Thursday, May 03, 2007

Estonica: Still Standing

I'm still around. I haven't been stabbed by rioters, arrested by the police, or even deported to Russia. :)

What I have been doing is dealing with the fallout of something I did on Saturday. With no network connection at the new apartment, I was having suffering from serious information deprivation. Getting online via a Chinese pub's WiFi and reading the news, and particularly the comments on LiveJournal, I became so incredibly angry that I sat down, and wrote a long text about The Truth.

This is a text that spells out the reality of Russians' position in Estonia, all the things that nobody ever really wanted to say out loud. The problem is that this is the time of reckoning, the time to choose a side. And I've chosen. I've been criticized because of the text, called a fascist, a nazi and a kike; I've lost friends over it, because some people could not comprehend the things I wrote about, or accept them. But I've also found support. Before the text spread through word of mouth, when it was only visible to locals, I received dozens of comments supporting me, saying that what I wrote was right.

Below is the translation of that text.


My name is Andrei. I was born and raised in Estonia. My ancestors on both sides of the family lived in the first Estonian Republic. Even though I am a citizen of Estonia by birth, I have no Estonian blood in me. Biologically I am half Russian and half Jewish. When I am asked about my nationality, I reply: I am an Estlander.

And I support the relocation of the Bronze Soldier.

A few days ago, if you were to ask my private opinion about the monument, you would have gotten a different answer. I would have said that moving memorials is wrong in principle; that a healthy society must develop the capability to look at the figure of a solider in a Red Army uniform, with a stone halo in the shape of the Order of the Patriotic War, and see foremost a part of that society's history. I thought that the memorial should stay in place, and schools must explain to children what it is about. Because the tragedy of Estonia in World War II and the consequent decades of Soviet rule are a part of the country's history. And while the Bronze Soldier is standing on Tõnismägi, Estonians and Estlanders will remember what happened.

At the same time, I knew that there is something much more important than the fate of the monument. This is the right of Estonia's population to decide the fate for themselves. For a small country that only recently escaped from the rule of a gigantic neighbor - and a neighbor with a fundamentally different worldview at that - the sense of independence is primary. Estonians are a careful, restrained nation, capable of doing business even with a partner that they personally dislike; but if Estonians are slow to take offense, they are not quick to forget it. No business interests, no threats of sanctions can make Estonians admit the right of Russia to meddle in their internal affairs.

So let us forget philosophical deliberations of the insult of relocating soldiers' remains from a concrete slab to a military cemetary, and the idiotic myths of Estonian fascists. Let us talk about the sort of things that are not usually said out loud.

Despite the presense of many peoples on its territory, Estonia is a nation state, made by Estonians, of Estonians and for Estonians. This is exactly what is not understood by those local Russian-speakers who predict Ansip's resignation after the events in Tallinn on the night of April 26th, and call the riots a victory. They honestly think that the government will back down now; that they were simply not heard, or not taken seriously.

However, they base their opinion on the mistaken assumption that in a democratic Estonia, living according to Paragraph Twelve of its constitution, rioters shouting "Rossija! Rossija!" and throwing stones at policemen have the same right to the state as Estonians themselves. My parents, who have lived most of their lives in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, explained to me in my early childhood the fundamental principle of democracy: your freedom ends a millimeter from the tip of my nose. Freedom is not anarchy, and democracy does not intend to satisfy each and every member of society. Estonian democracy serves first and foremost the interests of Estonians.

Russians live in Estonia only because Estonians allow them to.

And local Russians understand this. Which is why most Russian-speaking Estlanders have considered all the pros and cons, and decided to stay here. In return for the right to use the conveniences of life in Estonia, they follow the rules that Estonians have established for themselves. This includes knowledge of Estonian, and behavioral norms...

Whatever Moscow media and anonymous russian Delfi commentators say, after 1991 Estonians did well by Soviet immigrants. Getting citizenship requires only minimal knowledge of the language and an elementary test on the Constitution; I have not had need to do the exams, but many of my friends have gotten citizenship through naturalization, and not one considered the demands to be daunting. At the same time, Estonian national exams (recognized for citizenship applications) are done by all those who graduate from a Russian-language high school. In the democratic, free, civilized countries of old Europe - like France - public schools in a non-state language are unthinkable.

The only thing Estonians have asked of the foreigners forced upon them by Soviet rule was respect for the local custom; an understanding that however long these people live in Estonia, they remain guests. This is why a citizen of Estonia by birth and one by choice is only distinguished in one aspect. The former cannot be stripped of citizenship under any circumstances. The latter can. Because when a family member is behaving badly, he is calmed down. When an uninvited guest does the same, he is thrown out.

