TALLINN - Soldiers marched through the island town of Kardla on Tuesday to celebrate Estonian Victory Day.
Army units from Estonia, Sweden, Latvia, Finland and America paraded through the capital of Hiiumaa, an island on the west coast of Estonia, under a cloudless sky to mark the 96th anniversary of Estonian independence.
Boy and girl scouts marched alongside the Estonian Defense Force, Estonian Defense League and members of the police to the city square where President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Prime Minister Taavi Roivas made speeches.
Jets from the Estonian Air Force flew overhead and afterwards a display of static military equipment gave visitors the chance to learn more about the military.
During his speech Ilves thanked the NATO allies for showing support to Estonia over the past year in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea, and the nation’s allies who helped win the War of Independence.
He also addressed the subject of immigration and war refugees calling for a more tolerant approach.
“Let’s speak about these fears in a calm manner. It will not help if we replace rational debate with panic right from the start and spurt out the basest of emotions, ” he said.
“Observing the developments during the last few months here and elsewhere in Europe, a fear has grown in me and many others that we are falling into the trap of abstract xenophobia, fear and general intolerance.
“Starting with the immigration debate and continuing with other topics related to minorities, the moods have intensified in the public arena that are turning inward and generate negation.
“But fear – even of something strange – is a bad leader and anger is an every worse strategy.”
Victory Day is a national holiday in Estonia and is celebrated on June 23, followed by Midsummer’s Eve that evening and St. Johns Day on the 24th.
The day marks the defeat of the German forces who wanted to reassert Baltic-German control in 1919 during the Estonian War of Independence at the Battle of Vonnu.
It has been celebrated every June 23 between 1934 and 1939, and then annually from 1992.
The parade celebrates all Estonians who fight or have fought to retain their country’s independence.