Every year on June 23rd Estonia celebrates Victory Day. This has been the tradition for 80 years and this year we are celebrating the 81st Victory Day. This is such an important occasion for Estonians, that it was celebrated in Estonia even through the years of Soviet occupation in spite of the danger of arrest or political harassment. It was possible by tying it with another of our national celebrations – Mid Summer’s Day or ‘Jaanipäev’ June 24th. Thus we had the opportrunity to ‘cross two hurdles with one leap’, to light one bonfire for marking the start of summer and at the same time to commemorate the fallen during our War of Independence (1918-1920) and our loss of independence (1940). For the Soviet security forces it was a blatant Estonian ruse which offcially they couldn’t suppress.
Victory Day is therefore even more significant in that it’s hard to find many big victories from our history. Over centuries Estonians have won many battles against our enemies, but success in grand, strategic conflicts has been denied to us. The smaller victories have nevertheless been just as compelling as landmarks in our history and regarded as appropriate examples of what can be achieved through unified effort and innovative initiative. One is reminded that Estonians, in battle, have always had the disadvantage of being numerically weaker. We have probably gained the understanding from these struggles, that to achieve anything of great import, a joint effort is crucial. Often, during ‘good times’ we tend to forget this necessity.
The victory at Võnnu on June 23rd, 1919 has a very special meaning for Estonians. We were fnally able to show those who had oppressed us for 700 years who the actual rulers of the country were. By repelling the German Landeswehr from Estonia and Latvia cooled Germany’s military interest in the Baltics for a few decades but unfortunately did not subdue it permanently. The Second World war attests to this, even though the Baltics were not the War’s main cause. However we played a critical role and suffered immensely. Although the battle at Võnnu did not end the War of Independence and fighting continued with Soviet Russia, Estonia could now concentrate reppelling the occupant from the east. One victory lead to the next until the signing of the Tartu Peace Treaty in 1920.
The battle at Võnnu and Victory Day evokes a great emotional meaning in our recent history and current era. A unified effort has already been mentioned and this was the prime force that helped us withstand Soviet repressions and at the end, aided by joining together in song, this was instrumental in helping in the collapse of the regime and the re-establishment of our independence.
Also significant is that we celebrate a day of great military import and events that actually took place in another country, in Latvia. Obviously, it wasn’t the goal at the time, that today Estonian soldiers must use their weapons once more on foreign soil, again to protect our security, our allies’ independence and to guarantee international security. We are involved today with our NATO partners and our soldiers are deployed in other international security missions. Unfortunately we have also borne serious casualties in these assignments.
Although we all wish that the 21st century passes by peacefully, no one knows for certain that this will ensue. The world is more complicated and interwoven than ever before and individual national interests sometimes lead to the suppression of the interests of others.
In spite of the fact that Estonia is a member of the UN, NATO and European Union, to mention the more important organizations that have some security component, we cannot be totally confident that Estonian will be by-passed in international military confrontations. Security and independence always remain as unfinished business. That which exists must always be guarded and new created. To this end Estonian diplomatic, military and other government services must constantly exert their efforts. Estonians as a whole must be part of this effort not only in times of crisis.
More power to all! I hope that as you sit by the mid summer’s night bon fire and offer a traditional toast, that your thoughts also include our Estonian heroes. Both those who have given their lives for our country and those who currenly risk their lives in distant battles.
Wishing you the best for Victory Day and Mid summer’s night!
Riho Kruuv, chargé d’affaires, Estonian Embassy, Ottawa
Dear Estonians and friends!