neljapäev, november 20, 2008

eclipse of a foreign ministry

The Social and Humanitarian Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted a document on Nov. 18 voicing "deep concern" over the "glorification of the Nazism movement and members of the former Waffen SS organization”, as well as “opening the monuments, memorials, and holding public demonstration glorifying the Nazi past, Nazi movement and neo-Nazism.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry sees the adoption of such a resolution as a great achievement, but the probable passing of this document next month by the General Assembly will have no impact on my life in Estonia and will go unnoticed by my colleagues, friends, relatives, and others with whom I have day-to-day contact.

Why? Because, contrary to the line from Sergei Lavrov's Russian Foreign Ministry, there is no mainstream revival of Nazism in Estonia. There are extremists, yes, but there are also extremists who think Russians should control all the land from Paldiski to Narva, even if Russians don't dwell in most of that territory. I believe such extremists exist, and are paid too much attention, in all countries.

I have found that in Estonia, there is actually very little interpersonal discussion of the Second World War, as most of Estonia's political and media elite are of a post, post-war generation and they are tired of it. These are people born after the Khrushchev era for whom World War II and its aftermath are as distant and foreign as Vietnam will be for my children. It makes for good pub discussion, but little else. The current economic crisis is relevant. WWII? Not so much.

Now, there are political forces within Estonia that wish to honor the personal sacrifice of Estonians, most of whom were drafted, who served in the Estonian Waffen SS. As far as I can tell from reading books, such as Eesti Leegion, authored by former Prime Minister Mart Laar, there is no open, official embrace of the German Third Reich or its values, other than its value of anti-Bolshevism, which is a value embraced also by the Russian Federation today.

Also, because Estonia is a pluralist society with a parliamentary democracy, that means that there are also political forces that do not seek to pass such sense resolutions, or who share the same interpretation of history as others. The controversial vote to remove the Bronze Soldier statue, for instance, passed by 2 votes in Estonia's 101-seat parliament, the Riigikogu. Resolutions to proclaim the Estonian SS as freedom fighters in Estonia failed. The monument to those who fought against Bolshevism in Estonia, erected by the local authorities in the West Coast town of Lihula was removed.

I have Estonian friends and colleagues who think the portrayal of the Estonian SS as freedom fighters is BS. They too are entitled to their opinion. It's nice to portray ever Estonian citizen who ever lived as acting in the state's interest. Some have even tried to rehabilitate the June 1940 puppet government that first told the people upon coming to power that Estonia would remain independent, and yet voted to join the country to the USSR the next month, with hundreds of Red Army and Navy personnel in the Riigikogu chamber to make sure the vote went the right way. They were naive, idealistic Estonian communists, the argument goes, not cut from the same cloth as their comrades next door, for whom human life was incredibly cheap.

These arguments go back and forth from time to time in the editorial pages of Estonian newspapers. Estonians are voracious consumers of historical works and their media caters to this interest with article after article about anything that ever happened here, from the diet of the peasantry in medieval Danish Estland to 1930s agricultural trends. Perhaps there is a new book out, or a domestic "thought leader" has something to share about his interpretation of the past. Were the people under consideration heroes, villains, or in the wrong place and the wrong time? You be the judge.

That's how I think we should deal with history. The Russian foreign ministry has other ideas. They don't think you should evaluate your own history by yourself. They think that they should tell you what the correct version of history is, and they will use all avenues, such as the UN, to do so.

This is what Sergei Lavrov's foreign ministry spends its time doing: telling the Estonians they don't know their heroes from their villains; telling the Latvians that they are confused about their past -- your state wasn't founded 90 years ago, those extremely rapid 22 years from 1918 to 1940 were "short-lived" -- just a blip, a two-decade-long lost weekend not worthy even thinking about. Ukraine, there was no Soviet effort to specifically wipe your nationality off the face of the Earth. Besides, you are "not even a state." If you only ascribed to the official, Lavrovian view of history, then everything would be in order.

What sad is that most of this is such a waste of time, for Russians, Estonians, and all others touched by political campaigns to rebrand history. The modern Estonian historical narrative is the same narrative that existed, in exile, during the years of Soviet rule. The reason that it emerged in Estonia proper the late 1980s, is because Gorbachev's policies allowed people for the first time since 1940 to openly discuss their national history.

And because 22 years are not really just a blip, but a whole generation's worth of time, there are plenty of people alive today, such as my wife's grandparents, both of whom saw one or both parents deported, who can explain what they witnessed and what happened to them. You cannot shut history up Lavrov; it has a way of talking whether you like it or not.

US former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger writes that Russia's main dilemma in foreign policy has been that it has yet to produce one truly gifted diplomat. Despite all of Kissinger's associated baggage, I think he may be right.

11 kommentaari:

Anonüümne ütles ...

Really good post.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

There is such as: My aunt, one part Estonian the other German arrived Gdingen in Poland (then belonging to Germany) in October 39. She was half Estonian. It was 1939. They emmigrated to Germany. They were measured whether their faces are matching with arian appereance enough. From that on they unerstood the character of the Third Reich.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

And what is it that is important about Kissinger? Politics of intersts? What is important for a big country? Does he knows? Really? Interesting. I doubt it all. They all could not see in forcast th evetns in Bosnia, they did not understand, they were driven. Korea: Now I am living here. North Korea is not evil anymore? But the North Koreans are closing the borders slowly, what is going on? What are the interests of the States. Kissinger. Please someone should explain me international politics and Kissinger.

