pühapäev, jaanuar 31, 2010

vaene vaino

Even though I live in a post-socialist country with ruins of the state-command economy to be found just around nearly every corner, I have a hard time digesting just what this Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic entity was and, in general, what Communism meant.

The perversions of Stalinism terrify the soul, but they are still abstract. Even if one is to meet old survivors of the deportations and the GULAG system, they are still old and crooked, shadows of the youthful faces in black and white photos they hold out with wrinkled hands and say, "This is me. This is what they did to me."

The cultural divide between my partner and me is wide in some respects because of this, but can still be bridged. She remembers the one, two, three succession of Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko; my geopolitical memory fades in at the moment that Gorbachev takes over. My first-hand knowledge of the Cold War is of its end game. Still, a recent documentary opened my eyes to the reality that, even in the 1980s, there may have been seven time zones between the New York metropolitan area and Eesti NSV, but there were some things young people shared, namely Dallas and Knight Rider.

Disko ja Tuumasõda (Disco and Atomic War) is a film by Jaak Kilmi and Kiur Aarma that investigates the role that Finnish TV played in encouraging pro-Western attitudes, or even Western identity, among Estonians beginning from the 1950s until the late 1980s. The narrated film relies on a combination of reenacted scenes, old photographs and news reels, interviews, and, of course, great clips of JR Ewing getting shot and Michael Knight talking to his car KITT -- a jetlagged (or inebriated) David Hasselhoff even shows up for a special appearance in Helsinki!

"Have you ever seen Dallas?" she asks.

"Have I ever seen Dallas?!" I respond.

The basic answer to the question is yes, I have seen Dallas. The longer answer is that the program is tattooed on my mind, that I know the theme song by heart, I can even see the aerial images of Texas circa 1980 that were used in the opening credits. To this day, I use the intrigues of the Ewing family as a moral compass for life. You don't want to be like JR, right, you want to be like Bobby.

"Yes," I finally tell her. "We watched Dallas."

The odd angle of this story is that, in the old days, Estonians weren't supposed to be watching Finnish TV. Moscow put pressure on both the Finns and the Eesti NSV leadership to put an end to the Nordic capitalist contamination of pure communist minds south of the Gulf of Finland. And the poor guy who was ordered to put a stop to Estonians watching Dallas was Karl Vaino, first secretary of the communist party of Estonia from 1978 to 1988.

Even in old news clips, Karl Vaino comes across as a hapless bureaucrat that would love to comply with Moscow's orders if only they were possible. Stop Estonians from watching Finnish TV!, the geriatric hardliners in the Kremlin bark. Vaino, a yes man, tells them that, yes, he will. The only problem is how. Among the more creative scenarios dreamt up include building some kind of metal divider in the gulf to block the signals coming from Espoo. Such proposals are earnestly discussed by the party leadership, but later abandoned when it turns out that they make absolutely no sense!

And here is where a new understanding of the Soviet system comes into focus: local bureaucrats with no domestic legitimacy being ordered by central authorities with no domestic legitimacy to carry out orders that border on the absurd. And they say yes, of course they do, even if it's impossible, the Karl Vainos of the Soviet Union said yes, cracked down on smouldering dissent, and then continued to ignore the social issues at hand, right up until the whole rotten tenement of a state came crumbling down.

In the end, the only one who sees through Vaino is Gorby himself who arrives in 1986 to be briefed by Vaino and then to go out and tell the media at the airport with the aura of a movie star that the loyal local bureaucrat must be doing a bad job because he says everything in Estonia is ok and it's so obviously not. In the end, Vaino is replaced by Vaino Väljas and he retires to Moscow (where he still, at nearly 87 years of age, lives). He gives one filmed interview to German media where he is asked what precipitated the restoration of the Estonian state. Vaino's answer? Finnish television.

35 kommentaari:

tartuense ütles ...

