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Konstantin Päts

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Konstantin Päts

Konstantin Päts
1st President of Estonia
In office
24 April 1938 – 23 July 1940
Prime Minister Kaarel Eenpalu
as Acting Prime Minister
Kaarel Eenpalu
Jüri Uluots
Johannes Vares[Note 1]
Succeeded by Jüri Uluots
as Prime Minister in duties of the President in Exile
Lennart Meri
as President after restoration of independence
Johannes Vares
as Prime Minister in duties of the President under USSR occupation[Note 1]
Prime Minister
of the
Provisional Government of Estonia
In office
24 February 1918 – 12 November 1918
Preceded by Independence declared, position established
Succeeded by himself
as Prime Minister of the Provisional Government
Chairman of the Council of Ministers
of the
Provisional Government of Estonia
In office
12 November 1918 – 8 May 1919
Preceded by himself
as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Provisional Government
Succeeded by Otto August Strandmann
as Prime Minister
2nd, 4th, 11th, 14th and 16th
State Elder of Estonia
In office
25 January 1921 – 21 November 1922
Preceded by Ants Piip
Succeeded by Juhan Kukk
In office
2 August 1923 – 26 March 1924
Preceded by Juhan Kukk
Succeeded by Friedrich Karl Akel
In office
12 February 1931 – 19 February 1932
Preceded by Otto August Strandmann
Succeeded by Jaan Teemant
In office
1 November 1932 – 18 May 1933
Preceded by Karl August Einbund
Succeeded by Jaan Tõnisson
In office
21 October 1933 – 24 January 1934
Preceded by Jaan Tõnisson
Succeeded by himself
as Prime Minister in duties of the State Elder
6th Prime Minister of Estonia,
in duties of the State Elder of Estonia
In office
24 January 1934 – 3 September 1937
Preceded by himself
as State Elder
Succeeded by himself
as President-Regent
President-Regent of Estonia
In office
3 September 1937 – 9 May 1938
Preceded by himself
as Prime Minister in duties of the State Elder
Succeeded by himself
as President
Kaarel Eenpalu
as Prime Minister
Personal details
Born (1874-02-23)23 February 1874
Tahkuranna Parish, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire
Died 18 January 1956(1956-01-18) (aged 81)
Burashevo, Kalininsky District, Kalinin Oblast, Russian SFSR, USSR
Resting place Tallinn, Estonia
Nationality Estonian
Political party Country People's Union (1917–1920)
Farmers' Assemblies (1920–1932)
Union of Settlers and Smallholders (1932–1935)
Patriotic League (1935–1940)
Spouse(s) Wilhelma ("Helma") Ida Emilie Päts
Children Leo
Alma mater University of Tartu
Profession Lawyer, newspaper editor, politician, businessman
Religion Eastern Orthodoxy

Konstantin Päts (Estonian pronunciation: ; 23 February [O.S. 11 February] 1874[1] – 18 January 1956) was the most influential politician of interwar Estonia, and served five times as the country's head of state. 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. He was condemned to death during the 1905 Revolution, but managed to flee first to Switzerland, then to Finland, where he continued his literary work. He returned to Estonia, but had to spend time in prison in 1910–1911.

In 1917, Päts headed the Provincial Government of the War of Independence.

During the right-wing populist Vaps Movement. He was supported by the army and the parliament. During the authoritarian regime ("Era of Silence"), many reforms were made and the economy grew. Päts ruled as Prime Minister in duties of the State Elder (1934–1937) and President-Regent (1937–1938) until a new constitution was adopted in 1938, after which Päts became the first President of Estonia. During his presidency, the Soviet Union occupied Estonia in 1940. As President, he was forced to sign decrees for over a month, until he was finally arrested and deported to Russia, where he died in 1956.


