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The story of regaining independence


The Baltic Appeal

August 1979

On 23 August 1939, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was signed, by which Germany and the Soviet Union divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence. In August 1979, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian freedom fighters wrote a public letter to the UN Secretary-General, the governments of the USSR, the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic, and the signatories to the Atlantic Charter. The memorandum was signed by 45 freedom fighters. The letter demanded the disclosure of the 1939 non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR, i.e. the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with its secret protocols, to declare them invalid from the moment of signing, and to restore the occupied Baltic independence. The memorandum reached the addressees via Helsinki and Moscow. In the latter case, nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov assisted the freedom fighters. On 23 August, the Baltic Appeal was discussed in Free Europe and the Voice of America, two days later it was published by the New York Times


“Public letter from the Estonian SSR”, i.e. the letter of 40

Autumn 1980

As a result of the youth unrest that broke out in the autumn, the protest spirit of the intellectuals was also reignited. In the autumn of 1980, a group of intellectuals wrote a letter addressed to newspapers (for example, Pravda, Rahva Hääl). The “Public Letter from the Estonian SSR” is dated 28 October 1980, the letter was posted a week later. As it was signed by 40 well-known intellectuals in Estonia (Paul-Eerik Rummo, Marju Lauristin, Jaan Kaplinski), it is also called the letter of 40. The letter was intended to draw the attention of the authorities to the problems accumulating in society: the issue of language, deepening migration, and problems in youth policy. The letter spread secretly from hand to hand and found widespread acceptance among the people. However, the authorities tried to quiet the authors.


ESTO or Global Estonian Cultural Days in Toronto


The first Global Estonian Culture Days took place in Toronto in 1972. They took place in 1976 in Baltimore and in 1980 in Stockholm. In 1984, they were once again organised in Toronto.  ESTO is a global gathering of Estonians initiated by Estonians abroad which takes place every four years. Traditionally, the ESTO programme includes a song and dance festival, a national congress, and a service. During the period of occupation, ESTO also played a political role – at these gatherings, the situation in the occupied Estonia was described to the world. Mart Laar, Ivo Linna, Alo Mattiisen, and Lennart Meri also participated in the ESTO held in Australia in 1988.


Mikhail Gorbachev comes to power

10 March 1985

After the rapid replacement of several secretaries-general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the innovative Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in early 1985. The principle of his policy was to bring the leadership of the country closer to the people. Gorbachev introduced perestroika and glasnost.


Phosphorite campaign

Spring 1987

The phosphorite campaign, or the Phosphorite War, was the first major campaign.

The yellow T-shirts with the text “Phosphorite – no thanks” became important elements of student protests. The aim of the phosphorite campaign, which achieved its goals, was to prevent the construction of a phosphorite mine to be built in Kabala-Toolse in north-eastern Estonia and the accompanying influx of migrant labour and environmental pollution. In the context of the Phosphorite War, the patriotic song “Ei ole üksi ükski maa” by Estonian composer Alo Mattiisen was completed by Jüri Leesment. In the original version, lines describing each county were sung by a different singer.


15 August 1987

MRP-AEG, or the Estonian Group on Publication of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, was an organisation that aimed to disclose the secret protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, signed on 23 August 1939, and its impact on the Baltics, for which the Hirvepark meeting was held. This organisation led to the establishment of the Estonian National Independence Party. It was founded by Lagle Parek, Tiit Madisson, Jüri Mikk, Jan Kõrb, Heiki Ahonen, Ilse Heinsalu, and Mati Kiirend.

Hirvepark meeting

23 August 1987

The Hirvepark meeting was a political demonstration in Tallinn organised by MRP-AEG in which more than 2,000 people took part. Participants discussed the 1939 secret agreement and its consequences for the Baltics. For the local authorities, the size of the event was unexpected and they claimed that there were only a few hundred participants. Moscow considered that all protests should be suppressed from the outset, but real control over society could no longer be achieved. The meeting was an important cornerstone for the further politicisation of society, and its consequences only intensified over time.

The concept of Self-Managing Estonia was developed

26 September 1987

In the autumn of 1987, the idea of the Self-Managing Estonia (Isemajandav Eesti or IME (miracle in Estonian)), appeared in the Tartu publication Edasi. The proposal was prepared by Siim Kallas, Tiit Made, Edgar Savisaar, and Mikk Titma. The aim of the idea was to introduce a market economy in Estonia.

