The Estonian republic was founded in 1918 when the Paastekomitee (Salvation Committee) declared independence from Russia. The date was celebrated as a public holiday until the Soviet occupation in 1940. During the next 50 years, Feb. 24 was celebrated in Estonian communities and recognized abroad as the day of independence for the republic.
In 1989, the blue, black and white Estonian flag replaced the red flag of Soviet Estonia on Toompea.
This year, President Lennart Meri awarded 168 state decorations to people who have contributed to Estonian society and for their services to the state.
Recipients include men and women who have "shaped, preserved or chronicled our recent history, brave life-savers, the politician and philanthropists of our neighboring countries, the bearers and restorers of Estonian political ideals, scientists and physicians, schoolteachers and clergymen, helpers of our children and elderly people, preservers of nature, creators and scholars of art and culture," according to a statement from the president.
The awards were conferred on the eve of Independence Day. A complete list of recipients can be found on the president's Web site: www.president.ee.