esmaspäev, märts 30, 2009

meri veri

One Meri cousin, Lennart, just had an airport named after him to coincide with the annual foreign policy conference that bears his name. He's been away for three years already, but newspaper headlines still celebrate his anniversaries and ask, "What did he eat that made him so smart?"

The other Meri cousin, Arnold, spent his twilight years on trial for the deportation of the men, women, and children of Hiiumaa while being defended to the bitter end by the Kremlin and its media. This week, he even received an award from President Dmitri Medvedev for his WWII heroics.

Yet there is something you should know about each of these Meri cousins. They are now both dead.

Lennart Meri is an important man for Estonians for many reasons. But perhaps the biggest reason is that there have been far too few great Estonian political leaders. Needless to say, only after Lennart's death would they rename something as consequential as an airport. They didn't name it after Konstantin Päts. They wouldn't name it after Arnold Rüütel.

Nobody buys the collected speeches of Päts or Rüütel at the supermarket. But their bookcases shine with intelligence when they carry the words of Lennart Meri. Indeed, if there is one Estonian that the state would like you to grow up to be, it is the whimsical, swashbuckling polyglot Lennart, followed distantly by Estonia's plethora of Olympic champions.

But if there is one Estonian the state would like you not to grow up to be, it was cousin Arnold. The Russian media portrayed him as a kindly old grandfather who proudly served in the Red Army and -- most importantly -- willingly abandoned the national interests of the Estonian state to Soviet state interests when the Soviets deemed necessary. The political gods of the 20th century had decided that Estonia would not survive, said Meri, so he chose the lesser evil. This is the kind of Estonian that the Kremlin, through the ages, has preferred.

Still, when cousin Arnold would make his rounds on May 9th, speaking to fellow veterans in the language of the Soviet state, a lot of Estonians probably saw him as one thing: a sell out.

Estonians don't click their heels and say "sbasiba" do they? They aren't really happy that the Soviets came back in 1944 to stay and sit on the Estonian soul for 46 more years, are they? They don't justify their role in deporting their own people to die in Siberian camps with the response, "I was just following orders," do they?

No, there was something really distressing about cousin Arnold, and the most distressing thing was that he and Lennart were flesh and blood. One was just as Estonian as the other.

The Estonian discourse on dealing with the Soviet period, especially the crimes of the Soviet state, is quite deep -- a far cry from the sort of Russophobic village hysteria that has been used by the Kremlin-supported media to describe the Estonian dialog. How would they know anyway? How many Kremlin sycophants are functional in the Estonian language?

It feels though that the discussion has moved away from, "How could they do that to us?," to "How could we do this to ourselves?" It's true that even some of the June Communists, including puppet Prime Minister Johannes Vares, did not want Estonia to join the USSR in 1940. But they voted for it anyway. It is true that some Estonians did not want to deport their fellow citizens to Soviet concentration camps. But they did it anyway. Like cousin Arnold, they were "just following orders."

The most painful legacy of the Nazi occupation is Estonians' participation in the crimes perpetrated by that state. But equally as painful is the collaboration of Estonians with the Soviet occupation authorities. It is one thing to blame all ones suffering on an external enemy. It is another thing when the person who held the keys to your survival or ruin lived right next door, attended family parties with you, and sprang from common roots.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Estonians are notoriously distrustful of one another and why they still say that an Estonians' favorite food is another Estonian.

9 kommentaari:

MikkS ütles ...

Eesti mehed läksid sõtta ei tea mille eest
Hoolimata emade ja laste silmaveest
Võõras oli rahvas võõras oli keel
Mille eest nad elu jätsid võõral sõjateel
Küsimuse ees nüüd seisis eesti talumats
Ole mees ja vali oled punane või nats
Mõnigi mees sihtis seal oma lihast venda
Kui läks mööda maha nottis väikevend ta enda
R: Eesti mehed eesti mehed suures ilmasõjas
Näitasid et neid ei häiri surm ja vereojad
Teineteist seal maha tapsid vennad isad pojad


Unknown ütles ...

The poll really needs a "Viktor Kingissepp" option.

martintg ütles ...

It is one thing to believe choosing the Soviet side on the eve of WW2 in 1940 was the "lesser of two evils", most people can understand and even admire this as courageous.

But when faced with the prospect of deporting women and children to Arctic Siberia in 1949, was this a choice between "the lesser of two evils", or just moral cowardice?

Had Arnold said "no I didn't sign up for this, deport me instead", there could well have been an airport named after him in Kuuresaare today, but instead he ended up being indicted for the crime of genocide.

Meelis ütles ...

"One was just as Estonian as the other"
No. Arnold Meri's mother was ethnic Russian. Arnold Meri was native Russian-speaker. He lived 1926-1939 in Yuguslavia and received education there in Russian language.

