laupäev, september 22, 2007

Otto Tief: A Swell Guy

The Economist has called the short-lived reestablishment of independence in Estonia in September 1944 " one of the many forgotten anniversaries of the 20th century."

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.

15 kommentaari:

stockholm slender ütles ...

This is a good example how even totally Quixotic seeming hopeless gestures can have resonance and meaning over decades. It proved to be a meaningful and fruitful action, however hopeless it might have felt at the time.

space_maze ütles ...

I see he finally got his long-overdue wikipedia article over the course of the summer. Nice!

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Wikipedia. In need more about Larka in German.
There is a common statement about Estonia in German: "But Estonia was a dictatorship in 1939". So where is the difference to soviet occupation many would ask.
And again. As long as they do not provide historical information in German language, they will lose the propaganda war in the middle of Europe. Tief? Nobody knows.

plasma-jack ütles ...

So where is the difference to soviet occupation many would ask.

Most of the arrested were relatively quickly released and nobody was ececuted. Yeah, I know the question was rhetoric. But Larka wasn't with the dictators, mind you.

space_maze ütles ...

Wikipedia. In need more about Larka in German.

From what I can tell, there is a lot more about Larka in the German wikipedia than in the English one.

Nothing about Tief, though. I might be so awesome, though, as to create it myself, as my part as a minion in the Estonian Propaganda Machine (TM)

So where is the difference to soviet occupation many would ask.

Even if Estonia's non-democratic tendencies at the time were anywhere in a league with Soviet crimes .. people ALWAYS will prefer local tyrants over foreign tyrants. Which is why even those Russians that suffered under Stalin greatly are proud of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Stalin, as much of a bastard as he was, was at least "part of the family" in Russia.

space_maze ütles ...

And done!

Jens-Olaf, if you feel like it and have the time, I would appreciate some speaker of German to "fix" the article a bit. I've written so little German in recent years, I'm seriously out of practice.

Giustino ütles ...

Wasn't Päts elected in 1938? There also was a functional parliament. The dictatorship days were from 1934 to '38, I'd gather.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

What happened 1938 exactly, yes that is the next question.
It's said that Estonia was the only one of the authoritarian states on the way back to democracy.
I started 1934 the half the way with Larka and Päts in a post.
spaze_maze, where can I find the article?

space_maze ütles ...

Some other swell guys have already worked on it some though - yay! The Estonian propaganda machine in action - a lot more awesome to be part of than the Russian one, as it even gets to be based on facts generally.

martintg ütles ...

Yep, Wikipedia is a great place to start if we want to commemorate by name all those notable Estonians who deserve recognition for their courageous actions in attempting to restore democracy and the rule of law in a nation crushed between two ugly two totalitarian regimes.

Many gaps still remain in Wikipedia, so I invite all here to actively participate as editors there.

Tips to successful Wikipedia editing:
Cite verifiable and reliable (preferably secondary) sources (search for "WP:RS", "WP:V" in Wikipedia).
Achieve neutral point of view by ensuring all significant viewpoints are presented with appropriate weight with regard to available reliable sources.
And above all, remain civil at all times while editing and your in-wiki discussion and comments, as there are a few Nashist types there who will attempt to disrupt and provoke you, and the possible consequence of incivility is potentially being banned from further editing.

martintg ütles ...

A list of missing articles, article stubs that need expanding and other useful information on Estonia related articles in Wikipedia can be found here:

LPR ütles ...

Gotta love the Propaganda War. Everyone is a soldier. Front line is where your cursor is. Blurry vision and indigestion are the battlefield diseases. And the best part, Dad never has to leave the house to scalp some rooskies. Gotta love it - the first truly kid friendly war. (I'm feeding my son a bottle on my lap sometimes when doing some sniping with the left hand. Hence the misspellings) :-)

The only possible downside - nobody will ever knew that you were a hero too.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...


Unknown ütles ...

If we must break eggs to make omlet then Päts was correct.

Luciérnaga ütles ...

So where is the difference to soviet occupation many would ask.

jens-olaf! Who is so stupid as to believe the above that you wrote? There is a big diference. During the Estonian "dictatorship" nobody was sent to gulags in Siberia to die, farms were not taken away from their owners and collectivized, families were not torn apart and grandparents and grandchildren sent to prisons in Siberia. All of these things the Russians/Soviets did to Estonia in the late 40s, 50s. Plus, under an Estonian "dictator" nobody was forced to learn Russian, thousands of ethnic Russians were not moved into Estonia to dilute and kill off Estonian culture and language. These are more things the Soviets/Russians did to Estonia. And did you also know that under the Estonian "dictatorship" that Estonians were free to come and go as they please, and use their ports and havens, go by ships to Finland, Sweden, anywhere, but under Russian/Soviet rule Estonians were forbidden from using their own coastline and Estonians could not freely travel. In fact those two big islands off the west coast of Estonia were made off-limits to anybody who did not live there or have family there by Russians/Soviets during the occupation. During the Estonian "dictatorship" Estonians could wander and go anywhere they wanted in their own country. I wonder how Swedes or Danes would feel if a 2 or 3 million Russians moved into Sweden and Denmark and changed their way of life to a Soviet system!