Estonian freedom fighter and politician Enn Tarto, who spent altogether 14 years in Soviet prison camps, died on 18 July at the age of 82. Photo by the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory.

Estonian freedom fighter Enn Tarto has died. He was 82

Estonian freedom fighter and politician Enn Tarto, who spent altogether 14 years in Soviet prison camps, died on 18 July at the age of 82.

Tarto, who already from his early youth dedicated his life to restoring Estonia’s independence during the Soviet occupation, was sent to Soviet prison camps three times, spending altogether 14 years imprisoned. He was last released in 1988 – just before Estonia restored its independence.

Tarto, who was born on 25 September 1938 in Tartu, then worked tirelessly for ending the Soviet occupation of Estonia, taking part in the Congress of Estonia – one of the people-led movements to restore Estonia’s independence – and was one of the restorers of the Estonian Defence League. He was also elected to the country’s parliament – three times – and to the Tartu town council – four times.

The Republic of Estonia and other countries have in the past presented Tartu with multiple awards. In addition to the awards from Estonia, he had also received acknowledgements from Hungary, Lithuania and Poland.

“We’ve lost today a great man whose contribution to the existence of free Estonia has been invaluable,” Riho Ühtegi, the commander of the Estonian Defence League – that Tarto helped rebuild and of which he was an honorary member – said. “Because, what are the measures to evaluate an entire life dedicated to the restoration of the Republic of Estonia and rebuilding it?”

A reminder that freedom is not a gift

Tarto was also an honorary citizen of his native town of Tartu, whose mayor, Urmas Klaas, said that Tarto “had been a great man of Tartu and Estonian who had for decades taken care of Estonia’s freedom”. 

“He had spoken for the freedom of Estonia in his homeland and all over the world – his message was heard by auditoriums whose ideals were freedom, human rights and nations’ right to self-determination,” Klaas noted. “Enn Tarto reminded us every day that freedom is not a gift and one has to defend it every bling of the eye and beat of the heart.”

The former foreign minister of Estonia, Urmas Reinsalu, said Tarto’s “courage and sturdiness in the defence of the Estonian freedom made him a great son of our nation and a true hero”.“Soviet prison camps didn’t break his spirit. His and other freedom fighters’ message reached the free world: that the Estonian nation will hold on and won’t agree to enslavement.” Reinsalu added that Tarto’s “life showed that one is a soldier in the battlefield even when his only weapon is ideas and stoutness”.

Cover: Estonian freedom fighter and politician Enn Tarto, who spent altogether 14 years in Soviet prison camps, died on 18 July at the age of 82. Photo by the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory.

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