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« Tuna 3 / 2017

1905 in Pärnu. Strikes, Politics and Violence

The fact that the Waldhof factory, which was the largest cellulose factory in the entire Russian Empire, was situated at the Pärnu city limits of that time makes this city notable from the standpoint of the Revolution of 1905. About 1600 workers worked at the factory. This large number of industrial workers made Pärnu a city of potential unrest in 1905, when clashes between workers and the authorities occurred in many places. This article examines the events of the Revolution of 1905 in the city of Pärnu, focusing on the political activity of the townspeople and on violence in public and political events.

While the January strike of 1905 already broke out in Tallinn and Riga on the third day after 9 January, when crowds had been fired on in St. Petersburg, the January strike began in Pärnu on the 22nd day of the month. The demonstration that was held in front of the Waldhof factory escalated into the destruction of property on factory territory, which thereafter spread to the city. The striking workers presented economic demands, a few of which were even met.

While the summer passed relatively peacefully in the city, late autumn developed into a time of radical demands in Pärnu. The rooms of the Valgus (Light) Temperance Society became the centre of prohibited political activity. More serious disturbances cropped up especially in early December when demonstrators clashed with the authorities, shut the post office down of their own accord, and demanded that the passage of trains through Pärnu be halted.

Punitive detachments sent to Estonian territory by the central authorities arrived at the end of 1905. They burned down farms, and hundreds of people were either executed or sent into exile. In Pärnu, the activities of the Valgus Society were halted, many activists fled abroad, and many people were arrested. The repressions carried out in December also brought the restriction of political freedoms and civil liberties.