The League of Veterans’ of the Estonian War of Independence

An extreme right-wing political movement in the early 1930s in Estonia

During the worldwide economic depression of the early 1930s fascist and radical right movements emerged across Europe. Estonia was no exception to this trend. The League of Veterans’ of the Estonian War of Independence (Eesti Vabadussõjalaste Liit), popularly known as the Vaps movement, established in 1929, became a popular political force, especially after it allowed non-veterans to join in 1932.

The leaders of the organisation were the lawyer Artur Sirk and retired General Andres Larka. The Veterans espoused national unity and anti-Marxism. Political polarization and the frequency of cabinet changeovers increased as the economic crisis deepened. In this atmosphere, the Veterans’ calls to combat political corruption and establish a strong presidency found resonance among the public. Centre-right parties proposed amendments to the constitution creating a presidency in the hope that a strong executive would bring stability. After two successive amendment bills failed in national referendums, the Veterans’ own proposal for a powerful presidency was approved by 73% of voters in a national referendum held in October 1933. The popularity of the Veterans was further demonstrated in local elections in January 1934, when the Veterans won in nearly all the major cities (though they fared poorly in rural districts). Out of desperation, political opponents accused the Veterans of having ties with the German Nazis, but no evidence to support this claim has ever been unearthed. On 12 March 1934, ahead of scheduled parliamentary and presidential elections, acting Prime Minister Konstantin Päts, together with his fellow presidential candidate General Johan Laidoner, proclaimed a state of emergency and arrested the leaders of the Veterans’ League. Their action was subsequently approved by the parliament (riigikogu) which also feared the potential victory of the Veterans in the forthcoming elections. The League was banned as a danger to public safety. A great number of the Veterans were sacked from state institutions, first of all from the defence forces and the police. The mandate of the Veterans elected to local governments were also revoked. In December 1935 some of the Veterans' leaders, with assistance from sympathizers in Finland, plotted to overthrow the government, but their conspiracy was uncovered and they were imprisoned. As a result, support for the movement among the population plummeted and the Veterans ceased to present a serious alternative to the established order.

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