Good practices of using Estonian flag
Starting on 1 January 2006, the use of the Estonian flag is regulated by the Estonian Flag Act, which was passed on 23 March 2005 and the good practices that have been historically developed. The law includes a description of the Estonian flag. For the first time, the law establishes the definition of the “Estonian flag” for the purposes of a state flag and state flag.
The ratio of the width and length of the flag is 7:11, and the usual size of a flag to be hoisted or carried is 105x165 centimetres.
The law also includes description of the flag of the President of the Republic. Similarly to the flag law enacted before 1940, it is specified that the flag of the execution of state power is an Estonian flag with a special marking, the description of which is established by the Government of the Republic.
Such flag with special markings include the flag of the Ministry of Defence, flag of the Navy, flag of the Postal Service, flag of the Customs Board, and the flag of the Border Guard. The flags with special markings are, in essence, different forms of the state flag.
The correct blue colour of the state flag according to the law is number 285C of the international PANTONE colour table.
“Estonian Flag Act” (State Gazette I 2005, 78, 1294) includes detailed instructions for the use of the flag: flag days, times for raising and lowering flags, the order of placement for different flags, etc.
Raising the Estonian flag
A flag to be hoisted must correspond to the standards established by law and must be clean and in good condition.
The days for raising the Estonian flag (flag days) are the public holidays and national holidays established by the Public and National Holidays Act except for religious holidays. Upon orders of the Government of the Republic, other flag days may also be declared.
The Estonian flag will be hoisted every day atop the Pikk Hermann tower in Tallinn. The Estonian flag is permanently displayed on the buildings of the Riigikogu, Government of the Republic, the Supreme Court, the State Audit Office, the Chancellor of Justice, the ministries, the Bank of Estonia, of county governments, rural municipality and town councils, rural municipality and town governments, and border checkpoints.
The Estonian flag is also permanently displayed on Estonian foreign missions, in accordance with the laws and practices of the country of location.
The councils of the local governments may designate the place on the territory of the local government where the Estonian flag is permanently displayed.
According to the law, the Estonian flag will be displayed on the basic school, upper secondary school, vocational educational institutions, institutions of professional higher education and university buildings on every school day. It is possible to permanently display the Estonian flag on school buildings.
The Estonian flag that is permanently displayed must be illuminated during hours of darkness.
The Estonian flag is hoisted on the buildings of state and local government institutions and other bodies, of public law buildings or those of legal persons on flag days at sunrise, but no later than 8 a.m., and lowered at sunset, but no later than 10 p.m.
On three flag days—Independence Day, Victory Day, and Day of Restoration of Independence—in addition to the above list, the flag will also be hoisted on the buildings and residences of legal persons governed by private law and physical persons. They also have the right to hoist the Estonian flag on other flag days.
The Estonian flag is not lowered on St. John’s Night. The Estonian flag may be displayed at public events. Everyone has the right, observing the provisions of the Estonian Flag Act and good practice, to display the flag also on other days, if so desired. It is appropriate to celebrate family events and celebrations by hoisting the flag.
The Estonian flag is hoisted near the main entrance to a building or other appropriate location either with a flagstaff in the respective holder or on a flagpole.
In the case of a flagpole rising from the ground, an appropriate width for the flag is 1/6 the height of the pole; in the case of a wall or roof flag, the ratio is approximately 1/3 the length of the flagstaff. Whereas, when using an Estonian flag of standard dimensions, the height of a flagpole rising from the ground is approximately six metres, and the length of a wall flagstaff is approximately three metres. It is recommended to take the height of the surrounding trees, structures, etc. into consideration when choosing the height of a flagpole.
Naturally, it is recommended that a flagpole be chosen that has a suitable height (considering the surrounding trees, structures, etc.) for its location. If the chosen pole is higher than 6 metres, then a flag of larger dimensions should be acquired relative to the height of the pole.
A flag atop a high roof should be larger than a wall flag, because the height of the building should also be taken into account when choosing a flag.
Flagpoles should be installed so that a fluttering flag does not touch a roof, wall, or other flagpole.
The bottom edge of a hoisted flag must be at least three metres from the ground.
At international events, it is a good practice that the state flags of visitors are hoisted along with the Estonian flag. When the Estonian flag is hoisted along with other flags, the Estonian flag is displayed in a more honoured position. The flags of other countries are displayed after the Estonian flag in the alphabetical order according to the spelling of their names in French. If only the flags of European Union member states are being hoisted, the state flags are displayed in the alphabetical order of their names in their native language. The alphabetical order of country names in French and in the European Union native languages is published as a notice of the State Secretary as an Appendix to the State Gazette. If there are an uneven number of flags from different countries, the Estonian state flag is displayed at the centre of the row of flags. Foreign and state flags can also be displayed so that there are Estonian flags at each end of the row of flags.
