Discussion in Western media of the controversy in Tallinn often boils down the Estonian experience into words like "mass deportation", "repression", and, of course, "occupation." News oulets like Reuters have been softening their take recently, describing the Estonian experience as "what they see as an occupation." But what does this all mean, and why did it take the Estonian state 16 years to lay a wreath at a memorial for long dead men?
Most readers here know of the pact that Hitler and Stalin signed in 1939 that lay the foundation for the war that broke out later. What essentially happened is that two former empires decided to scrap the results of the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles and conspired to reconstitute their former empires. Estonia fell into the Soviet sphere, and after about nine months of a mutual assistance pact, where the USSR agreed not to interefere in internal Estonian political affairs, a coup was organized in June 1940, and a pro-communist government was dictated by Moscow that petitioned for membership and was accepted into the USSR.
The Estonian state, meanwhile, was liquidated, and by liquidated I mean imprisoned or murdered, between the date of occupation in 1940 and the winter of 1942.
Among the first to go was President Konstantin Päts (pictured). He was arrested on July 30, 1940, by the NKVD and deported to Russia. He lived out the last days of his life in a psychiatric hospital in Kalinin, where he died in 1956. In 1990, his remains were reburied in Estonia.
Otto Strandmann, a former prime minister and head of state, (pictured at right), decided to take his life rather than surrender to the NKVD Soviet Secret Police. He committed suicide on Feb. 2, 1941, when the NKVD came to arrest him. He is buried in Tallinn.
Aado Birk, a former prime minister, was arrested in June 1941, and sent to Sosva prison camp where he was sentenced to death, but died before his execution on Feb. 2, 1942. This was an immense price to pay considering he had only served as an interim prime minister for two days in 1920.
Former prime minister and head of state Ants Piip was arrested by the NKVD in June 1941, and sent to a prison camp in Perm, where he died in October 1942. He was 58 years old.
Juhan Kukk, another former head of state, was arrested by the NKVD in 1940. He died in a prison camp in Russia in December 1945.
Karl Akel, left, was not so lucky to find himself in a prison camp. Akel had served as Estonian head of state for nine months in 1924. For this crime he was arrested in October 1940, and shot by the NKVD on July 3, 1941.
Jüri Jaakson, who served as head of state in 1924 and 1925, was similarly arrested, sent to Russia, was tried and executed on April 20, 1942 in Sosva.
Some Estonian political leaders slipped through the cracks though because no one knows whether they were shot, or if they merely died of disease or hunger in a Soviet prison camp.
One such man is Jaan Teemant, who served as head of state in 1925-1927 and again in 1932. For his crimes, he was imprisoned in July 1940. Nobody knows what became of him after he was arrested by the NKVD.
Another man for whom no ending is known is Jaan Tõnisson. Tõnisson played a central role in the founding of the Estonian state and served as prime minister and head of state on several occasions. He was arrested by the NKVD in December 1940. After which no comprehensive data is available, although some say he was shot in Tallinn in July 1941.
Finally, Kaarel Eenpalu, who served as head of state in 1935, was arrested and deported to Vjatka prison camp in Russia, where he died on January 28, 1942.
That is because August Rei, right, who served as head of state in 1928 and 1929, escaped to Sweden before he could be shot or sent to die in a prison camp.
Rei was appointed prime minister in duties of president by the last legal respresentative of the Estonian state, Jüru Uluots, in January 1945 in Sweden. Rei lived a long life, and remained in his position until his death in 1963 at the age of 75. In 2006, his remains were reburied in Tallinn.
Because of August Rei, the Estonian state did not die in 1940 or 1941 or 1945. Estonian independence that was restored in 1991 was not the foundation of a new country, but the restoration of an old one. Gold that the Estonian government had deposited in a safe place in 1939 was transferred back to the Estonian state after 1991 upon which it based its restored currency, the kroon.
The purpose of this history lesson is not to sour the memories of the soldiers of the Red Army that defeated Germany 62 years ago this day. It's to explain to those that are willing to read, why exactly the Estonian state was not content to allow a memorial to the army that supported these actions in Estonia stand beside its national library and the church where it buries its leaders.
Furthermore, it's to underscore the humanity and restraint the state has taken in dealing with its past. Ansip, Aaviksoo, and Palo no doubt have relatives that shared the fates of Jaakson, Tõnisson, and Akel. But that terrible past is no longer an obstacle for the state as it observes what are essentially international holidays. Therefore, the laying of the flowers yesterday at the military cemetery in Tallinn at the foot of the Bronze Soldier was more than a PR stunt for the purposes of reconciliation. It was a moment of coming to terms with history.