reede, jaanuar 19, 2007

There is Hope for Estonian-Russian Relations

The way the Americans and Brits cooperate these days, you'd think they were all brothers. You'd be wrong, they are more like distant cousins. But it is important to remember that as cozy as the Brits and the Americans are today, there was a time when they hated one another with frenzied passion.

Just as Estonians today talk with some familiarity of Russian occupation, Americans too withstood a British occupation of their soil during the American War of Independence. For me, growing up as a kid on Long Island in New York, I routinely passed a cemetery that my father told me had been used as a fort by the British during their occupation of New York which began in August 1776, after the colonies declared their independence.

From September 1, 1776 until March 1783, Huntington endured six and one-half years of occupation by British troops. Although this period was marked by many hardships and indignities suffered by the local population, the most notable is widely acknowledged to be the construction of Fort Golgotha literally on top of the Town’s Old Burying Ground using timbers taken from the Old First Presbyterian Church.

British Colonel Benjamin Thompson (1763-1814) (later known as Count Rumford) ordered the Church dismantled on November 26, 1782 and the timbers used to construct the new fort. The dual desecration of the Town’s place of worship and its ancestral cemetery was further compounded by Col. Thompson’s forced enlistment of Town residents to provide the required labor. Local carpenters were put to work tearing down the church and the sides of other buildings in the vicinity, while other inhabitants were ordered to bring their spades and axes to prepare the burial ground for the new construction. As a further insult, Col. Thompson ordered the local militia, who had been forced into British service, to deliver these orders to the local populace
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Now here's that bit about the British respect for the dead:


Over 100 tombstones were removed and the burial ground was leveled in preparation for the new fort. The dug up tombstones were used in construction of fireplaces, ovens, and floors within the fort. Tradition tells us that people employed around the fort saw the loaves of bread baked in these ovens with the reverse inscription of the tombstones of their friends on the bottom crust. The bread became known as “tombstone bread.” Construction of Fort Golgotha was completed in fifteen days.

Rev. Ebenezer Prime, the Old First Church’s third minister from 1723 to 1779 and an enthusiastic supporter of the American Revolution, had been buried in the Old Burying Ground in 1779. It is reported that when building the fort, Col. Thompson made sure that its exit was placed in front of the Rev. Prime’s grave so that he might have the pleasure of “treading on the old Rebel” whenever he departed or entered the fort.

In March 1783, just four months after disassembly of the Old First Church and construction of Fort Golgotha, the British troops evacuated Huntington. As his last act to aggravate Huntington’s townspeople, Col. Thompson burned all the wood in the area so that the inhabitants would have less to heat their homes during the remaining months of winter. The hated Fort Golgotha was subsequently torn down and the Old First Church reconstructed (in 1784) on the site where it still stands today.


Growing up, I may have been one of the few kids to know that the burial ground in town had once been torn apart to build a fort. Instead, I think most children knew the UK as the land of Mary Poppins and James Bond. It just goes to show you that even the most bitter of rivals are capable of putting things back together again.

11 kommentaari:

Anonüümne ütles ...

http://www.epl.ee/arvamus/370722

A hilarious piece by writer Andrus Kivirähk about the curse of the BS. In Estonian only, sorry.

Giustino ütles ...

So Laar and Ansip are archaeologists, and Klenksi is a bedouin. I can imagine them in those costumes!

Anonüümne ütles ...

I hope you are right, cause I'm sick an tired of these never-ending quarrels between Estonia and Russia.
The Bronze Soldier, for example, is it really that important? IMO we could do the noble thing and leave it alone, let those Soviet vets have their fun every now and then. It's not like this monument is a security threat or something

But then again, Russia's meddling in Estonia's domestic affairs is unacceptable. Our sovereignty is at stake.

Giustino ütles ...

But then again, Russia's meddling in Estonia's domestic affairs is unacceptable. Our sovereignty is at stake.

Dealing with Russia is like dealing with all pushy people, you tell them what they want to hear, and they usually go away. You then proceed to continue doing what you were doing.

Take the preamble to the border treaty. It was unnecessary because the Estonian government already passed the documents it referenced. If Estonia had just passed the document as it was, they might have had a border agreement in place by today and little would have changed.

I am not sure if continuing to remind Russia of its actions is the best course. The ultimate goal would be for Russians to just get used to the idea that Estonia is a foreign country.

It's only been 16 years, about a generation. One more generation and Estonia as an independent country will be an "it's always been like that" thing, just as we all look at Norway and it's hard for us to imagine Norwegians and Swedes at each other's throats over Norsk independence.

martin ütles ...


Dealing with Russia is like dealing with all pushy people, you tell them what they want to hear, and they usually go away. You then proceed to continue doing what you were doing.

Really? So you are suggesting that Estonia should tell Russia what it wants to hear, that Estonia was not occupied and voluntarily joined the Soviet Union?

Take the preamble to the border treaty. It was unnecessary because the Estonian government already passed the documents it referenced. If Estonia had just passed the document as it was, they might have had a border agreement in place by today and little would have changed.

It wasn't a preamble to the border treaty, but a preamble to the ratification law, which has no legal force in international law. It's aim was to place the new border treaty within it's proper legal context within Estonian law. Addtionally, this preamble was necessary if the border treaty was to gain the required number of votes within the riigikogu to be passed. If you haven't noticed, Estonia is a parliamentary democracy governed by the rule of law, so I don't think Estonia ought to compromise this in order to pander the Kremlin's obvious lack of understanding of how parliamentary democracies, or the rule of law, works.

martin ütles ...


