reede, detsember 01, 2006

What Freedom Is and Isn't

In the United States, we have an organization called the Ku Klux Klan. Its origins go back to the end of the Civil War, and an effort by the European-descended citizens of the American republic to reinforce their once superior position over non-Europeans, and often non-Protestants through fear and intimidation.

As much as I find the Klan reprehensible, I would gladly defend them in a court of law for their right to march and to be heard in a public place. Because I feel that, as bad as their message of hate is, I would prefer it be expressed with signs or flags with swastikas on them in a public place, than expressed with violence under the shade of night -- the only recourse for forbidden organizations.

Therefore, I disagree with the Estonian parliament's recent law banning the use of Nazi and Soviet symbols in public places. The Russians have decried the law, calling it "immoral". "I see the recent decision of the Estonian government as blasphemous from the moral standpoint," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Amman today. I'll tell you what's more insulting that the Estonian ban, Sergei -- telling the Estonian people that your generous "Soviet people" liberated them while they were busy putting bullets in Jaan Tõnisson's head. Telling Estonia that it is ungrateful for the way you carted Konstantin Päts off to Siberia to die in a psychiatric hospital, then dragging your feet on giving his personal effects back to the Estonian people. That is really insulting.

But as much of a jerk as Lavrov is, I still don't think symbols should be banned. SS veterans should be able to march just as Red Army vets should be able to march. The police should protect them, and the authorities must do their best to protect both, as "immoral" as individual police may find the citizens they protect. Because that is what freedom is. Let the jokers stand with their swastikas and their hammers and sickles - it is the people themselves that should let them know they are irrelevant, not the Riigikogu.

The banning of symbols is a false step for a democracy. In the US there are similar efforts to prohibit the burning of flags. But I oppose all measures that are taken by a government to inhibit speech, and this is one of them. It is not the government's business what symbols people choose to display. It is solely their duty to ensure that the people's speech is protected and is expressed peacefully. By banning symbols, Estonia becomes just as unreasonable as Russia, where they ban movies because they are afraid they will stir up ethnic tension.

I will have no influence on the decisions the Estonian government makes, but I hope that future governments will not take greater measures to destroy freedom of speech.

47 kommentaari:

Estonia Visitor ütles ...

What soviet symbols are they banning? I have to say I have been on flights to Tallinn with young British guys wearing "CCCP" or hammer-and-sickle t-shirts; to them its nothing more than a fashion symbol, along with the t-shirts of Che Guevara. What happens when they arrive at Tallinn airport, do they get carted away? Not exactly a good introduction to the country is it?

Giustino ütles ...

I think its narrowly tailored to end demonstrations by skinheads and Soviet sympathizers. I doubt they'll be forcing young Brits to take off their jackets.

Usually that kind if stuff is enforced on the street. I mean, I wouldn't wear a shirt with a swastika because I'd get beaten up here in New York. When I went to the Czech Republic I had a Soviet star on my jacket (along with many other pins and souvenirs I had collected during my European trip). I was told firmly in the train station in Prague to take it off because I would be in danger walking around with a Soviet star on my jacket. I believed the person that told me that. Even in East Berlin people gave me strange looks. I was actually asked if I was a Communist, like such things still existed. I had no idea that the symbol still meant something to people at that time (oh to be young and dumb).

I wonder if in the UK there are such symbols - other than football "colours" which must be taken off before entering certain bars, of course.

The government was spooked by the Pronkssõdur controversy last May and they are looking for ways to solve it. Their solution is to ban the flying of the flag which pissed so many people off - the Soviet flag. That was what freaked them out most - it was the young kids with red roses defending this old Soviet flag. It told them that they somehow weren't "getting through" to young ethnic Slavs.

I feel bad for those kids though. I see them holding signs in Russian, and the thing is that I have absolutely no idea what they are saying, and I think a lot of young Estonians - maybe under 25, are similarly clueless when it comes to Russian language. They might as well be holding signs in Martian.

So it is like they are in this linguistic box that they can't get out of. The only way out for them is basically the school reform - learning Estonian, etc. As society ages, they increasingly find themselves as foreigners in the country of their birth.

A break with the past needs to be made in someways. To just say, "we are all Estonia and Estonia is moving forward as one." I just don't think that banning symbols or moving monuments will do anything to create that realization.

In some ways, Estonia is trying to accomplish things through legislation that can only be accomplished through time.

the other Mel ütles ...

Symbols are so important in the world, and banning them is a form of control. Some restaurants and shops in US cities ban certain colours (like LA's blue/Crips & red/Bloods thing). Germany bans the Swastika, even if they are for Asian religious reasons; while in Reykjavik there's several Swastikas displayed prominently on building facades.

The hammer and sickle is facing a ban in Estonia and some other countries; the president of Italy proudly wears the hammer and sickle as a senior member of the PCR.

The fasces are discouraged symbols in Italy, though they adorn the walls of the US Congress. The crescent moon is the only symbol used by Islam in the anti-iconoclastic faith, while many Russian Orthodox churches still retain the old symbol of the Russian Orthodox cross on top of a fallen crescent.

