Those familiar with Estonian history will know that on Sept. 18, Jüri Uluots, the acting president according to the Estonian constitution, appointed a government in the wake of the German retreat, headed by Otto Tief.
Uluots and Tief were a full generation younger than the men deposed by the Soviets, like Konstantin Päts and Jaan Tõnisson. They were also much younger than those who managed to find success in the war. Finnish Commander-in-Chief Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, for example, was 77 years old in 1944. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was 70.
Uluots and Tief were aged 55 and 56 respectively. They both had helped to form a korporatsioon called Rotalia as students in St. Petersburg in 1913. Tief fought as a soldier in the Estonian Independence War, and after Estonia attained independence they both held mid-level roles in government, business, and academia. Uluots became prime minister only in 1939.
It's important to note what happened to the 1940 government that was deposed in the coup. It might give you a sense of why Uluots preferred to work underground during the Nazi occupation, rather than openly oppose it. There were ten ministers, including Uluots in the government formed in 1939. By 1943, only two were alive -- Uluots and Education Minister Paul Kogerman, although Kogerman was still in the gulag. All the others were either executed or had died in prison camps.
So, to make an apt comparison, the situation in 1944 would have been as if Toomas Hendrik Ilves had been deported, and Mart Laar, Jaak Aaviksoo, Rein Lang, and even the rest of the boys had met grisly ends in Soviet prison courtyards or camps. In their place would be gentlemen like Ivari Padar and Urmas Paet and Juhan Parts to hold everything together. Yet having spent a lifetime as guys like Tõnisson and Päts and others duked it out, how successful would they be?
The answer is not very successful. Their government was again overthrown when the Soviet's entered Tallinn on Sept. 22, 1944. 63 years ago today. They then tore down the blue black and white flag from Pikk Hermann, and Tief's exercise in the futility of democracy when up against totalitarianism was complete.
Yet the Tief government makes a swell historical dagger these days, doesn't it? And when historians like Mart Laar and Tõnis Luukas are making the people's decisions, the historical daggers will be kept sharpened on the nearest book case.
Otto Tief's government speaks to one thing: a belief in the process, even in times of great pressure. A belief that the constitution matters and should be followed. A belief that order will always rebuild itself out of chaos. These are great human ideas, not just Estonian ones.
So next time you drink to Julius Kuperjanov and Kristiina Šmigun and Gerd Kanter, remember to raise a pint for Otto Tief. History screwed him for the rest of his life. But for the rest of our lives, he will be redeemed.