Revolutions of 1917 and the independence of Estonia


The mass protest in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg), beginning in February 1917, grew into a revolution: the czar gave up the throne and the the power went to the Russian Provisional Government. Democratic rule was established in Russia, of which the Estonian nationalists wanted to take advantage.

The Provisional Government appointed Jaan Poska as the governor of the Estonian Governorate. A number of Estonian nationalist gathered around him, demanding autonomy for Estonia. In the end of March, this was achieved, and a governorate, covering all of Estonia* was formed (*previously, Southern Estonia with Northern Latvia had belonged to the Livonian Governorate). As a temporary governing body, Estonian Provincial Assembly was established; under it, a County Government was formed, led by Konstantin Päts.

Russian civil servants complained about Estonian nationalists, because they were fired and replaced by Estonians. The nationalists were also attacked by Estonian Bolsheviks.

During summer 1917, Estonian parties had formed: Estonian Democratic Party (led by J. Tõnisson); Estonian Labor Party (rather left winged, led by Jüri Vilms), Estonian Agrarian League (K. Päts), Estonian Social Democratic Party and Estonian Socialist-Revolutionary Party. Also Estonian Bolsheviks were active.

The popularity of the Bolsheviks grew after the war reached Estonia: the Germans conquered Estonian islands in the autumn of 1917. By that time, about 20,000 Bolsheviks were active in Estonia, and they formed the Estonian Executive Committee, which, in October, seized power. The nationalists were repressed and Estonian Provincial Assembly was dismissed. Before that, it had managed to declare itself the highest power in Estonia (November 15/28 1917). Sometimes, this date is considered as the beginning of Estonian independence. In reality, the Bolsheviks came to power, and Estonian nationalist politicians went underground. In 1918, Estonian Salvation Committee was formed, that, when the moment was right, was supposed to declare sovereignty. A delegation was sent to Western Europe, to describe the situation and ask for help.

The military success of Germany rose the question about Estonian independence. On February 23, 1918, the Declaration of Independence was read in Pärnu, a day later in Tallinn. This is usually considered as the beginning of sovereignty. However, already on February 25, the German troops reached Tallinn, and the German occupation begun.

Source: M.Laur, A. Pajur, T. Tannberg "Eesti ajalugu II" Tallinn 1995 "Avita"