Our Own Country

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In Estonia, the 1920s and 1930s were for the most part a time of peace and harmony. Advancements were made in science, economics, and cultural life. Despite political and some social difficulties, the first period independence has been remembered as a golden age for the small, newly-formed state.

Tallinn Old Town

Three facts about Estonia’s first era of independence

  • The average government was in office less than a year instead of the legal four-year term
  • Estonia was one of the first countries in Europe to adopt the Cultural Autonomy Law (1925), which secured rights for minority peoples, including Russians, Swedes, Jews, and Germans, living in Estonia.
  • Despite geographical proximity, learning Russian was not popular during the first period of independence. Instead, schools focused on teaching English and German.

On the eve of Second World War, on April 11, 1939, Ilmar Tõnisson, the son of statesman Jaan Tõnisson, who was studying in London, wrote his father a warning letter. The young man’s predictions came to pass, and in subsequent years a large part of Estonia’s elite was imprisoned and never returned. The fate Jaan Tõnisson has remained unknown since he disappeared in the summer of 1941.

To my understanding, we now have the same situation as in Summer-Autumn 1917. Action must be taken immediately, otherwise the song of our independence will be through forever. I urgently implore you—if the government does not agree with the ultimatum, go to Finland! Because in that case, sooner or later, you are sure to be imprisoned in Estonia either by our own short-sighted colleagues or by the enemy. Start writing articles for Finnish and Scandinavian papers. Your freedom is important.