reede, november 17, 2006

Eire and Eestimaa

For those of you who are "new" to Estonia and are English-language speakers looking for a good reference point, I suggest that you view Estonian-Russian relations the way that you may be apt to understand Irish-British relations. Like the Irish state, the Estonian state is founded on an ancient folk culture as opposed to your typical "Treaty of Westphalia"-inspired nation state, which usually had a king or queen presiding over an empire. And like the Irish state, the Estonian state's drive for independence was initiated by terrible administration by imperial rulers and historic grudges that go back centuries.

In regards to the Second World War, therefore, it is important to remember that just as some Estonians welcomed the German troops following the destruction of their government, annexation of their land, and mass deportations, the Irish people remained neutral, and were not exactly saddened when London was bombed during the blitz. Some Irish privately saw it as just rewards, just like some Estonians may be sympathetic to the Chechnyan cause. And just as the Germans looked to exploit Estonia's fear of Russia, the Germans similarly looked for partnership with Ireland. German occupation and British occupation were discussed as equally loathsome in the Irish Dail. And Ireland's neutral posturing went to the point that Eamonn de Valera, the Irish president (pictured), sent his condolences to Germany upon Hitler's death.

Winston Churchill attacked Irish neutrality during the war, which led de Valera to make the following comments in response:

Mr. Churchill is proud of Britain's stand alone, after France had fallen and before America entered the War.

Could he not find in his heart the generosity to acknowledge that there is a small nation that stood alone not for one year or two, but for several hundred years against aggression; that endured spoliations, famines, massacres in endless succession; that was clubbed many times into insensibility, but that each time on returning [to] consciousness took up the fight anew; a small nation that could never be got to accept defeat and has never surrendered her soul?

Mr. Churchill is justly proud of his nation's perseverance against heavy odds. But we in this island are still prouder of our people's perseverance for freedom through all the centuries. We, of our time, have played our part in the perseverance, and we have pledged ourselves to the dead generations who have preserved intact for us this glorious heritage, that we, too, will strive to be faithful to the end, and pass on this tradition unblemished.


By looking at the way Churchill and de Valera both interpreted history, and therefore the way both leaders saw their countries and neighbors at the same exact moment in time, you can begin to understand why Estonian lawmakers have such a hard time explaining themselves to Russian law makers and vice versa.

Like the Irish under de Valera, Estonians see their history within spans of thousands of years, while England as we know it is not even 1,000 years old yet. What may be the most important moment in one country's life - perhaps the Russian victory over Germany - is only a wrinkle in time for another culture. I think that anybody that is an outsider to Estonia and is trying to understand the country and its history, can find a worthy metaphor in Irish-British relations. Most metaphors are imperfect, but if you are looking for a baseline, this one could work well.

11 kommentaari:

Martin ütles ...


For those of you who are "new" to Estonia and are English-language speakers looking for a good reference point, I suggest that you view Estonian-Russian relations the way that you may be apt to understand Irish-British relations. Like the Irish state, the Estonian state is founded on an ancient folk culture as opposed to your typical "Treaty of Westphalia"-inspired nation state, which usually had a king or queen presiding over an empire. And like the Irish state, the Estonian state's drive for independence was initiated by terrible administration by imperial rulers and historic grudges that go back centuries.

At the time the Treaty of Westphalia was signed, Estonia was a part of the Swedish Empire, a signatory to the treaty. When Imperial Russia defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War, Estonia was incorporated into the Russian Empire via the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. However, while Estonia was nominally a part of the Russian Empire, the German nobles—the Baltic barons—retained their their rule over the Estonian peasantry until the eve of the 1917 Russian Revolution. German burghers controlled most of the urban wealth. The legal system, Lutheran church, local and town governments, and education remained mostly German for the majority of the time Estonia was a part of the Russian empire. So I don't know if the "historic grudges that go back centuries" were directed more against the German Barons rather than the Russian Imperial court, who had granted these barons a great deal of autonomy in ruling the Baltics.

Giustino ütles ...

So I don't know if the "historic grudges that go back centuries" were directed more against the German Barons rather than the Russian Imperial court, who had granted these barons a great deal of autonomy in ruling the Baltics.

In some senses the "historical grudge" against Russia really started in the 1880s with the tsar's Russification policies. Nevski cathedral in Tallinn is the result of that Russification campaign.

Estonia's fears of being Russified in the 1970s had a direct intellectual relationship with the Estonian nationalists' reaction to the Tsar's Russification policies.

This is what Alfred Karmann, an Estonian forest brother said about the "choice" between the Germans and the Russians:

"The difference between them was that the Germans enslaved us and took our land. But the Russians destroyed the Estonian nation. They opposed - and still oppose - Estonian independence."

It might lend insight to how some Estonians view the world and their people.

oliver ütles ...