Giustino ütles ...

No. Arnold Meri's mother was ethnic Russian. Arnold Meri was native Russian-speaker. He lived 1926-1939 in Yuguslavia and received education there in Russian language.

Now that is an interesting fact. Wasn't Lennart's mother an Estonian Swede?

Sort of puts to rest the idea of the 'pure Estonian' doesn't it?

Lingüista ütles ...

I think it always boils down to 'how could we do it to ourselves', because there always are collaborators, both venial people who scurry to serve the new masters and people who believe this is the best way to ensure some sort of future--all alternatives would have been far worse. (Would Meri's refusal to sign the deportations prevent them? No--he probably would have been deported together with all the others, the Soviet authorities would have found someone else to sign the documents, and we would be talking about this person instead of Meri.)

In the end, it is always about 'why weren't we more heroic than that?' when thinking about the past. The Estonians may be more aware of that than other people, but the other people -- from Poles to Romanians -- can ask themselves the same questions.

Meelis ütles ...

"Wasn't Lennart's mother an Estonian Swede?"
Yes, Lennart Meri himself has written in an article, that his mother was Estonian Swede. But there are also other information. Virkko Lepassalu has written controversial book under the title "Süümepiinadeta : Georg ja Lennart Meri sidemetest eriteenistustega ja selle tagajärgedest" ("Without remorse : about liaisons of Georg and Lennart Meri with secret services and its consequences"). In this book Lepassalu writes about possible Jewish (or at least half-Jewish) descent of Alice Meri. I don't know, is it true or not.

Kristopher ütles ...

"If there is one Estonian that the state would like you to grow up to be, it is the whimsical, swashbuckling polyglot Lennart, followed distantly by Estonia's plethora of Olympic champions."

That's a great line, among others.

Katherine ütles ...

It is an interesting family.

And imho things are not as black and white as our media tends to present them (with the exception of - here is a bit different angle).

This family story by itself is like something we tend to read about in books or see in the movies (e.g. think about the Forsythes of Galsworthy or something like that).

I am not certain what was the exact story between the paternal grandfather and grandmother of both Lennart and Arnold, however, it is known there was much passionate hatred involved.

It has been said about Julie (who I vaguely recall was said to be from high social status St. Petersburg family, not sure of what ethnicity - perhaps someone knows?) that she was a woman with a very strong will and very powerful and somewhat unmerciful. That she was the real matriarch of that family and called all the shots.

She denied one of her sons (Konstantin, father of Arnold) - not sure what was the reason - one version says that disapproved the wife he married, another says that Konstantin was a true communist (and Arnold inherited his beliefs, although he called it socialism later on) and Julie could not take it. Or perhaps some mothers just love one of their son more than another and cannot help it. Who knows...

What is known is that one son (Georg, father of Lennart) got her affection and support (both spiritual and financial) and was nurtured and another one was rejected and practically cast out of the family, so her sons had very different social status even.

So Konstantin relocated to Yugoslavia where he and his wife did simple jobs (for example something like being a driver and housekeeper/cook for foreign embassies/ambassadors - cannot recall exactly; it was said they went there due to not being able to find employment in Estonia, however, if Konstantin was part of the international communist movement, then there could have been other reasons and a whole new dimension to the story). Arnold went to school over there (in Yugoslavia) and was educated in Russian indeed (his schoolmates where of different nationalities).

The education of Lennart Meri and places he lived when growing up are more widely known. So both Lennart and Arnold grew up to be cosmopolitan to some extent and both families moved in diplomatic circles (although on very different level). So Lennart and Arnold grew up with very different Weltanschauung. :)

When Arnold returned to Estonia his world view was pretty much set and he was a communist. So he was not really one of these guys who choose the side in 1940 as being more useful or whatever reasons. And he never changed colours when Estonia regained independence (many communists did and are still in the good books in the eyes of the wider audience - Isamaaliit even had members who used to be members of communist party.)and remained who he was.

As for his life post-1940ties, it was also as interesting as his childhood. Allegedly he is the man we would have to thank nowadays that we had a chance to grow up in Soviet era and have our education in Estonian. Being sent to Hiiumaa to oversee the deportations by party (or what exactly happened) was just one thing among other things he did during his colourful life and yet right now it seems to be the only thing he is known for.

As for Lennart, everything he did during his life was also not perfect. The media just does not talk about these things.

However, right now one of the cousins has been almost declared as a saint and another is made out to be the devil. Whereas they both were just two cousins with different destinies and beliefs with ties to Estonia who both had an impact on Estonia.

So (unlike many others it seems sadly) I try not to be judgmental and deem one to be the good guy and another one bad. I see it more as an interesting family story (and so many families in Estonia have such stories).

So both Lennart and Arnold: may you rest in peace. :)