Giustino ütles ...

Kissinger is important because a) he is a living former NSA adviser and US Secretary of State; b) he was a respected Cold War strategist; c) he is a prolific writer.

He is in the same boat as Robert McNamara and Zbigniew Brzezinski in the US in that they all are a) aged; b) prolific 'thought leaders'; c) Cold War veterans.

I personally referenced Henry K because I just read his book.

Giustino ütles ...

And my point is that the Russian Foreign Ministry is basically feeding extremism. They are playing this game, and there are elements of the Estonian political elite that are also playing it. But that's not really what the foreign ministry of a world power should be doing, and these actions only alienate everyday people from the state.

Sharon ütles ...

There's a saying I once saw co-opted into an advertisement for advertising (seems strange to think that such a thing exists, but apparently people need to be encouraged to advertise somehow - and how else are you going to do it?):

Perception is truth

At the time I thought it was rather clunky (especially as the visuals of the ad were poorly designed), but the hidden depth and aptness of the sentiment has grown on me since then.

If you say something loud enough and often enough, people will start to confuse it with what they think is true - especially if they are too lazy to think for themselves. You'd be surprised how many people are too lazy to think for themselves.

It's one of the oldest marketing techniques in the book, and one that harks back to the fundamentals of truth and perception:

"What I tell you three times is true."

Maybe the Russian Foreign Ministry is feeding extremism. It certainly seems like it. I don't think it's going to alienate people, though. I think it's going to work.

Sooner or later, someone is going to be "thinking", and their thoughts will follow the jingle, rather than the history. Then they will act as if the jingle is the history, and others will see them, and start "thinking" along the same lines...

Next thing you know, someone is writing a piece of legislation demanding all attempts to honour the Nazis are quashed. Oh, wait...

Bad statesmen? Depends on what you want from your statesmen. Someone who can market your world view well enough that everyone else starts humming along?

Hey, it worked for the Nazis. No reason why the Russians can't give it a go.

martintg ütles ...

Interesting to note that the co-sponsors of this resolution were Benin, Cuba, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, all leading stars in the human-rights universe...

martintg ütles ...

The EU's reasons for abstaining on this for were:
- Instead of comprehensively addressing the human rights concerns related to racism and racial discrimination, one of the most serious of which is the resurgence of racist and xenophobic violence, as also noted by the Special Rapporteur, the draft resolution continues to have a selective and unsubstantiated focus, disregarding these serious concerns and in effect deflecting attention from them.

- Additionally, as in previous years, the EU would have liked to seen the inaccurate citations of the Judgement of the Nuremberg Tribunal in this text rectified.

The full text here:

martintg ütles ...

Actually, that link was from last year, the EU hasn't gotten around to publishing their opinion yet, but is likely to be the same.

Anyway, it just proves the idiocy of Lavrov, having countries like Sudan co-sponsoring such resolutions.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Raoul Wallenberg (August 4, 1912 – July 17, 1947?)[1][2][3] was a Swedish humanitarian of the prominent Swedish Wallenberg family who worked in Budapest, Hungary during World War II to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. Between July and December of 1944 he issued protective passports and housed several thousand Jews, saving tens of thousands lives.[4]
His death has since long been a source of dispute. On January 17, 1945, he was arrested by Soviets, and was reported to have died in March. In 1957, the Soviets announced that Wallenberg had actually died of a heart attack in 1947. In 1991, Vyacheslav Nikonov was assigned by the Russian government to find out the truth, concluding that Wallenberg did indeed die in 1947, but by execution.

Unknown ütles ...

Well, I've been telling about my family and their fate so many times, that it might be getting boring for readers. But I really think this is the only way to stop propagandist "history" like the one told by Mr Lavrov from spreading. The unfortunate fate of Russia and Russians has been that 5 generations of people have seen not much more then slavery, propaganda and re-writing the history every time the mind of the Big Brother turns. It has been written by Viktor Suvorov in his "I'm taking my words back", how the memoirs of Georgy Zhukov were re-written 16 times - every time they published his memories of the WWII, the story was different. It was and IS the same with historical documents. Viktor Suvorov said - when he asked for a permission to get some documents from Russian archives for his new book, he was denied the access because -"the content of the documents you are asking for have been described in a book released in 1972". So much about open archives of the Russian Federation.

So, what I'm trying to say is - I've been carefully listening the stories told me by my mother. I know from her stories what it was for a German woman to be in a concentration camp in Germany (my grand-grandmother). I know from her stories, how the glorious Red Army raped and killed German women and girls (my grand-grandmother). I know how the Soviet regime treated my grandmother, a German lady married to an Estonian with three small children - Siberia it was. It is a pure coincidence that my mother happened to live in Siberia in a same village with a Polak who had escaped the Katyn massacre - well, he's dead now but what he told about the massacre to local people has been preserved in the memories of my mother and me. So, just hear out your relatives, and don't be shy to share it with your children.