pühapäev, juuni 03, 2007

Varbla hauad

This weekend we drove west to visit part of my wife's family's roots in Varbla vald, a small district north of Pärnu, which is about as spread out as an Estonian village can be and still be called a village.

The reason for the visit was the annual cleaning of the graves. Martin and Anna, my wife's great-grandparents, needed their final resting places cleansed of unwanted weeds and tended to with new flowers and candles lit. Anna died in 1957. Martin passed in 1968. But the graves still look pretty good, and these two people from Varbla were remembered for one day.

The cemetery at Varbla is hilly and littered with trees and bushes. Different fashions of gravemarkers dot the sloping hillside, rotting wooden crucifixes, metallic crosses, and finally stones of all sizes and inscriptions. I once visited a cemetery in Hiiumaa where most of the markers were written in German. But here in Varbla the language of the gravemarkers was Estonian. This was interesting. Even metal crosses from 1873 said "puhka rahus" -- rest in peace.

Anna and Martin have their own stories to tell. Martin was a soldier in the Estonian Liberation War in 1918. During the land reform following independence, he received a parcel of land in Varbla where he built a house and raised his family. However, Martin's service in the Estonian Liberation War earned him a trip to a prison camp in Siberia in 1948, where he stayed until 1956.

Anna learned of her impending deportation -- for being the wife of a Estonian Liberation War veteran -- and hid in the forests with her youngest daughter for enough time that they stopped looking for her. So she did not get sent to Siberia, fortunately. However, when Martin returned in the mid-1950s, he was a changed man, and the two were never able to put their family back together. Anna died in 1957. They are buried in separate plots in the cemetery.

After we visited and cleared the graves we met up with a cousin of my wife's grandmother and visited Martin's house in Varbla for a picnic. The home no longer is in the family. It was returned to the family in the early 90s, but sold for a reasonable price during the height of inflation at that time. However, the homeowners allowed us to look at the house and have a picnic.

It was nice to see my daughter playing so close to a structure that someone further up her family tree had obviously put a lot of sweat into building. I am not sure how Martin would feel, his nerves fried from eight years in Siberia, looking down on us from wherever he is, but perhaps he'd be happy to see us eating võileib and talking about our jobs.

The older Varbla cousin pulled me aside though to let me know that the old people of Estonia have gotten a raw deal in the post-1991 period. To this generation, the 1930s were a sweet time of goodness, followed by 50 years of "palju venelasi", followed by Siim Kallas and his magic disappearing kroons act. But anyway, I had a feeling that when Edgar Savisaar pledged to raise pensions during the last campaign, he was pushing people like this womans' buttons.

That got me thinking of how political populism is actually quite sinister. Because it is wrong to promise people something you can't give them, just so you can have a lot of power and shake a lot of hands. Christ, what's wrong with politicians? Anyway, we ate our lunch and drove south.

While Varbla is spread out and beautiful, Tõstamaa is a real gem of a town. The people have a knack for painting their homes attractive colors, and everything about it -- the trees, the proximity to the beach, the old lady riding the bicycle -- it all feels good. I am not sure if I would recommend going there for the sake of it, but it is worth passing through.

Of all the parts of Estonia, I feel in my heart that the West coast speaks the most about the Estonian soul. The Estonian spirit is connected to the sea. It is from across the sea that many of the ideas that have nurtured Estonia have come, from the relatively liberal administration of the Swedish kings to the first copies of Kalevipoeg, printed in Kuopio, Finland.

When you see the sea from Pärnumaa it is mostly unthreatening. It has the capacity to flood your house, but from a distance it is a healthy color and it's white caps jive like TV static; no surf pounds the beach.

In Pärnu, you are reminded again that Estonia is not just Tallinn and Tartu and some spas in Saaremaa. About 43,000 people live in Pärnu, yet for some reason, Pärnu is a political eunuch. Oh, how I wish that a Pärnu cartel would rise up and conquer this country. But until then it's still got ice cream and great beaches.

17 kommentaari:

Unknown ütles ...

Actually, about 43,000 people live in Pärnu (source: parnu.ee). And instead of a Pärnu cartel rising up, the current mayor of Pärnu is a man from Tallinn, namely Mart Viisitamm, who at first got a lot of critics for not thinking Pärnu-ish enough.

Also, 'rest in peace' is 'puhka rahus'.

Mina ütles ...

Good storytelling skills!

klx ütles ...

what is Pärnu-ish, i have to wonder...