Disko ja tuumasõda is a very funny film. The boy talking to his car silently, longingly hoping for it to reply and flash red lights beneath the hood. The film shows that whatever some government wants to put into your head, common sense ultimately prevails and waters find their level in the end. Even if it takes 50 years.
Looking back at those years in the 80's, it even seems as if people were too timid to rise up sooner and more forcefully. But then one has to remember the times, when people were killed and disappeared for even small things. Remember Hungary 56, Prague 68, etc. And then you see that actually people were indeed taking risks. With hindsight, as a foreigner one can theoreticize that as the USSR was falling, Estonia would recover its independence eventually when the whole unsustainable system fell down, but still. Estonia took a right course and is now doing better. Sure, suffering, but still better than many other post-soviet states. The doc film also shows that Estonians didn't believe much of the official propaganda, and still preserved the old common sense, what they love to call the 'talupoja mõistus' (roughly translated as farmer's common sense). It serves them well most of the time. It might make some people sceptical, even old-fashioned. On the other hand, Estonians are curious, and adopt good foreign things when and if they like them. What also transpires from the film is that Estonians also had a love back in the commie days for technology. It continues today in all sorts of techie things and love of gadgets or cars. Perhaps tech does help living here in the Põhja nabas. At the same time, many ancient traditions hold truth, and I definitely use my thick 'bulletproof' woollen folkloric jumper and hats and woolen gloves underneath outer ones here when the temperature goes below zero. It does help. You could probably call that folk tech, or ancient high tech. Natural fibers for human clothing are much healthier and wholesome to wear. I even like verivorstid, which are tasty. Haggis is nice, but verivorst is 'gamier'. Moose and wild-boar sausages are also yumm, though I'm not in favour of hunting or logging.

tartuense ütles ...

Yep, I think a good business opportunity would be to open up wild boar and moose (he, he, meese, not!!) farms. Then get a denominación de origen (like Champagne or Cognac or Parma or Tequila or Parmesan products) and sell cured boar ham and export it.

A.R.G ütles ...

Back then Western music was popular around USSR. Beatles, ABBA, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, etc., were huge. But its not like you could enter music shop and buy Pink Floyd records that you want, no it was complicated. You had to know the guy who knows other guy, or some sailer will sell it to you for big money, or foreign students, etc. Finding those records were half the fun. I know! My uncle was crazy about Beatles, he had every beatles record, posters, etc.
You see, an idea for you to talk about with Estonians :)

Rainer ütles ...

You guys know that Disko ja Tuumasõda is a mockumentary in nature? Or do you actually buy into the claim that South-Estonians flocked to the capital to see Emanuelle the erotic movie and the whole nation started procreating wildly afterwards?

Giustino ütles ...

Some parts are a little exaggerated. One of the old Finnish TV clips, though, is world famous.

Kaspar ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Kaspar ütles ...

Anyone who understands russian a bit, should have a laugh:

http://img682.imageshack.us
/img682/2158
/2censoredbands.jpg

McMad ütles ...

I remember how we were told at school how everything on Finnish television was propaganda, specially made for Estonian viewers. That those commercials that showed bananas for 2.99 per kilo in the middle of winter at some Finnish supermarket were a complete lie, in fact Finnish people were hungry..
The teacher who had to tell us all this had a very peculiar look at her face.

McMad ütles ...

to Rainer.
I remember how our living room was full with friends and neighbours when Emmanuelle was on. We had a rather good color TV. Im sure they were shagging like rabbits later.

Brüno ütles ...

All this crazyness seems like it was yesterday. Maybe if I lived all this time in Estonia, it might seem like long time ago, but now it seems like it was yesterday. The only difference between now and thes is that Lada v. foreign cars ratio has reversed and nobody bothers to collect empty Lapin Kulta beer cans anymore. And that all that music we used to love, sounds kinda dated. With the exception of The Dark Side of the Moon, perhaps.

Rainer ütles ...