Establishment of the Estonian Heritage Society

12 December 1987

The Estonian Heritage Society was the first all-Estonian mass organisation based on democratic principles to unite heritage protection clubs. The aim of the organisation was to celebrate historically important anniversaries for Estonians and to restore historical memory. After the establishment of the society, a torchlight procession took place.


Celebration of the Treaty of Tartu anniversary

2 February 1988

On 2 February, the anniversary of the Treaty of Tartu was celebrated in Tartu. The gathering was opposed by the authorities of the ESSR and the Tartu City Government, who tried to stop the people with dogs and militia members.

A joint plenary session of creative associations takes place on Toompea

1-2 April 1988

With the joint plenary session held in the meeting hall of Toompea Castle at the beginning of April, the creative intelligentsia were joined in the process of renewal of society. The plenary focused mainly on the situation of national culture, made demands on the central government, and expressed dissatisfaction with the local authorities.

The idea of creating the Estonian Popular Front in Support of Perestroika

13 April 1988

On the evening show Mõtleme veel on ETV, Edgar Savisaar came up with the idea of creating the Popular Front which was to create a legal opposition in support of perestroika. On the same night, an initiative group of the organisation was formed and a declaration of the Popular Front was prepared, as a result of which the Congress for the Establishment of the Popular Front took place in the first days of October in Linnahall. Its members opposed the Communist Party of Estonia and supported the reforms of Gorbachev and facilitated innovation processes. Its activities were expected to increase the autonomy of the federal republic and to democratise the ruling regime. The Popular Front became the forerunner of the modern Estonian Centre Party.

The blue-black-white tricolour is shown to the public for the first time

14 April 1988

In the middle of April, the heritage protection days took place in Tartu, during which the people were shown the blue-black-white flag.

The triumph of the patriotic songs of Alo Mattiisen

14 May 1988

At the music days in Tartu, the song cycle of Alo Mattiisen was performed at Tähtvere Song Festival Grounds, which includes “Kaunimad laulud”, “Mingem üles mägedele”, “Sind surmani”, “Isamaa ilu hoieldes”, and “Eestlane olen ja eestlaseks jään”, which became the symbolic songs of the Singing Revolution.

Night Song Festivals

9.-13 June 1988

Tallinn’s Old Town Days in June grew into so-called Night Song Festivals where almost 100,000 people, most of them young people, danced and sang national songs while waving blue-black-white flags.

Vaino Väljas becomes the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Estonian Communist Party

16 June 1988

By June, Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Estonia, Karl Vaino, who had been criticized in the spring, was also opposed by the party itself, as a result of which Moscow replaced the former Secretary-General with Vaino Väljas, who had been recalled from Nicaragua.

The blue-black-white flag becomes the national flag of Estonians

23 June 1988

One week after the appointment of Vaino Väljas, the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic “On State and National Symbols in the Estonian SSR” was published, recognising blue, black, and white as the national colours of Estonia.

Foundation of the Estonian National Independence Party

20 August 1988

In August, the Estonian National Independence Party is established, with Lagle Parek as its leader. The goal of the Estonian National Independence Party is the complete restoration of the Republic of Estonia, and the party becomes one of the main authorities in the political landscape of that time.

Estonian Song

11 September 1988

In the autumn, the national dissent culminated with the event Estonian Song organised by the Popular Front on the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. The event developed into a large-scale national demonstration.

The Estonian Sovereignty Declaration is issued

16 November 1988

On 16 November 1988, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted Declaration on the Sovereignty of the Estonian SSR asserting the supremacy of Estonian laws in the territory of the Estonian SSR.


Estonian SSR Language Law

18 January 1989

Estonian is again declared the state language.

The blue-black-white flag is hoisted on the Tall Hermann Tower

24 February 1989

On the morning of 24 February, the blue-black-white flag was hoisted on the Tall Hermann Tower. From that moment on, the independence day of the Republic of Estonia was celebrated again, and the ceremonial flag-raising in Toompea on the early morning of 24 February has become a tradition.

Movement of the Citizen’s Committees

24 February 1989

The Estonian Heritage Society, the Estonian National Independence Party, and the Estonian Christian Union established a movement for citizens’ committees. Citizens of the Republic of Estonia are registered on the basis of the Estonian nationality law. The aim was to restore independence on the basis of legal continuity (the principle that the state remains independent of the occupation).

