The Silent Era

​Collective name for the political life of the Estonian Republic in the second half of the 1930s, when the governing of the state and the press were under the strict control of Päts’ authoritarian regime and civil initiative was suppressed.

On 12 March 1934, the governing Elder of State at the time, Konstantin Päts, staged a military coup. After that, his government initially acted cautiously, avoiding steps that could have created tensions in society. The national state of emergency was declared on 12 March and the resulting restrictions were mainly applied against the members of the Veterans’ League (participants in the Estonian War of Independence), who were accused of planning a violent coup d’etat. Most of the population believed the claims of state leaders particularly because the silence that followed the preceding political high voltage was favoured by many.

The situation changed when Elder of State Päts extended the state of emergency on 7 September 1934 and again postponed the elections for Elder of State and to the Riigikogu (Parliament). Gradually, an opposition started to form, demanding a return to customary political life. When the Riigikogu assembled in autumn, it turned out that although the government did not lack supporters, they were outvoted by its opponents.

After that, Minister of the Interior Kaarel Eenpalu closed the session of Riigikogu on 2 October and said that Parliament would enter a “dormant state”, meaning that it would not be allowed to assemble in the future. After that, power came into the hands of the Elder of State and the government. In addition to Riigikogu, the political parties, the press and the intellectuals were forced into silence. The rights of local governments, trade unions, churches and other institutions were restricted. New institutions – the Fatherland League, professional chambers and the State Propaganda Office – were created. This activity was formalised with a new Constitution. The entry into force of the Constitution on 1 January 1938 marked Estonia’s return to legal order, but not to democracy. On the contrary, through this constitution, authoritarianism acquired a legal status.

Päts’ government lacked a clear-cut ideology. Its political programme was based on the rightist theory of so-called national unity, which promoted the feeling of togetherness amongst the Estonian people no matter what their education, profession or wealth might be. These views were spread through the State Propaganda Office, conducting different popular campaigns such as the beautification of homes, the Estonianisation of family names, etc.

Opposition to the dormant state was weak, primarily due to social attitudes. A large part of the population supported the steps undertaken by the authorities – some people believing that this was for the good of the country, and others only wanting to advance their careers. But still a larger part felt political apathy, being satisfied with a rapid rise in living standards and remaining indifferent towards restrictions to democracy that did not bother ordinary citizens too much. Another reason for no strong opposition was the fact that the regime established in Estonia was one of the most moderate among the similar regimes in Europe.

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