As Martin noted, the Germans have always been our "greatest enemies".
Our only public holiday dedicated to military victory is Victory Day (Võidupüha), celebrated on 23 June –Battle of Võnnu (1919), certainly not the most important battle of War of Independence. But... it was a victory against the Germans.
At the end of thirties Russian newspapers and officials made several notes about Estonian hostile attitude towards Germany – their great friend and ally...

To truly understand the Estonian-Russian relationship, we only have to go back to year 1940/41. One (ONE!) year of Soviet occupation and Russian Army/NKVD was all that took to make Estonians greet the German Nazis! as the liberators – the "new and improved" Soviet Russians became instantly the new Germans. Although people soon found out Germans didn’t bring us freedom (and to some our people the German occupation was just as horrible), there was never really a question three years later. Tens of thousand escaped from the advancing Soviet Amry, tens of thousands chose to fight – just to avoid year 1940/41 from repeating. These soldiers ware called (and still are) Nazis by SU/Russia, I don’t know how they called the ~80 000 refugees – they probably never even existed.... Because who would really want to leave that paradise called Soviet Union?

oliver ütles ...

...paradise called Soviet Union...
and the Soldier-Liberators (I think that's the word for them recommended by modern Russia)

Anonüümne ütles ...

I am Irish - living in Tallinn.

Just two minor points:

Many thousands of Irish men fought and died with the allied forces during WWII


"Like the Irish state, the Estonian state is founded on an ancient folk culture"

This is inaccurate. If the Irish Sate was founded on any culture it was the culture of the Roman Catholic Church.

Giustino ütles ...

Many thousands of Irish men fought and died with the allied forces during WWII.

That's true. But the government never declared war on Japan or Germany. Not even in 1945.

This is inaccurate. If the Irish Sate was founded on any culture it was the culture of the Roman Catholic Church.

I think I screwed up in the way I put that. So you are right.

That being said, you could argue that the Estonian state was similarly founded on the culture of the Lutheran church. Estonians don't make a big deal about their Lutheran roots, but from the way to do business, to their schools, to the way they celebrate holidays - it's very Lutheran.

Also, I have both Irish and northern Irish roots. And from what I understand the difference goes beyond just religious denomination. Many of the northern Irish are 17th century immigrants from lowlands Scotland.

My great grandfather's family came from Bangor, in Northern Ireland. Their name was Menagh, but in the 17th century they were Scots settlers that used the original name - MacNaughton. So you have a post-colonial situation there too.

But this is far too complicated a matter for me to discuss thoroughly. There's no way I can really dig into Irish history just from reading a few books. So forgive me for any inaccuracies. And thanks for adding to the discussion.

stockholm slender ütles ...

A good analogy. I wrote my master's thesis on Anglo-Irish history, lived in Dublin for a year and half, and my wife's an Estonian - and have always been interested in Estonian history. So I have some familiarity with both countries. I would still say that liberal England has often been a somewhat easier great power neighbour than authoritarian or totalitarian Russia. In any case, as long as the Russian society refuses to come to terms with their tragic modern history, any meeting of minds with Estonia is very unlikely. (More views about Estonian history from my blog in the link below.)

http://stockholmslender.blogspot.com/2006/10/eesti-ajaloost.html

stockholm slender ütles ...

Hmm, the link seems to be overly long, anyway, it can be found by clicking the headline.

Giustino ütles ...

The link is there - you just need to highlight it. Blogger is both free and imperfect.

Anonüümne ütles ...

The WW II was strange point in Estonian history. Estonia was the only country that had cultural autonomy for most of its nation including jews. But now there are a lot of arguing about Estonia was ruled by nationalistic covernment before WW II. Estonian day of wictory is june 23 that marks day Estonia gets rid of German rule that is strangest thing in Estonian history that it was needed one year of soviet rule to find out that it was the worst rule we ever got in Estonia and turned to the German side in 1941. That is not the same thing that Hitler was a cool ruler for Estonia but last time at the end of war in 1918 Estonia once gained independence. In 1944 when Soviets come back estonians did'nt want them back and joined german army (as it was german policy they were abele to join only SS). There was seen that Germany will fall and it was hope that they surrender before Soviets will come back. In August 1944 Narva front was fallen in big battle that cost 100 000 men to die. Ally dessant to Normandy did not give Peace in sept 1944 Germans showed up their face they don't allow to Estonian covernment to organize resistance Estonian voluenty troops came back from Finnland they were demilitarized and Estonian Legion was evacuated to Germany. But in 20 sept 1944 Estonian government was made again and they ruled two Tays in Tallinn but in 22th sept Soviet occupation started again. It lasted 50 years.

Giustino ütles ...

But in 20 sept 1944 Estonian government was made again and they ruled two Tays in Tallinn but in 22th sept Soviet occupation started again. It lasted 50 years.

I guess it was just greed. It made no sense for them to fully occupy Estonia. They could have leased Paldiski (like they leased Hanko) and settled for the 1944 land transfer and all would have been well.

Instead they took the long hard road, and today they have NATO members on their border, where if Estonia was independent in 1944 it most certainly wouldn't be a NATO member today.