When the Estonian flag is hoisted together with other state flags and the flags of international organizations and Estonian county, town, rural municipality or other flags, the Estonian county, town, rural municipality or other flags will be placed to the left of the flags of the international organizations as viewed from the rear of the row of flags. The county, town, rural municipality or other flags may not be larger than the state flag.
The flag of the European Union will be hoisted together with the Estonian flag on the buildings of the Riigikogu, the President of the Republic, the Government of the Republic, the Supreme Court, the State Audit Office, the Chancellor of Justice, the ministries, the Bank of Estonia, the Headquarters of the Defence Forces, of county governments, rural municipality and town councils, rural municipality and town governments or on flagpoles located near these buildings on Europe Day and on European Parliament Election Day. The Government of the Republic will determine the border checkpoints where the European Union flag will be displayed along with the Estonian flag. The Foreign Minister will provide instructions on the hoisting of the European Union flag on the buildings of the Estonian foreign missions. The European Union flag is hoisted together with the Estonian flag.
The flags are hoisted separately, onto flagstaffs or flagpoles of the same length and at the same height as the Estonian flag. The flags to be hoisted are of equal width. The flag of the President of the Republic is displayed to the right of the Estonian flag and to the left of the flag of the head of a foreign country as viewed from the rear of the row of flags.
To commemorate mourning, the Estonian flag is hoisted as a mourning flag. On these occasions, the a 50- to 100-mm-wide black ribbon is secured to the top of the flagstaff of a wall flag (hand-carried), both ends of which reach the bottom edge of the fabric along the length of the flag. Mourning flags are hoisted onto flagpoles without the black ribbon, so that the bottom edge of the flag is located at the middle of the flagpole. The flag should first be slowly raised to the peak of the flagpole and then lowered so that the bottom edge of the flag is at half-staff. When lowering a mourning flag, the flag is first raised to the peak of the flagpole and then lowered.
It is easier to have two people hoist a flag. One flag raiser attaches the halyards to the corners of the flag, and simultaneously the other holds the flag so that it does not touch the ground or other items in the vicinity. In windy weather, the flag is hoisted from the downwind side, so that the flag does not wrap around the pole. The flag is hoisted with steady pulls, while holding the halyard extending from the bottom corner of the flag moderately taut. The flag is always raised to the peak of the flagpole. The taut halyards can be twisted around the pole once or twice, so that they do not beat against the pole in the wind. Thereafter, first the hoisting halyard and then the lowering halyard is attached to the fastening hook at the bottom of the flagpole.
When lowering the flag, the assistant accepts the flag so that it does not touch the ground. The flag that has been detached from the halyards is properly folded by both people and placed in a storage box or bag, which is put in a place appropriate for storing the flag.
During military or state burial services organized for deceased military personnel, state, or public figures, the state flag may be used to cover the casket of the deceased as sign of respect.
According to generally accepted international custom, the flag is placed on the casket so that the upper, pole-side corner of the flag is over the left shoulder of the deceased.
The Estonian flag should be placed on a casket so that the blue stripe of the flag is placed over the deceased left side. Whereas the flag must not touch the ground.
After the end of the commemorative service, the designated people will remove the flag from the casket before it is lowered into the grave and they will fold the flag.
If so desired, the folded flag that was used to cover the casket may be given to the closest relatives of the deceased.
To carry the Estonian flag, an honour guard is formed which consists of a flag carrier and two guards. If one of the guards is a woman then she stands to the right of the flag carrier. The flag carrier and guards should wear identical (monochromatic) clothing and white gloves. Flag guards wear 10-15-cm-wide and approximately 2-metre-long blue-black-and-white sashes. The sash is placed over the right shoulder on men and over the left shoulder on women and tied above the hip, whereas the ends of the sash extending from the knot should be more or less the same length. Sashes are not used in case folk costumes or uniforms are being worn.
Carrying a flag is simplified if a belt carrier with a flag cup is used, which the flag carrier wears over his/her left shoulder. A flag is carried as erect as possible or dipped slightly forward, at the middle of the carrier’s body. The carrier holds the flag securely with his/her left hand slightly above the shoulder line, and the right slightly below, supporting his/her elbows against his/her body so that the flag does not move when carried.
To support the hand-carried flag on the ground, the flag carrier lifts the end of the flagstaff out of the flag cup on the belt carrier and lowers it onto the ground upright along the right side of his/her body.
