Page 5, 19th February 1937

19th February 1937
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Page 5, 19th February 1937 — An Ancient Country Finds New Independence
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An Ancient Country Finds New Independence

STOMA is the land of many con trasts. It is larger than Holland, Switzerland or Belgium, yet its popu lation is only 1,126,410 of which 88.2 per cent. are Estonians, 8.2 per cent. are Russians, and the remainder being mostly of Swedish origin, The Estonians were a free people till 1343, when they were overpowered by the German Crusaders, who were allied to the Danes. Three years later, King Valdemar J1 of Denmark sold his share of Estonia to his German allies. Thus the whole of Estonia was placed under the rule of the Teutonic knights.

Two centuries later, the knights obtained the help of Sweden and Poland against Ivan the Terrible, of Russia, but it was only in 1625 that Estonia became part of Sweden. From 1625-1710 the country prospered under Swedish rule but in the latter year Estonia was wrested from Sweden by Peter the Great, and till July 14, 1917, the country remained part of the Russian Empire. In 1917 a provisional independent govern

went was formed, but its work was interrupted by the Bolshevist Revolution.

German Occupation On February 25, 1918, Estonia was proclaimed an independent and democratic republic, but the provisional government had no sooner begun thus to exercise its power than the Germans invaded Estonia and declared its government illegal, while at the same time they proceeded to disarm all Estonian troops or militias.

The German occupation ended with the Armistice of November 11, 1918.

The German soldiers withdrew only to be replaced by the Bolshevists, whose advance was heroicly held back by armed bands of Estonian students. Owing to their bravery it was possible for the country to organise its defence and the Estonians, with the help of their neighbours and Allied Powers, they succeeded in freeing their land on February 2, 1920.

Now that Estonia is once more a free country after six centuries of foreign domination, its main purpose is to achieve complete unity. The Estonian

language is at last the official tongue, though German and Russian are still understood by most people in Talinn, the capital of the new republic. French is also spoken because it was in current use amongst the Russian upper classes in pre-war days.

Talinn

The first impression inderived from seeing Talinn is that of a small medieval town surrounded by ramparts and surmounted by an impressive Russian church, whose gilded domes shine strangely amid Gothic

surroundings.

T h e n narrow ro w

cobbled streets are vaguely reminiscent of Carcasonne and a foreign visitor is filled with dread at the thought of the hotel that awaits him, until he reaches a gigantic square in the centre of which is a huge building whose appearance suggests a combination of a French casino and a modern block of flats.

This is not the hotel, but it comprises it theatre, a Café and a night-club. The hotel itself is in the main street. It dates from the eighteenth century but was recently transformed into an ultra-modern hotel with nothing remaining of the old coach-house save the name: Kuld Lovi (Golden Lion) and a suite, once occupied by the Russian Emperor Alexander II in 1856.

The palace of the President of the Republic affords yet another example of Russian architecture, since it was built by the Tsarina Catherine II and is situated in a lovely park outside the city.

A small two-storey house can be seen nearby, which belonged to Peter the Great. It has remained exactly as it was when he lived there, and one can see, amongst other interesting souvenirs, a dining-table made by the Emperor himself.

Wealth and Poverty Such contrasts of simplicity and splendour are typical of Estonia, a land in which, though the people are poor, there are luxury hotels and jewellers, who can still produce cigarette cases equalled only by those formerly made in imperial Russia.

Estonians, though racially different from the Russians, have the same love for music and dancing and everywhere in Talinn one realises how, in spite of everything the Estonians succeed in obtaining goods which are outstanding in taste and elegance.

Religion With regard to religion, most of the country is now Lutheran, save the southeastern portion of Estonia which even during the Reformation always held the Russian faith mainly because of the celebrated Orthodox monastery in Petseri.

During the Russian domination, various.. efforts were made by the Government so as to increase the position and prestige of the Orthodox religion throughout the land, but even in those times there were already two branches of that religion in Estonia, one with a Russian ritual and one with an Estonian rite.

The Catholics who in pre-Reformation days had formed the religious majority, as can be seen from the impressive ruins of Tartu cathedral, were in 1914 even more of a minority than they are today.

At the present moment there are 2,700 Catholics but each year sees the addition of some fifty or sixty converts. mostly from the Lutheran population, and it is hoped that owing to the efforts of Archbishop

(Continued from column 6.) Profittlich these numbers will soon be considerably increased.

Recent Created Archbishopric

The Archbishop was consecrated only a few weeks ago, on December 27, 1936, by the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Arata, in the presence of the assembled clergy and of the Uniale Bishop Budzus.

Thus the Holy Father has made every effort for the Promotion of the Faith, since not only has he appointed a Nuncio in Talinn (Estonia being only represented at the Vatican by the Estonian charge (Palfaires in Paris) but he has also allowed Fr. Bourgeois, a French Jesuit, the right to celebrate Holy Mass according to the Oriental rite in Estonian.

Fr. Bourgeois lives in a small farming district at Esna, which is roughly 200 kilometres from Talinn and so far there are only very few Catholics who have been able to attend Mass in his chapel.

In Narva, which is a town situated on the northern frontier between Estonia and Russia, there are two Capuchin Fathers who have been granted the permission to celebrate according to the Slavonic rite in Russian.

Hard-up Clergy

The difficulties which face the clergy in Estonia are mainly of a financial nature, and owing to the lack of funds they find it increasingly difficult to Propagate the Faith. There are no Catholic schools and only one tiny seminary, the priests have not got sufficient means to publish tracts or pamphlets, nor are they able to build new chapels for the converts, who are quickly increasing in numbers.

Despite these unfortunate conditions the Catholic clergy have found some consolation in the fact that throughout all their dealings with the Government they have always been treated with the utmost courtesy, so that even the President though he is himself an Orthodox, makes a personal point of seeing that the Catholics are in no way deprived of their rights under the laws providing for the separation of the Church and the State.




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