Tõnisson, Jaan

22 December 1868 Viljandi parish, Viljandi county - 1941?

A prominent Estonian politician, leader of the national-centrists 1905-1940, one of the leaders of the democratic opposition during the ‘silent era’

In 1892 he graduated from the University of Tartu as a lawyer with a Candidate’s degree. From 1896 to 1930 he owned one of the major Estonian-language dailies, Postimees, and until 1935 was also editor in chief. From the early 1890s he encouraged the activities of many societies in Tartu. Tõnisson was one of the most popular and long-serving Estonian politicians in the first half of the 20th century. In 1906 was elected to the first Russian State Duma. Between 1917 and 1940 he was a member of the Provincial Assembly, Constituent Assembly and all the parliaments; in 1923–25 and 1932–33 chairman of the Riigikogu. He was the head of four governments: in 1919–20 Prime Minister in two governments, in 1927–28 and 1933 State Elder. He actively introduced the Estonian cause abroad, and in 1917–18 was a member of the Estonian foreign delegation, 1918–19 minister without portfolio representing Estonia abroad, and 1931–32 Foreign Minister. 

From 1905 to 1932 Jaan Tõnisson was leader of the Estonian People’s Party, and in 1932–1935 the leader of its successor, the National Centre Party, representing the national-democratic political trend. In the 1920s the latter constituted the right-wing political trend based on nationally-minded intellectuals, farmers and Estonian businessmen. It did not rule out cooperation with Baltic Germans or religious circles. By the 1930s the nationalists moved to the political centre. After Konstantin Päts seized power in 1934, Tõnisson was one of the leaders of the democratic opposition. When the daily Postimees was expropriated by the government, he was invited in 1935 to become an associate professor at the University of Tartu. After Estonia was occupied, Tõnisson was arrested in December 1940. He was probably executed in summer 1941 by the KGB in Tallinn.​

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