neljapäev, september 25, 2008

bad vibes

The other night I was convinced by my ailing wife to make a 4 am trek to the apteek on Tõnismägi to buy some over-the-counter medicine for the common cold.

As I made my way up past the Latvian embassy towards the national library, Tõnismägi park lurked in the immediate distance. I saw the dark trees and suddenly was overwhelmed by a feeling of badness.

It was here where the infamous soldier of bronze once stood, where all eyes were fixed for several days in late April 2007 when Tallinn reopened the gushing wound of its Soviet past. I have to say, I still don't feel comfortable there. I don't want to walk through that park. I did not especially care for walking through it in the past, trampling over the mortal remains of a dozen individuals.

Tõnismägi has bad vibes, and I am a bit surprised that Finnish "scholar" Johan Bäckman has decided to stick his nose in that business. Like some voodoo curse, after insulting just about everything that is sacred to Estonians by predicting the end of their state in his new book, Bäckman found himself the subject of a campaign to disrupt his academic career.

Finns and Estonians of some reputation sought to have the University of Helsinki discipline their reckless scholar Bäckman, equating his denial of Soviet occupation in Estonia with Holocaust denial. The university, though, supported Bäckman, arguing that academics are free to tango with the past, especially the Estonian past, in whatever ways they see fit.

In a way, I guess the university is right. Without the career path of academic vanity, fellows like Bäckman might pursue a less savory, unabomber-like way to contribute to society. Remember, universities are at their core institutions, are they not? Finnish scholars are supposed to recreate the world as they see fit, then publish books that garner wanton media attention in Estonia, right?

Though he is unlikely to be washing plates at a Helsinki cafe anytime soon, Bäckman, like Andrus Ansip and Dmitri Klenski, among others, has chosen to play with the most unpleasant of topics, and must now issue statements in English defending his reputation to cling to any sense of normalcy he may have once enjoyed.

He has fallen prey to the curse of the bronze soldier, where logic is turned upside down and poorly concocted, World War II-influenced metaphors rein supreme. Sadly, for Bäckman, there is no known cure.

24 kommentaari:

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

If there will be another international clash of world views over WWII and Estonia before the war I got the feeling Estonia is not prepared. Google it, there is almoust zero about Estonia what explains the coup de`etat of Päts in 1934. I see only pieces. A little Larka here, Sirk maybe, other fragments. There is nothing with depths and detail, often one !page in English, and that about a crucial period of the history of this country.
And postsoviet argumentaion will succeed again. Päts was a dictator, so what?
Are there books in German about that time available now? Not really, maybe not in French, not in Dutch, journalists will google and find nothing. It's easy to loose that way. "Päts was a dictator", bang.

plasma-jack ütles ...

Really nice move by Elhonen Saks to sign Masso's text. And it would be impossible for me to like Sofi Oksanen more than I already do. Thanks to the other ladies, as well (:

martintg ütles ...

I hear Johan Bäckman is intending to sue the authors of that letter to Helsinki University.

I recall David Irving also attempted to sue Deborah Lipstadt for claiming he was a Holocaust denier. We all know the outcome of that.

I sure hope Bäckman goes through with it.

Kristopher ütles ...

Living full-time in Tallinn? I thought you only had a little spookiness from Hiinalinn down in Tartu...

Kristopher ütles ...

Though considering how hard it is to get 24h medicine in one town once, it wouldn't be surprising if she made you drive to Tallinn. So disregard the comment...

Giustino ütles ...

We were staying at a friend's place.

stockholm slender ütles ...

It's vile, it's beyond vile. I wonder would the university be as understanding towards a Holocaust denier... Disgusting. But he has absolutely no sympathy here beyond the lunatic fringe and those on the Kremlin pay. Would not really lose my nightsleep over this sad wreck of an "academic".

Lurker ütles ...

I've send an email to the U of Helsinki informing them I no longer plan to attend a university sponsored conference next year.

Scratch one conference fee...

Rainer ütles ...

Actually, I'm even more dismaid by the statement of Hesinki University, according to which they have "nothing against Estonia being independent". It sounds more like "we aren't ALL THAT bothered by the fact". That's hubris of an institution living inside its academic cocoon.

Kristopher ütles ...

I just read on his webpage the part about the "Russian intifada". Hmm... I must say the number of polls gives the blog more of an Inno and Irja feel than anything else, maybe they can take a cue from him as well and switch to pink. Anyway, seems to be a weird axis of tabloid contrarianism-for-no-good-reason. I don't get it.

I don't know if the Kremlin is bankrolling him but like Putin, Bäckman must have suffered some perceived slight in his past from an Estonian. His views seem consistent with deep-seated personal problems.

JB ütles ...

Hang on- if he wasn't an academic he'd be the Unabomber?

What a weird comment....

Giustino ütles ...

Hang on- if he wasn't an academic he'd be the Unabomber?

Bäckman is extolling an extremely dark world view that romanticizes violence. There is no positive future for Estonians -- only a negative one brought on by their unworthiness as a nationality.

Remember, some Estonians were in Nazi execution squads and Soviet-era settlers in Estonia were not given citizenship automatically in 1992. That means that Estonia, as a nation, has sinned sinve birth and is unworthy of existence.

