It is my great honour to speak to you on the 96th anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty.
Lennart Meri referred to the Tartu Peace Treaty as the birth certificate of the Republic of Estonia. This is a beautiful image. Just like a person, every country has its own birth certificate – one and only and unique. The Tartu Peace Treaty was evidence of the vitality of the new state born in 1918 – the Estonian Republic.
A lot has been written about the Tartu Peace Treaty and it has been analysed from various aspects – as a legal act, as an international agreement, as a historical document. Today, I would like to talk about the Tartu Peace Treaty as a process which evolved in its time, to the success of which soldiers, diplomats, politicians, volunteers, as well as our allies contributed. This viewpoint makes the events of the time all the more important and even more symbolic, considering today’s context as well.
The Tartu Peace Treaty preserved our victory in the War of Independence. For people at the time, the end of the war was an anticipated event. Martial law had already begun with the outbreak of World War I almost six years earlier and people tremendously valued the peace that finally was achieved. We shall never forget that our independence was born through war and that we paid a heavy price for our freedom.
The Tartu Peace Treaty established the eastern border of Estonia, and Soviet Russia and the Republic of Estonia mutually recognized each other. Soviet Russia recognized the sovereignty and independence of the Estonian Republic.
This agreement also held fundamental meaning for both young nations, being the first international treaty for both Estonia and Soviet Russia. The agreement was important for the region at large. Representatives from Finland, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland participated as observers at the negotiations. The Tartu Peace Treaty was followed by new negotiations, new peace treaties and the new birth of new nation states in the western regions of former Tsarist Russia. Yet among all the aforementioned treaties, the Tartu Peace Treaty remains the first and unique.
Not all the observers reached achieving their own statehood at the time. Today we know that fate has been far less kind to them, than to those who were able to establish statehood. Let us appreciate our victory in the War of Independence and the meaning of the Tartu Peace Treaty in this context.
Although the Tartu Peace Treaty was made possible only thanks to the victories of our Defence Forces and volunteers, including schoolboys, allies and supporters; the conclusion of the peace treaty was not self-evident. On one hand, there was a complete lack of internal political consensus regarding the question of peace negotiations. Even more disturbing were fundamental disagreements with our closest allies concerning the peace issue. The same allies, whose support for us during the War of Independence was often of critical importance. They were courageous decisions, which were made at the time. And those decisions were ultimately the right ones, thanks only to the fact that our nation’s elected leaders made decisions in the interest of the people of Estonia.
Today, difficult and not always popular foreign policy decisions must also be made. I hope that at the right moment, the decision-makers, including national deputies, have the statesmanship and courage to not engage in demagogy and attaining cheap popularity, but are guided by the interests of the Estonian state and nation. History will give its fair assessment, just as history gave a fair evaluation of those who concluded the Tartu Peace Treaty.
Having signed the Peace Treaty in the early morning hours of February 2, Jaan Poska said to his companions: “Today is the most important day for Estonia in the last 700 years of its history, because today, for the first time, Estonia is determining the destiny of the future of its people conclusively.” We can read from the memoires of his contemporaries that when the members of the delegation arrived in Tallinn on the evening of February 2, people greeted them by lifting their hats in honour of the negotiators, despite the cold weather.
The Tartu Peace Treaty was also the first really great victory for Estonian diplomacy. Our foreign delegations had indeed previously achieved a de facto recognition of the Republic of Estonia in Europe, however the Tartu Peace Treaty negotiations were more than just a test of maturity.
Without a doubt, our delegation leader Jaan Poska played an extremely large role in all of this. Minister Karl Ast from Jüri Jaakson’s government has stated that without Jaan Poska, the Tartu Peace Treaty would not have been concluded. Finland’s Foreign Minister at the time has even claimed that Estonia did not make a single foreign policy mistake during the War of Independence. I’m sure that Estonia’s first Foreign Minister Jaan Poska was also mostly responsible for this being the case. We just celebrated the 150th anniversary of his birth a few weeks ago and lit candles on his final resting place in the Siselinna cemetery this morning.
I have sometimes been asked whether today’s Estonian diplomats are still as good as our colleagues were in the Estonian Republic’s early years? Whether the Estonian foreign service stands in the best interests of Estonia as effectively as it did in the 1920s? Whether we have any new Poskas, Strandmanns or Piips? Yes, they do exist. They have changed a little – instead of walking sticks, they carry computers and mobile devices, and instead of top hats and tails, they wear suits of the 21st century; some also wear dresses and women’s suits, and calligraphic handwriting has been replaced by e-mails. But the main thing has not changed – love and respect for their homeland and a commitment to serving the Estonian state and nation. Estonia’s foreign – and security policy interests are protected and maintained. I say this bearing full responsibility – as an Estonian diplomat, an ambassador and Foreign Minister.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Another part of our legacy of succession is the story of the original copy of the Peace Treaty. In early 1940, Foreign Minister’s aide Oskar Öpik gave three young Ministry officials the task of revising the Ministry’s 20-year-old archive, to separate the most important original documents from the standpoint of the history of the Republic of Estonia, and send them abroad for safekeeping. In March of 1940, four boxes of documents reached Stockholm under a shroud of secrecy. The occupation government which came to power thereafter in Estonia demanded that the boxes be sent back to Tallinn, which was done. Yet later, it turned out the seal of one of the boxes had been broken and 31 documents were in fact in the Baltic Archives in Stockholm. Among others, the original of the most important international treaty – the Tartu Peace Treaty.
As of 2002, the Tartu Peace Treaty is back in free Estonia once again. The birth certificate of our nation is where it should always have been – in its homeland. It is our duty to guard and preserve this treaty as a historic document, as a carrier of our statehood and succession, as a symbol which unites and brings our people closer; does not oppose or separate them. I have no doubts that we can manage this, all together like 96 years ago – members of the Defence Forces and Defence League and diplomats and volunteers and our allies and responsible politicians.
Long live the Tartu Peace Treaty! Long live Estonia!