Hand-carried flags are dipped in salute to Estonian and foreign heads of state, during the playing of the Estonian and foreign anthems, and during burial services for the deceased. To salute, the flag is slowly dipped 45° forward. When moving, the salute is started approximately five metres before the object (person or place) being honoured, and is completed approximately one metre after the honoured object by raising the flag upright.
In addition to the above, county, town, rural municipality, institutional and organizational flags are also dipped in salute the Estonian and foreign state flags when they are raised, lowered, as well as when passing them or, for instance, when being brought in or out of formal halls.
During prayers, a state flag that is attached to a flagstaff resting on the ground will be dipped so that the right arm is stretched straight out. When the prayer is over, the flag is again raised upright.
The flag in formal halls
The Estonian flag and potential other flags (for instance, school flags) may be brought into halls before the beginning of formal events and placed before the audience in stand on the floor or bracket on the wall. The recommended inclination for a stand is 30-40°. The Estonian flag is placed in the most honoured position, to the left of all the other flags as viewed from the audience.
The flags are brought into the hall after the attendees have been seated. Upon the arrival and departure of the flags, the audience stands up and turns toward the flags.
County, town, institutional, and other flags may be brought into the hall before the Estonian flag, and placed in a row along the aisle. Upon the arrival of the Estonian flag, the aligned flags dip in honour and follow the flag.
If the flags are brought into the hall as a group, the Estonian flag is the first in the procession. If the formal event lasts for a long time, the flags may be placed in stands after the opening in the order of their importance. The Estonian flag, foreign flags in the alphabetical order according to the French spelling of their names; Estonian county, town, and rural municipality flags in the alphabetical order according to the Estonian spelling of their names, and then the institutional and school flags.
If the flag carrier has placed the flag in a stand, then he/she, together with the flag guard, may withdraw until the end of the event. At the end of the event, the other flags are first removed from the stands and then the honour guard takes the Estonian flag.
The Estonian flag departs first and the other flags again dip in honour. Thereafter the other flags depart and finally the attendees.
The flags may also be removed from the hall after the end of the event, when the audience has left.
When hanging the flag vertically, the top edge of the flag (blue stripe on the Estonian flag) must be on the left of the observer. When placed on the wall behind a podium, the flag must be placed above the speaker. A state flag placed in a stand next to the podium, should be to the left of the podium when viewed from the audience, so that the flag does not touch the floor.
Flags in a procession
In a procession, the flags are kept in an open carrying position. The Estonian flag always moves ahead of other flags along with an honour guard. A procession order could be as follows:
- orchestra, about 6-10 metres ahead of the Estonian flag;
- Estonian flag, 5 metres ahead of the leader of the procession;
- leader of the procession, 4 metres ahead of the organizational flags;
- organizational flag, 4 metres ahead of the first row of marchers;
Combined groups consisting of several flags (for instance 3x3 or 4x4 flags) can be used in processions without honour guards. If a parade includes foreign flags, these follow the Estonian flag in the alphabetical order according to the French spelling of the country names. These are followed by county, town, and other flags, which may be in a combined group or singly before the representative of each county, town, etc. In the latter case, each flag has a separate honour guard.
The display of the Estonian flag on ships
The flag has an important symbolic role to fulfil on ships. Meeting the vessels of other countries at sea, visiting the ports of different countries, the flag announces the ship’s country of origin.
At sea, ships are differentiated by the flags hoisted on its bow, mast, and stern. According to old maritime practices, the stern of the ship is the most honoured location and the symbol of power. Therefore, the flag indicating the ship’s national affiliation (state flag) is hoisted on the stern and this is called the stern ensign.
The ship’s bow ensign (jack), which today is primarily a naval ensign, is hoisted on the bow of the ship when warships are in harbour or at anchor.
Flags (standards) of officials and organizations, pennants, and signal pennants are flown on the ship’s mast.
According to the Ship Flag Law and Ships’ Registers Act, a ship that is owned by the Republic of Estonia, a unit of the local government, or other legal person governed by public law flies the Estonian flag.
The Estonian flag is also flown by seagoing vessels, which are owned by Estonian citizens living in Estonia, general, and limited partnerships located in Estonia and by those in which Estonian shareholders hold the majority. The Estonian flag is also flown by seagoing vessels owned by other legal persons governed by private law that are located in Estonia, in which Estonian citizens are the majority on the boards of directors or other equivalent bodies.
The flag document issued to the ship proves that the ship has permission to fly the Estonian flag. The flag documents are the seagoing vessel certificate, flag certificate, inland waters vessel certificate, small boat certificate, ship card, and temporary flag certificate.