Symbols mean a lot to people, and they are always interpreted differently. The more control of such symbols reflect the more control the state has over the individual, arguably a good and/or bad thing depending yet again on views. But once again, ignorance is the worst evil of it all...

the other Mel ütles ...

btw did you hear from the F Committee? Sorry to use this forum but misplaced your email address.

Giustino ütles ...

Symbols mean a lot to people, and they are always interpreted differently. The more control of such symbols reflect the more control the state has over the individual, arguably a good and/or bad thing depending yet again on views. But once again, ignorance is the worst evil of it all...

I know that in southern Italy, they have banned the sale of Mafia songs. I am against this too. I just feel that banning speech - songs, flags, words - only makes speech stronger.

Mattias ütles ...

If we were talking on an abstract topic of banning symbols, I would agree with you, Giustino. However, I am an Estonian who has seen the "abuse" (?) of Soviet symbols in Tõnismägi and also other places with my own eyes. Of course I went to Tõnismägi in 9th May to see what happens there and of course I was offended by the things I saw there. Now you can say that I went there to be offended or at least that I expected that. This is true, in a way, but still there are some things that should not be done, although we may say that banning symbols is not right. You don't wave a red flag in Estonia; you don't wave the Confederation flag before some black guys; you don't put a swastika on your jacket if you are visiting Israel. Just because it DOES hurt. It is that simple.

By the way, those British guys wearing "CCCP" T-shirts make me angry too but in their case we can at least say that ignorance is bliss.

peoples ütles ...

giustino, you talk about how banning speech is wrong. Yet I have read several cases where people in the US have gotten sued for saying something inappropriate to another person. You could call that a violation of the freedom of speech too. IIRC, the law (which is a draft anyway) is to prohibit using those symbols in a context where they would cause hostility of some sort. Whether something provokes hostility is for the court to decide.

As for the Bronze Soldier issue (for god's sake, it's getting old people!) there isn't an actual clash between nations here from my point of view. There were two protests organised to emphasize the issue on the day GWB visited us.. both managed to gather some 7-8 people. Even the anarchists did better. So there is no real issue between Russians and Estonians. Hey, I had a Russian plumber come over today, couldnt speak a word of Estonian. We didn't insult eachother about BS (Bronze Soldier) while waving blue-black-white and red flags. So it's kind of a non-issue IMO sparked by Russia and certain pro-Russian extremists (Klenski, Lebedev, Notchniy Dozor or w/e).

oliver ütles ...

Ah yes... the freedom of speech... Where is the point you would stop defending the freedom of speech... let’s say the members of the KKK. When they’re parading with Nazi flags, white hoots on and posters of hanged slaves in their hands; when add some slogans and shouts like "Death to all #ugly word?#"; design a computer game where you have to kill as much of black children as possible; publish a book "#ugly word?#-killing for dummies"? Or is it right after when they let your black girlfriend know she’s got about three seconds to live and just before when they pull out their gun?
Some people would say personal threats are not acceptable. How it is possible that threats to thousand of lives are? Ok no threats, how about simply happy parades with Nazi flags and smiley faces talking about their brave predecessors who tried to liberate America and make it "purer"??
To me, personally, it’s all too much, too dangerous. I can’t tolerate people or ideologies that agitate hatred and promote violence.
it is the people themselves that should let them know they are irrelevant
Hey, am I smelling a hippy here? :) We need to send out some kind of signal that they just have to notice. We are obviously too lazy to throw daily anti-hate marches (which probably wouldn’t even solve anything). I honestly can’t see how state’s answer to this kind of hatred can be called "destroying freedom of speech".
This is what Estonia is all about – Constitution of Estonia § 12. Everyone is equal before the law. No one shall be discriminated against on the basis of nationality, race, colour, sex, language, origin, religion, political or other opinion, property or social status, or on other grounds.
The incitement of national, racial, religious or political hatred, violence or discrimination shall, by law, be prohibited and punishable. The incitement of hatred, violence or discrimination between social strata shall, by law, also be prohibited and punishable.

And yes, even people who are against this technical adjustment, have to agree that something good (not exactly the right word) came out of it – we can see once more how deep in a hole current Russia and its political elite really are. They try to identify themselves with Soviet terrorist regime - the same regime that executed Russian cultural, military and political elite. It’s like a vicious circle and there’s seems to be no way out.

See now what happened - I brought myself really down before our night out...

Giustino ütles ...

You don't wave a red flag in Estonia; you don't wave the Confederation flag before some black guys; you don't put a swastika on your jacket if you are visiting Israel. Just because it DOES hurt. It is that simple.

But is passing a law the solution? I mean the confederate flag is still on some state flags (Mississippi). The problem with symbols is that they mean different things to different people. For an African American, the confederate flag means "slavery." For southerners it often symbolizes "southern culture." One symbol - two very different meanings.

Also, suppressing speech, in my opinion, only makes the forbidden speech stronger.

Imagine this now - instead of having a police line standing between protestors holding the Soviet flag and ones counterdemonstrating against them, you have the police going into the protest and arresting people for displaying a symbol.

