24 February 2008

Eesti vabariik 90 juubileaastapäev

Today is the Fourth of July in Estonia.

Two Independence Days - Sort Of
On March 15, 1917, Nicholas II renounced the throne. Subsequently, the provisional government in Russia handed control of Estonia over to Estonians. On April 12, an Estonian provisional government pulled north and south Estonia together into one administrative unit, and all of Estonia's political parties agreed the country should be an autonomous part of any Russian democratic federal republic.

On February 24, 1918, as the Germans were pushing the Russians out of Estonia, Estonia published the Manifesto of All Peoples, declaring Estonia a democratic republic. Konstatin Päts was appointed the head of a provisional government. Yet the next day, German troops invaded Tallinn. Ultimately, they failed to turn Estonia into another duchy of Germany. However, on November 28, the Russian army marched into Estonia, igniting the Estonian War of Independence.

Fast forward 70 long hard years. On November 16, 1988, the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR passed a declaration of Estonian sovereignty. In January 1989, the Estonian Supreme Soviet declared Estonian - not Russian - the official language of the country. On February 24, the Estonian independence of above was celebrated for the first time under Soviet occupation. The country's blue-black-and-white flag was hoisted over Tallinn. On March 30, 1990, the Estonian Supreme Soviet proclaimed the restoration of the Republic of Estonia, citing the period of Soviet rule unlawful. On May 8, the first six paragraph's of Estonia's 1937 Constitution were implemented.

On August 20, 1991, the country's second Independence Day, the Estonian Supreme Soviet restore its statehood. Two days later, Iceland recognized Estonia as a democratic republic; four days later, the Russian Federation; a week later, the countries of the European Union; and, on September 2, the United States. On October 7, 1992, the Estonian Parliament affirmed the legal identity of the Republic of Estonia declared 90 years ago, back on February 24, 1918.

A Word about National Holidays
So, February 24 is Estonia's July 4. In Estonian, it's Iseseisvuspäev, which, in my crude translation, is something close to Stand Up on Your Own Day. August 20 commemorates the restoration of that independence more than 70 years later. So it's Taasiseseisvuspäev, which, with all due respect, is like Get Back Up on Your Own Two Feet Day.

February 24 is indeed a national holiday here, but it is not an automatic day off. Alas, today is Sunday, and we do not get tomorrow off. As with all Estonian national holidays, it's only a day off when it's on a business day. August 20 is not a national holiday, but, since it is in August, the month everyone in Europe goes on vacation, many people are off anyway.

How cheeky of me to associate national holidays with days off work? Veterans would shoot me. But come on: for 14 years I worked for the State of Illinois. I still go into painful withdrawal when my alarm clock goes off on Martin Luther King Day, Lincoln's Birthday, and Washington's Birthday/President's Day. I'd much rather have one day a month off work than five days off every two-and-half months. Wait! That doesn't sound right, does it?

We Estonian teachers are further screwed this year because Good Friday, which, curiously, is a national holiday in Estonia, is during the spring break. So, the only day off we get in the looooooong third and fourth quarters is May 1. (It wasn't even cold enough this winter to get a snow day.) I figure Estonia is not so keen on days off, because Estonians don't ever work a full 40-hour week anyway or, when they are at work, don't work all that hard because there just ain't that much to do!

Independence Day Festivities
Well, there are no fireworks - or bar-b-ques, of course. There is a military parade that I really like, but last year, it was cancelled because it was too cold. I guess that since serving in Afghanistan, what the Estonian military considers "too cold" has moved up on the thermometer. This year - yesterday, in fact - for a change, the parade was held in Pärnu. I couldn't get there from Tapa before the parade started, and if I could have gotten there it time, it would have taken me three hours, or a total of six hours bouncing up and down on a bus to get there and back. The parade only lasted an hour and was broadcast on Estonian public television. So I stayed at home and made bean burritos while I watched it.

At sunrise this morning in Tallinn, there was the raising of the flag over the Estonian Parliament building, as I believe there is every morning. Again, I couldn't get there from Tapa in time. I could have gone to the flag-raising ceremony here in Tapa but I didn't. Later, though, I thought that maybe a battalion from Tapa's military base would have marched to and from the center of the city to give me my parade fix.

I guess there can't be any fireworks, because the who's who of Estonia are all at the President's Independence Day concert and reception inside the elegantly understated Estonia Concert Hall. Both the concert and the reception - invitation-only events - were televised live on Estonian public television tonight. Just as Hollywood rolls out the red carpet for the Oscars, Estonia rolls it out for this reception, where the president and his wife limply shake hands with, half-heartedly smile at, and laconically chat with soldiers, politicians, and businessmen. ETV has it on film for a price, but the Postimees, the Tartu-based newspaper, has the movers and shakers easily accessible on the web. In the spirit of Joan Rivers, here's a look at the highlights: