Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Kaitseliit: The Estonian Defence League

Today I am going to write about the Estonian Defence League known as the Kaitseliit. I am proud knowing that my grandfather Alexander was a member of the Kaitseliit's Tallinn brigade (malev) from 1938 until 1939. His unit was the Põhja Malevkond. In 2004 this unit was renamed Põhja Kompanii.

What is the Kaitseliit?

The Estonian Defence League is a voluntary national defence organisation operating in the jurisdiction of the Estonian Ministry of Defence, organised in accordance with military principles, possessing weapons and holding exercises of a military nature. The purpose of the Defence League is to enhance, by relying on free will and self-initiative, the readiness of the nation to defend the independence of Estonia.

Estonian Defence League troops at the parade in Tartu (1925)

The Kaitseliit was established on 11th November 1918 and operational in Estonia until 1940 when the country was occupied by the Soviet Union. In 1990 the organisation was restored. The Kaitseliit is divided into 15 regional units called malevs whose areas mostly correspond with the borders of Estonia's counties.

The League has 16,000 members. Together with its affiliated organisations Women's Voluntary Defence Organisation (Naiskodukaitse), Young Eagles (Noored Kotkad) and Home Daughters (Kodutütred), the Estonian Defence League has a total of 26,000 volunteers.

Last year saw the Kaitseliit celebrate its 100th birthday.