So now the PR nightmare shifts from the people on the ground - mere citizens - to the state and how it treats certain citizens for doing certain things.

Ai ai ai!

Giustino ütles ...

Hey, am I smelling a hippy here? :)

You know it :)

What usually happens when the Klan holds a march, is that about 20 Klansmen show up, and about 5,000 counter demonstrators show up shouting "shame."

It creates a better image than just having police arrest some guys with flags. It shows mass rejection of a statement.

I've gotten in hot water for my freedom of speech passion before, but I genuinely believe that banning things doesn't solve the problem. Would I be less likely to hold a Confederate flag in front of a group of African-American guys because I am afraid of breaking the law, or because I am afraid I'll get the *shit* kicked out of me.

Trust me, it's number 2.

What you are telling me is that you are too lazy to go out and counterdemonstrate and you'd rather let the government do it.

Anyway, in the US one thing you DO need is a permit to demonstrate. A much simpler way of handling the PS mess would be to deny any permits for those kinds of demonstrations/assemblies that violate Constitution of Estonia § 12.

Remember, sometimes bureaucracy can be your friend.

the other Mel ütles ...

I agree with 'peoples' on his point. All my years living in Estonia I've never seen any discord between the two communities. When my Russian neighbours and I try to fix the fuse in my building, they try their best in broken Estonian so we can communicate. So why not? I think this "division" is being played at by those who have a motive for it to become real: 1) Moscow; 2) nationalists on both sides; 3) still whining väliseestlased; 4) Soviet apologists; and 5) academics. The latter is the really annoying one...

Giustino ütles ...

So it's kind of a non-issue IMO sparked by Russia and certain pro-Russian extremists (Klenski, Lebedev, Notchniy Dozor or w/e).

Why is Lebedev even in Estonia? Did they forget to evacuate him back in '94?

As for Klenksi, he has something to say - good for him. I've read so many articles about what he says, like he is important. Yet he's not.

What matters is that the Center Party kicked him out and then he went on to form his own list, which got 1.8 percent of the vote in 2005 in the Tallinn municipal elections.

Yet I guarantee you there were more articles about him that SDE, which got 11 percent of the vote. What gives?

Giustino ütles ...

I think this "division" is being played at by those who have a motive for it to become real: 1) Moscow; 2) nationalists on both sides; 3) still whining väliseestlased; 4) Soviet apologists; and 5) academics. The latter is the really annoying one...

I have a hard time telling the two groups apart in business situations (yes, I can tell that the guy with the puffy jacket in Kalamaja speaking loudly on his mobile phone speaks Russian as a native language:))

I had a whole conversation with a woman from Tallink in Estonian. When I looked at her name tag it said something like "Svetlana Ivanova."

Oh man, I miss Estonia. I miss eating Kalev chocolate three times a day.

Is it me, or is it hard to stay worked up over things that happened 60+ years ago. I can't even get that worked up over Vietnam - a war that took the lives of many of my parents' peers.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Free speech, what a good topic right now.

Any comment on Michael Richards and his rant? A lot of people are coming down hard on him and demanding a "ban" on the n-word in clubs, music, etc.

Also, the U.S. passed the "Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act" earlier this year to prevent protest during soldier funerals cause of a bunch of wackos protesting about gays. I take it your against that as well?

Giustino ütles ...

Any comment on Michael Richards and his rant? A lot of people are coming down hard on him and demanding a "ban" on the n-word in clubs, music, etc.

Banning language is wrong. This is just like when people were saying the Eminem should be banned because of his homophobic or violent lyrics. I disagree with that. I am an artist too, and I don't believe another person has a right to tell me what language I can use and can't.

If a club wants to NOT hire Michael Richards because of his act, that's his fault. If a paper calls it controversial - that's life. But the state shouldn't tell people what they can say and can't say in a public place like a comedy club or a park. It has no authority to do so.

Also, the U.S. passed the "Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act" earlier this year to prevent protest during soldier funerals cause of a bunch of wackos protesting about gays. I take it your against that as well?

I am not familiar with the law enough to comment directly. It might sound like a cop out, but it's the truth.

ants ütles ...

It's pity how many people in the world don't yet understand the sign of equality between swastika and soviet (Russian) pentagon

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Germany has banned all nazi symbols. But this does not mean that all of it has vanished. I've visted Vogelsang, a Nazi education centre. Later it was used by the Belgium army. The whole structure and even symbols are left. It's not easy to deal with it but all is there:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/65817306@N00/sets/72057594122965852/
It's open for the public since this year.

stockholm slender ütles ...

I don't think this is so simple question. Just like mattias, if taken as a theoretical issue I would be in broad sympathy with you. But there are different situations and contexts. In the early 30's in Weimar Germany it would have been a great victory for liberty to have banned these selfsame hateful symbols from the streets. In Estonia the historical traumas and wounds are so deep and so recent that I perfectly understand this law (though am worried in pragmatic - not ideological - sense whether it is a sensible step).