The events in Tallinn are the fault of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, whose actions against the memorial were overly harsh and obvious, and also Russia's authorities, who used the Russian media to spin the hysteria surrounding the monument to the stage where the relocation of the Bronze Soldier was inevitable. Ahead of the parliamentary elections, the Reform leader needed a political platform, as his party had the image of a team of managers, not statesmen. In the battle of Estonia's two large political parties, the local ally of "United Russia" Edgar Savisaar unambiguously came out in favor of keeping the memorial, and so Ansip came out against. The President's veto did not allow the fate of the memorial to be decided before the elections, and they effectively turned into a referendum; people who voted Reform may not have wanted Alyosha's relocation, but they did not particularly care either. Winning the elections with an unpredicted majority, and setting the record for votes cast for a single candidate, Ansip was forced to continue the relocation process. Backing down at that point would have firstly shown him incapable of delivering his own political projects, and secondly would have destroyed the electorate's trust in the party, which already suffered from "vote Reform, get Savisaar" jokes because of the previous coalition. In the context of Estonian politics, this is terminal.

Under no circumstances could Ansip yield to the Kremlin. At the same time, the pressure from Estonian residents came from non-citizens, or citizens that did not vote; therefore their opinion was predictably ignored. The Estlanders that agreed to play by the rules voted for Savisaar - and lost; the democratic majority voted vor the relocation of the memorial, or at least not against it.

When the police, unprepared for the invasion of the agressive mob, gave downtown Tallinn over to be looted by drunk Russian youths (a third of the looters were Estonians! some scream; and who were the other two thirds? After the relocation of the monument to the German soldier in Lihula, Estonians did not smash shop windows), it was not a victory for Russia, and it was definitely not a victory for the local protectors of the monument. Among my Estonian friends, the disapproval of Ansip's behavior does not lead to demands for resignation, and the only call to hang someone that I've heard on April 27th referred to Edgar Savisaar, who ran to Russian TV to apologize. Two thousand drunk youths in Tallinn and Jõhvi will not scare a million Estonians; conversations overheard in a crowd of Tartu students came down to local Russians mostly being decent guys, and the riots being not a national confrontations, but rather the work of fuckups of all kinds. No matter how much the kids riled up by Night Watch and Delfi riot, the right of Estonians to move the Soldier as they see fit cannot be taken away any more.

At the same time, the authorities' failure to prepare for the riot, senseless and merciless to street kiosks, and the lack of a crowd of Estonian antiprotectors on Tallinn streets, does not indicate readiness to take more disturbances. As the famous Tallinn writer Mihhail Weller wrote, Estonians are not short of steam - they just have a bad whistle. A little more, and detained non-citizen marauders may start to be taken out past the Narva border crossing and left there. In my eyes, as a half-Russian, half-Jewish grandson of people who fought in the Second World War on the side of the USSR, they have already earned the suitcase-train station-Russia treatment.


Jens-Olaf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jens-Olaf said...

Just a few minutes ago I've met an Estonian girl selling medieval Hanse items on the street. She is studying on Internet forums. Her observations: Those who want to riot will it maybe in the future, the other part of the Russian speaking people of Estonia have begun to try to speak in Estonian. Defenitly something changed in Estonia these days. I am not sure about the outcome.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Flasher. History is what it is, not only in Estonia, you deal with it and move on.

That said, it is easier to understand the behaviour of the looting mob in Tallinn, however spontaneous that was, than the disgrace that Kreml sees appropriate to let continue in Moscow with Estonia's consulate there. Or the inanities the representatives of the Duma have deemed necessary to voice. What Russia hopes to gain from such gross stupidity is beyond me.


space_maze said...

Thanks so much. Considering the shit I've seen flung at anyone even attempting to understand the Estonian point of view by Russian nationalist zombies even outside of Russian-speaking boards, I do have to bow to people like you and Jevgeni Krištafovitš that do so in the Russian speaking internet. I cannot imagine the level of bullshit :-)

It's even a bit stronger, than even I would have said it, which is kind of odd - I don't think a State EVER has the right, to remove citizenship from a citizen, no matter his ethnic background, unless he commits treason. One could reason that the kids trashing stores in Tallinn, chanting "ROS-SI-JA!" have done so. And common sense dictates that they should get a one-way ticket to Russia anyways, as obviously, they'd be happier there themselves, if they're so in love with said nation.

