Päts, Konstantin

23 February 1874 Tahkuranna parish, Pärnu county - 18 January 1956 Kalinin oblast

One of the most important Estonian statesmen of the first half of the 20th century, one of the founders of the Republic of Estonia, from 1934 to 1940 authoritarian ruler

Päts graduated from the law department of the University of Tartu in 1898.  Until 1917 he worked as assistant barrister, Tallinn city councillor and deputy mayor, as well as newspaper editor. He participated in the revolution in 1905; fearing arrest, he lived in Switzerland and Finland between 1905 and 1909. In 1910-11 he was in prison for taking part in the revolution. After the Russian February revolution in 1917 he became one of the leading national politicians in Estonia. In 1917 he helped organise the Estonian national armed forces, and was a member of the Provincial Assembly. At the end of 1917 he was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. On 24 February 1918 he was chairman of the Estonian Rescue Committee, which declared the Republic of Estonia, and was then appointed prime minister of the Provisional Government. In summer 1918 the German occupying forces sent him to a prison camp. After his release he continued in November 1918 as prime minister and also took upon himself the tasks of the minister of war. He occupied both positions until May 1919, leading the Estonian government at the most difficult period of the War of Independence. In 1919-1920 he was a deputy in the Estonian Constituent Assembly, from 1920 to 1937 a member of parliament, and five times head of government during that period. In 1934 he applied for the position of State Elder (Riigivanem), but before the lections he accomplished a coup d’état, together with Johan Laidoner. Between 1934 and 1940 he ruled Estonia as authoritarian head of state (the so-called Silent Era). In 1934-1937 he was officially head of government, in 1937-1938 Protector of State, and in 1938 he was elected President. The Republic of Estonia under Päts’s leadership was one of the mildest authoritarian regimes in Europe at the time. On 23 July 1940, the puppet parliament, forced into power by the Soviet Union, dismissed Päts from the President’s office, and a week later he was deported to Ufa together with his family. In 1941 he was arrested and imprisoned until 1954. He died in 1956 in Burashevo psychiatric hospital.

Päts was among the most controversial Estonian statesmen of the 20th century, provoking lively debates in recent decades. Firstly, could he have been an agent working for the Soviet Union in the 1920s, representing Soviet business interests in Estonia. Secondly, did the Vaps movement actually present sufficient danger to Estonian democracy in 1934 to warrant the coup d’état by Päts? The most debatable issue to this day is Päts’s decision to surrender in 1939 to the demands of the Soviet Union. Hoping to avoid war with the Soviet Union, Päts’s government agreed to the ultimatum and allowed the Red Army to establish its military bases in Estonia.

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