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A Tale of Two Marylands - Why Most of Estonia's Sister Cities are in Maryland

Estonia currently has three sister city partnerships and two county-state partnerships in the U.S. With the exception of Pärnu-Portsmouth, New Hampshire, all sister city partnerships are within the state of Maryland: Harju County with Maryland State, Jõgeva County with Charles County, Tallinn with Annapolis, and Tõrva and Valga with Oakland. To explain why Maryland is so prominent on our Sister Cities map we have to go back in time.

Annapolis, Maryland Skyline © Pavone

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War in 1989, Estonia regained its independence in 1991 after a period of Soviet occupation. In 1992, the US National Guard assigned a partner National Guard for each Baltic country through the State Partnership Program. In 1993, Estonia was partnered with — you guessed it! — the Maryland National Guard.

Why Maryland? First, Maryland had a considerable Estonian diaspora population which stressed that Maryland should be picked as Estonia’s partner. And second, Estonia is also known as Mary-land, so this can be called a cooperation between two Marylands.

Why is Estonia also known as Maryland? For this answer, we have to go even further back in time. The year was 1193. Pope Celestine III called for a crusade against the pagans in Northern Europe. By 1207, the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea were converted, and in 1216, Pope Innocent III called the new Christian territories Terra Mariana, or, the “Land of Mary”. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Terra Mariana has been used as a poetic name for Estonia.

Hannes Hanso, Minister of Defence of Estonia, visiting Maryland National Guard 175th Wing March 30, 2016

The Maryland National Guard added a civilian component to its work with Estonia early on. This cooperation fell on fertile ground. As exchanges multiplied, the official ties started to form. The first official sister city partnership between Estonian and Maryland towns was signed in 1999 when Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, became the sister city of Annapolis, the capital of Maryland. Since 2003, the Maryland Estonia Exchange Council, a volunteer-based non-profit organization, has coordinated links between Estonia and Maryland. One of the aims of the Exchange Council has been to encourage ties between cities and create favorable conditions for establishing new sister city partnerships. Right now, there are many more Estonian and Maryland towns working on creating ties and hopefully the Estonia-Maryland sister cities will continue to grow.

Estonian violinist Mari-Liis Uibo performing at Annapolis State House on October 1, 2016

Close cooperation between Maryland and Estonia also means many cultural exchanges. Aside from official visits, it is quite common to host Estonia-related performances, exhibitions, and lectures in Maryland and vice versa. During the past year, two youth choirs, a folk dance group, and many other Estonian artists have visited Maryland. And the cooperation with Maryland National Guard is still running strong and they are a valued partner of the Estonian Defense League.


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