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Rise of the EDL

At the end of World War I, on 11 November 1918, the German occupation of Estonia also came to an end. A union of armed citizens with the purpose of defending the young state – called the Estonian Defence League – was established that very same day. Major General Ernst Põdder became the commander and Johan Pitka the chairman of the management of the Estonian Defence League, which was subordinate to the Minister of War.

At first the league acted without statutes and without law, but in this situation no statutes or law could have guided the newly established Estonian Defence League better than the principle based on the decision of the management: to act with an honest desire on behalf of their homeland.

The Bolshevik invasion of Estonia at the end of November 1918 was a painful blow to the people who had just begun to establish their own state. This turned into a War of Independence for the young state, and naturally members of the Estonian Defence League were the first to confront the attackers. Defending the state against foreign intruders proved to be beyond the capabilities of the voluntary organisation and thus this task was assigned to the army being formed.

The Estonian Defence League was assigned the task of organising and implementing internal defence. Under a state of war, this required an increase in the number of members of the organisation, since men had gone to the front line as volunteers or had been mobilised into the Estonian Peoples Force.

In January 1919, membership in the Estonian Defence League was made compulsory for all male citizens between the ages of 18-60 who were not subject to mobilisation. Even foreigners living in Estonia – Germans, Latvians, Russians, etc. – were placed into the service of the young republic. The ranks of the Estonian Defence League grew, and eventually exceeded the numbers of the Peoples Force. As of 1 February 1920, the Estonian Defence League had 125,000 members.

Compulsory membership in the Estonian Defence League meant that members of the organisation had to fulfil all tasks that were necessary on the home front during the war, including performing the duties of the police, prison officers and border guard.

The most difficult and thankless task was assuming the work loads of several state authorities not yet established or in the process of being established. It was precisely because of these tasks that the resentment of certain people fell upon the Estonian Defence League.

The decision was made to hold a forced mobilisation, which the Estonian Defence League was tasked with implementing. When a crime was committed, then it was a member of the Estonian Defence League who conducted the investigation and made a ruling. It was necessary to collect compulsory crop and food products from farmers in order to feed the men on the front line, and once again it was a member of the Estonian Defence League who was cursed for doing so. Profiteering and distilling of vodka were prohibited and who else but a member of the Estonian Defence League was sent to confiscate the forbidden goods. It is no wonder, on the basis of the above, that by the end of the War of Independence many people were looking forward to the dissolution of the organisation.

After concluding the Tartu Peace Treaty (02.02.1920), demobilisation from both the Peoples Force and the Estonian Defence League began on 10 February 1920. The Estonian Defence League no longer had a reason for existing and was dissolved to a great extent. After the War of Independence, the Estonian Defence League continued to operate in the form of different hunting and sporting societies, and as the organiser of public social events.