12 March 1934 coup d’état and establishing an authoritarian state order

​The world economic depression reached Estonia in 1930, and it considerably deepened domestic policy tensions. In Estonia, the extreme right The League of Veterans’ of the Estonian War of Independence (Estonian abbr. EVL), also known as the 'Vaps movement', criticised the existing polity, and suggested changes in the constitution, wishing to create the position of Head of State, which would have more extensive authority. In the referendum of October 1933, the new constitution promoted by EVL won, supported by the right-conservative Farmers’ Union, headed by Konstantin Päts. After the new constitution was approved, elections of the State Elder and parliament were to be organised in April 1934.

At the local government elections in early 1934, EVL was most successful in the towns. During the campaign of the State Elder elections, the political opposition between EVL supporters and adversaries increased further, and it was feared that this might escalate into an armed conflict. Their political opponents thought that if the election results were unsatisfactory, EVL would seize power by means of a coup d’état. In such a situation, the political parties (the EVL did not consider themselves a political party) decided to close down EVL as a threat to domestic stability.

On 12 March 1934, the State Elder Konstantin Päts closed down the League of Veterans’ and hundreds of its members were arrested. The arrests were carried out jointly by the police, the army and the Defence League, although all contained quite a large number of EVL supporters. Quite a few top-ranking people were involved in the preparations, such as the Ministers of the Interior, Justice and Defence, the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and the head of the political police. The State Elder appointed Lieutenant General Johan Laidoner as Commander in Chief and Head of the Public Defence Unit. In addition, a state of emergency was established for six months and the elections were postponed. The political parties and the majority of people approved of the steps taken against the The League of Veterans’ of the Estonian War of Independence.

Although claiming to save democracy from extremism, Päts subsequently established his own authoritarian regime. This relied on his loyal civil servants and existing power structures but, thanks to an economically favourable situation and improving standard of living, Päts enjoyed the support of the population and no strong opposition to him ever materialised. The period of Päts’s authoritarian rule, the ‘silent era’, lasted until the Republic of Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940.

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