  • Family 1
  • Early Life 2
  • Career 3
    • Journalism 3.1
    • Early political career 3.2
    • Autonomy and German Occupation 3.3
    • War of Independence 3.4
    • Democratic republic 3.5
    • Era of Silence 3.6
    • Late republic and Soviet Occupation 3.7
    • Deportation and imprisonment 3.8
  • Economic and cultural activities 4
  • Foreign relations 5
  • Criticism 6
    • Economic activities 6.1
    • Coup d'état and authoritarian rule 6.2
    • Soviet Occupation 6.3
  • Legacy 7
    • Politics 7.1
    • Society 7.2
  • Remains 8
  • Personal life 9
  • Descendants 10
  • Awards 11
  • See also 12
  • Notes 13
  • References 14
  • Bibliography 15
  • External links 16


Konstantin Päts with his family. From left: brother Nikolai, sister Marianna, father Jakob, brother Voldemar, mother Olga, brother Peeter and Konstantin.

The Päts family originates from Holstre near Viljandi in the Governorate of Livonia. The family name "Päts" means a "loaf" in Estonian and is thought to derive from their ancestors from the beginning of the 18th century, who distributed free bread from their mill during a famine. The mill was initially named the Päts Mill and later "Päts" (originally "Paets") was adopted as an official surname.[2]

The father of Konstantin, Jakob (Jaagup) Päts (1842-1909), was a housebuilder from Heimtali, near Viljandi. Konstantin's mother, Olga Päts (née Tumanova; 1847-1914), was from a mixed Estonian-Russian family and as an orphan grew up with foster parents in the Razumovsky family, where the father, her uncle, was the mayor of Valga. It is also claimed that she grew up with the Krüdener family, where the father, Baron Krüdener, was his uncle; however it is more likely that she served the Krüdener family later as a governess. Jakob and Olga met while they were both in the service of the Krüdener family.[2]

Konstantin had an older brother Nikolai (1871-1940), three younger brothers Paul (1876-1881), Voldemar (1878-1958) and Peeter (1880-1942) and a younger sister Marianne (1888-1947). Since their mother Olga was raised in a wealthy Russian family, their father Jakob converted from Lutheranism to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The children were all brought up in strong Orthodox traditions and were said to have a realistic mindset, just like their parents.[2]

The family initially lived in Viljandi. Jakob was among the peasant activists during the Estonian national awakening, who pleaded to Emperor Alexander II against the oppression by Baltic German nobility in 1865. After this, he came into conflict with the local nobility and was forced to move to Tahkuranna, near Pärnu, in 1873. As Konstantin's father was unable to find a job in Tahkuranna, the family moved to a rental apartment Pärnu in 1882. Three years later Jakob bought himself land in Raeküla near Pärnu, where they initially lived in the roadside Petlema Tavern, but built a new house after the tavern burned down. Jakob divided his land into smaller lots and built half a dozen new houses to the site that eventually grew into a borough and later a district of Pärnu.[2]

Early Life

Konstantin Päts was born on 23 February [O.S. 11 February] 1874 near Tahkuranna. According to locals, he was born in a barn of a roadside farm, since his mother couldn't reach a doctor in time.[3] He was baptized in the Tahkuranna Orthodox Church.[4] Konstantin started his education in the Orthodox parish school of Tahkuranna.[3] In Pärnu, Konstantin attended the Russian language Orthodox parish school. Later he attended the Riga Clerical Seminar in 1887–1892, but after deciding not to become a priest, he left for the high school in Pärnu.[5]

From 1894 to 1898, he attended the Faculty of Law of Tartu University, that he graduated as cand. jur. After graduation, Päts served in the Russian 96th Infantry Regiment of Omsk in Pskov and was promoted an ensign.[5] After rejecting an academic career in Tartu, he moved to Tallinn in 1900, to start a political career.



In Tallinn, Konstantin Päts started his career as an assistant at the advocacy of Jaan Poska, but the job wasn't satisfactory for Päts. In Tartu, Jaan Tõnisson had already founded his nationalist newspaper Postimees in 1891, Päts was planning to found his own in Tallinn. The first inspiration came from writers Eduard Vilde and Anton Hansen Tammsaare, who could not get a licence from the Ministry of Internal Affairs because of their social democratic views. Instead they used Päts as an unknown lawyer with an affiliation in the Orthodox Church.[6]

