Thursday, May 03, 2007

"Leader" (editorial opinion) from this week's Economist

Estonia and Russia

The right to be wrong

May 3rd 2007
From The Economist print edition

Estonia was unwise to provoke Russia—but deserves more support from its friends


FOR a small country living next to a bad-tempered big one, life is often difficult. So it is easy to sympathise with Estonia (population 1.3m), the closest that eastern Europe has to a real economic and political success story, in its spat with Russia (population 143m). The removal last weekend of a Soviet-era war memorial from the centre of the capital, Tallinn, to a military cemetery provoked rioting and looting by local Russians, and furious protests of “blasphemy” from Russia itself (see article). Dozens were hurt; one man died. Kremlin-sponsored heavies have blockaded Estonia's Moscow embassy and jostled the ambassador; oil exports have been cut.

Russia is grossly over-reacting. But Estonia's tactics were gravely mistaken. The country's prime minister, Andrus Ansip, made the future of the war memorial an issue in the run-up to the general election in March, hoping to gain votes from patriotic Estonians for his own Reform party. He won handsomely. But he was playing with fire. The monument offends many Estonians; some nickname the hulking bronze figure the “unknown rapist”. In 1944, a four-year Nazi occupation gave way to a more damaging, decades-long Soviet one. But for many ethnic Russians the bronze soldier symbolises wartime sacrifice and the defeat of fascism.

The damage done by Estonia's ill-explained move is out of all proportion to the gain. The government has now made the statue's removal a cause célèbre for every nutty Russian nationalist wanting to throw a punch. It has also undermined one of the great gains of the past 15 years: integrating many of the 300,000 Soviet-era (and often Soviet-minded) migrants and their descendants. Many have learned Estonian and acquired citizenship. They now feel their adopted country has betrayed them. The idea that Estonia's Russians might even set a good example for Russia itself has been derailed.

Worst of all, Russia may think Estonia is easily isolated. For days, a chilly silence prevailed in all big Western capitals, despite Russia's deplorable behaviour—first in whipping up sentiment in Estonia, and then in the grotesquely exaggerated responses orchestrated by the Kremlin. Relations with Russia are important, big countries mutter: why jeopardise them for a silly little country that has only itself to blame?

That risks making a bad situation still worse. Mr Ansip has blundered. But his country is nonetheless a commendably keen member of the European Union, and a loyal member of NATO too, contributing troops to the hairiest bit of Afghanistan. Estonia does useful work among other ex-communist countries, where it tries to promote reform, talk sense and calm rows. It deserves help, not to be left to twist in the cold wind from the east.

Russia should be told that its bullying is an intolerable echo of the past. Estonia's embassy in Moscow deserves proper police protection. Whatever their shortcomings, Estonia's politicians are not “fascists”. Contrary to the Russian media's allegations, the war graves around the monument have not been desecrated, but exhumed prior to proper reburial; the monument itself was not sawn up, but has already been re-erected nearby, in dignified surroundings.

The importance of this goes far beyond Estonia. If the Kremlin concludes that former Soviet satellites are not real members of Western clubs, but will be dumped by their allies once they blunder, the consequences for Europe's peace and stability will be lethal.


Kristjan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
irina-borissova said...

Yes, the latest events added alot of complexity to the already not simple situation, I am absolutely shocked by the Estonian government actions.
I understand they hate Soviet system but there should be some extend to which somebody can go not to turn personal feelings into political provocations. I believethat History should not be re-written and Russian, or Soviet at that time, soldiers must be given respect for what they died for. I feel a lot of pain and I don't think it is over-reaction of any kind. I am Russian, obviously, currently live in New York.

Kristjan said...


It is certainly not our fault that you have been manipulated to think the way you do.

We gave the monument and the remains of the soldiers buried near it all the respect they deserve, and will continue to do so.

Giustino said...

Honestly, I still don't see what the big deal is.

The Estonian government relocated a monument that skinheads had threatened to blow up, and graves that really were under a tram stop (I had no idea I had stood over 12 dead soldiers all those times) to a military cemetery where some of Estonia's most important war memorials are.

But I should comment that what really scared the Estonians was the site of little kids wearing hammer and sickle pins on May 9 last year in Estonia.

"How could they wear the symbols of the men who killed our family members?" they wondered. "How will this end if they are bringing up the young generation the same way?" they thought.

The Soviet actions in Estonia in the 1940s were criminal. If the Russian Federation would simply acknowledge this, and renounce Stalinist history, it would go a long way in improving relations with Estonia.

As far as Estonia knows, the Russians still think the mass murder of 1940 was justified.

irina-borissova said...

