Andres Tennus

Doctoral defence: Peeter Kenkmann "Development of the Authoritarian Regime in Estonia between 1934 and 1940: Roles of the Constitution and the State of Emergency"

On 19 June at 16:00 Peeter Kenkmann will defend his doctoral thesis "Development of the Authoritarian Regime in Estonia between 1934 and 1940: Roles of the Constitution and the State of Emergency".

Associate Professor Ago Pajur, University of Tartu
Associate Professor Jaak Valge, University of Tartu

Professor Andres Kasekamp, University of Toronto (Canada)

A coup d’état led by Konstantin Päts, the head of state, was launched in Estonia in 1934, during which elections were postponed, fundamental rights were suspended and the League of Veterans of the War of Independence was disbanded.

This doctoral thesis examines the laws underlying the coup and the resulting undemocratic system of governance. It also studies the views of resident foreign diplomats on the pivotal events in Estonia from 1934 onwards, and how these events were later described in exile.

Although the League of Veterans has been accused that the 1933 Constitution drafted by them, creating the powerful position of the State Elder, enabled Päts to stage the coup and rule in an authoritarian manner, these claims are incorrect. As explained in the thesis, a similar coup could have been carried out under the 1920 Constitution. The state of emergency was declared on the pretext of a threat posed by the League of Veterans but no evidence about such threat has been found. Thus, Päts carried out the coup in violation of several laws and shut down democracy in fear of losing power as a result of democratic elections.

On Päts’s initiative, another process of amending the Constitution was launched in 1936–1937, with substantial violations of the applicable laws. Democracy was not restored after the new Constitution took force on 1 January 1938: the state of emergency continued until the Soviet occupation; the activities of political parties were prohibited, and the press was silenced. The state of emergency facilitated the liquidation of Estonia’s independence by Johannes Vares’s puppet government, inaugurated in June 1940 under pressure from the Soviet Union.

Two opposing views on those events prevailed among Estonians in exile. Päts’s actions were approved by the press and in popular scientific works, accusing dissenters of ignoring the interests of the struggle for Estonia’s independence. Views expressed in scholarly accounts published since the 1960s largely coincide with the conclusions of this thesis.



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