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Jaan Tõnisson
Born 22 December 1868
Viiratsi Parish, Viljandi County, Estonia
Died Unknown
Alma mater University of Tartu
Occupation Estonian statesman, lawyer, newspaper editor

Jaan Tõnisson (22 December 1868 – Unknown) was an Estonian statesman, serving as the Prime Minister of Estonia twice during 1919 to 1920 and as the Foreign Minister of Estonia from 1931 to 1932.

Contents

Early life

Tõnisson was born near Tänassilma, now in Viiratsi Parish, Viljandi County, Estonia the son of a farmer. After graduating from a local school he started studying law at Tartu University, where he joined the Estonian Students' Society, a group which played an important part in the national movement in Estonia in the late 1800s early 1900s. During his time with the society he was elected its chairman. This post would acquaint Tõnisson with the leader of the national movement of that time, Villem Reimann.

Public life in the 1890s

In 1893 Tõnisson became the editor of the biggest Estonian daily Postimees. With the help of Tõnisson, the Tartu Renaissance, a period when Estonians sought to weaken the russification policy that was being implemented by the Czars of Russia, who at the time had control of the Estonian territory. In 1896, Tõnisson, along with several of his closest associates, brought the fight for nationalism to the newspaper Postimees turning it into the tribune of the national movement for the decades to follow.

Early 20th century

Tõnisson also fought for the development of the Estonian economy, paying special attention to the joint activities, such as the establishing of the first agricultural co-operatives in Estonia, also loaning and saving alliances were founded under his leadership.

Following the Russian Revolution of 1905, the czar was forced to give citizens certain political freedoms. Tõnisson used them to widen the rights of Estonians establishing the first Estonian political party — National Progress Party. While Tõnisson did not approve Estonians participating in the Russian revolution, it did not prevent him from passionately protesting against the punishment actions in Estonia organized by the czarist powers.

In 1906, Tõnisson became the first Estonian politician to be elected to the Russian Duma. In the Duma, Tõnisson joined the protest movement against the actions of the czarist government, trying to get back the given rights that the Czar has allowed to the citizens but was trying to take back. Due to his involvement in the protests and nationally movements in the Duma and in Estonia Tõnisson was arrested and would spend several months in prison.

Prison did not inhibit Tõnisson's political activity. In the years following the revolution he concentrated on developing the Estonian school system, founding school societies all over the country and opening several Estonian-language schools. The co-operation and agriculture policies he helped established developed quickly influencing the general growth of wealth in Estonia.

In the War of Independence (1918-1920)

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, which developed from the First World War, the czarist power collapsed. Estonians quickly reacted and gained the rights to autonomy and to form a national army from the Russian Provisional Government. In 1917 Tõnisson started demanding the full independence of Estonia, declaring the District Council, which was elected according to the Autonomy Law to be the highest power in Estonia.

Subsequently Tõnisson was arrested by the Bolshevik forces, which sent him out of the country, where Tõnisson started directing the activities of the Estonian foreign delegations, a position that he would still be in when Estonia declared it’s independence on 24 February 1918.

In the elections of the Constituent Assembly in spring 1919 the conservative-liberal National Party under the leadership of Tõnisson took third place. By the autumn of 1919 Tõnisson would become the third Prime Minister of Estonia, whose main task was to lead the state out of the war. Tõnisson would be a pivotal player in the Treaty of Tartu, signed on the 2 February 1920, which guaranteed to Estonia its independence.

Political career in independent Estonia

Though Tõnisson led the nation to independence, the decisions made in the difficult situations during the Estonian War of Independence led to the decline of popularity of the National Party and in the first elections for the State Assembly they were defeated. Regardless Tõnisson continued active participation in the politics of Estonia, working as Foreign Minister and would eventually serve once again as Prime Minister of Estonia.

He was Speaker of the Riigikogu from June 7, 1923 to May 27, 1925 and from July 19, 1932 to May 18, 1933.

Decisions of the government of Tõnisson during a financial crisis in 1932 led to a decline in his personal popularity, though the policies would help the state out of the crisis. In a referendum in 1933, the voters adopted an authoritarian constitution, which would lead to Konstantin Päts coming to power in 1934. Päts soon suspended the activities of both the political parties and the parliament also imposed limits to civil liberty.

With the changing situation in Estonia, Tõnisson would become the leader of the democratic opposition. As a result the government expropriated his newspaper Postimees, though that would not keep Tõnisson's from promoting democratic ideals.

The semi-democratic elections of 1938, Tõnisson was re-elected to the State Assembly, where he continued fighting for the total restoration of democracy in Estonia.

By 1939 though, Estonia would be considered to be in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. And by 1940 Estonia was completely occupied by the Soviet Union. Tõnisson tried to influence the President on resisting the Soviet occupation, at least symbolically, but Päts had already decided to surrender unresistingly.

In the summer of 1940 Tõnisson started an extensive campaign, organising the nomination of rival candidates to the communist ones in the elections of the Soviet puppet parliament of Estonia. The Soviets, wanting complete control of the parliament, would remove their rivals by forceful means.

Disappearance

In the autumn of 1940 Tõnisson was once again arrested. During his trial, Tõnisson neither regretted anything nor gave up any information about other politicians who opposed the Soviets. The exact whereabouts of Tõnisson after the trial and the circumstances of his death remain a mystery. The most credible speculation about his death centers on Tõnisson being shot dead in Tallinn during the first days of July in 1941. His place of burial is unknown. A memorial to Tõnisson was erected in Tartu in 1999.

Preceded by
Otto Strandman
Prime Minister of Estonia
1919 – 1920
Succeeded by
Ado Birk
Preceded by
Ado Birk
Prime Minister of Estonia
30 July 1920 – 26 October 1920
Succeeded by
Ants Piip
Preceded by
Konstantin Päts
Speaker of the Riigikogu
1923 - 1925
Succeeded by
August Rei
Preceded by
Jaan Teemant
State Elder of Estonia
1927 – 1928
Succeeded by
August Rei
Preceded by
Jaan Lattik
Minister of Foreign Affairs
1931 – 1932
Succeeded by
Mihkel Pung
Preceded by
Karl Einbund
Speaker of the Riigikogu
1932 - 1933
Succeeded by
Karl Einbund
Preceded by
Konstantin Päts
State Elder of Estonia
1933
Succeeded by
Konstantin Päts
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