ERR News – February 24, 1918 was the day when the Estonian Declaration of Independence, issued by the Maapäev (National Council), was printed and proclaimed in Tallinn.
"In the course of centuries, never have the Estonian people lost their desire for independence. From generation to generation, they have kept alive the hidden hope that in spite of enslavement and oppression by hostile invaders the time will come to Estonia 'when all splinters, at both ends, will burst forth into flames' and when 'Kalev will come home to bring his children happiness.'"
These opening lines of the "Manifesto to the Peoples of Estonia" still remind Estonians that independence was not handed down to them on a plate but was snatched from the teeth of then-powerful empires after centuries of staunch but also exhausting grassroots resistance.
To many, they also serve as a reminder that independence is not to be taken for granted. Soon after proclaiming the republic, the country was plunged into a 14-month war against Bolshevist Russia whose government would only recognize Estonia as a sovereign country in 1920, signing the Tartu Peace Treaty after all its efforts on the battleground had failed.
In a globalizing world where the dismantling of traditional boundaries, both geographical and mental, is increasingly countered everywhere with a circling of wagons to protect religious, ethnic and ideological camps, it might be refreshing to remember that even back then, the Manifesto addressed all of the peoples living on Estonian soil – Russians, Germans, Swedes, Jews and Estonians alike – pledging cultural autonomy to the national minorities and a "hopeful future" for all of the new republic's men and women.
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