McMad,
I don't deny the fact that Emanueele was something of a socio-cultural fenomenon, I remember very well it being discussed afterwards (besides, it had several sequels), but I can't for the life of me agree that it caused a sexual revolution and a birth spike in Estonia. That, I believe, was what is called an artistic exaggeration - one of many - in Disko ja Tuumasõda.

By the way, where the hell did you go to school?! I was told no such rubbish.

plasma-jack ütles ...

What also transpires from the film is that Estonians also had a love back in the commie days for technology.

It shows that we're no hobbits, we're bloody dwarves. Dammit, I never liked dwarves.

Pilland ütles ...

I arrived here just surfing. I invite You to see one of my blogs ("Riigipiirid"). You will discover how much an Italian loves Estonia...
Best wishes from Mantova, Italy.

Lingüista ütles ...

A.R.G, my wife, who is Russian-Ukrainian, has very similar memories from growing up from late Brezhnev times to Gorbachev: students listening to foreign music (her favorite was Pink Floyd; if you couldn't get a record, at least you could still know someone who owned one and would let you listen, sometimes many people together) which they could get from someone who knew someone, or from foreign students (my wife remembers an African student who she invited once to visit her and her parents; he was so happy to see how Russians like to угостить their guests that she got a record from him!...)

It's interesting to see how people are in some senses everywhere the same, be it Russia, Brazil, Estonia, or America.

Giustino, isn't the dynamic of "the central power orders with little knowledge of local situations and local bureaucrats say 'yes sir' while not really doing anything" simply typical of all autocratic/authoritarian regimes? I'd expect there to be similar cases during the Tsarist empire, or in other autocratic countries...

By the way, did you notice how Karl Vaino's name is presented in that old Soviet poster -- Karl Genrihi p. (= poeg) Vaino? It seems names were sometimes (often? always?) made to conform to the Russian pattern of name-patronymic-surname (the Russian Version has "Karl Genrikhovich Vaino"). I've noticed that in old Soviet textbooks of Estonian: my "Учебник эстонского языка" has a phone conversation between a sick man and a doctor in one of the first lessons; the sick man identifies himself as "Tõnu Antoni poeg". Was this some sort of official policy? Or is it only because Soviet forms in Russian had a place for patronymics, so people felt compelled to invent one?

Andres ütles ...

It's a custom in Russian. Vladimir Putin is called Vladimir Vladimirovich or something etc. Also students in Russian schools have to address their teachers like that etc. It's kind of a polite way to say someone's name (like Mr Putin or something maybe). Also all documents had the field "Father's name" at Soviet times. So it's probably something to do with Russian being the dominant language in the USSR.

Timbu ütles ...

Isn't that an old Viking tradition? The Svenssons and Petersons now have family names, but the Icelanders don't - and maybe the ancient Russians didn't.

viimneliivlane ütles ...

All of the above are right. But the question still out there is, didn´t Finnish TV also reach near-Russia, and why don´t we know more about people in Russia watching Dallas and the effect it had on them.

For me, the explanation is that in Estonia people had a certain predisposition toward the West owing to the fact that they had felt violently cut off from it after WWII. If not in public, then at least in the privacy of their own home Finnish TV was reconnecting them. Stalinist terrorism had proven effective yet there was no house-by-house search for people who watched Finnish TV so how serious a problem did the local political machine rank it?

Paying lip service to Moscow - how can anyone think that something else was going on, sort of a secret everyone shared - Mati Unt once asked ´What´s this talk about dissidents? Don´t people in the West know that everyone in Estonia is a dissident?´

While the occupation bred wishful thinking seems to me the time for action is now, as it has been for the past two decades. It would really be great to see moose and wild-boar sausages on the market, along with that newspaper aimed at the entire Baltic Sea basin...

Lingüista ütles ...