Before a flag document is issued, a ship cannot fly the Estonian flag.
In addition to seagoing vessels, there are also inland waters vessels that are intended for sailing on inland bodies of water and small boats.
According to the law, small boats are boats under 12 metres in overall length. Sailboats and powerboats are considered small boats if their overall length is less than 24 metres and they have not been entered in the ship register, but in the small boat register.
Small boats have the right to fly the Estonian flag if they have been entered in the register of recreational craft. For local trips, recreational craft may fly their yacht club’s ensign or the ensign of the Estonian Association of Yacht Clubs according to the valid regulations.
The traditions related to flags and their use at sea can be divided into two large groups:
Firstly, the activities related to the Estonian flag that serves as the stern ensign, which is to a large extent regulated in a detailed manner by Estonian legislation. In addition, the respective provisions established by international Law of the Sea agreements and conventions should be taken into account.
Secondly, a large part of flag traditions are based on international maritime practices that have developed over centuries, which are not strictly obligatory, but the observance or non-observance of which shows how someone observes the good seamen’s rules of conduct.
Generally, the Estonian flag (stern ensign) is raised and lowered at the times prescribed in the Estonian Flag Act.
A ship must fly its state flag when in a foreign port, which must be illuminated during hours of darkness. When in a foreign port, the local regulations must be observed regarding the flying of flags.
The stern ensign must be larger than the other flags and pennants on the ship. The size of the flag and the length of the flagstaff depend on the length of the vessel.
The flag must be clean and in good condition and it is attached to a flagstaff that is inclined about 10-15˚ backwards. The flag must be positioned so that it does not reach the water or the deck or hide the ship’s stern light. The fact that exhaust gasses emitted by the ship’s motor must not soil the flag should be taken into consideration.
If the ship cannot fly a stern ensign due to structural specifications, the flag may be hoisted on the top staff of the sternward mast (mizzenmast), on the stern stay of a yacht, in the fork of the signal mast of a motorboat, if it is at least 1.5 metres from the deck of the vessel.
In homeport, when the crew is not on board, the vessel does not fly a pennant.
Small vessels, like rowboats, centreboard boats, etc. do not usually fly stern ensigns.
According to old international practices, merchant vessels usually dip their flags in salute to warships first, to which the latter usually answers. Merchant ships that are encountered or passed may also be saluted. Freighters salute passenger ships first. The salute is voluntary, although answering a salute is usually considered obligatory. Yachts and motorboats in the vicinity, which are flying flags, are also saluted.
For the salute, the stern ensign may be lifted along with its staff horizontally to shoulder height in the direction of the stern (ship’s wake water). A flag that is on the mizzenmast or on a stationary flag mast is lowered 1/3 of the flag mast’s height in salute. Upon receiving or not receiving a return salute, the flag is replaced in its former position. Salutes are not given with pennants.
When travelling in the territorial waters of another country, a small flag (courtesy ensign or courtesy flag) is hoisted as an expression of respect. According to international practice, the courtesy ensign is hoisted on the starboard crosstree of the mast or to the starboard side of a motorboat’s signal mast. The courtesy ensign is raised in the morning after the stern ensign is hoisted and lowered in the evening before the stern ensign is lowered. Other flags or pennants are not flown under the courtesy ensign. Courtesy ensigns are not generally used on the open sea.
If a citizen of a foreign country is on board a yacht or motorboat as an honoured guest, then respect for him/her can be expressed by hoisting a small flag of his/her homeland on the port crosstree.
A vessel that is in port flies a mourning flag in the case of national mourning, the death or burial of a ship owner or other individual; also if there is deceased person on board (or an urn with the ashes of a deceased person). In this case, a ship will also fly a mourning flag during wartime.
To signify mourning, the flag is first raised to the top of the mast, and then lowered by 1/3 of the height of the flag mast. When the mourning is over, the flag is again raised to the top of the mast and thereafter lowered.
When encountering a ship that is flying a mourning flag, one can lower the vessel’s flag to mourning position when passing the ship as an expression of regard. Many types of pennants can be used on vessels, which indicate the membership of the vessel in some club or association. A pennant of the skipper or vessel owner, or an award pennant, can be flown according to the statutes of the specific pennant.
On public and national holidays, a formal hoisting of the flags (draping with flags) can be organized. For a formal draping with flags,international maritime signal flags and pennants are hoisted from the bow over the top of the mast to the stern. The order of the flags and pennants, starting from the bow, is a follows: A, B, C, 1, D, E, F, 2, G, H, I, 3, J, K, L, 4, M, N, O, 5, P, Q, R, 6, S, U, V, 7, W, Y, Z, 8, first substitute pennant, second substitute pennant, and third substitute pennant. The flags signifying the letters X and T are not used, since they resemble the Finnish and French state flags.
