubilation. Such a feeling of unity between the people and members of parliament can emerge only in these rare moments in the history of a country when the vital decisions the people have waited for and wanted are passed,” he said.
Veetõusme highlighted that during its entire existence, the Supreme Council held a steady course – to restore the actual independence of the Republic of Estonia. “History has proven that the Supreme Council did excellent work during its lifespan, laying a solid legal platform for the Republic to stand on its own feet,“ Veetõusme concluded.
Student Marcus Ehasoo sees the day as the celebration of thirty years from the day when the hope and sense of perspective of our nation were restored. “Thanks to the events in August 1991 and before, everyone born after 1991 has had the chance to grow up in free Estonia. I cannot even imagine the spirit that carried and the power that animated the thoughts of the people who fought for a free Estonia. However, I can describe how I look at these people: with a sincere gratitude and pride that our little nation included so many great politicians at the time,“ Ehasoo stressed.
“The feeling of unity – this is how I would describe the events that took place three decades ago. Towards a common great goal – restoring independence – people were ready to face any difficulties because the end goal was so noble and so right. Feeling of unity gave the leaders the courage to make decisions, and the people the courage to defend these,” he said.
Ehasoo asked rhetorically – how and where should we go? “The answer to this is simple: onward with the same kind of passion as 30 year ago, confidently and brimming with sense of unity, towards an even better nation. This will ensure our survival.“
President of the 4 May Declaration Club of Latvia Velta Čebotarenoka remembered August 20th 30 years ago. “The news of your courageous vote was another encouragement for our parliament to follow your lead. Both of our countries were under occupation and both had a huge contingent of Soviet troops. Under these circumstances, the representatives elected from the people’s movements, both in Estonia and Latvia, were not confused or afraid, did not bow before this major superpower, and voted for the independence of their countries.
The destinies of all three of our Baltic states are very similar and we are the same in spirit, courage, and our fight for freedom. It is fortunate that we can live in harmony, honour the great skills of our neighbours, and truly rejoice in each other’s success. This can be seen in the friendship and cooperation of the clubs voting for independence. When we get together, we always, through serious talks and sometimes even disputes, try to address issues that are important for all three countries.”
President of the Signatories of the Independence Act Club of Lithuania Birutė Valionytė said that she was extremely happy to take the floor to congratulate the proud Estonian nation on the Estonian Day of Restoration of Independence. “I am saying this on behalf of the Signatories of the Independence Act Club of Lithuania.“
She said that Lithuania looked on with envy as Estonia established the Popular Front on 13 April 1988. In 1989, at the Baltic Assembly right here in Tallinn, we agreed on the specific details of the Baltic Way. “Together, the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians effectively turned their faces towards the west and transformed themselves into a human chain from Vilnius to Tallinn, turning their backs towards Moscow in unison. The participants of the Baltic Way felt responsible for the fate of their countries and their nations. This served as a demonstration, to themselves and the entire world, of their determination and resolve to build an independent life for their nations. This peaceful act was witnessed around the world,” she recalled.
President of the European Parliament David Sassoli said that he was very happy to be in the Riigikogu and celebrate the anniversary of the restoration of Estonia’s national independence.
“Thirty years ago you showed no fear but only the thirst for freedom and democracy. I know that your road for freedom has begun much earlier, hundred years before, and continued with small steps of extraordinary people and with big acts of courage. Your dream of freedom endured through the years of extraordinary hardships, occupation years, deportations, oppression, and loss of freedom. Those deportations, the confiscation of properties, deaths and the life in fear for those that managed to survive and return have left deep wound on the soul of the entire region and our entire European Union. Your move from the darkness to the light as Estonian poet Gustav Suits had put it, became a manifestation of the will of liberty, which continues to inspire the young generations.
Today, the many women and men who are working on building their own democracies look to you and your experiences. Democratic transformation takes years and so does the establishment of new institutions, procedures, and the change of rules as well as habits and mentality. You have done a remarkable thing, with tough reforms which surely impacted everyone, your whole society and community in last three decades. However, the reforms were very successful and ensured you the leading role in many sectors.
The nature of democracy is founded on trust, trust in institutions, trust in free media, trust in politics, trust in the state, trust in the judicial, and trust in those that protect it. This trust needs to be carefully renewed every day, as the best investment into our future.”
He expressed fear in the democracy today, and urged everyone to update it and improve its efficiency. “Today I want to celebrate your democracy and extol the memory of the sacrifices made by all those who have suffered for the liberty of your country, and reaffirm the duty of our institutions to act as repositories of our values,” the President of the European Parliament concluded.
The Academic Male Choir of Tallinn University of Technology, conducted by Valter Soosalu, performed at the Special Sitting.
Photos: (Author: Erik Peinar, Chancellery of the Riigikogu).