Legal continuity of the Republic of Estonia

​The preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia, adopted in 1992, says that it is adopted “... with unwavering faith and a steadfast will to strengthen and develop the state ... which was proclaimed on 24 February 1918 ...”.

The Republic of Estonia was restored on the principle of legal continuity in 1991. Estonia now is just the same state that was created on 24 February 1918 and occupied by the USSR in 1940. The bodies of occupying regimes, active here in 1940-1991 – the ESSR and the Estonian General Commissariat – are not parts of Estonian statehood.

The United States of America did not recognise the occupation of Estonia in 1940. The non-recognition was declared by the US Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles on 23 July 1940. After WWII, most of the Western states joined the non-recognition policy. In 1991, the Western states recognised the restitution of Estonian independence by restoring diplomatic relations with the Republic of Estonia.

In 1940-1991, the legal continuity was maintained by exile Estonian diplomatic missions in the USA, United Kingdom and other countries. The Estonian Government-in-Exile, led by prime ministers acting as President of the Republic, was active during the period. The Estonian passports, issued by the exile diplomatic missions, were internationally recognised as travel documents.

The Republic of Estonia was restored on the basis of the continuity of its citizenship. Those who had been citizens of Estonia on 16 June 1940 and their descendants were defined as citizens. Others living in Estonia had to apply for citizenship through naturalisation.

The continuity of private property was restored in Estonia. After the occupation of Estonia in 1940, land and major properties had been declared to be the property of the people, meaning the property of the state, and confiscated. Since 1991, the ownership reform returned the confiscated properties to the former owners (as of 16 June 1940) or their successors. Ownership relations concerning the confiscated properties created during the Soviet occupation were not recognised.

The non-recognition policy, one of the reasons for which had been the confrontation of the two competing economic and political systems during the Cold War, enabled the international status of the Estonian Republic to be restored. The citizenship policy brought back the nation-statehood of Estonia. The ownership reform created a solid basis for economic reforms and guaranteed a rapid transition to a market economy.

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