reede, oktoober 05, 2007

The end of democracy

I went to Tartu City Library yesterday to get some books. I went home with one I didn't intend to find there, but haven't been able to leave alone ever since. It's the Baltic States Investigation by the US House of Representatives in 1953, better known as the Kersten Commission, and features interviews, under oath, with many Baltic diplomats and eye witnesses to the chilling events that occurred in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the summer of 1940.

One of the more intriguing aspects of this book is that it allows you to be in the room with President Konstantin Päts and Prime Minister Johannes Vares-Barbarus when decisions are being made about Andrei Zhdanov's directives to the Estonian puppet government. The details emerge about just how the elections of July 1940 took place in the testimony of Johannes Klesment, who was a counselor to the government at that time:

[Minister of Interior Affairs] Maksim Unt was called to the Soviet Legation and I went home. On the next day he sent me his assistant, Mr. Vihalem, and Mr. Vihalem had a little piece of paper in his hand and he gave it to me. I remember it very well. There was written in the Russian language in green ink that the elections must take place on the 14th and 15th of July. It was after 10 days instead of 35 days as demanded by law.

I discussed this option with him. He himself was an assistant professor in the university. I asked him how he thinks we can do it. He said there was nothing to be done. I asked him who had written on this paper with green ink in the Russian language. He did not know.

The next day the President was called from his summer residence, which is about 100 miles from Tallinn. He was called back to Tallinn for a meeting of the cabinet ... then Mr. Vares, prime minister of the puppet government, said to the president on the last evening that he was ordered by Soviet special representative Andrei Zhdanov that the new election of the parliament will be arranged and these elections will be carried out after 10 days.

He asked the president to make some changes in the election law. The president looked at me and said "Mr. Klesment, can I do it?" I said "Mr. President, it is impossible. The president cannot change the electoral law because according to the Constitution the electoral aw is changed only by parliament, and by presidential decrees it cannot be changed."

He smiled again and looked at the prime minister and said, "Mr. Prime Minister, how can I do it? You hear what the counselor of the government has said.

Well, Dr. Vares was very unhappy. He said he had told Mr. Zhdanov last evening it was impossible to arrange the elections so quickly. The President said to him that it may be that Mr. Zhdanov is stubborn and he demands we arrange an election. We can do it according to laws. Later on, Dr. Vares proposed that the government itself change the electoral law. Then the other members of the puppet government -- one of them was a professor in the university, Prof. [Hans] Kruus, and he said a presidential decree cannot change the electoral law and if he couldn't, how could we do it?

It took a little time and then the pupper government decided that it would change the electoral law by cabinet order. And so it was done. The President wrote a decision that he will have new elections, and then the Cabinet, knowing that it is quite contrary to the constitution, decided to make a cabinet order and change the electoral law.
Klesment's testimony then goes into how the list of candidates was created for the illegal election on July 14 and 15, and finally how the parliament itself voted to join the USSR.

Rep. Charles Kersten: Were you present at the meeting of the parliament where the parliament took action on the incorporation of Estonia into the Soviet Union?

Klesment: Yes, I attended the meeting.

Kersten: State whether or not there were any Soviet troops or military there.

Klesment: Oh, yes.

Kersten: Right in the parliament?

Klesment: Yes, around the parliament, on the streets, and in the rooms of the parliament.

Kersten: While the voting was going on?

Klesment: Yes.

Kersten: Would you state whether or not they were armed?

Klesment: With arms, yes.

Kersten: Armed with what?

Klesment: With guns

Kersten: About how many Soviet troops were right in the parliament when this was going on?

Klesment: The parliament building is on a hill. There were Soviet tanks and so in front of parliament, and in the rooms of parliament, I cannot say exactly, but I would say there were 100 men, by all means, with guns and all. All the corridors are full of the Soviet armed soldiers and on the stairways and through the rooms.
Think of that next time you walk up Toompea to the Riigikogu building.

7 kommentaari:

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

I saw the huge concrete blocks remaining on Toompea in late 91. Defending the parliament. Nothing comparable in 1940.

plasma-jack ütles ...

Seems like Klesment had as much trouble as I have not confusing English and French words. I think the correct name was Vihalem, btw.

Giustino ütles ...

I didn't put it in, but there is an exchange between Klesment and Vares where Vares reveals that Zhdanov is the author of the Russian messages.

Vares seems like an odd character. Did he have some kind of mental problem?

margus ütles ...

Well, he was a poet if thats what you mean.

The part about soviet soldiers on Toompea would be quite funny if it wasn't so sad.

Wait, wut? ütles ...

Vares was a poet, a fellow traveler, and ended up killing himself after finding out what Stalinism really meant to Estonia.

He's buried in the cemetary outside Tallinn near the TV tower, unfortunately on the same hill as L. Meri.

agentsteelz ütles ...

a book by Andrus Roolaht, "Nii see oli...", describes the bases treaty and the coup in 1940 in great detail, very interesting read.

It also tells a lot about the culture in the 1930s Estonia, the censorship, foreign politics, everything, worth checking it out.

Wahur ütles ...

Roolaht makes an interesting reading. Just take him with a pinch of salt - he worked for both Päts Propaganda agency and later, arguably, for NKVD, so he does not tell the whole story.

In 1940-41 Russians used very skilfully local lefties - leaving most of the "old communist guard" out of the power game for good (IIRC Hendrik Allik was the only one to climb as high as ministerial position after the war). As we all know, many western leftish intellectuals tended to like, idealize and defend SU (and many still do). The same applied to Vares and his bunch. By the time they finally understood what's really going on, they were already swimming in blood. Road to hell is paved with good intentions.