"Why are they having the Independence Day parade in Narva?" asked a friend. "Are they just trying to get up in Russia's face?"
"No, I think it's more of a territorial thing," I said. "You know how the dog makes sure to pee on the bush on the corner of his owner's property? Well, the parade in Narva is sort of similar."
I watched the hosts on ETV ask the same question. "Why are they having it in Narva?" asked one. "Why not?" responded the other. Besides, Narva is kind of an out-of-the-way place in Estonia. Few Estonians I know ever go there and, if they do, it's to see the castle, the border, and to turn around and go home. You can understand why people ask these questions.
A lot of Estonians are also country folk. They are scared of big cities, where they assume drug dealers and prostitutes lurk on every corner. "Don't go to Tallinn!" my niece once warned. 'There are a lot of baddies there!" Having the parade in this piirilinn therefore makes Narva safe for the people watching at home. I mean, if Estonia's leaders don't mind to parade around in the snow in Narva, then it can't be half bad.
Kindralleitnant Ants Laaneots's speech was chock full of symbolism. What's interesting is that Laaneots spent a lot of time in Russia, and mu naine detected a slight accent when he spoke. President Ilves too has a slight accent, though it is getting better all the time. I think the time spent in Mulgimaa is paying off. So, if you ever think that Estonia is a stodgy, homogenous place, just remember that its president and its highest-ranking military commander have accents from all the time they spent abroad.
But back to Laaneots' speech. Some major points: 1) lots of nationalities fought in the War of Independence on the Estonian side, including Russians, Finns, British, Germans, Swedes, Latvians, Ingrians, and Danes; 2) one of them was Tallinn-born Lieutenant General Nikolai Bazõkov (who later changed his family name to Reek and was executed by the Soviets in 1942); 3) NATO has a plan to defend Estonia; 4) the NATO mission in Afghanistan is important; 5) the Estonian army today is as diverse as it was in 1918 and it's great.
Still, why Narva? As Laaneots pointed out, there have been a lot of battles here, stretching back to the Livonian War of the 16th century. But I think there is another reason. Following the war in Georgia, the Estonian foreign policy elite has had to fend off anxious warnings from lazy analysts who conclude that, after South Ossetia, Narva must be next. By holding a military parade in Narva, Estonia shows these lazy analysts that it is capable of holding an independence day parade in its eastern-most city without any problems.
That's just one hypothesis. Another is that the government increasingly likes to get out of Tallinn. They are hungry for a change of scenery. Last year's parade was held in Pärnu. This year's independence day gala will be held in Jõhvi of all places. Maybe next year, they'll have it some place really boring, like Viljandi. You never know.