Väljas, Vaino

​28 March 1931 Emmaste Parish, Hiiumaa Island

Last Communist Party leader in Soviet Estonia 1988-1990

In 1955 Väljas graduated from the State University as a historian. In 1952 he had joined the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), which helped to advance his career. Between 1955 and 1961 he was head of the local Komsomol organisation and worked from 1961 to 1971 as the first CP secretary of the Tallinn municipal committee. He then accepted a job in the Central Committee of the Estonian CP, where he worked between 1971 and 1980 as a secretary in the area of ideology. He was thus one of the closest colleagues of the local party leader Johannes Käbin and was seen as his possible successor.

After Karl Vaino became the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Estonian CP, Väljas left party work in 1980 and was assigned by Moscow to diplomatic work. Between 1980 and 1988, Väljas was the Ambassador of the Soviet Union in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

When the Russian-oriented Karl Vaino, who was unpopular with the Estonian population, was removed from his position in summer 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the USSR, invited Väljas to Moscow and asked him to lead the Estonian CP. Väljas was the First Secretary from 1988 to 1990. Gorbachev knew Väljas from his Komsomol period, and now hoped he would help realise the politics of glasnost and perestroika. Many Estonians were enthusiastic to see the first Estonian rising to the party leadership and expected him to secure extensive rights for Estonians within the Soviet Union. As the Party leader, he had to represent the interests of the Soviet CP in Estonia, but he also stood up for Estonian interests as Estonia moved towards the restoration of independence. His position as the leader of the Estonian SSR was quite short-lived, because the Communist Party lost its absolute power in the late 1980s, and its membership and position in society plummeted. In 1990, the Estonian CP split into two wings, one supporting Estonian independence and the other supporting the continuation of the Soviet Union. After Estonia regained its independence, Väljas withdrew from politics.

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