Btw, of this indecent ease with which the Soviet symbols (basically of terror and torture) are these days handled as "harmless" fashion symbols in the West I have written a heartfelt rant below:

http://stockholmslender.blogspot.com/2006/03/good-old-times-when-we-sang-horst.html

netihulgus ütles ...

Ma ei räägi minevikust.
Nõukogude võim on V-kolonnina praegu meie keskel aktiivselt elamas ja ootamas oma aega. Ja ainuke eriti silmatorkav võimalus oma üleolekut demonstreerida, on oma sümboolikat eksponeerima.

Estonia Visitor ütles ...

Regarding equating the swastika and the soviet symbol...

As brutal and oppressive and totalitarian the Soviet regime was, with all the millions who died, I don't think it was ever based on an idealogy that entire races of human being were simply NOT WORTHY TO LIVE.

Anonüümne ütles ...

hmm...you want to see SS veterans along with young people carrying swastika flags through the "brandenburger tor" in Berlin...for me as german, I dont want to see that...

Giustino ütles ...

Regarding equating the swastika and the soviet symbol...

As brutal and oppressive and totalitarian the Soviet regime was, with all the millions who died, I don't think it was ever based on an idealogy that entire races of human being were simply NOT WORTHY TO LIVE.


I have heard this argument many times. The "Soviets were bad, but not as bad as the Nazis" argument.

My take on it is this: Are we lying to ourselves when we excuse the murder of millions of one kind of people over the murder of other millions just because the mindset of the killers was different?

Is the common thug that robs and kills you somehow more virtuous than the one who says he speaks for God before he does the same? In the end, isn't the result the same?

I have tried to argue that the Soviets were less bad, but all I can really argue is basically that the Nazi Germans were more efficient killers. But the thing is that, most of the leaders in Hitler's regime were liquidated. Their symbols were banned. Their ideology was deemed intolerable. But the criminals of the Communists? They walk as free men.

There was no Nuremberg for the NKVD. The men that executed Estonia's leaders may very well reside in Tallinn today, still regaled as "heroes against fascism." They are unjudged criminals.

Giustino ütles ...

hmm...you want to see SS veterans along with young people carrying swastika flags through the "brandenburger tor" in Berlin...for me as german, I dont want to see that...

Well, things are shakier in Europe. I remember I walked down the wrong walkway in Berlin, and came face to face with a guy holding a machine gun guarding the Berlin synagogue! Good thing he didn't shoot.

There are all of these tribal mentalities residing beneath the glasses and mobile phones and Internet handles.

Purc ütles ...

As brutal and oppressive and totalitarian the Soviet regime was, with all the millions who died, I don't think it was ever based on an idealogy that entire races of human being were simply NOT WORTHY TO LIVE.

Ridiculous argument, Soviet regime was based on an ideology that entire classes (kulaks etc.) of society were simply not worthy to live. Think it over.

Giustino ütles ...

Ridiculous argument, Soviet regime was based on an ideology that entire classes (kulaks etc.) of society were simply not worthy to live. Think it over.

Soviet ideology in post-war Estonia revolved around a witch hunt for "fascists", that claimed not just Estonian independence fighters from 1918, but also traitors as well - Barbarus comitted suicide knowing that he would be next on their list once they ran out of real "fascists" to kill.

In many way, the "anti-fascist" hysteria is still present in some elements of post-Soviet societies.

For those that are familiar with this, I would like to know how such young people can be indoctrinated against a menace that doesn't exist anymore at such a young age, so that even today you have young guys in Tallinn calling other young guys in Tallinn "fascists"?

To an outsider, the spectacle is comic and absurd. Paging Dr. Seuss!

notsu ütles ...

A propos racist/non-racist nature of Soviet regime and groups destroyed: it is true the regime wasn't officially racist/xenophobic, but some ethnic groups were considered more "suspect" or "anti-revolutionary" than others and so, among them the so-called "social prophylactics" were more extensively applied. Think of Chechens who were 100% deported/imprisoned/killed (survivors returned later, having received an amnesty or rehabilitation after Stalin's death). Or Volga-Germans (who were entirely considered "fascist" because of their ethnicity). Or Tatars. To a lesser extent, Baltic and Jewish people (the latter escaped more massive repressions only thanks to Stalin's death and fortunately only few were executed. Not officially because of them being Jews, no: they had "plotted against Stalin", of course.) And historians still keep arguing whether the mass starvation of Ukraine was due to Stalin's particular ukrainophoby or not. At least it cannot be considered as a repression of kulaks, as everybody suspected of being one had been deported or executed already.
So, even if violence was turned against certain social, not ethnic groups, several nations were considered to be such social groups, in fact.

Estonia Visitor ütles ...

I understand the arguments being made against my statement that there is a difference between the soviet and nazi regimes. I think its helpful to separate the underlying idealogy from the men in charge who implement THEIR version of that idealogy.

I can accept that the Soviet regime was as brutal in implementing its goals as the Nazis. I can agree that Stalin, in his paranoid insanity to protect his power, caused the deaths of millions. But I blame the deaths and oppression on the men in charge, not necessarily on the idea of communism itself. Whereas the very idea of Nazism, right from the start, involves wiping out "sub-human" species.