Eppppp ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Giustino ütles ...

crap, I read that statistic about Pärnumaa. I'll go change it.

LPR ütles ...

Admittedly totally off topic, but this is too good to be missed. It may help our american expat friends to better understand russians around them (and some estonians too, I am sad to say.) Perhaps it even helps to cast a different light on what went down on the 4/26/07. http://www.exile.ru/2007-June-01/feature_story.html

klx ütles ...

Admittedly totally off topic...

scary. in any other country skinheads are called neo-nazis.

LPR ütles ...

Our friend Mark Ames, the American Taleban and FSB agent, is at Estonia's case again. http://www.exile.ru/2007-June-01/remember_the_maine_frame.html

Giustino ütles ...

He's a whiner. Maybe I am a whiner too. But, it takes one to know one.

The Tallinn police response matched
everything I have seen in Europe and in the US.

When police are attacked with rocks and bottles (like happened in Germany yesterday, where hundreds of people were arrested before the start of the G8 summit), then they have every right to catch you, put you in plastic handcuffs, and drop you off at the detainment site.

Sometimes they might arrest someone that just happened to be there, like a tourist. Later they let them go. That's what happens. It's not like I actually like it, but Ames is misleading his audience. But in all honestly he probably gets his news from Russian TV.

I think it's a reality that us expat Americans get sucked into the local culture. I've heard of expat Americans that live in Minsk and think that Lukashenko is a good guy.

Perhaps I am like this too. I don't like the citizenship policy but I realize that there is little that can be done. No matter what, you can't give everyone in Estonia citizenship because a good chunk of the stateless people weren't born here, and if you gave citizenship to everyone born here, they still wouldn't have it and it would still be an issue, so the only other way to deal with this is through a naturalization process.

I guess this is what Ames is writing about "abuse of minority" -- the fact that everyone that lives here can't vote in parliamentary elections. Neither can I.

The problem with the "official report" on Estonia's situation is that so much of it is just poorly researched and written. Starting with the first paragraph:

Estonia has a sizeable Russian-speaking linguistic minority which constitutes approximately a third of the population.

As far as I know, it's less than a third. But we'll let them get away with the sloppy homework.

Persons belonging to this minority enjoy very limited linguistic and minority rights, and often find themselves de facto excluded from the labour market and educational system through a system of rigorous language and citizenship requirements for employment and limited possibilities of studying in minority languages in higher education.

Here's where the report already veers into peddling falsehoods. It moves from equating the Russian-speaking minority, most of whom have citizenship (Russian or Estonian), and stateless persons (118,000 people as of Feb. 2007) who do not and thus face these discriminatory practices.

So the headline is false. It is not indeed 1/3 of the people that must deal with these laws, but rather less than 1/10 (8.7 percent) that must fulfill "rigorous language and citizenship requirements for employment."

People that are Russian citizens (about 7 percent of Estonian residents) are citizens of that state. Amnesty can address their needs through critiquing Russian policies.

Altogether though, the report isn't that bad. Read it for yourself. It's no scathing indictment. It just says that Estonians should recognize that a linguistic Russian minority exists in Estonia.

In Sweden they have declared five minority languages, Finnish, Meänkali, Romani, Yiddish, and Sami languages.

I don't see why Estonia couldn't make a similar official declaration, Estonian minority languages would be Russian, Swedish, Ingrian, Võru, Setu, and Romani. Like in Sweden, the minority has to have been present in Estonia for more than 100 years. Russian obviously meets that test.

We shouldn't underestimate the value of official, touchy feely declarations.


klx ütles ...

yep it isn't a scathing report - and what is critical is in itself a bit lofty and pays no attention to the practicalities of being a minority.

if they expect every estonian to learn russian just to make the minority feel better, or to say "oh that's ok" when a doctor or nurse or policeman can't speak estonian then they are kidding themselves. live in a country, learn the language, get on with being part of society. that's how it is in western countries, that's certainly how it is in russia for minorities, and that's how it should be (and IS, as far as i can tell) in estonia.

no doubt cases of real and harsh and horrid discrimination occur, but that happens everywhere. it isn't an excuse, but estonia isn't special in this regard.


Giustino ütles ...

What's interesting is that so much of the "Russian side" in world media is defined by talking to Zarenkov and Klenski, guys that enjoy very little electoral support.

What about our friend Jevgeni Kristofovits? How come reporters aren't talking to him?

urr ütles ...