Tabletop flags represent the same symbolic values as large flags.
The tabletop flags of countries and their administrative units are usually small-scale versions of large flags added to a staff with a cord.
Organizations and associations widely use so-called tabletop pennants or tabletop standards that hang from crossbars, on which the colours and design of the flag are always visible.
Tabletop flags are produced with the same ratio as large flags. The recommended ratio for tabletop flags, compared to large flags, is 1:7 (about 15 x 23.5 cm) and the appropriate length of the flagstaff is three-flag widths or about 45 cm.
The tables for banquets, conferences or other events can be decorated with tabletop flags. If representatives of foreign countries attend, tabletop flags of the visitors’ country are usually placed alongside the Estonian tabletop flags. Tabletop flags are placed on the banquet or conference table in the same order as when large flags are raised in a row. This means that after the Estonian flag, the flags of the other countries are displayed according to the alphabetical order of the names in French.
Another alternative is to place the state flag of each country’s representative at the event in front of him/her. Tabletop flags can also be displayed on a separate table in a circle together on a special stand or each one separately.
The Estonian flag can be displayed on a vehicle used by a leader of an Estonian foreign mission or a representative of a foreign country on a visit to Estonia, or a vehicle which is used by the President of the Riigikogu, the Prime Minister or other official representative of the Republic of Estonia when fulfilling his/her official duties. The President of the Republic uses his/her own flag as a car flag.
A car flag is a small-dimensioned state or organizational flag that is attached to the right front fender of a passenger car with a short rod. If the official persons from two countries are riding in the same car, same-size flags on same-height rods can be symmetrically placed on the car. When using car flags for state visits and other official trips, internationally valid diplomatic rules are observed and the recommendations of the foreign ministry of the respective country are followed.
In Estonian conditions, pennants in national colours are still quite a new phenomenon. These have been in use in the Nordic countries for several decades. Pennants can fulfil a very practical assignment: namely, we currently have only 14 official flag days a year. During the rest of the year, many flagpoles are left to stand empty. Long and thin pennants in the national colours and why not in the colours of the county, town, rural municipality, or family (if it exists) are suitable for filling this gap. The pennant can fly on the pole around the clock, decorating one’s garden or the green areas in front of institutional, and company buildings.
The recommended length for the pennant is half the height of the pole. For instance, a three-metre-long pennant, with an upper portion that is about 30 cm side and the bottom end is 10 cm wide, is suitable for a six-metre-high pole.
The use of the image and colour combination of the Estonian flag in advertising and elsewhere
Section 7 of the Constitution specifies the national colours, which are also the colours of the Estonian flag. Thereby the use of the blue-black-and-white colour combination is under special scrutiny and the general principles of its use are regulated by the Estonian Flag Act. The implementer of the law decides on the dignity of the use of the colour combination, based on the objective of the law to protect the Estonian flag from any kind of undignified treatment, including the use of the colour combination in unsuitable places. The appropriateness of the blue-black-and-white colour combination must be evaluated separately in each instance. The hoisting and use of flags is connected to long traditions and practices, which are based on history.
One side of the flag of a defence forces unit may be in the colour combination of the Estonian flag. The flag of a physical person or legal person (except for the flag of the Estonian Students Society) may not be so similar to the Estonian flag that is can be mistaken for it.
According to subsection 4 (31) of the Advertising Act, the use of national symbols and those of state institutions in advertising is prohibited, as is the use of the colour combination of the Estonian flag is such a way that it is misleading regarding the object of the advertising. Advertising may not create the impression that the information being presented contains a recommendation or guarantee by the state when it does not. Symbols containing the image of the Estonian flag may not be used as trademarks or service logos.
Destroying flags that are no longer fit for use
The Estonian flag must be treated with dignity and if it has become unfit for use, it must be destroyed in a proper manner. A wet flag must be tried before being stored. A soiled flag must be cleaned and a ripped flag must be repaired with the appropriate colour thread. If it is no longer possible to clear a flag or it has decomposed, it must be destroyed privately in a proper manner. Based on good practices, to destroy a flag in a proper manner, one should cut it apart according to the coloured strips, and thereafter cut the fabric pieces into gores and burn them privately.
The State Chancellery can provide supplemental explanations on the regulations for the use of the flag and its colour combination.
Public and national holidays are part of the historical memory of people, in which are reflected the important events from recent and far off history. Along with national holidays with political shading, every people’s calendar also contains religious and ethnographic holidays.