Päts was considered by the authorities to establish a newspaper that was loyal to the Empire and would "unite all Orthodox Estonians", however in reality his newspaper had a radical political content. The first issue of the Teataja ("The Gazette") came out on 23 October [O.S. 10 October] 1901, starting a rivalry not only between Postimees and Teataja, but also between Jaan Tõnisson and Konstantin Päts for the leading national figures. Instead of the ideological and nationalist Postimees, Teataja emphasized the importance of economic activity. The work was made difficult by strong government censorship.[6]

Early political career

Päts's first political goal was to take power in the towns, where

Päts was one of the candidates in the presidential elections that were supposed to be held in April 1934, but the Vaps Movement candidate Andres Larka and even lieutenant general Johan Laidoner were both thought to be more popular candidates than Päts. The campaign was accompanied by threats by the Vaps Movement to take power and rumours of a forthcoming coup. In early March 1934, Päts's political opponent Jaan Tõnisson compared the Vaps Movement with the Nazis in Germany and advised the government to take necessary action against the movement.[1]

The weak government response only gained support for the Vaps Movement and in early January 1934, the movement won municipal elections in several urban municipalities.[29] On 27 February 1934, Päts himself imposed a law, prohibiting members of the military to take part in politics. This action forced several thousand members of the army to secede from the Vaps Movement.[30]

Both Päts and his recent predecessor Jaan Tõnisson tried to control the Vaps Movement that was seen by democratic parties as a local National Socialist party that had to be kept away from power.[26] In August 1933, State Elder Jaan Tõnisson had declared a state of emergency and temporary censorship,[27] that was lifted only when Päts's transitional government took office.[28]

Lack of government stability led to several new constitution proposals, but only the third proposal by the right-wing populist Vaps Movement was accepted in a referendum on 14 and 16 October 1933. Päts was elected on 21 October 1933 to head the non-aligned transitional government to the second constitution. Until 24 January 1934, he served as State Elder, but after the new constitution came into force, he became Prime Minister. The new constitution was a drift from democracy, giving a lot of power to the head of state (still named "State Elder") and leaving the Riigikogu only an advisory role .[25]

A month-long government crisis started. Since there were only three major parties in the Riigikogu, the third being the Estonian Socialist Workers' Party, no functioning coalition could be found until special authority was given to Konstantin Päts to form a grand coalition between all three major parties. His cabinet took office on 1 November 1932. On 25 November 1932, Päts's government was given more powers by the disunited Riigikogu to deal with the economic crisis. His government was forced to resign on 18 May 1933, after the National Centre Party, still favouring devaluation, left the coalition and the Union of Settlers and Smallholders had lost many of its members to the reactivated Settlers' party.[24] The succeeding Tõnisson's National Centre Party cabinet devalued the Estonian kroon by 35% on 27 June 1933. Although the devaluation proved to be successful and had a good impact to the economy later under his own rule, Päts never recognized his mistake by opposing the devaluation.[23]

In 1932 elections the newly formed Union of Settlers and Smallholders won 42 seats in Riigikogu and one of the party's leaders, Karl August Einbund, became the State Elder. On 3 October 1932, the coalition between the Union of Settlers and Smallholders and National Centre Party broke up, with the latter wanting to devalue the Estonian kroon during the Great Depression. Päts himself was one of the key opponents of devaluation.[23]

In 1929 elections, Farmers' Assemblies took 24 seats and Päts served his third term as State Elder from 12 February 1931 to 19 February 1932. It was an ideologically wide coalition with the Estonian Socialist Workers' Party and the centre-right Estonian People's Party. On 26 January 1932, Farmers' Assemblies and the left wing-agrarian Settlers' Party merged to form the Union of Settlers and Smallholders, only to be followed by the formation of the National Centre Party by four centrist parties. Päts's cabinet resigned, making Jaan Teemant the new State Elder.[22]

In 1926 elections, Farmers' Assemblies took again 23 seats and Jaan Teemant continued as State Elder. Already in 1927, Päts criticized members of the Riigikogu, saying that they have been causing the instability of government coalitions, rather than ideological differences.[20] At the 6th Congress of Farmers' Assemblies in 1929, the party was in opposition to August Rei's leftist government and Päts, among others, demanded changes in the constitution, a smaller parliament, a separate presidential office and fight against corruption.[21]

In 1923 elections, Farmers' Assemblies took 23 seats. On 2 August 1923, Päts became State Elder for the second time. A similar centre-right coalition with three centrist parties lasted again until the Estonian Labour Party left the coalition, forcing Päts to step down on 26 March 1924. Otto August Strandman had openly criticized Päts for his role in corruption within the Bank of Estonia and economic policies that depended on trade with Russia. Päts kept away from office politics for seven years.[19] Support for his party didn't decline. From 15 December 1925 to 9 December 1927, Jaan Teemant of the Farmers' Assemblies was the State Elder.