I still think the family metaphor is flawed though, as when a state gives a person citizenship, said person BECOMES part of the family. You can't just turn in a child you adopted as a toddler 15 years later, as he turned out to be a real brat.

This does not apply to Soviet-era immigrants and their descendants, as the Estonian state never gave them any kind of citizenship or recognition, as the Estonian state only existed as a tiny little office in Oslo for half a decade, and most certainly did not condone Soviet colonialism.

So I think it was reasonable of Estonia to not openly hand out citizenships in 1990, since handing out a citizenship is really a one-way-street for me. Once you give a person a citizenship, you can't go back.

antyx said...

space_maze: well, citizenship can only be stripped for committing serious crimes (those carrying a minimal sentence of 5 years or over) - incitement of unrest, the charge officially brought against Max Reva, Mark Siryk and Dmitri Linter (the local Nashi/Nochnoy Dozor activists) is below that threshold. Most of the rioters will get minor charges, I expect.

You'd really need to do something outstanding to get stripped of citizenship.

antyx said...

Ipmal: the thing is that Russia's behavior indicates, to me, that the riots were not planned and they were not aware of the possibility, and didn't prepare for it. The non-binding resolution to sever diplomatic relations with Estonia, the Nashi activities, all indicate to me the furious scrambling of Putin's enforcers who are vaguely aware of what's expected of them, but do not have any applicable standing orders. Which is why they are overdoing it.

Anonymous said...

Looks like it's not so easy to explain history... The thing is, even if we made the facts available to all Russian speakers, making them acceptable is another matter. For those who have (or whose parents have) lived most of their life in the USSR, accepting the Estonian version of history would mean re-evaluating their entire being.. I can't see how one can do this without assistance. Do you see any solutions there?

Anonymous said...

actually was surprised to read something like this from 50/50 rusian-jewish person who's from estonia. me, i'm russian-gipsy also 50/50 and originally from estonia, the way i see this situation is quite different from yourd... let's say for me what you have written does sound racist, but everyone has a right for own opinion and it stil doesn't mean that you are one.

well I guess soon we'll see what comes out of all this "mess".

p.s. good to see someone who's not scared or ashamed (nothing to be ashamed of here though) to tell people what he really thinks!

stockholm slender said...

Fairly shocked about the recent events, the tones, nasty winds from Moscow I wrote an essay concerning the recent crisis, a link below - I think the issue really is far more fundamental than a statue in Tallinn, and far more fundamental for Russia than Estonia (though Estonia must feel very chilly indeed next to these imperial cum Stalinist voices eminating from this "modern" great power). Unless these issues are confronted how can Russia really prosper and be a constructive partner in the global community:

Stalin's willing executioners - Pro Estonia

Sam said...

Thank you for saying this. Anyone, regardless of their ethnicity or ancestral history, who shares your beliefs, is always and forever welcome in Estonia, as far as I, being an Estonian/Finnish half-breed can offer such a statement.

antyx said...

Do you see any solutions there?

Assimilation. That's the only solution. Integration politics have always been about assimilation, at the end of the day, now we just get to talk about it openly.

let's say for me what you have written does sound racist, but everyone has a right for own opinion and it stil doesn't mean that you are one.

Racism necessarily includes the concept of one race's superiority over another, which is not the case here. It's also not my opinion so much as a summary of the situation. Estonia is one nation's state, and that nation has the right to maintain its state; there is no discrimination of Russians beyond the principle of "don't be a dick", and there is no desire to expand and conquer. It's not racism or fascism, it's simple small-country nationalism; the only reason why it sounds shocking is because I haven't bothered to sugar-coat it.

Anonymous said...

well, true...

about discrimination, i have encountered couple of proper situations where i was descriminated and i've seen descriminational behavior on the streets in the schools, pubs... but i think that's partly a fault of some russian-estonians who simply don't have any respect for the country they're living in, like not willing to speak estonian or even learn it or even disciminating estonians...

p.s. i was f*cking dissapointed in behavior of those russian-estonians who came from different cities to show their disapproval of government's decision...


space_maze said...

It depends on what you see as discrimination really. Is individual people being assholes discrimination?

In my mind only if they're in a position of power.

If a company owner won't hire me for some stupid reasons, in spite of me being qualified, it's discrimination.

If a guy at the pub is an ass to me because of some stupid reasons, it's not discrimination .. but a guy at the pub being an ass.