Each country and people celebrates their holidays differently, although some customs have become international. A widespread custom is to hoist state flags for national and public holidays. Usually the state establishes official flag days with the respective decrees.
The Estonian flag days are:
- 3 January – Memorial Day for the Those Who Fought in the War of Independence
- 2 February – Anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty
- 24 February – Independence Day, Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia
- 14 March – Native Language Day
- The second Sunday in May – Mother’s Day
- 9 May – Europe Day
- 4 June – Estonian Flag Day
- 14 June – Day of Mourning (flags are hoisted a mourning flags)
- 23 June – Victory Day
- 24 June – St. John’s Day
- 20 August – Day of Restoration of Independence
- 1 September – Knowledge Day
- The second Sunday in November – Father’s Day
- The Election Day for the Riigikogu or local government, days when referendums are held and the Election Day for the European Parliament.
With the law passed by the Riigikogu in 2005, the hoisting of the Estonian flag is obligatory on three days a year forlegal persons governed by private law and for physical persons. These days are 24 February, 23 June, and 20 August.
Below we will provide a more detailed overview of the origin and meaning of the Estonian flag days.
3 January – Memorial Day for the Those Who Fought in the War of Independence
On 3 January 1920, the armistice concluded between Estonia and Soviet Russia on 31 December 1919 came into force, which was followed by the signing of the Tartu Peace Treaty that marked the end of the War of Independence.
In the War of Independence, which lasted thirteen month, 5,000 were killed and 14,000 wounded on the Estonian side.
2 February – Anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty
The Tartu Peace Treaty put an end to the Estonian War of Independence.
The War of Independence started on 28 November 1918, when Soviet Russian forces invaded Estonia on the heels of the departing German occupation forces, and by the beginning of 1919, occupied a significant portion of our country. The Estonian Army, which was still in the process of being formed, and which was supported by volunteers from Finland and several other countries, was able to halt the offensive and repel it. Beginning in March of 1919, almost the entire area inhabited by ethnic Estonians was again under the control of the Republic of Estonia. Even in the fierce fighting that followed, the Red Army was not able to break the resistance of the Estonian Army and people, and in the last months of 1919, peace talks were started up between the Republic of Estonia and Soviet Russia. The hostilities were halted with the truce agreement of 31 December 1919. The final peace treaty was signed on 2 February 1920 in Tartu.
The Tartu Peace Treaty is of great importance in Estonian history. With this treaty, our large neighbour unconditionally acknowledged the independence of the Estonian state, the Estonian-Russian border was defined, and mutual security guarantees were agreed upon. Subsequently, the Republic of Estonia was recognized de jure by many countries and international organizations. Until today, the Tartu Peace Treaty has remained one of the principal documents of Estonia’s constitutionality, especially with regard to relations with Russia.
24 February – Estonian Independence Day
Due to the February Revolution of 1917, Tsarist power fell in Russia, which was exhausted by the First World War, and a republic was declared. A democratization process started during which many small nationalities awoke to a political life. Estonia also obtained autonomy and a people’s representation, the Provisional Council (Maapäev) was elected, which was in essence a single-chamber parliament. In the beginning, the dominant idea was for Estonia to be an equal state in a federated Russian state.
In October of 1917, the Bolsheviks toppled the Russian Provisional Government and established the Soviet dictatorship in the country. The Estonian Bolsheviks declared the existing local government organizations and the Provisional Government to be disbanded. With a resolution of 15 November 1917, the Maapäev as a democratically elected people’s representation declared itself the sole higher public authority in Estonia. The Red soldiers and sailors dispersed the Maapäev. Conferring with the representatives of other political powers, the members of the Provisional Council that had gone underground concluded that Estonia should be declared an independent republic. The Estonian Independence Manifest was composed and a three-member Salvation Committee (Konstantin Päts, Jüri Vilms and Konstantin Konik), was formed in order to declare independence at the first opportunity.
The opportunity arrived on 18 February 1918, when the German forces embarked on a general offensive along the entire eastern front. The Red Army and soldiers did not put up much resistance. Together with the retreating forces, the Soviet power structures also left Estonia for Russia. Before the arrival of the German forces, on 24 February the Salvation Committee proclaimed the “Manifest to All the People of Estonia”, in which Estonia was declared to be an independent democratic republic. A Provisional Government was appointed and it declared it neutrality in the Russian-German war.
German forces occupied Estonian during the next days. The occupation ended in the autumn of the same year, when the German forces that had lost the First World War left and the Estonian governmental institutions could restart their activity.
