Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Letter from Tallinn

MAK writes from Tallinn, Estonia:

Note: My personal internet and email communications have been problematic. And then I could not get connected to the internet for a good 24 hours. The situation is the following. Last night was mostly peaceful here in Estonia - some acts of vandalism. Today Russian language SMS’s were sent telling drivers to slow down to a crawl and to honk their horns in order to impede traffic in Tallinn. Seems to ahve worked to some degree, but the police are dealing with it. 3000EEK fines. A bigger worry for me - some of the people there are my colleagues from when I was the Press Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - is the fact that the Estonian Embassy in Moscow has been barricaded by young people and no one is getting in or out. The protesters are keeping upa huge racket, throwing things at the building, scrawling graffiti and they have set up tents and portable toilets - apparently to settle in for the long haul. Curious that the Russian government, which has been so quick to disperse Russian demonstrations critical of Putin, is unable or unwilling to enforce its responsibilities under international law regarding diplomatic conventions and practices in this case. Ambassador Marina Kaljurand in an interview on Raadio 4 in Tallinn (Russian language station) said that many other embassies are sending them notes of support and criticizing the Russian government for uncivilized behaviour. Even ordinary Russians have offered their help which Ms. Kaljurand has declined with thanks, saying that there is no point in their arguing with organizations with no ideals or principles.

A major target of criticism in Estonia has been the mayor of Tallinn, Edgar Savisaar. Despite his popularity among Russians, he has not done anything to calm things down. Instead, by criticising the Estonian Government and making apologies in the Russian media, he has added fuel to the fire. Center Party, which he leads, is planning some sort of citizens discussion on Friday, but it seems that they have had difficulty in finding an appropriate venue.

These events bring me back to my idea that studies should be done about what happens to a small country that is occupied - in effect hijacked - for a long time. I think the analogy between what happened to Estonia under Soviet terror and occupation and the Stockholm syndrome,is quite strong. Plus you have to add to that the deplorable lack of understanding even today in international public opinion about communist crimes and how these abuses were integral parts of the Soviet system designed to shore up the power of the party dictatorship. The fact that the Russian part of the Hitler-Stalin equation is not only unpunished, not even repentant but actually defiant is a stark contrast to the situation in today’s Germany. The results of the killings and terror, deportations, etc., in the Baltic states meant not only a loss of freedom and sovereignity, but also affected people psychologically. Subconscious or actual fear, the loss of hope for justice has affected these people and their children for all these years. Young Estonians were raised by parents who had lived through Soviet terror - the times when people could not talk freely at home and especially in front of the children. Independence was restored after 1991, but this was not like the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty when all the evil past just dropped away. Estonia has been independent again for a relatively short time and it is clear that most of the young adults of today went to school under Soviet occupation with a curriculum full of propaganda. In my opinion, what has made everything much more complicated is that the occupation lasted so long.

The interpretation and role of the collaborators during a half century of occupation is often painful and yet crucial to examine and understand. To cover their own guilt and their own roles in all this, collaborators have often been the ones who try the hardest to portray it as an Estonian vs Russian issue, not a Communism vs Democracy issue. They somewhat acknowledge having been part of the system to some extent, but they excuse this in several ways - “there was no choice,” “one had to go along to get along,” etc. But they all claim that they were still good Estonians at heart - not “bad Russians”. A great deal of self-serving chauvinism comes from those circles. And if some of these collaborators should still be closely tied to Moscow and clever demagogues to boot you have a really wicked mix.
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