'Everybody in Estonia a dissident'? But I was under the impression that there were at least a few hard-core Estonian Communists, like Viktor Kingisepp and Arnold Meri, weren't there? I mean, was everything imported from Russia?

Doris ütles ...

Linguista, there are 2 answers to your qustion. 1) yes. 2) Have you read Umberto Eco's "The Mystical Flame of Queen Loana"? it's set in fascist Italy and there's this one scene where the main character, a schoolboy then, learns how to write essays according to the "approved curriculum". There's also a whole storyline on how people tried to gather information on how the war was really going by listening to foreign radio or noting down omissions from newspapers. Because obviously, all newspapers reported that all the battles are won. But if one day a newspaper reports that a regiment is approaching this-and-this city expecting an imminent vicotory and a week later that same regiment is reported (with half the previous numbers) to be approaching another city, a little bit further in from the supposed front line...

Or, like I heard someone express it: the soviet society was in and of itself scitzophrenic. No one ever believed what was said and no one ever meant what they said. At least, in Estonia.

McMad ütles ...

Rainer,
It was the 32 keskkool and if i remember correctly, the hapless teacher who had to tell us that nonsense normally gave Estonian language and literature. Year was probably 1980.

Brüno ütles ...

Linguista - Damn! You are married to a Russian woman and do not know this? How do you get into good graces with your inlaws? Do you just address them by their first names? To a Russian ear this sounds vulgar and ill-mannered.

Have you read any of the Russian literature? Tolstoy, anbybody?

You know better than that, I am sure.

Russians thought that it might be a good idea to enforce this culture to their colonies, Linguista Linguistovich Linguista.

Rainer ütles ...

I see, McMad.
I went to secondary school in Keila, and although it was anything but child-friendly environment (one of those so-called "mammoth schools", with over a thousand pupils), the atmosphere was fairly liberal and lax there. The teachers didn't walk around with ideological sticks up their asses, even if there were some assholes among them. Watching Finnish television was a non-issue, as was celebrating Christmas.

Brüno ütles ...

Rainer, you are from Gayla? Me too.

Rainer ütles ...

I knew there was something wrong with you.

Lingüista ütles ...

Bruno -- of course I know this Russian habit of using name+patronymic. What I was curious about is the fact that, as far as I know, this is not an Estonian habit. Did people in Soviet times also have to adopt patronymics (father's first name as part of your name) in Estonia? That's not Finno-Ugric, as far as I know.

notsu ütles ...

Even if the Finnish TV did reach near-Russia, the language barrier would have been much higher there.

Mette ütles ...

Regarding near-Russia and Dallas. I remember being told back in mid-eighties that some entrepreneurial people from St. Petersburg (Leningrad back then), in the true spirit of what is so wittily described by Mikhail Veller in his Legends of Nevsky Prospect, which I urge you to read if you want to learn more about Soviet era absurdities - brief description here: http://www.gs-agency.com/book_show_en.php?id=60, taped Dallas each Friday night (it aired 10.20pm in Finland, which was 11.20pm in Tallinn - remember, Moscow time?) and then transported it swiftly to St. Petersburg, where it was screened at private gatherings (for selected people, who had to pay admission fee) on Saturday and Sunday nights. Week by week, episode by episode. Allegedly someone made a fortune doing that. :)

Although Disco and Atomic War has been done tongue-in-cheek and it has some artistic exaggeration, there is lot of truth in it.
I remember growing up watching Charlie's Angels at night in seventies (the program aired late, so we were often not allowed to watch it as it was past our sleep time), Love Boat, British Sapphire and Steel, old Shirley Temple and Tarzan movies in Sunday afternoons, Little House in the Prairie and so on. More and more series in the eighties.