In re-independent Estonia, 24 February started to be again celebrated as a public holiday in 1990.
14 March – Native Language Day
Native Language Day is one of our newer national holidays, which was established by the Riigikogu on 11 February 1999. The birthday of Kristjan Jaak Peterson (14 March 1801–4 August 1822), a talented poet and linguist of the pre-awakening period in Estonia, was chosen as Native Language Day. For many years, linguistic and cultural events have been organized on this day.
Peterson was one of the first to be convinced that the peasant language that originated in the farmhouse is totally qualified to take its place among the cultural languages of the world. In an ode dedicated to the future of the Estonian language, he presented a bold and defiant challenge:
Can the language of this land,
by rising up to the sky
in the wind of song,
not search for an eternity for itself?
During the nearly two hundred years that have elapsed since that time, the Estonian language and people have experienced good times and bad. During the first period of independence, the written Estonian language became significantly richer, more colourful, and more exact thanks to language reformers and standardizers, especially Johannes Aavik and Johannes Voldemar Veski. Estonian language has not only become a state language in the legal sense, but also a language of communication for literary, artistic and musical people striving toward Europe and a scientific language using terminology in its own language.
Throughout history, foreign powers have used linguistic expansion as one means of subordinating occupied people. When a language no longer exists, neither does the people. During the years of Soviet occupation, in Estonia this meant a policy of constantly expanding the relative importance of the Russian language through the coercion of state power. The same objective was served by the organization of the massive migration of Russian-speaking foreigners and the purposeful alternation of the national composition of the population.
In re-independent Estonia, our native language has again secured the position of the state language, although its developmental environment is more complicated than in the pre-war period. In addition to the legacy of the Soviet period, apparent in the population and language use, among the younger generation of Estonians, it has become popular to orientate toward everything Western, which has resulted in the tumultuous invasion of the English language into our lives. Therefore, the Estonian language also needs protection today. Our native language and printed word needs to be protected from being cluttered up with foreign-language terminology, expressions, advertising, and company names. In the world, there is only one Estonia, the home of the Estonians, were naturally one speaks Estonian.
The official Native Language Day reminds us that everyday the purity and sustainability of the Estonian language depends more than ever on the carriers and users of the Estonian language themselves.
9 May – Europe Day
On 9 May 9 1950, Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister at the time, gave a famous speech, in which he presented the integration of Europe as the way to guarantee peace and promote prosperity in post-war Europe. At a meeting in Milan in 1985, the General Assembly of the European Union decided to designate 9 May as Europe Day, and this was done for the first time at the summit meeting the next year.
The second Sunday in May – Mother’s Day
The Mother’s Day tradition originates from the United States, where, in 1907, a teacher named Ann Jarvis started to put into practice her mother’s idea that the entire world could honour mothers on Mother’s Day. Shortly thereafter, the tradition of celebrating Mother’s Day spread to Europe.
Mother’s Day arrived in Estonia through Finland in 1922, at the initiative of Helmi Mäelo, a writer and secretary of the Women’s Temperance League. During the 1930s, it became a national holiday with ceremonies, concerts, and receptions held to honour mothers. In the Soviet Union, the celebration of Mother’s Day was deprecated. Now this holiday is again honoured as a celebration for mothers and families.
4 June – Estonian Flag Day
A national holiday of the Republic of Estonia. This day marks the blessing of the mother flag of the Estonian flag as the flag of the Estonian Students Society in Otepää on 4 June 1884.
According to a resolution of the Government of the Republic Estonian Flag Day was celebrated for the first time in 1994, on the 110th anniversary of the consecration of the blue-black-and-white flag.
14 June – Day of Mourning (flags are hoisted a mourning flags)
When the forces of the Soviet Union occupied the Estonian Republic on 17 June 1940, they were accompanied by repressive organs that started to arrest, deport, and execute people in the still formally independent country. The first to fall victim to the terror were leading government figures, people active social and economic affairs, and military personnel. However, on the night of 13–14 June 1941, the first mass deportations were organized in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, during which thousands of families were arrested and taken to Russia. The men were separated from their families and sent to prison camps, while the women, children, and old people were exiled to the farthest corners of the Soviet Union. Of the people deported on 14 June 1941, 10,000 were alive after the war and only a few were able to return to Estonia in the 1950s.
The possibility of mass deportations in 20th century Europe was a shocking experience for Estonians, which fostered the development of massive guerrilla warfare. Thousands of Estonian men joined the German forces for just this reason. After the war, the Estonian people had to survive even greater deportations and repressions, and the number of the Estonians in their homeland dropped by one-quarter.