In September 1919, Päts formed a new political party, the agrarian-conservative Farmers' Assemblies, which was based on the Country People's Union.[17] In 1920 elections, the party won 21 seats in the 100-member Riigikogu and from 25 January 1921 to 21 November 1922, Konstantin Päts was the State Elder and led the first constitutional government cabinet. It was a centre-right coalition with three centrist parties. The cabinet fell soon after the centre-left Estonian Labour Party left the coalition because of Päts's right-wing policies and criticism of corruption within the Bank of Estonia. After stepping down as head of government, Päts served as President (speaker) of the Riigikogu from 20 November 1922 to 7 June 1923.[18]

Democratic republic

In April 1919, the Estonian Constituent Assembly was elected, but the Estonian Country People's Union won only 8 of the 120 seats, leaving the majority to centre-left parties. On 9 May 1919, Otto August Strandman took over as the first Prime Minister. In the summer of 1919, Päts opposed going into war with the Baltic German Landeswehr, but as he was in opposition, the government decided to start the Landeswehr War, which ended in Estonian-Latvian victory. After the war had ended on 2 February 1920, the majority left-wing Constituent Assembly adopted the radical land reform law and the first constitution, which brought down a very proportional parliament, short government cabinets and no separate and stable head of state.

Päts founded the Estonian Defence League to provide defence for the advancing Red Army. On 28 November 1918, Soviet Russian forces captured Narva, which resulted the Estonian War of Independence. During a government meeting, Konstantin Päts banged his fist on the table and refused to compromise with the communists. This persuaded other government members to start a war against Soviet Russia. In January 1919, Estonians forced the Bolsheviks to retreat and by 24 February 1919, the entire Estonian territory was under the control of the Provisional Government. In his speech at the 1919 Independence Day parade, he said: "We have to secure our economy so we could become less dependent from our allies. In order to avoid bankruptcy, we have to found our state on agriculture".[3] This became the basis for the Estonian economy for the next 20 years.

Weak representation in the left wing dominated Constituent Assembly left Konstantin Päts with little power in composing the land reform law and the 1920 constitution.
Konstantin Päts gave the first traditional speech at the Independence Day parade on 24 February 1919.

War of Independence

After Päts arrived to Tallinn and the Maapäev had gathered, Päts's 3rd cabinet of the Provisional Government was formed on 27 November 1918, with Päts as Prime Minister of the Provisional Government and also the Minister of War, leaving it up to him to organize national defence. However, due to his multiple portfolios in the government, much of the work in the Ministry of War to higher officers.[16]

After the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers Jüri Vilms mysteriously died in Finland, Jaan Poska led the underground republic. After Germany surrendered, Konstantin Päts's 2nd cabinet of the Provisional Government took office on 12 November 1918, making Päts the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government and the Minister of Internal Affairs.[15]

On 25 February 1918, German forces captured Tallinn and arrested Konstantin Päts on 16 June 1918. He was sent to several prison camps in Latvia until he was finally placed in a camp in Grodno, Poland.[14] He was released at the end of the war on 17 November 1918.

When Soviet Russian forces had finally evacuated from Tallinn and German forces were advancing, the Salvation Committee issued the Estonian Declaration of Independence on 24 February 1918 (The declaration had also been delivered to Pärnu, where it was proclaimed on 23 February). Instantly the Estonian Provisional Government was formed and Konstantin Päts became the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Minister of Commerce and Industry.[12] The position of Minister of Commerce and Industry probably remained vacant in reality.[13]

Soviet Russian forces evacuating, the Salvation Committee wanted to use the interregnum and declare Estonia's independence. On 21 February 1918, a delegation with Päts was sent to Haapsalu, that was chosen to be the site of the initial declaration, but they were forced to head back to Tallinn, since German forces had captured Haapsalu on the very same day. Attempts to reach Tartu before German occupation had also failed.[11]

Since Bolshevik power in Estonia was relatively weak, the Council of Elders of the Maapäev declared on 28 November [O.S. 15 November] 1917, that the assembly was the only legally elected and constituted authority in Estonia. Since even the Council of Elders was too big to work underground, the three-membered Estonian Salvation Committee was formed on 19 February 1918 and Konstantin Päts became one of its members.