I am not arguing that the regimes were as bad as each other. All I am saying is the IDEAS behind the regimes were two very different types. Communism was an unworkable, perhaps naive, idea that was warped and abused by the regime for its own purposes, but of itself is not necessarily a hostile idealogy - it was just the tool. But the idealogy driving the Nazis was itself an evil one, even before one single national socialist came to power.

Giustino ütles ...

But the idealogy driving the Nazis was itself an evil one, even before one single national socialist came to power.

Interesting discussion. From what I have read, when they started out the Nazis were very much nationalist socialists - not necessarily an unusual ideological grouping.

But slowly the nationalist faction won over, and was won over more by the ideologue Adolf Hitler.

The thing with Estonia is that it was a republic when it was taken over by the communists. It had a civil society of lawyers and civil servants and university professors. To "Stalinize" Estonia, that meant that a great many people had to be "removed" for "communism" to take hold. But the reality is that it never really took hold. Within a generation, Estonians were clamouring for independence again.

My thoughts about Stalin are that he was nothing more than a mass murder that realized he had to keep killing people to stay alive. It's amazing that he actually died of natural causes - so they say. Lavrenti Beria didn't get out as lucky.

As for today, there are Russian nationalists - Russian Nazis if you will - that believe that Estonia somehow "belongs" to them the same way that the fascists of the 1930s thought that Estonia "belonged" to the Reich and that the Baltic Sea was really "supposed to be" and inland sea of the Reich.

It's quite humorous to hear Russian fascists like Zhiranovsky talk about the resuscitation of fascism in Estonia when people like him dream of a Russian nationalist superstate.

notsu ütles ...

The discussion of communism as an idea is an intriguing one. Let us remember though that in first place, we were talking about symbols of the Soviet State. Even if it really was about bad people in charge, one has to admit that it had such people in charge over decades. Remember, Gulag system was there before Stalin came to power and it didn't cease to exist with his death.


The trouble with communist ideology IMO is that it involves total power of state over the individual (call it dictatorship of proletariat if you wish). This means that with enough of luck and ambitions, some people can assume a total control over the others. Hypothetically there might be some ambitious saints who would use it well. In practice, all people given such power have proved to abuse it. I personally cannot swear I wouldn't. And indeed, all practical examples of communist system have been totalitarian and extremely repressive. Unfortunately, in communist theory there needs to be a period of total control before we all can move on to happy stateless society, so what should we expect but a totalitarian state?
Besides the people who are in charge, a totalitarian state also corrupts those who are not. In a state where an individual has very few possibilities to make decisions, people tend to assume an irresponsible attitude. When political activity is considered more serious a crime than stealing or even killing, should one be surprised that there is a lot of stealing and no civil society?

Only non-violent counter-examples I know about are Kibbutz-like communities and they are voluntary, without enforcement of communality by authorities. The ones who feel they would like something more individualistic are free to leave. That makes a huge difference. Also, as most of kibbutzniks don't want to embrace 'communist" denomination, maybe we should call them communalists rather than communists.

Estonia Visitor ütles ...

Your comments make a lot of things clearer to me. OK, so I accept that it's symbols of the Soviet state specifically that are being banned. And given the Baltic states' recent history, I think they have every right to ban the symbols (although I agree with Giustino, it should be the people on the street that discourage it, not the government). I would, however, lobby very hard against extending that ban across Europe to countries where the soviet symbols didn't have the same connotations.

But I still think there's a difference between this and the Nazis and I am not sure I could accept the equating of one to the other. The Russians have always been used to tyranny, to being downtrodden and oppressed, first under the tsars, then under the Communists, and it looks like they're embracing it again under Putin's authoritative grasp. During the time of empire and then the USSR, this was just extended to its neighbours.

But Germany by comparison was a leading, enlightened, democratic country in the heart of Europe. Yet in just a few years, it descended from a civilised nation into a barbarity unimagineable even a decade earlier. This kind of horror isn't just a reflection on their particular government: it's about the darkness inside the human heart, and how, no matter how civilised we think we are, that darkness is never very far away.

And that's why, I think you need to separate the idea of totalitarian states - the USSR, North Korea, Spain under Franco - from the openly genocidal regimes of Hitler, Rwanda, Milosovic whose very raison d'etre was the slaughter of a particular strain of human being.

notsu ütles ...

Some thoughts of the moment.
I often wonder: what if the WWII had ended differently, and Nazi Germany would have undergone same changes that USSR did? I mean that Hitler would have been killed by another guy of his government who would have seized power and declared that "Hitler spoiled the true nazi ideals" or sth similar to what Khrushtchov said about Stalin; the repressions would have become rarer, most survivors of concentration camps "rehabilitated" (and of course, Westerners would never have had a chance to witness what really was going on there); an unexciting stagnation would have followed and some decades later the Reich would have eventually collapsed like the USSR did. Probably some politologists of this alternative present would stand for that "national socialist ideology was a regular leftist ideology in itself, it was just this mad Hitler guy who misinterpreted it and turned it into a racist one".