This is pure Stalinist BS, but that's the logic, those are the assumptions we are dealing with. And yes, I believe that if an individual subscribed to those kinds of thoughts and assumptions and did not find a way to channel them, like writing books, they might manifest themselves in more antisocial ways (ie. Unabomber).

A person must find an outlet for their energy, even if their energy is negative instead of positive. Though some wish to see Bäckman disgraced, it might be that the career path of "scandalous academic" is his lot in life. That was my point.

martintg ütles ...

In my view, it would have been better he had become a Unabomber rather than find an outlet in writing. Sure, he may have killed a few people, but atleast he would end up in jail or some mental institution. As a writer he could potentially do more damage if his writings find traction.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Did you happen to see these "Olen pedofiil. Aga sina?" campaign posters in Tallinn?

I love it. Estonians are syrrealists. Check it out: http://www.sloleht.ee/index.aspx?id=297639

Puu ütles ...

I think it all goes back to sex. I think that Backman yearns for the Soviet days when Estonia meant cheap beer and cheap woman, and Finns seemed like glamorous Westerners rather than the Mexicans of Sweden, while Estonians get rave reviews for being cute. You've seen his picture, he probably doesn't get a lot of love, this is all a freudian backhand at some Estonian girl that dissed him for a Dane or Italian. And that is juvenile. The unabomber was much the same.

Puu ütles ...

But at least there is no need to fear giant arachnids :
Giant spiders will not attack Estonia—official

Kristopher ütles ...

At the risk of being run out of town on a rail, Ted the Unabomber, for all his asocial behaviour and evil actions, had some pretty coherent ideas.

Bäckman is more likely to be a Bruce Ivins.

Sven ütles ...

campaign posters

LOL.

And to Puu: It's like Georgia. The smart ones, even John McCain, realize that it's all about the oil and gas. But the really wise ones know that where there's a pipeline, there are people who want to do things to it that would be unspeakable in polite company.

Georgia, too, was all about sex, and so was the Bronze Soldier. Why else was that tent erected up there on Tõnismägi? Who had carnal knowledge of Alyosha there?

These are the questions we should be asking ourselves.

JB ütles ...

giustinio- I'm glad you're not my analyst, then.

I think his views on the future of Estonia are absolute rubbish and although I haven't read his current thesis that the Soviet occupation was "a myth" (I'm well aware that it wasn't), but he has the right to argue such views without being compared to the Unabomber. If they can easily be taken apart then do so (as David Irving was famously shredded in the Irving vs. Lisptadt libel trail a few years back, which was far more effective than witless boycott petitions or hand wringing in "opinion" columns, in closing down the UK's leading holocaust denier.)

Normally I like your blog but this piece (and the hysterical name-checking of him in the papers) give him exactly what he is after- notoriety. Without this, he'd just be another obscure rotund guy with bad facial hair in an ill fitting suit, whose books no one read, and who no one had heard of. This hysteria plays into his hands and he's counting on the Estonian media delivering. Looks like they haven't disappointed (again).

Sven ütles ...

Jüri Lina could take Bäckman in an arm-wrestling match.

stockholm slender ütles ...

I have no idea what makes this person tick. In fact I couldn't care less - we will always have cranks and crazed persons among us: to be brutally honest, they are not that interesting. But the thing that makes me flabbergasted is - and I was really not even aware of it in my innocence, though I did know his name - is that he actually is employed by the Helsinki University. This and only this makes the whole thing totally bizarre. Otherwise he would not have a shred a credibility (and he doesn't that much even now), but now the University is lending its quite good name in his benefit. And we are talking about Holocaust denying levels of imbecillity here. Crazy.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Backman interview. Fast forward to 26:00.

http://etv.err.ee/arhiiv.php?id=85376

martintg ütles ...

Stockholm slender makes a good point. While Helsinki University doesn't necessarily endorse his views and maintains his right to free-speech, Johan Bäckman is clearly exploiting his association with Helsinki University to get extra credibility in order promote his book.

Giustino ütles ...

he has the right to argue such views without being compared to the Unabomber.

I did not compare him to the unabomber. I said that he may actually be where he deserves to be.

Normally I like your blog but this piece (and the hysterical name-checking of him in the papers) give him exactly what he is after- notoriety.

My main point is that this issue will eventually destroy the reputations of those who get too involved. That goes for both politicians and Finnish academics.

The reason is that it is one of those issues where there is no clear right answer and it feeds extremist hysteria and general public ill will on all sides. It reminds me of the Terri Schiavo case in the US.

During that controversy, Senator Bill Frist and House Majority Leader Tom Delay tried to milk it for all it was politically worth. Sen. Obama did something else in the meantime.

Today, Sen. Obama is on the verge of being elected president, and Frist and Delay are no longer in politics.

While it is not solely due to the Schiavo case, that issue was so messy that people generally didn't want to be reminded of it later on. They didn't want to think of Frist and his armchair diagnosis of Mrs. Schiavo or Tom Delay's subpoena of Schiavo in Congress. They washed their hands of that duo.