It was on the second of February of 1920 that Jaan Poska (1866-1920), Ants Piip (1884-1942) (pictured), Mait Püüman, Julius Seljamaa (1883-1936), and Jaan Soots (d.1942) sat down with their Russian counterparts Adolf Joffe (1883-1927) and Isidor Gukovsky and signed the Treaty of Tartu, also known as the Tartu Preace Treaty, or Tartu Rahu in Estonian, in which the Russian RSFSR renounced its rights to Estonia in perpetuity.
The two most important people at that signing were Piip and Joffe. Piip reached the peak of his political career in the early 1920s when he was Riigivanem, or state elder, the highest position in Estonia before the establishment of the office of president. However, by the end of the 1930s he was just a rank-and-file member of the parliament. Still, when the Soviet Union occupied Estonia in July 1940, Piip was arrested by the NKVD. He died in a prison camp in Perm oblast in Russia in January 1942.
Joffe is also an interesting character. He was one of the RSFSR's top diplomats until Lenin died in 1924. He was also a close friend and ally of Leon Trotsky, and after falling ill, he took his own life in 1927. Trotsky gave the eulogy at Joffe's funeral. It was the last speech that Trotsky gave in the Soviet Union. Trotsky was eventually assasinated in Mexico in 1940 with an ice axe. For his efforts, Ramon Mercader, the Spanish-born NKVD assassin, was awarded the 'Hero of the Soviet Union' medal, and split the rest of his life between Havana and Moscow. He has a place of honor in the KGB museum, and when he died in 1978, he was buried as a hero in Kuntsevo Cemetery in Moscow.
But what do all these dead men and the documents their once active hands signed have to do with us with our iPods, cellphones, Wifi connections, and blogs in the 21st century?
Plenty, as the Russian Foreign Ministry attests. For today, the seventh day of June, in the year of our Lord 2006, 66 years after Trotsky's skull was shattered with an ice axe, 64 years after Ants Piip died in a prison camp in Siberia, and 86 years after the RSFSR signed its treaty with Estonia, the Treaty of Tartu is declared 'no longer valid.'
MOSCOW, June 7 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will resume border negotiations with Latvia and Estonia only after the two Baltic states withdraw political demands on Russia, the foreign minister said Wednesday.
Talks on border treaties between Russia and the two countries have stalled over territorial issues inserted into new versions of agreements by Estonia and Latvia, and the two countries' claims for compensation over what they term Soviet occupation.
Sergei Lavrov said Russia would only rejoin negotiations if the Baltic states returned to the original documents and remove the political subtexts.
"But as long as these political links are there, returning to the negotiating table is out of the question," he said.
The Russian and Estonian foreign ministers signed treaties on common borders on May 18, 2005, and the Estonian parliament ratified the documents on June 20, but with additional demands linked to the 1920 peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Estonia. On September 6, Russia notified Estonia that it was revoking its signature from the treaties because the 1920 document was no longer valid.
The preamble of Estonia's border agreement claims a) the legal continuity of the Republic of Estonia proclaimed on 24 February 1918 b) that the treaty partially amends the state border line established by Art. III section I of the Tartu Peace Treaty of 2 February 1920, c) the agreement shall not influence the rest of the treaty and shall not determine the treatment of bilateral issues not connected with border treaties.
At what moment did this document become no longer valid? Estonia signed a military alignment pact with the Soviet Union in September 1939, yet even at that point, the Treaty was apparently still in effect. For example, The Republic of Iceland has been recognized by the United States since 1944 and has had a base located there since 1951. However, the existence of American military presence in Iceland has not interfered with Icelandic sovereignty.
In 1940, after a new communist puppet government was created, the Republic of Estonia ceased to exist as far as Moscow was concerned, and was now a member state of the USSR, as established in 1922. The Tartu Rahu was no longer valid. It's living signers were now enemies of the Soviet state (Jaan Soots, who accompanied the delegation in 1920 and a former defense minister of Estonia, also died in a prison camp in Russia in 1942).
But, the current Estonian Republic considers itself the same republic that was founded in 1918 and signed the Tartu Peace Treaty. The Russian Federation considers itself the successor state to the USSR. For example, last year, Putin said that Russia owed Estonia no apology for occupation due to a resolution passed by the Soviet Supreme Council in 1989.
So what is afoot here? The Russian government does not recognize the Estonians as who they claim to be. The Russian foreign ministry, at the same time, is not exactly sure who it is. Sometimes - ie. when it comes to claims to the Kurile Island in the Pacific Ocean - the RF is definitely the successor state to the Soviet Union.
But when it comes to bilateral relations with Estonia, Russia is not so sure if it actually had anything to do with the Tartu Peace Treaty or not. Instead, it just wants to not discuss the past and move forward.
I guess this is an example of Russia's oft-discussed post-1991 identity crisis.
The sad irony here is that Estonia's preamble references resolutions already passed by the Riigikogu. Therefore, there is little need to reference those resolutions in this document. So if Estonia revoked the original document and passed a second one without the preamble - the legal effect would be exactly the same.