I don't know much about Franco's regime, I have been under an impression that it was much milder one than USSR, North Korea or Kampuchea - just another dictature, but not a totalitarian regime in full right. At least not in Arendt's terms.
It is another matter, but did Franco also prevent people from leaving the country, for instance? in Stalin's USSR, being caught on an attempt to cross the border was a death penalty matter and a mere suspicion was enough to be sentenced to a labor camp; some successful refugees were murdered even abroad. (Reminds of Litvinenko, huh?)

I agree that Russians have always been used to tyranny and probably Putins state is as bad as the post-Stalin USSR was, but Imperial Russia was nevertheless incomparably less repressive. Several 1905. revolutionaries were just banished from the country, not even executed - and they had actively worked against the power! In USSR nothing as extreme was needed to be penalized.
But it is true, this inexperience in democracy of Russia is the source of most of their problems now.

BTW, another example of a civilised (not with a long democratic tradition though, but hey, the lifetime of the Weimar Republic was even shorter) nation's descent to barbarity is China's. For if Chinese aren't civilised, who is?

notsu ütles ...

By the way, I (being an Estoinan and having an aunt sent to Siberia as a teenage kid) have mixed feelings about this banning too. For instance, my friends have sometimes thrown style parties were we parodied either pioneer-meetings or anything soviet. If the symbols are banned, how can we laugh at them? I think laughing is a very healthy way to deal with totalitarian ideologies.

Estonia Visitor ütles ...

I have to go along with the message above ... symbols of one of the most powerful and feared regimes of the 20th century... now reduced to fashion statements and nostalgic antiques for tourists to haggle over in Central Market... THAT's a far bigger victory than banning them, which only gives more ammunition to those who would like to see a return to those days.

Giustino ütles ...

If the symbols are banned, how can we laugh at them? I think laughing is a very healthy way to deal with totalitarian ideologies.

Exactly. There is nothing more "anti-Soviet" than seeing some Euro-trashy party animal with spiked hair and Nokia phone wearing a shirt that says CCCP. It shows you how one system literally ate the other.

YUM!

notsu ütles ...

Just as I have made a point against banning, I will make a point for it. Actually two:

1) It is fine for me if people use symbols of repressive states as an ironic statement. Unfortunately, in many cases it is not irony, but ignorance. Some people don't know what do those signs represent; some do, but keep thinking about them as something progressive and positive. How many serious posters I have seen in Italy with pictures of Marx, Lenin and Stalin! (Marx is all right for me, but the other two...) When I see something like that, I'd like to be able to express my embarrassment. But in most cases I wouldn't DARE to do it. My experiences in international web forums have shown that when you make a statement against communism or even against stalinism, you risk being called a "fascist". And this is actually limiting my freedom of speech, even if by self-censorship.

Well, this can be a personal problem of mine, but there is more to it: 'tis much more acceptable to talk in "civil society" about those repressed or whose ancestors were repressed by Nazi Germany or fascist Italy than about those repressed by a communist state. Because of exactly the reason that communism as an idea seems much more passable than nazism, it is acceptable for people who consider themselves free-minded and tolerant to excuse even the obvious crimes of communist regimes. (Sometimes it goes even further to a totally uncritical approach to modern Russia... this is a mystery even from communist point of view.)
And I think some kind of break is needed here, for sake of victims. I really don't want to feel ashamed to say that someone I know or am related to has been sent to a Soviet labor camp. The senders should be ashamed instead.

2) Russia. It is seriously puzzling me that so many Russians who possibly cannot have lived in the happy ignorance of the West, still think about USSR as something good. We may blame bad politicians instead of the idea, actually we may blame the evil human nature, which'd be more plausible philosophically, but in practice, a break from Soviet identity would do some good to this country. A Russia where mainstream people wave old Soviet flags, listen to old Soviet anthem and celebrate Soviet holidays gives me creeps - not that a few people do that, but that it is mainstream.

I nevertheless doubt if banning is the right way to deal with it. Actually, it is information that is needed. Documents about Soviet horrors disclosed as thoroughly as about Nazi horrors. Memoirs of survivors published. Lectures given. Of course, this wouldn't end the line of Stalin and Mao sympathizers. But at least I shouldn't be afraid that our Eastern European's version of history isn't politically correct in civil society.

Giustino ütles ...

Memoirs of survivors published.

I read a book when I was a child that told "children's stories" of World War II, and in it a child of Estonia, dealing with the Soviet occupation, was dealt with the same as an Italian child dealing with Mussolini's government, and a Danish child dealing with the Nazi occupation.

They were all held up as the same.

notsu ütles ...

What book? seems we have missed something behind the iron curtain.

stockholm slender ütles ...

I really do see any distinctions between Hitler and Stalin quite meaningless. If anything the outward "respectability" of Marxism-Leninism makes it a more dangerous ideology. Yes, it wasn't "outwardly" genocidal but it just happened to kill more people and even last much longer than Nazi-Germany. In some ways the regime is still in power in China.

