neljapäev, jaanuar 18, 2007

The War on Estonian Manhood

One of the central tenets of Estonian restoration policies since 1991 has been to create a state where citizens are willing to actively resist subordination to foreign powers. The ghost of the Soviet war on the Republic of Estonia that was waged from 1940 until the amnesty of 1957, that sought a total purge of that republic's leaders and patriots looms large in the minds of the children of refugees like President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, or the men who were born to replace dead Estonian statesmen like Mart Laar and Andrus Ansip. Their mantra has been simple: "Never again."

"Never again" will Estonia allow itself to be humiliated as it was by its neighboring country, which arrested, deported, and shot its most promising citizens and waged a war not only on the Estonian republic, but everything that held it together -- its families, which were separated and destroyed, its intellectual accomplishments, derided as "fascist" for having anything to do with something un-Soviet, its young men who were hunted in the woods and killed like game, its language, which stood side by side with a foreign one as an official language in the post-war republic, even before the tides of Soviet settlers began finding their way to Estonia in the late 1950s and 1960s.

That effort to restore the republic has come to a point over a memorial for Red Army soldiers, who chased the Nazi occupation army out, and then kept the spoils from their conquest -- a boggy nation with good harbors, nice beaches, arable land, and hardworking residents. To justify the imposition of foreign power on a country where the locals spoke their own language, had their own intellectual history, and had built their own system of government to protect their way of life, the warlords in Moscow knew that they had to silence those who would be strongest to resist their power -- the men of the Estonian nation.

Part of their effort to emasculate Estonian manhood has been to criminalize the accomplishments of their forefathers as being evil collaborators in the greatest crime of the 20th century -- the Nazi German war on Europe and its efforts to destroy populations it deemed unfit for its Third Reich -- Jews, Roma, intellectuals, homosexuals, and anyone that stood in the way of accomplishing that goal. Estonian men have had to live with the knowledge that their forefathers had taking rifles and uniforms from the Germans to fight alongside them to fend off the advancing communist Red Army.

The shame, handed down in big, rhetorical helpings from the Russian intelligentsia, is that Estonian men are nothing and they have nothing of which to be proud. Their leaders that did not enable the Nazi occupation, like Jaan Tõnisson (see photo), who was most likely shot by the Soviets BEFORE the Germans invaded in 1941, are still fascists because they are Estonian men. And by the way, the war of 1918 was also a victory for fascism, and the Estonian republic that existed until Päts became an effective dictator? Also fascist. Metsavennad that fought in the woods for their lives and families' lives? Fascists. Unable to divorce itself from the potent mix of Russian nationalism and communist ideology, Estonian nationalism becomes "fascist" under all circumstances.

You see, Estonian men, to Russia, should be grateful eunuchs, kneeling before the "Soldier Liberator" of Tallinn with his tough expression, flowing cape, and leather boots. Any attempt by Estonian manhood to assess their fathers' actions by themselves, without dictation by Moscow, is akin to "glamorization of Nazism" or "glorification of fascism." Russia is angered by the empowerment of Estonian manhood, after decades of conscription from the country and forcing Estonians to make it through a difficult training program in Russian with other Soviet nationalities.

They are deeply wounded because they know that the actions of their fathers and grandfathers in Europe were not altogether honorable. Nobody accepts their account of what happened in Tallinn in 1940, nobody still alive can corrobrate it, because their account is false. And so their heroes are also villains. Would that fact be enough to provoke overemotional tirades against Estonia, like those you have seen from Lavrov and Margelov? You bet.

Remember when Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet met with Sergei Lavrov in happier times, before France and The Netherlands rejected the European Constitution, and the 7-7 bombers attacked London? Just look at the body language. Here you have Russia - tall, proud, standing with assertiveness, standing beside Estonia, smaller, less confident, and still a bit scared shitless of Russia. The posturing in these photos tells a lot about how Estonian men feel about Russian men.

They don't entirely trust them. They remember what happened to their fathers. They recall how the Russians signed a mutual assistance pact with them, how they had normal relations, and then, with one order, they were rounded up like stray cats and euthanized by the Soviet state. And what's worse? Russia tells the Estonians that they were the criminals and that their actions were just. What's a guy named Juku to do?

In this scenario some Estonian men do choose to think favorably of the Eesti Leegi - the 20th Estnisch Waffen SS that fought alongside Hitler's troops on the Narva front.
Because in their world if the Red Army are heroes how can the SS be villains? How can men like them that thought they were trying to defend their country be the enemy? It's a crisis in Estonian masculinity that is boiling over to this day. And it comes down to this - you can't ignore who you are. You cannot change yourself. Estonian men are Estonian men, and their forefathers acted in what they saw was the national interest, just as Estonian leaders today attempt to act in the national interest.