"Like in Sweden, the minority has to have been present in Estonia for more than 100 years. Russian obviously meets that test."

that's not true. there is a very small real russian minority - the people who escaped from russia during the period of governing by czar Peter the First. living on the estonian side shore of lake peipsi for about three hundred years gave them the opportunity to save their religious beliefs and live in peace side by side with estonians.
there are also the grandchildren of russian refugees who escaped to estonia after the revolution of 1917, but they are mostly became estonians already.
and there is those hundred of thousands of russian-speaking colonists who moved in hoping better living environment and flats in lasnamäe. the migration was iniciated and supported by soviet government. their target was to have more soviet-minded people in the baltics. the process was exactly the same as china made to happen in tibet.
so it is ridiculous to speak about discrimination of russian minority in estonia. on the contrary, estonia has always given the shelter to people who were discriminated in russia, whoever they were: russians, jews, romas.
and now we are even not demanding that russia must re-migrate his citizens. if they like estonia, they could stay. if not, they can move on to any other european country, because it's obvious that they prefer the "harsh discrimination", but they are refusing to return their homeland. anything seems to be better than life at their ancestors land - and this attitude is very strange to follow for estonians. estonians have always tried to come back to estonia, even by escaping from siberia through enourmous siberian taiga-forests.

Giustino ütles ...

that's not true. there is a very small real russian minority

I don't know, 8 percent in 1934 seems pretty big to me. Considering that Romani is an official minority language of Sweden, I don't see how putting Russian on that list makes a big difference. Put as many languages as you like. Russian, Swedish, Võru, Setu, Latvian, etc. They should all be viewed equally.

klx ütles ...

i wonder what does making a language official mean on a practical level? if making a language official means ignoring all minority languages equally, then i wonder if the hollow gesture will be worth it, even for such a small brownie point.

if however it means the government has to produce all forms and applications in russian, have every government employee speak fluent russian, force broadcasters to speak speak russian, print in russian, teach estonian children russian in schools?

even if some of these things were to happen (and i don't think any of them will be and certainly shouldn't) these people still wouldn't be happy - the wrong three colours are still on the flag.

just give them free language lessons. throw EU money at education and language tuition for anyone that wants it. immigrants/minorities in any country deal much better in society with proper language skills. the rest has to be up to them.

Giustino ütles ...

i wonder what does making a language official mean on a practical level? if making a language official means ignoring all minority languages equally, then i wonder if the hollow gesture will be worth it, even for such a small brownie point.

I think it's a status thing. They feel invisible and it's way of acknowledging their existence.

There seems to be some sort of identity crisis. They look to the state to tell them who they are. Have you noticed this? It's always the state's fault.

The state can oblige and say, you are an official minority group in Estonia, like other minority groups. You have the same rights to preserve your culture that other groups do. That means funding for cultural centers and some education benefits. There already are Swedish and Russian high schools. I am sure that Estonia's other minorities, like Setu and Võru, who already have such centers would benefit.

In a way it's simply topping off what minority language infrastructure already exists in Estonia.

if however it means the government has to produce all forms and applications in russian, have every government employee speak fluent russian, force broadcasters to speak speak russian, print in russian, teach estonian children russian in schools?

That's what happens when you have dual official languages. The Swedish model doesn't function that way, the Finnish model does. I am saying that the Swedish model is probably a better way of dealing with this lack of status issue that never seems to go away. I am in no way endorsing the Finnish model.

Kribu ütles ...

Not to disagree about the "several official minority languages" idea, as I haven't really spared enough thought on that to be able to either agree or disagree (although as an Estonian, my gut reaction is "no way" - not because the idea sounds bad as such, but because I suspect certain Soviet-minded parts of the population would be trying their hardest to twist and distort it into their idea of "official language" and it would lead to more confusion and even more complaints), but I just wanted to address this one point:

I don't know, 8 percent in 1934 seems pretty big to me.

One thing to keep in mind is that the pre-1940 Estonia included rather large areas that are now part of Russia, where the population was largely Russian. The share of Russians in what is now Estonia would have been lower than 8%.

One also needs to remember that of those Russians who actually lived in the 1930s in the territory of what is now Estonia, many would have been themselves "colonists", i.e. people brought here during the 19th century as part of the Czarist Russia's attempt at the Russification of Estonia (to deal with the matters of administration, education, etc) - not "natural" immigrants or a "native minority".

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