Dealing with Russia is like dealing with all pushy people, you tell them what they want to hear, and they usually go away. You then proceed to continue doing what you were doing.

Really? So you are suggesting that Estonia should tell Russia what it wants to hear, that Estonia was not occupied and voluntarily joined the Soviet Union?

Take the preamble to the border treaty. It was unnecessary because the Estonian government already passed the documents it referenced. If Estonia had just passed the document as it was, they might have had a border agreement in place by today and little would have changed.

It wasn't a preamble to the border treaty, but a preamble to the ratification law, which has no legal force in international law. It's aim was to place the new border treaty within it's proper legal context within Estonian law. Addtionally, this preamble was necessary if the border treaty was to gain the required number of votes within the riigikogu to be passed. If you haven't noticed, Estonia is a parliamentary democracy governed by the rule of law, so I don't think Estonia ought to compromise this in order to pander the Kremlin's obvious lack of understanding of how parliamentary democracies, or the rule of law, works.

Giustino ütles ...

Really? So you are suggesting that Estonia should tell Russia what it wants to hear, that Estonia was not occupied and voluntarily joined the Soviet Union?

NO. But you keep saying it to them, and they keep not listening. Maybe it's better to bring it up next in '08, when they get a new president. Putin is a lost cause.

If you haven't noticed, Estonia is a parliamentary democracy governed by the rule of law, so I don't think Estonia ought to compromise this in order to pander the Kremlin's obvious lack of understanding of how parliamentary democracies, or the rule of law, works.

I fully understand the preamble situation. But Ilves also said it wasn't necessary. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. There still isn't any border treaty. If there was one, then we wouldn't have to talk about it anymore - and what fun would that be?

Anonüümne ütles ...

I think Russia needs this border treaty more than Estonia does. They want visa freedom with the EU but they won't get it if they have a border dispute with a member state. Russia delayed the treaty because they thought it would obstract Estonia's accession to the EU and NATO. Estonia was willing to sign the treaty in the 90's. Of course the preamble wasn't necessary but Estonians can't resist the pleasure of ticking off Russia every once in a while.

Anonüümne ütles ...

* obstruct

interested reader ütles ...

I appreciate you hopeful insights into Russian-Estonian relations, but the comparison with the historical relationship between the US and Britain seems to be from another planet. I am trying to think of some historical parallel but just cannot find any.

As for those unfortunate Estonian-Russian relations... This remark about pushy people and them going away is also a lot of wishful thinking, I'm afraid. It really doesn't matter what how you behave towards Russia. Russia is not just some pushy person, Russia is a full-blown bully and bullying is an honourable tradition in Russian history and culture. It will take a miracle for that to change. There is a nice song from the end of the 80s which expresses an Estonian dream - to somehow disconnect Estonia from the continent and push it free to float out of the Baltic sea, somewhere far far away from Russia:). This reflects a sad truth: Estonians have been under Russia since the very beginning of the 18th century and were bullied by Russian armies already before. And right now we can do anything we want - be tolerant and carefree or militant and protective. The point is - we cannot change Russia and Russia will always be stronger than us, and will always be a bully.

Hmmm... am getting really depressed writing this, but this seems to me to be the sad truth. The only thing the Estonian state could do to placate Russian propaganda attacks, is to ask them to come and take control.

Giustino ütles ...

The only thing the Estonian state could do to placate Russian propaganda attacks, is to ask them to come and take control.

I disagree. I look to the Finnish example, and the Finns are basically two-faced weasels that know how to flatter the Russians with modesty and then go ahead to do what's best for Finland anyway.

That's what I am talking about. I don't hear too many Finnish politicians talking about compensation for Karelia, and it was THEY who had to pay war reparations after WWII, but they remained independent and they are out of the eye of Moscow's propaganda war.

And where are they anyway? It's Marko Mihkelson who's at PACE setting what Russia considers an "anti-Russian" agenda. And look at his blog - it's all about Russia. There's limited Estonia content, and yet he's a politician from Estonia.

Meanwhile, where's Tuomioja? Finland is seen as totally unthreatening, but tiny Estonia gets paint thrown on its embassy? Give me a break!

The WAY to keeping the Russians out right now is not to continue to find ways to needle them and piss them off. It is to invest heavily in the Estonian cultural infrastructure.

Estonia should be a factory of Estonian culture. There should be greater investments into supporting Estonian musicians, writers, artists, filmmakers et cetera. Estonia is already there to some extent, but it needs to be MORE there. Estonian culture should be as dense and recognizable as Russian culture is.

You should be able to get off the bridge in Narva and say, "Holy shit! I am in a very different country."

And part of that means reclaiming culture. I'm tired of hearing about how "this is Finnish" and "this is Swedish" and "this is Russian." Just take it all and make it all yours. Do you really think the Finns invented the Scandinavian cross or St. Lucia's Day? No. The countries that survive best are the ones that STEAL.

Estonia is on the brink of being as solid as Finland. It needs to pass the 20 year mark, 2011, in peace and keep going. The longer it perpetuates itself, the more impossible it will be to disrupt its center of control. There already is a center of control that the Soviets couldn't get rid of. It can, and must, be stronger.