Prior to the 70th Independence Day of the Republic of Estonia (24 February 1988), RIA Novosti held a round table discussion in Soviet Estonia on 11–12 February in Tallinn. It consisted of two theme blocks: 1) Socio-economic realities in the Baltic States in the era of capitalism and socialism: economy, culture, science; 2) The dynamics of ethnic relations in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The list of participants included a total of 33 foreign journalists from 12 countries who represented large and influential publications, and information agencies such as CBS, Associated Press (AP)
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were represented at this form by delegations consisting of experts, mainly scholars in the humanities and cultural figures. Foreign journalists were particularly interested in political opposition, the rise of nationalism and dissidence, relations with Moscow. A large part of the discussion revolved around the demographic situation in the Baltic States, since the massive influx of Russian-speaking people in search of a better life had brought with it a critical decrease in the relative proportion of indigenous peoples in Estonia and Latvia.
The ESSR power elite started preparing early to prevent the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. This issue was repeatedly debated in the Estonian Communist Party (hereinafter ECP) Central Committee. Verbose decisions were adopted “concerning the struggle against nationalism.
On 19 February 1988, a letter from 48 people known to the public, mostly cultural figures, appeared in the newspapers, appealing to “maintain peace and dignity” and not to hold a demonstration that could lead to conflicts and provide wind for the sails of the diehard conservatives.
. According to the secret plan drawn up in February of 1988 by the ESSR Minister of Internal Affairs, an operational group of several thousand men was formed in Tallinn for suppressing potential unrest. This force consisted of militia units (including reinforcements from Latvia and Leningrad), internal troops, and members of the people’s auxiliary militia.
The Estonian-oriented and reform-minded wing of the ECP Central Committee did not favour the use of force against demonstrators. Indrek Toome, the ECP Central Committee Ideology Secretary, and Enn-Arno Sillari, the 1st Secretary of the ECP Tallinn Municipal Committee, belonged to that wing..
A group of people was invited to speak with the people and to answer questions in two assembly halls in Tallinn’s city centre : humanities scholars (historians, sociologists), cultural figures, and representatives of the municipal authorities. there was a total of around 2,000 people.