According to the Public and National Holidays Act, on the Mourning Day of 14 June, public events that are inappropriate during mourning are not organized.
23 June – Victory Day
In the spring of 1919, when the Red Army units had been expelled from Estonia, war activities shifted to Russia and partially to areas of Latvia occupied by the Reds. However, in northern Latvia, the Estonian forces engaged the Baltic Landeswehr, an army composed of Baltic German and German mercenaries, who were moving against them. The Germans had taken power in Latvia.
The Landeswehr War, which lasted about a month, was a serious benchmark for the Estonian forces, because their opponents were well armed and experienced. At first the Estonians were forced to retreat. However, on 22 June 1919, the reinforced Estonian forces went on the attack, and in a fierce battle, the town of Cesis (Võnnu) was recaptured. After that, the resistance of the German forces was crumbled along the entire 100-km-long front and the Estonian forces reached Riga at the beginning of July, where a truce, brokered by the United States, was signed with the Landeswehr. This victory was important to Estonia to ensure the political and military situation and it allowed the legal government of Latvia to be restored, and Latvia become Estonia’s military ally.
At the end of the War of Independence, the anniversary of the Võnnu battle was celebrated as Victory Day. The day of 23 June was declared a public holiday in 1934. On this day military parades were organized, the fallen were commemorated, etc.
24 June – St. John’s Day
The name of St. John’s Day originates from the name day of John the Baptist. This is the holiday that marks the summer solstice, when the sun, warmth, and light has achieved its greatest victory over cold and darkness.
St John’s Day and St. John’s Night has been celebrated by all northern peoples from time immemorial. In the old days, it was believed that good and bad fairies move about on this night. Magical traditions and customs were connected to the longest day of the year and the shortest night. One of the most popular activities throughout the ages has been to light bonfires on St. John’s Night and to celebrate around them.
Usually the spring farm work ended with St. John’s Day and was shortly followed by summer work – primarily haymaking.
20 August 20 – Day of Restoration of Independence
On 19 August 1991, a coup d’etat was initiated in Moscow. Rebels from the Soviet military and security leadership asserted that Mikhail Gorbachev had brought the country to the brink of ruin. A state of emergency was declared, all state institutions were disbanded, meetings and rallies were forbidden, and many newspapers were closed.
Special attention of the State of Emergency Committee was focused on the Baltic States, where democratic changes and the people’s aspirations for freedom had advanced the furthest. Therefore, one more tank unit was sent to Estonia from Russia, although there already were many Soviet troops in Estonia.
The Estonian government announced that they would unswervingly fulfil the valid laws of Estonia. Thousands of peoples publicly protested against the Soviet coup d’etat in Tallinn. A political general strike was planned, barricades were constructed on the streets, volunteers from the Defence League and Home Guard stood guard over the more important buildings.
On 20 August, the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian Republic passed a resolution, composed in cooperation with representatives of the Estonian Committee, to restore Estonian independence and to strive for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Estonia and the other nations of the world.
Democratic forces were victorious in both Russia and Estonia. The tanks had to leave and the independence of the Republic of Estonia was restored. Shortly thereafter, the nations of the world started to recognize Estonian independence. The Soviet Union also recognized the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on 6 September 1991. On 17 September of the same year, Estonia became a member of the United Nations. For these reasons, we celebrate 20 August as the Day of Restoration of Independence. This day has been figuratively called the third victory day of the Estonian people, along with 24 February and Victory Day.
1 September – Knowledge Day
The day on which learning starts in Estonian schools. Based on the Estonian Flag Act, the Estonian flag is hoisted on the buildings of basic schools, upper secondary schools, vocational educational institutions, institutions of professional higher education, and universities on all school days.
The second Sunday in November – Father’s Day
Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day, got its start in the United States. There it is celebrated in the summer, on the third Sunday in June, when children bring their fathers flowers and small presents.
Father’s Day is a new holiday in Estonia, the celebration of which was started in 1988. Following the example of the Nordic countries, especially Finland, we celebrate Father’s Day in the autumn, on the second Sunday in November.
The Election Day for the Riigikogu or local government, days when referendums are held and the Election Day for the European Parliament are flag days according to the law.
Together with the Estonian flag, the Lithuanian flag is hoisted on the Riigikogu, President of the Republic and Government of the Republic buildings on 16 February, Lithuanian Independence Day, and the Latvian flag on 18 November, the day of the declaration of the Latvian Republic.
In addition to the aforementioned public and national holidays, several religious holidays are also celebrated in Estonia, such as Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas. These days have not been declared official flag days, but everyone is free to choose whether to raise the flag on these days.