Finnish TV was just a normal part of our lives in Tallinn, no one ever gave us the propaganda talk and my father-in-law claims that when purchasing a new TV set, one was often asked at the store whether they wish to have "Soome TV-plokk" installed right away. I personally recall we had the TV-repair guy who handled it. Just a remark: There were no yellow pages, one just had in the notebook the numbers for necessary people like a taxi driver, a plumber, a furniture re-upholstery guy - what are they called in English, over here the ones handling your chairs are called the saddlers I think..., a florist, a TV repairman, photographer, washing machine, car etc repairmen, electrician, handymen and so on and so on. Or they asked their friends to recommend one and use their friends as a reference.

Besides the Finnish TV, we had "plaaditurg" on Harjumägi and Radio Luxembourg! :)

As for the use of patronyms, I think it was enforced post-war. But as far as I know, Estonians used it only in official conduct. And then not just given name and patronym, but the full form: given name, patronym, and surname. Kolhoz, communist party meetings and such. Filling out official documents, one had to fill in name, father's name and surname. E.g.: Jaan Jaani p. Anvelt or Mari Mardi t. Tamm.
So, yes, in official documents etc. Soviet Estonians had to add their fathers name to their name.

Traditionally (especially in the rural areas), Estonian way was to call people by their given name and add an attributive name to it, referring to the place they were from (usually name of the homestead or farm) or sort of descriptive name referring to some physical characteristic or perhaps to their occupation or to what they were known for. E.g. Huntaugu Miina or Kadarbiku Ants or Rätsepa-Juhan or Pikk-Mart or Suur-Tiina etc. irrelevant of what their surnames were.(In English it would be Miina of Huntaugu or Big (Fat) Tiina etc).
Following this tradition, I think Justin would be Ameerika-Justin or considering there are apparently several American Justins in Estonia, then perhaps Kirjaniku-Justin? ;)
As you know, we do not have a similar polite way of addressing someone with the use of given name and patronym like Russians do.

ihanathaasteet ütles ...

I lived my youth in Viljandi, and I never watched Finnish tv. So didn't most of estonians, only those who lived in Tallinn or near by Tallinn. But in my granny's place in Valgamaa we listened The Voice of America from radio as long as I remember (from early seventies). About Emmanuelle, we watched it in local cultural house in 1985 or 1986 - and this "event" was organized by our school and it was voluntary for students to go there.

Martin-Éric ütles ...

Me gets uncontrollable laughter at the thought of mid-80's Estonians wanking to the image of Sylvia Kristel at the communist party's cultural center.

Brüno ütles ...

I used to wank to the black and white nude photos of women in the East German magazine "Die Weldt". I purhcased them every month from the kiosk in the city center on my way from school for 1 ruble and 20 kopecks. They had nice glossy paper and good smelling print. The pictures appeared near the corsswords, if I recall. Blurry and small.

Pimpled youngsters of today have no idea how easy they have it in respect getting their Rosy Palms entertained.

As much time I spent with the magazines, I never learned any german though. What a shame.

Ah, my sweet Soviet childhood!

bunsen_lamp ütles ...

Die Weldt? What was that? South African desert fauna porn? Kind of kinky, I'd say.

Kristopher ütles ...

Funny, Bunsen lamp.

Well, to me, Emmanuelle was a total turnoff, and not just with regard to cigarette smoking.

I'd prefer those French soft porn programs that used to be shown on Kanal Kaks after 11pm in 1993-1995, before society apparently decided this was not proper.

Meelis ütles ...

"East German magazine "Die Weldt""
Name of this East German magazine was "Freie Welt".

Brüno ütles ...

Ah, I had forgotten the name, thank you.

That was all the "porn" that was available in a small town back in the early 80s.

Emanuelle was for decadent snobs of Tallinn. Us provincials, all we got was East German propaganda to beat off to.

tiu_interrupted ütles ...

btw the scenes in Disko ja Tuumasõda showing endless rows of cars driving towards Tallinn to watch Emanuelle is actually a scene from a 1986 film "Keskea rõõmud" (Midlife.... joys?). There the flock of cars is heading towards a magic doctor Nigul hoping he could help them be happy with their lives.