pühapäev, veebruar 25, 2007

Eesti Vabaks

On Saturday, I enjoyed my first real Estonian Independence Day. I have been here twice before for Feb. 24, but this time it was the real deal. Although it was so cold that the military parade in Tallinn was cancelled, the flag raising ceremony at Tähe Torn in Tartu went on.

And it was cold, so cold my legs were numb and my face hurt when I tried to adjust my grimmace to a smile. Eventually, after the ceremony, I had to go take refuge in a kohvik near raekoja plats just so my nose wouldn't fall off. But there we were, old ladies, little kids, and lots of students, celebrating the 89th anniversary of the founding of the Estonian republic.

I know as well as you do that there was a 50-year-long interlude, but the way it felt all day, you wouldn't have known it happened. Instead, the young people of Estonia wore their society hats and unfurled their Estonian flags, and the feeling created was forward-thinking and good. This is something of which to be proud. 1918 was indeed a long time ago. To put it in context, when Estonian independence was proclaimed, my 88-year-old grandmother wasn't even conceived. My grandfather, who would be 91 this year, was just starting to put his sentences together. And here we are, writing in our blogs, nearly a century later in Eesti Vabariik. Impressive.

In the evening I watched Toomas Hendrik Ilves' first big speech. I remember Arnold Rüütel's speeches, and I have to say that Ilves' was slightly more coherent, even though I understood about 20 percent of what he said. The parts that stuck out to me concerned some fairly controversial issues of the day. I like that he referenced Estonia's kindred Finno-Ugric peoples, like the Inkari Finns, Veps, Votes, and Karelians, whose fate might have been shared by Estonia if it wasn't for the foundation of the republic.

But most of all, I was happy to see Ilves take on the monument controversy, by pointing out that the Soviets had been more than happy to dismantle the monuments Estonians had raised to the victory of 1918. Instead of doing as the Soviets did and dismantling the Red Army memorial in Tallinn, I think Ilves challenged us to let it remain, but to think about it in a historical perspective. My opinion on this matter has changed back and forth, which is why I should never be in politics and will stay in media world. But today, I'd have to say that I agree. Which is to say that it is perhaps more important to confront the sufferings of the past and to digest them and learn from them, then to try and erase all memory of a painful national experience.

After browsing YouTube looking for nifty footage of Estonian past events, I found that someone had posted footage of the Estonian 20th Waffen SS in action and another world battle had erupted between the grandchildren of Legionnaires and the grandchildren of Red Armymen. It was pathetic to see teenagers fight back and forth over who was worse, Hitler or Stalin.

I wish I could tell both the Estonian and Russian nationalist groups something.

For the Russian nationalists, I would have to explain that, while World War II started for Russia in 1941 when the "German invaders" attacked the USSR, for Estonia it started in 1940, when the Soviet army occupied Estonia. While World War II ended for Russia in 1945, on that very special day in May, for Estonia, it didn't really end until Stalin died in 1953. From what I read, that was a day that signalled the end of the Red Terror in Estonia. Within a few years, those deported in 1948 started coming home, and people began to put their lives back together again.

They should know that Estonia is unique. The Estonian people are unique. Estonian history is unique. The Russian nationalists must understand that Estonia is and was a state, just as its sister Ireland is, just as Iceland is, just as Finland is. I am not sure if they'll ever listen, but for their own sake, they should.

For the Estonian rightwing nationalists, I'd have to say this: Look around on Independence Day. Estonia is a success. The 18-year-olds of today feel it just as much as those born in 1900 did. There's no need to proclaim new national holidays or to legislate heroism or to tear down old war monuments. Estonia knows who its heroes are, and it already has the perfect day to celebrate them: Feb. 24.

That's what the restoration of independence was about, it was about taking the hidden flags out of the attic, and singing the national anthem in public, and putting together again that which was so cruelly destroyed. Looking around on Saturday, it felt like the business of restoring the republic was finished some time ago.

10 kommentaari:

kerho ukkonen ütles ...

