Throughout the world “Independence Day” is a country’s annual event commemorating the anniversary of a nation’s assumption of independent statehood, usually after ceasing to be a group or part of another nation or state (in Estonia’s case, Russia in 1918), sometimes after the end of a military occupation (Soviet forces in 1991).
A declaration of independence is an assertion of the independence of an aspiring state (for Estonia on February 24, 1918). Such declarations are typically made without the consent of the associated state or union (for Estonia`s declared independence to be fully established a successful war of independence ensued).
Estonians have long ago established the national independence day of February 24th each year to be the most important holiday of the calendar year. The 1918 declaration of Estonian independence is celebrated as an official holiday, with the requisite parade, presidential reception, commemoration concert, the raising of the flag at every establishment and home.
National independence is undoubtedly part of the essence of being Estonian and the day is accorded the due solemnity history has bestowed upon it. It’s a national holiday that is meant to be inclusive, to be emotionally meaningful for people regardless of their ethnic heritage as long as Estonian is part of their self-identity. Invitations to the Estonian presidential functions are eagerly anticipated by prominent community members. Internet sites, newspapers and TV are avidly studied for finding out who’s in/who’s out in society.
Estonian historians could have established a date in the late 1900s when Estonian `national awakening` (ärkamisaeg) blossomed and the people became aware of their own burgeoning sense of nation-building. But a more compelling date was the 18th of February 1918, the date that independence was declared from a foreign power, liberating Estonians from a stifling burden that seriously handicapped the natural potential of an eager nation.
A country`s `National Day` is not necessarily the same as a `National Independence Day`. National Day is a designated date on which the nationhood of a nation or non-sovereign country is commemorated. The nationhood can be symbolized by the date of independence, of becoming a republic or a significant date for a patron saint or a ruler. The day may not be called `National Day` but can serve as one. National Days for the most can be split into categories: for newer countries they`re usually their day of independence; for older countries they`re usually designated to mark some other event of special significance.
All of the Americas, except for Canada and two small countries of South America, observe their respective independence as a national holiday. The same can be said for practically all of Africa, South Asia, all of central and eastern Europe and all the countries that established/regained their independence from the Soviet/Russian empire. Canada`s National Day is July 1st, Canada Day, marking the day in 1867 when Canada became a confederation of four provinces.
National Day in France is July 14th and known outside of France as Bastille Day, commemorating the storming of the Bastille, considered to be the start of the French Revolution. Another National Day that has high international visibility is the USA`s July 4th Independence Day. The March 17th St. Patrick`s Day for Ireland is their National Day and has been celebrated with gusto for some generations. Spain`s National Day Fiesta Nacional de Espana is held on October 12th, the day celebrated in other Countries as Columbus Day which commemorates the anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas.
Independence in a nation`s history is obviously treated as a crucial aspect of the development of the country as a state. But independence for widely recognized states, earlier than 1919, is often treated with caution, since prior to the founding of the League of Nations, there was no international body to recognize statehood. Independence had really no meaning beyond mutual recognition of de facto sovereign states. The United Nations effectively took over the role of the League of Nations after WWII. (Even the preceding has not been an unassailable principle. Before the dissolution of the USSR both the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR were recognized by the UN as sovereign countries with missions and a vote at that international forum. But all UN member states knew that both countries were Soviet-occupied entities without any independent international presence. In fact the UN `missions` of the two countries were part of the Soviet mission.)
Nation-building is a gradual process evolving over a long period. Historians usually place the start of the process at a point accepted for nationalistic, rather than scientific reasons. For ancient nations these starting points are often dates mentioned in a written document for the first time or a date in the national mythology. In Europe, it`s often the date the nation converted to Christianity. For post-colonial nations, the start of statehood is usually placed at the date that independence was declared, granted and/or recognized.
Estonia’s National Independence Day (Vabariigi aastapäev) is fully part of today, as au courant now as it was then, after the winning of independence. Identify with it, celebrate it. In Estonia it’s more than just another day off from work.
National independence day, with emphasis on ‘independence’ (3)