Baltic Way

23 August 1989

A human chain with two million participants from Tallinn to Vilnius, the aim of which was to raise awareness of the occupation of the Baltics. The date of the undertaking was of historical significance: it was the 50th anniversary of the MRP. The Baltic Way also reached the news abroad, which put pressure on the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union, leading it to acknowledge the existence of the MRP secret protocols and declare them invalid.


Elections to the Estonian Congress

24 February 1990

At the call of the Estonian Heritage Society, the Estonian Christian Union, and the Estonian National Independence Party, a massive civic initiative emerged with the aim of restoring the independence of Estonia with legal continuity. In the course of this, people began to be registered as official citizens of the Republic of Estonia on the basis of the former nationality law. On 24 February 1990, the first elections of the citizens’ representative body, the Estonian Congress, took place.

The first session of the Estonian Congress

11.–12 March 1990

On 11–12 March 1990, the first session of the Estonian Congress took place in the Estonia Concert Hall. During the session, the Estonian Committee was established as a permanent executive body of the Congress, headed by Tunne Kelam.

XII elections to the Supreme Soviet

18 March 1990

The Supreme Soviet was the highest state authority of the Estonian SSR. In March 1990, the elections to the XII Supreme Soviet were held on a predominantly democratic basis, with representatives of other political movements in addition to candidates with communist views. Arnold Rüütel was re-elected head of the Supreme Soviet and Edgar Savisaar became head of the government.

XX Congress of the Communist Party of Estonia

23–25 March 1990

At the XX Congress of the Communist Party of Estonia in March 1990, the party is officially divided into two: pro-Estonian and pro-imperial. The pro-Estonian members create an independent party.

The Supreme Soviet of the ESSR declares a transitional period

30 March 1990

On 30 March, the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR declares a transitional period. The ultimate goal of this period was the restoration of statehood.

The Estonian SSR becomes the Republic of Estonia

8 May 1990

In addition to the name, the former symbols of the Republic of Estonia – flag, coat of arms, and anthem are re-introduced. Nevertheless, Estonia is still officially part of the USSR.

Intermovement meeting on Toompea

15 May 1990

Members of the intermovement surround Toompea, demanding the restoration of old insignia. The meeting escalates and the protesters invade the castle courtyard – Edgar Savisaar says in a radio message, “Toompea is under attack. I repeat, Toompea is under attack!”


Estonian independence referendum

3 March 1991

A referendum is held “Do you want to restore the national independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Estonia?” 77.8% said “Yes”.

„Decision on the national independence of Estonia”

20 August 1991

The Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia officially excludes the Estonian SSR from the Soviet Union.

Iceland is the first country to recognise the re-independence of the Republic of Estonia

22 August 1991

The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic recognises the independence of the Republic of Estonia

24 August 1991

On 24 August, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic recognises the independence of Estonia.

The State Council of the USSR recognises the independence of the Baltic States

6 September 1991

At the beginning of September, a few months before the complete collapse of the Soviet Union, the State Council of the USSR recognises the independence of the three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania).

The Republic of Estonia becomes a member of the United Nations

17 September 1991

In mid-September 1991, the newly independent Republic of Estonia is admitted to the United Nations. In addition to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, among others countries, become members in the same year.


Estonian monetary reform

20–22 June 1992

The Estonian kroon is restored as the currency, all rubles are exchanged within three days. The kroon becomes the only legal currency.

The Fourth Constitution of the Republic of Estonia

28 June / 3 July 1992

At the end of June 1992, a referendum was held to adopt the fourth constitution of Estonia. The law contained various principles from the previous constitutions and attempted to return to the state system of the First Republic. The new constitution was approved by over 90% of voters. The constitution entered into force on 3 July.

Riigikogu elections

20 September 1992

Riigikogu elections took place with almost 68% of the electorate taking part. Exceptionally, the parliament was elected for one year less than the normal term of office. These elections marked the end of a transition period that had lasted more than two years.

Lennart Meri becomes the President of the newly independent Republic of Estonia

6 October 1992

The presidency of Meri was characterised primarily by the establishment of strong diplomatic ties with foreign countries and organisations.

The first government of the newly independent Estonia

21 October 1992

The first government was headed by historian and politician Mart Laar.