Estonian societies

The biggest concentration of Estonian societies in Latvia was centred in Riga. The Imanta choral society was founded in 1880, bringing together young Estonian intellectuals and artisans, and boasted a library containing more than 2,000 Estonian-language volumes. Organizations such as the Aberg gymnastics society, the Vironia student fraternity, and the Riga Estonian Consumers Fellowship further established an Estonian cultural presence in the city.

Springing from the Estonian Temperance Society that was established in 1900 by the lawyer Jüri Jaakson and the temperance activist Karl Karp, the Riga Estonian Educational and Relief Society was founded in 1908, out of which came its present day legal successor, the Latvian Estonian Society. Jüri Jaakson was elected as the Relief Socitey’s first chairman, later becoming the Head of State of the Estonian Republic and the long-serving president of the Bank of Estonia.

The society was comprised of various interest groups whose activities included arranging courses, meetings and parties, and also included a choir and theatre troupe. Many well-known Estonians actively participated in the Riga societies, including the future heads of state Konstantin Päts and Kaarel Einbund (Eenpalu), future Foreign Minister Aleksander Hellat and writers and poets such as Eduard Vilde, August Kitzberg, Ernst Enno, and Mart Raud.

The activity and wealth of the Riga Estonians of those days is evidenced by the fact that in 1913 the society’s 6-storey house at 62 Nometņu Street in the Āgenskalns (Hagensberg) quarter was built from contributions and loans, and that the society’s membership numbered approximately 540 persons at its height.

As the Estonians did not have minority status and its accompanying rights in the Republic of Latvia, many smaller societies and schools closed down in the 1920s, but the Riga Estonian Society continued up to 1939. During the years of Soviet occupation no official Estonian organizations existed in Latvia.

The Estonian Lutheran Churh has been active in Riga since the 18th century, while the Estonian Orthodox Church established its first congregation in the 19th century. The latter’s activities, however, came to an end in 1918 because of a lack of members. The Lutheran congregation, however, continued officially even during the Soviet era. Estonians also founded a Lutheran congregation in Alūksne.

The first Estonian language newspaper in Riga was the Eesti Koguduse Leht (Estonian Congregational Newsletter), of which the then pastor of the Estonian congregation, Theodor Tallmeister, published 12 issues altogether in 1914. In 1928 the society, in conjunction with the Postimees, started publishing the newspaper Läti Eestlane (Latvian Estonian), which initially was a weekly, later became a monthly newspaper, but eventually also halted its publications after the 11th issue.