The birth of the Republic of Estonia in historic newspapers

The European Library aggregated 40 titles and 48.464 issues of historical newspapers from the National Library of Estonia (NLE). We asked Krista Kiisa, Head of the Digital Archive Department of the NLE to highlight one newspaper article that is now available at the historic newspaper browser developed by The European Library. Krista chose an article about the the birth certificate of the Republic of Estonia.

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WabaMaa, 4th of February 1920.
Full-size image at The European Library (click on image)

What does the title say? Title „Muljed rahulepingu allakirjutamisel“ , translated as “Impressions from signing the Peace Treaty ”, reflects the journalists’ attempt to detect the emotions at that historic and festive ceremony, trying to characterise the delegation leaders’ behaviour. It indicates to be the impressionistic view, describing one of the most important episode in the history of Estonia, regarded as the birth certificate of the Republic of Estonia. The treaty was signed by Jaan Poska on the Estonian side and Adolf Joffe for Soviet Russia. What newspaper is this article from?   Newspaper “Vaba Maa” (“Free Country”) was published daily in 1918-1938 in Tallinn, capital of Estonia. Between 1918-1932 it was the newspaper of the Estonian Labour Party. Between 1932-1935 it was the official newspaper of the National Centre Party. It was one of the most important and influential newspapers in its time. Labour Party was very active in the political scenery, supporting democratic regime, close to social democratic platform.   What day is this article from?   Article was published on the 4th of February, 1920. The peace treaty was actually expected to be signed on the 1st of February. Yet the actual signing process took place after midnight, meaning on the 2nd of February. On the same date, there was only a short notice about the peace treaty in “Vaba Maa”, with brief flashback to the starting point and progress of the war. It took 2 days for the newspaper to reach the detailed overview, where different aspects and attitudes towards the episode were published.   On what page was the article printed?  Full-scale article was published on the second page of the newspaper „Vaba Maa”. Actually the peace treaty is reflected on all 4 pages of the newspaper. On the first page, there is a set of short messages on that topic titled as „Echo of the negotiations”. On the third page the fulltext of the peace treaty is published. On the forth page there is a greeting of the Head of Estonian Constituent Assembly (in Estonian Asutav kogu, meaning Parliament) and the speech of Jaan Tõnisson, Prime Minister of Estonia.   Did the article report the event as we know it from history books?  The Tartu Peace Treaty has been regarded as the birth certificate of the Republic of Estonia because it was the very first de jure recognition of the state. The treaty established the border between Estonia and Russia, affirmed the right of Estonian people to return to Estonia and Russian people to return to Russia and required that Estonian movable property evacuated to Russia in World War I be returned to Estonia. Russia also agreed to absolve all debt from Tsarist times and to pay Estonia 15 million gold rubles, a proportional share from the gold reserves of former Russian Empire. The article doesn’t contain any new unknown facts. Though during the Soviet period, all information related to the event was not publicly available. Books and newspapers from that period were kept in special department with restricted access. The article is not a boring list of facts but rather belletristic instead, attempting to offer a sensible portrait about all to the reader. For example: „Joffe, (foreman of the Soviet Russia), enters the room at a more hurried pace than usuall. His movements, which usually are soft and smooth, are rather sudden and quick today. While Jaan Poska (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia) seems to be a rather phlegmatic, sitting like a Buddha, calm and satisfied.”   Does the article prevail any political view of the time?  No, the article is quite neutral and descriptive. It reflects the situation reached after the Estonian War of Independence, after the successful struggle of Estonia for its sovereignty in the aftermath of World War I. It resulted in a victory for the newly established state which was concluded in the Treaty of Tartu, the main character of the article. Besides, the treaty was in favour of Estonia. The treaty established the border between Estonia and Russia, affirmed the right of Estonian people to return to Estonia and Russian people to return to Russia and required that Estonian movable property evacuated to Russia in World War I be returned to Estonia. Russia also agreed to absolve all debt from Tsarist times and to pay Estonia 15 million gold rubles, a proportional share from the gold reserves of former Russian Empire. Additionally Russia agreed to grant concessions to exploit one million hectares of Russian forest land and to build a railway line from the Estonian border to Moscow. Unfortunately most of the promises remained promises only.   Do you want to say something else about this article or newspaper?   Editor of the newspaper „Vaba Maa” („Free Country”) was for years (1924-1929 and 1930-1938) Eduard Laaman, Estonian journalist, historian and well-known public figure. He also wrote a thorough monograph about the Estonian War of Independence. Perhaps it’s interesting to know that he was married to Tatjana Poska-Laaman, daughter of the Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaan Poska who led the peace talks with Soviet Russia which achieved the Treaty of Tartu.

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