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Independence Day in Estonia is celebrated every February 24th to mark the day in 1918 when independence was declared from the Russian Empire.

It was also on February 24, 1989 that the flag of a free Estonia replaced the flag of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic on the historically significant Toompea Hill in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city.

Meet Major General Meelis Kiili.  We sat down to ask a few questions on what is special about not only this day but also his nation! 

See his answers below.

Estonia

Major General Meelis Kiili
Estonian National Military Representative

1. What do you miss most about home?

One can say that the best, most difficult, music, to perform and listen to, is the silence. Therefore, I miss a space to retreat to and enjoy that privilege. I do miss unspoiled nature, vast forests, prehistoric swamps, breeze from the sea, wildlife and four seasons. In a cold winter days returning from long stroll the welcoming hot sauna, I miss that too. In addition, naturally, I long for my own folk my kin, with our national peculiarities.

2. What have you learned working at SHAPE in an international environment that you can take back to your national military?

Most important lesson is that there are many likeminded nations dedicated to secure, shape and defend our Trans-Atlantic way of life. Second, in order to get one need to give, to contribute proportionally to common goals, to live up to promises. Third, military does not operate in void, in virtual reality; we are always a part of the complex world. There is necessity, in fact prerequisite, to see beyond traditional operational domains, readiness to leave own comfort zones, to learn and to adapt.

3. What is something unique about Estonia that others might not know?

  • Estonia is a linguistic enclave. Estonian is not Indo-European language. Therefore, in many ways we can say that we are the “wind talkers” of Europe.
  • Our territory is slightly bigger than Belgium, 50% of that is forest.
  • Estonia mobilised 10% of the population under the arms to fight our Independence War 1918-1920. At the end of the war, our Army was bigger than US Army.
  • The Danish Flag of Dannebrog originates from Estonia. It is connected to Battle of Lindanise occurred in 14th century between Estonians and Danes. We lost.
  • In 1441 the first Christmas tree was erected in Tallinn.
  • Arvo Pärt is the world’s most performed living composer. He is known for his minimalist style that uses his own invented compositional technique, tintinnabuli.
  • Estonia has 2222 islands.
  • The first meal consumed in space was prepared in Estonia.
  • During the Crusades, Estonia was named Maarjamaa (Terra Mariana). Although most people know about the medieval crusades to capture the Holy Land, few people realise that separate crusades were declared against the pagan tribes of present-day Latvia and Estonia by Pope Celestine III in 1195 and Innocent III in 1198.
  • Tallinn joined the Hanseatic League in 1285. From the 12th to the 17th centuries, the Hanseatic League was an organisation of cities and merchants. The League’s goals were mainly commercial/economic; in addition to promoting and regulating trade, the League also defended its members politically. Pärnu, Tartu and Viljandi were also member cities. So, one can say that we have a long experience and tradition of being member of ancient EU.
  • Estonia’s population is 1.3 million and receives over 2 million tourists annually.

4. During normal non COVID times how would you usually celebrate this national day?

This is one of the two most celebrated events in Estonia. With the sunrise, our National Flag is hoisted, with all people singing National Anthem. It is followed by military parade and in the evening the Head of State the President of Estonian Republic hosts reception with concert broadcasted live on National TV. It is family centric occasion, so I believe that apart from cancelled parade and reception, most families celebrate our Independence Day in the same manner also during current trying times. Here at SHAPE the Estonians usually have community dinner, this year, however it will be limited to written note from NMR address.


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