This realization is a triumph for Estonian manhood, which was kept under the sole of a Soviet Red Army boot for decades. It's a coming out party if you will. Estonian men not be able to do those exotic Kossack dances after they blow up another village like the Red Army has been caricatured as doing, but they are proud of what their fathers and grandfathers accomplished and they are not willing to put it aside to please diplomats or to make Russia feel their own private crises less.

For those who are scratching their heads over Estonia's latest row with Russia, I would suggest to remember that Russians are not used to being told off by a bunch of roly-poly guys with names like Mart, Andrus, and Urmas. They liked the days when the words that came out of Arnold Rüütel's mouth were filled with praise for the accomplishments of the USSR and cute Estonian schoolchildren sang songs in Russian for Lenin, that Russian intellectual juggernaut. Remember this when tensions flare up. It is very heavy shit we are dealing with here.

8 kommentaari:

Kalju ütles ...

BTW, In April 13, 1950, a message from the U.S. High Commission in Germany (HICOG), signed by John McCloy to the Secretary of State, clarified the US position on the "Baltic Legions": they were not to be seen as "movements", "volunteer", or "SS". In short, they were not given the training, indoctrination, and induction normally given to SS members. Subsequently the US Displaced Persons Commission in September 1950 declared that:

The Baltic Waffen SS Units (Baltic Legions) are to be considered as separate and distinct in purpose, ideology, activities, and qualifications for membership from the German SS, and therefore the Commission holds them not to be a movement hostile to the Government of the United States.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

I have a confession to make. My grandfather served under Estonian Riflemen. thousands did.

oliver ütles ...

My grandfather served under Estonian Riflemen

Did he survive?
Two of my grandfather's cousins and 3 friends from his neighboring villages were "drafted" (his cousins in the middle of the night right out of their beds) to the Rifle Corps... originally it was called something else... don’t even know what.

2 of them died in the work battalion - never even made it to the front.
One of them changed sides the first chance he got and fought the returning Soviets in Southern Estonia in 1944. Deserted from the German Army and became the Forest Brother. Was killed a few years later.
Two returned in September 1944. The older cousin had a big Estonian flag under his bed (already an Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda) he brought out two times a year: 24th of February and on September 22 - then with a black ribbon to commemorate his brother.
I never met them personally. I don’t feel any kind of special connection with them (no more than every other victim of war and occupation) But every time I think of them, tears come to my eyes - none of them lived long enough to see Estonia free again. And at the same time Arnold Meri and other "liberators" walk around, violating the memories of the men from Estonian Rifle Corps. and other victims of Soviet terror regime.
It’s so sad and so unfair... so cruel.

Anonüümne ütles ...

I wonder if Putin is trying to over-compensate for something that Estonian men don't lack in the wife pleasing department:
http://en.rian.ru/photolents/20061215/56964720.html

kerho ukkonen ütles ...

It's refreshing to hear an American being so in tune what it is to be a small nation.

It has been a tough spot for the "lesser" nations to be somewhere between the two agressive super powers such as U.S.S.R. and Germany. It has also been so easy, for those whom haven't lived in those countries, to judge all that took place during those turbulent years by using black and white certainty. To survive in the storm created by the big guys, the little ones had to adapt in the world of hundreds of shades of grey.

Unfortunately, our common knowledge about our past has to pass through the filtration systems of the winners, the big guys. Fortunately, more independent sudies by less biased sources are starting to find their way to our consciousness. The essay such as this by Giustino is a good sign that the monopoly for the truth is breaking down.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

Excellent post, Giustino!

Anonüümne ütles ...

hello from poland! i found your post on Global Voices...as I said earlier:

you talk about symbols...here in warsaw, poland there stands the soviet-era palace of culture and science, a gift from stalin to the poles…some say it is still the tallest building in warsaw — though there are lots of new up-and-comers challenging (or surpassing) it…the poles i speak with struggle over whether to remove it or not…it occupies prime real-estate in the center of warsaw which is becoming a developer’s haven it seems…it has been refitted with movie theaters among other things and is quite beautiful inside — the struggle over symbols continues here as well…i think for the young generation it’s a kind of cool retro architecture without the historical residue…

Andres O ütles ...

Giustino, I just thought you'd like to know that since you originally posted "The War on Estonian Manhood," a link to your post has been forwarded to me no less than 4 times by members of the väliseestlane community, most recently by my mother. I guess it's struck a chord to see a perspective that so articulately expresses history and the current political situation. There was even speculation that you may really have been an ethnic Estonian using an alias:

Huvitav artikkel mida me ei oleks ootanud uhelt mitte-eestlaselt.
Ehk on tegemist siiski uhe eestlasega kes seda pseudonime tarvitab.


Of course, as a more regular reader of your blog I can state with certainty you're not using a pseudonym. I would say that the fact that you're not ethnically Estonian actually lends quite a bit of credence to your posts. Here's to hoping that even more in the world community take notice.