The Estonian Provincial Assembly (Maapäev) was elected; Päts joined and became one of the leading figures of the Estonian Country People's Union, which took 13 of the 55 seats. Left- and right-wing politicians gained an equal number of seats in the Provincial Assembly, which made it difficult to appoint a speaker for the assembly. Jaan Tõnisson of the centre-right nominated the candidacy of Konstantin Päts, who however lost with only one vote to the almost unknown Artur Vallner. At first, Päts chose not to join any of the parliamentary groups, but eventually joined the most right-wing Democratic group.[9] Päts replaced Jaan Raamot as Chairman of the Provincial Government on 25 October [O.S. 12 October] 1917.[10] During the October Revolution, Bolsheviks took control in Estonia and the Provincial Assembly was disbanded. After failing to give over official documents, Päts was arrested three times, until he finally went underground.[3]

In 1917, when German forces were advancing on Estonia, Päts was able to avoid the mobilization. Since the control after the February Revolution was in the hands of the Russian Provisional Government, Estonians were pursuing for an autonomy within the Russian Empire. In local debates on whether to form one or two autonomous governorates in Estonia, Konstantin Päts, who supported a single autonomous governorate, took yet another victory from Jaan Tõnisson, who supported two autonomous governorates. After Estonian mass protests in Petrograd, the Provisional Government formed the autonomous Governorate of Estonia on 12 April [O.S. 30 March] 1917.

Konstantin Päts was one of the authors of the Estonian Declaration of Independence.
Members of the Estonian Salvation Committee in 1918: Konstantin Päts, Jüri Vilms and Konstantin Konik.

Autonomy and German Occupation

From February 1916, Päts served as an officer in Tallinn and in July 1917, he was elected as Chairman of the Supreme Committee of Estonian Soldiers, where he actively worked to form Estonian units in the Baltic German estate owners.[3]

After his wife had gotten seriously ill, Päts found out that he was no longer condemned to death in the Russian Empire. He moved back to Estonia in 1909, to face only minor charges. From February 1910, he served time in Kresty Prison in Saint Petersburg, while his wife died of tuberculosis in Switzerland, where Päts had sent her for treatment. During his imprisonment, he was able to study foreign languages and write articles, to be published in newspapers.[3] Päts was released on 25 March 1911. The governor of the Governorate of Estonia complained about Päts’s activity in Estonia in 1905 and pleaded for the government not to let him return[8] and he was banned from living in the Governorates of Estonia and Livonia for six years. However, strong connections with Jaan Poska helped him return to Estonia, where he founded another newspaper, Tallinna Teataja ("The Tallinn Gazette").[3]

In 1906 he moved to Helsinki, Finland, where he continued his literary and journalist career. Much of his work was published anonymously in Estonia. He also advised local municipalities on land reform questions. In 1908, Päts moved to Ollila, which was located at the Russian border near Saint Petersburg. There he became one of the editors for the Estonian newspaper Peterburi Teataja ("The St Petersburg Gazette"), although he resided still in Finland. In Ollila, he was reunited with his family, with whom he had parted when he escaped to Switzerland in 1905.[3]

Ensign officer Konstantin Päts in 1917

During the 1905 Revolution, Päts was already an activist on self-government reform, where he supported national autonomy in the Baltic governorates.[7] In the escalation of the revolution, his newspaper was closed and its staff members arrested. Päts found out about this in advance and managed to escape to Switzerland, only to find out that he had been condemned to death in the Russian Empire.[3]

[6]s staff and published anti-government articles and called people for a revolution.Teataja', had taken control in Hans Pöögelmann His active work at the town government left him little time for his newspaper. A group of revolutionaries, led by [3]

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