I think it is quite chilling that these symbols of mass murder can be used in total ignorance of their meaning. Maybe it is evidence of some kind of victory, but a curious victory where we can safely forget those millions and millions of innocent people killed. This is not to say that I would approve of this law, but I definitely would not oppose these kinds of laws based on abstract principles regardless of times and places.

Estonia Visitor ütles ...

The problem with not drawing a line between the soviet union and nazi germany is, where do you then draw the line?

If we are talking about totalitarian regimes where innocent people die, then you could also throw in North Korea; China; Pinochet's Chile; Burma; pre-1990s South Africa; Saddam's Iraq; Franco's Spain; Pol Pot's Cambodia; Khomeini's Iran; Tito's Yugoslavia; Aristide's Haiti; Cuba; Libya...

Depressingly, I could go on. The point is, where do you draw a line?

Giustino ütles ...

Depressingly, I could go on. The point is, where do you draw a line?

Well, let me answer that question by posing another.

Why is it ok to wave the flag of the Soviets in public, but it is NOT ok to wave the flag of the Nazis.

I'll tell you that for me, it wasn't a ban that taught me about the Nazis - it came from two books I was forced to read as a teenager:

The Diary of Anne Frank and Night by Elie Wiesel. There was also the film Schindler's List - I could go on and on.

In my high school, a local Jewish group organized a special Holocaust memorial day where we got to sit in an auditorium and watch bulldozers fill in mass graves with horribly disfigured corpses in Nazi-occupied Poland.

After that I would never again even consider flirting with Nazi symbols or ideology.

But how is what happened to those families different from what happened to Estonian families where the men were shot or died in gulags and the women and children either shared the same fate, or like Anne Frank and her family, hid out in homemade bunkers in the forest, waiting for the terror to end.

We don't seem to know enough about that stuff, and the Soviet death camps are not on display like the Nazi death camps were. You can't just drive right into Siberia and be greeted by a Soviet concentration camp museum. In Western eyes it "a" crime against humanity but not "the" crime against humanity.

So maybe the answer is more works of popular fiction and popular films describing what happened so that people can see for themselves and finally come to that moment where Soviet isn't so kitsch anymore.

notsu ütles ...

To estonia visitor:
I think that we use terms differently. You seem to use "totalitarianism" as a synonym of "dictatorship" or "tyranny". I make a distinction between those two and this is the place where I would draw the line.
As for what is totalitarianism, and in what it differs from an ordinary authoritarian system, according to Hannah Arendt (she was well familiar with Nazi regime, but considered Stalin state also an example of totalitarian state), in a totalitarian regime:

an ideology dominates everything, replacing all traditional laws and replacing them by "Law of nature" (Hitler) or by "Law of history" (Stalin);

destruction of individuality and privacy in every respect (something that an ordinary dictator does not need);

rule by terror: it is not a tool to gain power and to keep it, but an end in itself.
No warrants are needed to make arrests, no judicial process is needed to convict (in Mussolini Italy, it was possible to be acquitted in court). Also, nobody knows what constitutes a crime; an arrest may come from thin air. Even secret police workers don't feel safe. In an ideal totalitarian state, everybody should feel to be guilty.

Or as Arendt puts it:

"Nazi or Bolshevik will not be shaken in his conviction by crimes against people who do not belong to the movement or are even hostile to it; but the amazing fact is that neither is he likely to waver /.../ even if he becomes a victim of persecution himself, if he is framed and condemned, if he is purged from the party and sent to a forced-labor or a concentration camp. On the contrary,/.../ he may even be willing to help in his own prosecution and frame his own death sentence. /.../ People are threatened by Communist propaganda with missing the train of history, with remaining hopelessly behind their time, with spending their lives uselessly/.../ Any neutrality, indeed any spontaneously given friendship, is from the standpoint of totalitarian domination just as dangerous as open hostility, precisely because spontaneity as such, with its incalculability, is the greatest of all obstacles to total domination over man/.../
Totalitarianism strives not toward despotic rule over men, but toward a system in which men are superfluous. Total power can be achieved and safeguarded only in a world of conditioned reflexes, of marionettes without the slightest trace of spontaneity."

Well, this is one approach. I would swear by Arendt, but there are other definitions of totalitarianism (as distinct of dictature). Still, she was one of most influencial political philosophers and is worth knowing even if you don't agree with her in every point.

Another and more belletristic, less politological view:
Vassily Grossman (an Ukrainian-Jewish writer who had the "privilege" of being both an insider (as Soviet citizen and having been a 1917's idealistic revolutionary) and outsider (as a Jew in Russia)) didn't talk in terms of totalitarianism vs dicatorship, but he sustained that Lenin's Russia was the first model of nationalist state based on non-freedom and this is what several other nations picked up (Germany being one of the first).

Grossmann's "Forever flowing" exists in English and gives in my view at least as good an insight to Soviet reality as Solzhenitsyn in much smaller number of pages (and Grossmann hasn't the blot of antisemitism-panslavism in his curriculum as the latter).

Estonia Visitor ütles ...

