Writing in New Europe Ott Lumi, a member of Estonian Parliament, Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, explains why Russians “need to hate Estonia.”
I start with a question: “What era do I describe?” Head of Russian legislative body Duma threats to cut diplomatic relations with a EU country. Official youth organisation of the Russian president’s party is blocking for weeks the entrance of an embassy of an EU country in Moscow. During an interview a member of the organisation attacks the EU country’s ambassador with gas. It is suddenly prohibited for one of EU member states to sell its products to Russian market.
Yes! I’m talking about the 7th year of 21st century. The headline of my article refers to probably the best summary made by professor of semiotics in Tallinn University – Mihhail Lotman – concerning provocations organized by Russia towards Estonia at the end of April. Lotman’s concept is based on the comprehension that small country is a convenient enemy for Russia. Firstly, because Putin mainly chooses to provoke countries whose response is definitely civilised and secondly, no one ever really believes that Estonia could be really a threat to Russia. Lotman also succinctly compares Putin to Alexandrer the III whose favourite aphorism was: “Russia has only two allies, army and fleet.”
Riots which were organised in Tallinn on the night of 27th of April regarding the removal of so called “bronze soldier,” showed clearly that Russia’s real interest has not been the memory of those who died during the fights in the Second World war, but to use this controversial symbol for Estonians and Russians, to destabilise the political atmosphere in Estonia. For Estonia’s government it became clear already some time before the provocations started, that it is not possible to hold any longer a statue in the centre of Tallinn, which for some symbolises victory over the Nazi army, but for a large majority the start of Soviet occupation. The way how the criminals and marauders destroyed, burned down and simply stole the property in the historic Tallinn city on the already mentioned night, was clear approval that the decision to remove the statue was absolutely appropriate. For now the situation for the majority of Estonian citizens is solved, no matter their ethnicity. The bronze soldier is staying in the Tallinn military graveyard. During coming nearest weeks the buried will be placed to the same place, so they can rest there together with Estonian, Russian, British and other soldiers who have fought on the ground of Estonia.
It is quite clear that Russia had a logical ground to play demonic games with the souls of these Estonian Russian-speaking inhabitants who have deep personal relations with the topic of World War II. Both Estonians and Russians lost thousands of fellow natives in the WW II and generation who remembers this tragedy still lives among us. War and death don’t choose victims and all of them are worth to commemorate. Of course, what concerns the war-graves, then Estonia is not unique in that sense.
There are hundreds of occasions in the world where reburying has taken place. For example, Egypt and Israel exchanged without any treaties in the middle of seventies remains of soldiers. Indonesia in 1991 gave to Japan the remains of 3500 soldiers. North Korea voluntarily opened the graves of 200 US soldiers who died in Korean war and gave them over to United States. Under special treaties some remains have been reburied between Russia and Finland, between Estonia and Germany and etc. So reburying remains of those died in the war to more dignified locations is not merely a normal practice, but a elementary practice of a civilised state
So let’s come back to the question why Russia uses Estonia’s internal matters in order to vilify Estonia’s public image and also disturb normal process of integration of Russian minority into Estonian society? All the causes could be actually driven under one common denominator – identity crises and threat to inner stability what could possibly be driven out from that.
The main cause for such identity crises is the fact that Kremlin still cannot accept its realistic role in the today’s world. It is weird to watch that a country with GDP per capita far behind the poorest in EU is still trying to pretend to act like an Empire, except concentrating to its internal problems. With a rapidly worsening demographic situation and critical living-conditions in many areas, it is mainly just the high level of oil prices in the world market, which makes it possible for the current Kremlin administration to play the revival of Soviet Union.
And, of course, we see evidence of some results, both symbolic and realistic. We hear Soviet anthem again in the international sports events, we have heard Putin’s statement, who said that “the collapse of Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of 20th century.” We have just seen the brutal action against Mr Kasparov and his allies in opposition to Kremlin. Of course, the basis of all such pseudo-empire action is in essence the fact that Russia still has not properly expounded the communist regime as such. Russia is still the main player in the international field, which opposes the criminalisation of communist totalitarian regime, which killed the same amount or even more people as Nazi regime. The decision of European Commission to organise official public discussion in one of the Baltic countries on the issue of communist crimes, is impressive.
Important factor, why Russia continuously creates image of enemies through massive propaganda is the fact of internal instability. We see that this process intensifies before every presidential election in Russia.
To conclude: Estonia is a democratic country that 16 years ago broke free from an evil empire where destiny of many nations was greatly damaged. There is no question about significant problems between different nations living in Estonia. Of course, the process of integration has its drawbacks time to time, but this is the problem we face together in different European countries.
We also face the need to finally contest some dark spots in our near history in order to cut the feet of possible false propaganda.