After several weeks of blogging about my pub quizzes in Philadelphia and a few other notes on happenings elsewhere, I finally seem to have struck a chord (or more likely nerve). My previous post was about the recent fatal Estonian riot in Tallinn, the capital. Since then I've had heavy visitation from Estonia, their neighboring country and ethnolinguistic relatives Finland, and Russia itself. I wish I had this kind of traffic from Philadelphia!
First off I want to make clear that I had a great time in Estonia, that people were very nice to me, and although I was there during a cold winter month I'd highly recommend the country to anyone looking for a very interesting experience. Estonia is a fine place, and most of the time much safer to walk around in than many parts of my own country.
That said, I think some of the comments in the previous post are by some folks from that small country who don't want to hear certain things. Part of the country did in fact side with the Soviets during the war; this seems to argue against rather than for removing a Soviet war monument. I don't follow the logic of how removing the monument and especially the bodies of people who fought the Nazis and died doing it has anything to do with the Soviet occupation after they died.
I'm sure some Estonians were, for whatever reasons, active members of the Communist Party during the period that it was the Estonian SSR. Perhaps these people should get as much or more blame as ethnic Russians for people being sent to Siberia. You'll notice that a good number of Russians were anti-Soviet and were sent to camps regardless of where they lived, in or out of Russia. This is an ethnic dispute and trying to make it a referendum on whether or not the Soviet Union was a moral country that treated Estonians well doesn't sound very honest to me.
Battles over historic markers, monuments, etc. are always really about the present and future rather than the past. If you didn't have a large Russian ethnic population right now who are largely poor, more heavily involved in crime (as most poorer people are) and regarded as criminals and intruders in the country where most of them were born - in the case of younger people through no fault of their own - this wouldn't be an issue. The monument and bodies would still be there I suspect. I think this was a move to remind the local Russian population that they're not fully welcome, and they responded in the same spirit.
I should point out that my translator when I was in the country, who was very nice to me personally, had many negative things to say about Russians as an ethnicity. I heard similar comments from other Estonians, who warned me to avoid going out alone at night because Russians, specifically, might try and rob me. I began to think of Russians in Estonia the way that African-Americans are regarded by some in the United States. None of this makes the rioting and looting OK, I'm not saying that.
The big thing that no one seems to want to discuss is that Estonia's Jewish population disappeared during the war. It seems to have gone from about 20,000 or so to "less than 12." Not 12,000, I mean a dozen people. Twelve people. There was a Nazi death camp in Estonia and I think pretending that ethnic Estonians weren't a part of that is very selective. The Nazis probably killed more Estonians than the Soviets did, but they were Jews and also looked at as outsiders. There's no one left to mourn for that population.
I have ancestors myself from Poland, and frankly I think the behavior of most Poles and Eatern Europeans when the Nazis moved in was shameful. People throughout the region weren't too upset about the Jews being removed. In many, many cases they helped - in far more cases than the SS was resisited. For all the bad the USSR did, the inconvenient historic truth is that the country did more than any other to defeat the Nazis. More than the USA, more than anyone. If it weren't for those Soviet soldiers most of the people reading this blog over the past two days might be speaking German now. Maybe you wouldn't mind that..?
I don't buy the argument that people "make you" help invaders. Millions of people died resisitng the Soviet Communist Party, millions more decided to go along and not suffer as much. You can see right now in Iraq that dedicated people would rather die than accomodate. None of us need to make excuses for our ancestors when they made poor decisions.
Surely we realize that if you have an ethnic minority who now feel like second-class citizens, and if you dig up soldiers of their ethnicity who died removing the Nazis from your country, they're going to be upset. Of course they are.
Now I imagine that I'll get some angry comments from Estonia, Poland and who knows where else. I'm probably one of the only people in America to make any comment at all about this, most people don't know and don't care. Maybe some Russians will make me some sort of hero now too - you shouldn't, I think there's been some bad behavior on that side too. As is so often the case with ethnic battles, both sides are mostly wrong, but both sides are also accurate in accusing the other of being asses.
UPDATE: Estonia to relocate statue, remains
FURTHER UPDATE: I've learned that the Estonian government paid to erect a monument to Estonian Nazis which was later moved to a museum after pressure from a number of countries