"But how is what happened to those families different from what happened to Estonian families where the men were shot or died in gulags and the women and children either shared the same fate, or like Anne Frank and her family, hid out in homemade bunkers in the forest, waiting for the terror to end."

From the point of the victim, there probably IS no difference - I'm sure relatives of those who disappeared say in Pinochet's Chile or Saddam's Iraq are just as bitter as those whose relatives died under the Nazis or the Soviets.

But for all the deportations and executions in Soviet times, and in other despicable regimes across the world, only the Nazis aimed AS A MATTER OF PUBLIC POLICY, to wipe out ALL members of a race, not just in their own nations but also in occupied countries and in countries still not defeated, like Great Britain.

In the USSR Estonians (and the other Balts) were citizens and generally had property rights, very weak by Western standards, but not necessarily much worse than the average Russian in the street. After half a century, notwithstanding the deportations and executions, the Estonians and Latvians as a people still existed in their occupied countries, as did their languages. Do you really think that would have been the same for Jews or Gypsies under a 50 year Third Reich??

Giustino ütles ...

From the point of the victim, there probably IS no difference - I'm sure relatives of those who disappeared say in Pinochet's Chile or Saddam's Iraq are just as bitter as those whose relatives died under the Nazis or the Soviets.

Do people throw Ba'athist or Pinochet-themed Halloween parties?

After half a century, notwithstanding the deportations and executions, the Estonians and Latvians as a people still existed in their occupied countries, as did their languages.

Lucky them! But does that mean that the Soviet symbol is less insulting to them as a people? No.

I just went through a bag of books in my parent's attic from my childhood, all from my studies in elementary school, and all of the historical books dealt in three themes:

1) Nazi Occupation
2) American Revolution
3) Civil War

These books really get in your system. You have your evil murederous Nazi henchmen, and your arrogant murderous British, and your slave-whipping murderous Confederates. But no communists.

There are no books about Stalin in the curriculum. It's as if all those millions of deaths NEVER HAPPENED. And in that mindset, as long as Stalin defeated those bad guys from the children's books, then he's sort of ok.

And this attitude exists to this day. He was an evil man, but his evil was somehow excusable. People still play this game. The horror of the Nazi genocide is somehow not equivalent to what happened in Ukraine. We have been taught it is not the same, and we believe what we have been taught.

But beyond race and religion - aren't we all just human beings? If we are all equal in life, then aren't we all equal in death?

estonia visitor ütles ...

OK Fine. We can go round and round on this issue. If people can't see the difference, it takes a better man than me to try to explain. But I nor none of my family were a victim to the Holocaust, nor the Soviets - but the Holocaust offends me more as a human being. It goes deeper.

You are here doing the "you are with us or against us" jump. Because I can't quite equate the Soviets to the Nazis, you are accusing me of believing that those millions of deaths never happened or that Stalin was "sort of ok". Read every post on this issue, NO ONE AT ANY POINT IS SUGGESTING THIS.

If Estonia or Latvia begins a movement to equate the Soviet Regime to the Nazis then I see absolutely nothing wrong in campaigning for the regimes of Cambodia or Chile or Yugoslavia to be accorded equally heinous status.

notsu ütles ...

Some more remarks about comparing the systems: according to my (subjective) interpretation of Arendt's terms and to my (limited) knowledge of the regimes, I would say that:
Pol Poth's Kambodia and Mao's China were totalitarian regimes, while

Fidel's Cuba, post-Stalin USSR and Franco's Spain are/were merely dicatures.

I think nor Estonians neither Latvians were among main targets of Stalin regime, but it is not at all sure if Jews of USSR had survived if Stalin hadn't died. There were plans to send ALL Jews in camps "to protect them from just wrath of Soviet Nation". This would have been excused by "spontaneous" pogroms against them first. You can imagine where this could have led. And no one can tell whether Chechens or Volga-Germans would have survived neither. The Soviet extermination system was somewhat slower than the one of Nazi's, but if it had been continued for a long enough period, it'd had been as effective. Just our luck that Stalin didn't reign longer and that his successors were milder.

notsu ütles ...

To put it more shortly:
in a normal democracy, opposition is allowed a freedom of speec (not to speak about personal safety) and it may well turn a governing party.

In a dictature, opposition is suppressed, its members persecuted and murdered.

In a totalitarian regime, it is about an invented, arbitrarily defined enemy that actually represents no threat to government. You don't need to oppose or to ever have opposed the power to be persecuted or murdered, all that is needed is an arbitrarily defined trait.

Giustino ütles ...

But I nor none of my family were a victim to the Holocaust, nor the Soviets - but the Holocaust offends me more as a human being. It goes deeper.

I cannot honestly assess either because I learned about the Holocaust at such an early age, and I went to school with so many kids that were related to victims, that it is a deeply personal historical event for me as an American.

Had I been brought up learning about the Red Terror of 1941 and 1949 every year in my school curriculum, if there was a museum to this in every big city, if old survivors were brought into my 11th grade class to talk about their experiences -- then I might have a different take on things.

I am not arguing against you or anybody, BTW. I just like to read and spit out new ideas. Forgive me if you felt I was doing this.