Era of Silence
"Era of Silence" is a term used to describe the years 1934-1938 or 1940. in Estonian history
History of Estonia
Estonia was settled near the end of the last glacial era, beginning from around 8500 BC. Before the German invasions in the 13th century proto-Estonians of the Ancient Estonia worshipped the spirits of nature...

. It was introduced by Kaarel Eenpalu
Kaarel Eenpalu
Kaarel Eenpalu was an Estonian journalist, politician and head of state.- Education :...

, Prime Minister of Estonia
Prime Minister of Estonia
The Prime Minister of Estonia is the head of government of the Republic of Estonia. The prime minister is nominated by the President after appropriate consultations with the parliamentary factions and confirmed by the Parliament. In case of disagreement, the Parliament can reject the President's...

 in 1938-39 and a strong supporter of Konstantin Päts
Konstantin Päts
Konstantin Päts VR I/1 and III/1 was the most influential politician of interwar Estonia. He was one of the first Estonians to become active in politics and started an almost 40-year political rivalry with Jaan Tõnisson, first through journalism with his newspaper Teataja, later through politics...

, Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

's dictator during that period. The period began with the preemptive coup of 1934, which Päts carried out to avert a feared takeover of the state apparatus by the Vaps Movement (League of Veterans).


Although historians have not uncovered any convincing evidence of the reality of such a threat, in the charged atmosphere that pervaded Europe in 1934, when Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 had become a widely admired populist model for authoritarian nationalists, the credibility of the threat was accepted by a large majority of Estonian elites. Päts, using the authority of the newly adopted Constitution of 1933, proclaimed martial law on March 12; appointed his trusted colleague Johan Laidoner
Johan Laidoner
Johan Laidoner was a seminal figure of Estonian history between the world wars. His highest position was Commander-in-chief of the Estonian Army in 1918–1920, 1924–1925, and 1934–1940.-Education:Laidoner was born in Viiratsi , Governorate of Livonia, then part of the Russian Empire...

, hero of the War of Independence but an opponent of the Vaps' leadership, as commander of the armed forces; shut down all veterans' organisations; arrested 400 of the organisations' members; and outlawed all organised political activity in the country. All Vaps members were also purged from local governments, the civil service, and the Defence League
Estonian Defence League
The Estonian Defence League is the name of the unified paramilitary armed forces of the Republic of Estonia. The Defence League is a paramilitary defence organization which aim is to guarantee the preservation of the independence and sovereignty of the state, the integrity of its land area and its...

. These actions were immediately approved by the lame-duck parliament.

However, when Päts decreed postponement of the elections for both State Elder and Parliament
The Riigikogu is the unicameral parliament of Estonia. All important state-related questions pass through the Riigikogu...

, scheduled to be held in spring 1934 according to the new constitution, opposition arose in a special session convened by the existing parliament, since the constitution did not allow postponement of elections by decree. In response, he permanently postponed the session and ruled by decree until a new constitution could be drawn up and adopted. Thus, Päts' takeover of the government was a coup de facto but also de jure, since the entire process was illegal under the constitution in effect in 1934.

The phrase "Era of Silence" well describes the silencing of all opposition to Päts' governing circle. However, it also reflects an apparent "national conspiracy" to go along with the suppression of civil and political rights in the interests of "order" after a decade of political turmoil. His rule was not an unduly harsh one: nearly all of those jailed in 1934 were released in 1938, and none of the former heads of state (Ants Piip
Ants Piip
Ants Piip VR III/1 was an Estonian lawyer, diplomat and politician.-Education:Piip studied at the Teachers' Seminar in Kuldīga , now in Latvia...

, Juhan Kukk
Juhan Kukk
Juhan ' Kukk VR III/1 was an Estonian politician....

, Jaan Teemant
Jaan Teemant
Jaan Teemant was an Estonian lawyer and politician.Teemant studied in H. Treffner's Private High School. In 1901 he graduated from the Department of Law the St. Petersburg University. He was a solicitor in Tallinn. In 1904–1905 was a member of the Tallinn Municipal Council...

 and Jaan Tõnisson
Jaan Tõnisson
Jaan Tõnisson VR I/3, II/3 and III/1 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.-Early life:...

) who issued the Four State Elders' Memorandum in a Finnish
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

 newspaper in October 1936, calling on Päts to immediately end the curtailment of civil and political rights and to reinstitute democratic government, was ever harassed by the government. When elections
Estonian parliamentary election, 1938
Parliamentary elections were held in Estonia on 24 and 25 February 1938. The National Front for the Implementation of the Constitution was the only party to contest the election, and won 64 of the 80 seats...

 were held in 1938 under the new constitution of 1937, the opposition only managed to elect 26 members to the government's 54, which tends to support the view that the vast majority of Estonians acquiesced in the Era of Silence.

The era is considered to have ended either with the notional restoration of democracy in 1938, or with the Soviet occupation in 1940.

Further reading

  • Frucht, R. C. (2005). Eastern Europe: An introduction to the people, lands, and culture / edited by Richard Frucht. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO. Page 78+
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