Friday, June 06, 2008

Memories Denied

While in Russia itself the process of de-sovietization (the public discussion of what happened during the Soviet era) has never really begun, and probably never will, in the Union's neighbouring former republics the process is already advanced. One of the most striking recent manifestations of this was the publication in 2006 of a full-length book by the Estonian film maker and journalist Imbi Paju, entitled Memories Denied (Finnish translation (2006) - Torjutut muistot, Swedish translation (2007) - Förträngda minnen). The book examines in minute detail the stages of the cultural genocide that was waged by Moscow against the small independent West European Estonian state. Yet the description is not that of an anonymous history text - as in Paju's documentary film of the same title, it is transmitted through the mouths of living survivors, who include Imbi Paju's mother and aunt. While the narrative is extremely moving on a personal level, it also throws unique light on aspects of 20th century European political reality, especially the close relation between the ideologies of Nazism and Soviet Communism, which throughout the 1930s worked in a collaborative symbiosis, the results of which only became truly perceptible towards the end of the decade. A short extract from the chapter on the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 gives some idea of the period's terrible surrealism, which had consequences that were all too real and apparent:

While compiling the documentary Memories Denied, I viewed some film clips of the pact signing ceremony. As the Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany, Ribbentrop, emerged from his airplane in Moscow, swastika flags were flying in the capital of the Soviet Union. My mother and her twin sister were then 9 years old. I found myself thinking – in a mere moment, it was a single gesture of one statesman’s hand, his signature, that determined the fate of a small person, a child.

On September 27, 1939, Ribbentrop returned to Moscow to discuss the infamous additional protocols, which were secret. Even thirty years later, Molotov would deny their existence. British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, in his work Stalin. The Court of the Red Tsar has vividly described how Ribbentrop held his talks with Molotov at the green baize table in the Kremlin.

It was evening. Stalin wanted not only Estonia and Latvia, but Lithuania as well. Ribbentrop telegraphed Hitler asking his approval for the transfer of Lithuania. Since Hitler’s reply did not come right away, the talks were postponed until the next day. But no reply came on that day either. Still, Ribbentrop wanted to negotiate some cartographic details with Stalin. That night, while Stalin held a gala dinner for the Germans, the Russians met with Karl Selter, the unhappy Estonian Foreign Minister, to force him to agree to Russian military bases on Estonian soil, the first step toward occupation. While this was going on, the German guests were being welcomed at the door of the Great Kremlin Palace through the dull Congress Hall into the brightly lit scarlet and gold reception room. Stalin’s manner was simple and unpretentious, beaming with paternal benevolence that turned into icy coldness as he rapped out orders. The behavior of the Russians was so vulgar that Ribbentrop said he felt as at ease as he did among old Nazi comrades. As dinner ended, Stalin and Molotov excused themselves to attend to business. The Germans were sent off to the Bolshoi to watch Swan Lake. As he left, Stalin whispered to Kaganovich, “We must win time.” Then they walked upstairs where the Estonian Foreign Minister Karl Selter waited fearfully to find out what Stalin was planning to do with his tiny country. Molotov demanded the deployment of a Soviet garrison of 35,000 troops in Estonia – more than the entire Estonian army. “Come on, Molotov, you’re too harsh on our friends,” said Stalin, suggesting instead that 25,000 Russian soldiers be deployed to Estonia. Having swallowed the small country of Estonia during the first act of Swan Lake, Stalin returned to the Germans at midnight for a final session during which Hitler telephoned his agreement to the Lithuanian concession.

No sooner was the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact signed than Russia began devouring Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Kremlin had little sympathy for those who had shattered the 200-year continuity of the tsarist empire. The prime ministers of the three Baltic states were summoned to sign a “defense and mutual assistance pact” that would let the Soviet Union establish military bases on their territory, which would of course ensure the continued independence of these three countries. Since the only other alternative was war, all three Baltic States reluctantly agreed, hoping to find some escape from the situation at a later time.

(Torjutut muistot / Tõrjutud mälestused) Like Publishing Ltd., 2006
English translation from the Estonian original by Tiina Ets

The publishing rights of Memories Denied are with
Hanna Kjellberg
Foreign Rights Manager

Meanwhile, RFE/RL reports that a group of deputies at the European Parliament have launched a drive to have the EU declare August 23 a European Day of Commemoration of the Victims of Stalinism and Nazism.
Post a Comment