Most of the "discrimination" I've seen and heard Russians complain about in Estonia has been of the second kind .. and that's really the kind of crap you encounter *everywhere*.

I'm not denying that such assholes have not made it up into higher offices into Estonia, where individuals might have been able to truely discriminate. What I refuse to believe, though, is that this is in any way a state-sponsored policy.

Anonymous said...

what i meant by discrimination in my previous post were unfair actions towards someone just because of their ethnicity. one guy can be an ass in different ways, he doesn't have to be "higher" to discriminate. what i personally had encountered with was a proper discrimination by a group of people, based on my nationality.

p.s. definitely it is not a state-sponsored policy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Flasher! That was more adequate than many newspaper columns on the issue.

Still, you wrote:
Do you see any solutions there?

Assimilation. That's the only solution. Integration politics have always been about assimilation, at the end of the day, now we just get to talk about it openly./
That's not wrong but a bit harsh anyway. The population does not necessaryly have to be culturally homogenous.

For example, think of the "old believers", the russians at lake Peipsi. They have been there from 18th century, never having been or seen as any threat to estonians, still preserving their language and customs, we are even proud of them.

Estonians can be quite different, too. By the way, many võrokes (i don't know how to spell this in english:) and setos in the south see themselves as separate nations (inside estonian state).

So to my mind multicultural society is possible, as long as all subcultures are tolerant and somewhat compatible.

Likely Pure Blood Estonian Guy
(you can't be sure of anything these days;)

Giustino said...

I think that instead of assimilation we should talk of ending self-segregation.

That is the segregation of Estonians and Russians into two groups -- separated by language, culture, religion, school, understanding of history.

No one should be saying that the Russian-speaking community should just "be assimilated." NO. They, and the Estonians, should end self-segregation. That means more mixed schools, that means more kids of different ethnicities playing together, and that ultimately means more bilingualism on the part of Russian speakers.

Because it is my belief that all of Estonia's traditional minorities -- gypsies, Old Believers, Rannarootslased, have an understanding of the Estonian language.

You see, that gives them access to so many things that will end this feeling of being marginalized, of being a stranger in society. It doesn't mean that you have to stop being who you are. It just means that you have to end self segregation.

Anonymous said...

Giustino said...
/I think that instead of assimilation we should talk of ending self-segregation./

Exactly! (And yes, i mean both sides..)

But being bilingual only solves half of the problem. It's also about the way of thinking. The hardest part there is Russia. It can't accept losing control over Estonia, it's obvious. This puts additional pressure on estonian russians - they have to choose side "against their mothertongue".

LPB Est Guy

antyx said...

LPBEG, that's a good example with the Starovers and the Seto... they are what a "cultural autonomy" was always supposed to be about - they have their little bit of territory where they can live as they choose. They do not have any intention of exporting ideology or forcing themselves upon anyone else.

Unlike Russians.

Anonymous said...

I also think Estonians need to reach out to the community of Russians, at least on the cultural level which should be easy enough. I remember once seeing a newsstory about a Russian journalist who worked at Molodjož Estonii. She said that there are news stories they had covered ages ago but the Estonian media had ignored it - mostly because they only read local Russian newspapers when shit hits the fan and to find out what the Russians are writing about Estonians, or because the young journalists simply don't speak Russian IMHO. And after a while the Estonian media suddenly discovered these issues and covered them as if they had invented it. And she was talking about neutral things, nothing to do with national relations. In this sense I do understand a bit when they say "parallel worlds". Also I think we need to at least try to find out why many local Russians who have a great command of Estonian still prefer these Orwellian horrors that ooze from Moscow...
But your blog is a joy to read, AnTyx, keep up the good work !

Jens-Olaf said...

Peteris from Marginalia Blog has an inteview with Aleks Tapins, All Abou Latvia. He is a Latvian, father Latvian and his mother raised him in the russian language. He has a plan:
'I'm also planning to start a Russian-language blog on
to debunk the myths about Latvia in the Russian press both inside and
outside of Latvia, but that's really like putting a stick into the
beehive. So for now, it's just an idea.'

Urmo said...

This is probably the best post i've read giving light on so many aspects on the matter. But I think you exaggerated on the family/guest part or kept it a bit fuzzy and generalized.

As a persons, people with different ethnic backgrounds and estonian citizenship are no guests here. They ARE family members. But as a ethnic group, most of the minorities are something one could call guests. I'm not sure this applies to Old Believers next to Peipsi. They have lived there more than 300 years and time is a factor in these matters.

Urmo - estonian for at least 200 years :P


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