This Sunday is the 95th Anniversary of the proclamation of the independence of the Estonian Republic.
22 years and five months after February 24th 1918, the first independence ended with the overthrow of the Estonian State by the Red Army. There then followed the wholesale slaughter of anyone- from Ministers to Postmen- who had served the free Republic in any capacity. Following the subsequent German occupation in June 1941 and the return of Soviet troops in Autumn 1944, tens of thousands of people were arrested, deported to Siberia or simply shot out of hand. There was a deliberate attempt to destroy any resistance- though despite this the country was not pacified for almost a decade. There then followed 47 years of the so-called Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. The economic, social and cultural repression of Estonia and the colonization of the country by Russian speakers (who comprised less than 5% of the population in 1940, 24% today) left a shocked and fractured society. Yet in the 22 years since the reborn Republic was restored, Estonia has made giant strides- not merely in economics, but also politically and socially. The country has not become the corrupt kleptocracy that for example disfigures Russia, in fact it has developed Nordic social attitudes, and as the Nordic states abandon their failed Social Democratic experiments, Estonia's politics have converged with their Western and Northern neighbours.
In the next five years, the country seems set to overcome the fear that Putinist Russia still tries to engender in its neighbours. Even in the past five years the country has visibly moved on from joining any and all of the international clubs simply as an expression of fear for their security. Now the country is more confident about asserting a dissenting point of view within the European Union for example. There is a growing sense of confidence and the country is beginning to learn to smile. The trauma is healing as time passes and a new generation has grown up with no experience of the humiliations of Soviet power.
Yet still, for as long as the corrupt and aggressive Putin regime holds power in the Kremlin, Estonia- like all the countries that endured Soviet occupation- takes precautions. This Autumn, for the first time, NATO will be conducting exercises in the Baltic region. Following the recent Russian manoeuvres, which pointedly simulated a nuclear attack on Warsaw, it is clear that Russia still regards NATO as an enemy. The fact that it regards an alliance of democratic states in that light- even when they might have joined the alliance in the early 1990s- tells you what kind of state Vladimir Putin has created.
So as Estonia settles down to celebrate the extraordinary advances of the past few years, as it recognises its own achievements- not least survival in the face of overwhelming odds- the other members of NATO should recognise in their turn that the political health of the Baltic is a litmus test for Russia. Threats and pointedly hostile comments from Russia should be challenged not ignored. European states should not tolerate even veiled hints that the crimes visited upon the Estonian Republic could ever be repeated.
I will watch the raising of the Estonian flag at sunrise on Sunday with a sense of profound respect for the recovery that the Estonian state and nation has made, and a small sense of happiness that I have been privileged to be involved.