This is such a strong essay in every witch way! Funny, that you disqualified yourself as a politician because you tend to change your mind. In the nutshell, the "stay the course" attitude is one of the worst traits that politicians have. I refrain giving any examples. What a good politician should do is to raise relevant questions and get the democratic debating going and not pretend having allways the only and right answers. Watch for and worry about those who "have" the answers to everything!

Anonüümne ütles ...

I'm all for retaining the bronze statue, however the massive limestone flanks ought to be dismantled, they are too visually imposing to the point of being oppressive. Perhaps stone could be reused to build a monument to the Estonian founding fathers executed in 1940/41, located nearer to the State library behind the statue?

Anonüümne ütles ...

Ofcourse this is my personal view I wrote above. If such a memorial to the founding fathers was located, say 30 metres, behind the bronze soldier (without the limestone walls) in the eyeline of those laying wreaths at the bronze soldier, those laying such wreaths could also reflect on the heavy price independant, neutral and relatively liberal Estonia paid for Europe to be liberated from Nazism.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Keynes: "When facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

margus ütles ...

Speaking about Independence day and choosing our path makes me think about the pre-elections that are happening now. What do you (or readers) think about our 'new brave' via-the-internet-elections that are making a little fuss abroad. Do you think this could happen in, say, US?

space_maze ütles ...

The only concerns I have are security issues. If the elections are *safe* like this, it'd be great - it would make democracy the Swiss style possible all over the planet. People will be way more willing to take part in refferendums when they can do it at home, and don't need to run in to some building.

(If democracy the Swiss style is actually a good idea, that is. Though it makes Switzerland the most "democratic" nation in the planet, as any governmential decision gets its own vote, it also has lead to such interesting things like Swiss women only getting their suffrage in the late 70s)

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

My wish for the future is that the id card in Estonia will play a key role within the political proccess like the Tom project, where citizens can distribute to it. The democracy based on political parties only can't be the final solution. One party stands for all problems to be solved? That will not work anymore, it's frustrating. Parties should be more open and the whole decision making, transparency, etc..

giustino ütles ...

Speaking about Independence day and choosing our path makes me think about the pre-elections that are happening now. What do you (or readers) think about our 'new brave' via-the-internet-elections that are making a little fuss abroad. Do you think this could happen in, say, US?

Because Estonia is a small, IT-rich country like Iceland and other northern European countries, it has the possibilities to enact a system like this.

But the US is just not prepared in anyway to handle something like this. We are, on paper, the richest country in the world. But much of the US is rural and barely scraping by. Most of our cities similarly suffer from unwisely allocated resources. Look at our response to Katrina. I have limited faith in the federal government to do anything at the moment.

Trulla ütles ...

I don't think fierce Russian nationalists will ever listen to the voice of reason. Just today I got a declaration (so-to-say) in a form of a comment under my everydayactivities blog in delfi.

http://blog.delfi.ee/node/10642#comment-292583

The comment was bitterly angry and full of hatred. I don't think many people here can read the Russian alphabet in which it was written and I am not even sure myself whether I got every word right, but roughly translated it was adressed to idiotic Estonian bastards who would be slaves to Germans if not for the heroic Russian soldier. And that Russians took care of the damned ungrateful Estonians and never made them into swineherds or janitors as Germans definitely would have done. That if there weren't the Russian soldiers, the Estonian nation would not be here at all. And although the Estonians are hiding behind the back of our beloved USA right now, the time of vengeance will come in about 50 years when the US will disappear from the face of the Earth and then all the bastardly Estonians will be drowned in the sea as blind kittens by vengeful Russians for disturbing the peace of the heroic soldiers. :)

I really don't think that people with such views will stop their hatred anytime soon. And it's kind of sad to see some people still so much clinging to the idea of the supremacy of Russians over every other nation in this world.

Giustino ütles ...

The comment was bitterly angry and full of hatred.

You just have to keep responding logically. Remember that these guys are poseurs on Internet forums.

The Soviet occupation of Estonia was a MISTAKE that Gorbachev corrected 50 years later.

Soviet troops in Estonia served no purpose, other than keeping Estonia down. They wasted precious resources on making sure people from Pärnumaa didn't escape via Saaremaa. What a joke!

If you don't believe me, then why did it take only three years to pull all troops out, yet Russia's still got its boys in Georgia?