Hi kristjan, not sure what you call manipulation, I read news from different sources.
On the positive side, I understand your reaction. I also want this whole mutually insulting situation to end and let's just move on. We have different times now, there is no USSR any more. Let's just move on and learn how to respect each other.

Kristjan said...

Hi kristjan, not sure what you call manipulation, I read news from different sources.


The thing is that Russia ranks about 140th in the world (if I'm not mistaken) in terms of press freedom...

Please also glance at this list of indexes of freedom in Wikipedia, and the rankings of Russia and Estonia therein.

It is still my honest opinion that Estonia has not done anything wrong by any civilized standards. Russia, on the other hand...

irina-borissova said...

please stop hating Russians. We are all people at the end of the day.
I live in New York for the last 6 years and I read all kind of news but I should admit I don't follow free press ratings.

I DO NOT blame you for moving the monument, I just would like it not to turn into political provocation as I said earlier. Estonia is small and fragile and Russia is big and evil... this type of thing.

I know a couple Estonians here, in New York. I can't say that they were very friendly with me even before it all happenned. But I need to say that I was not politically oriented or anything like this, current events in Estonia and Yeltsin's death last week forced me to write here. What is the reason for this coldness? We are new generation, we can't be responsible for the past. Right?

Kristjan said...


I don't hate Russians! I hate the Stalinist regime, and the Putinist regime.

That's the whole point.

Siil said...

The thought that has troubled me in the last couple of days is that maybe all these events in Tallinn also have something to contribute to the positive in the long run, especially in terms of integration. It may sound completely out of place right now and I am not 100% convinced myself, but I feel that we now know what the most serious mistakes have been in the Estonian integration policy (which results have in no way been wiped away!). Take for instance the absence of a Russian language Estonian TV channel or the never-ending school reform in Estonia. At least now the government and politicians may take some action in regard these two issues. For instance, it's hard to blame Russian-speakers for watching Russian TV channels when Estonia has not provided them with an alternative. The inactivity of Estonia in the latter is probably the most serious mistake it has made since we all know how well Russian propganda machine works (and its cufflinked media for that matter).

Kristjan said...

You are absolutely right.

Aleksejs Nipers said...

I am from Latvia, so according to the free press ranking I am not manipulated very much :)
I don’t think that Estonia did the best – that was clearly political step before elections to satisfy one part of Estonian society with ignorance to another. As I understand that even some Estonians were reluctant to this (including the president?). But I don’t want to be a judge – that is your internal problem.

Irīna… Russia has to understand that if it wants to have any influence in the Baltic States, it should be a good example and reliable partner, not simply to push. When I see any interview of Russian officials about Latvia, I hear only “you [Latvia] are doing wrong” and “you must” – that is not they way for discussion.
And I can’t understand why Russia is so resistant to recognize all the crimes of Stalin, including occupation (or annexation by force, I don’t know) of the Baltic States. Of you can imagine that it happened democratically with referenda, when newly born states decided that Stalin should be their leader? :)))
Russia suffered from Stalin so much, that me simply wondering how reluctant it is to talk about that.

kristjan... I don't think that Stalin and Putin are comparable. Yes, there are a lot of problems in Russia today, but neverthless.

Kristjan said...


I agree that Ansip used the Bronze Soldier for his election campaign.

I also think that noone in Estonia anticipated what would happen when they moved it.

I think we got lucky. The rabble that the Kremlin gathered for this was so stupid that they discredited themselves immediately. What can you think of people who riot, destroy, loot, and murder as a response to an interior affairs decision of a government of an independent state?

Noone expected this level of violence, I think. Not even Edgar Savisaar, who was very much part of the plot. Thanks to the extent of the violence, we are now rid of him as well. He was stupid enough to take the side of the rioters even after he saw how violent they were. I guess he had no choice.

In conclusion, you might be right in that Ansip acted cynically regarding this issue during the election campaign, but when it appeared that the Republic of Estonia is actually under a very serious attack, he made all the right moves.

And the Estonians respect him for that, and hate Savisaar to no end.

As for Stalin vs. Putin, I respect your opinion, but remain at mine. :-)

Kristopher said...

Bravo on a good piece and leader.

Kristjan: I respect your no- quarter attitude, even though I don't believe it is always constructive.

But we won't have Edgar Savisaar to kick around anymore, is it? I must say I have heard that somewhere.

Kristjan said...

I respect your no- quarter attitude, even though I don't believe it is always constructive.

I respect your opinion, but I think you're wrong. :-)

As for Savisaar, I really hope he just disappears. Moves to North Korea or something.

Polizia said...

Well, on Savisaar - I hope he's hiccuping as hell right now - surely, if anyone can be blamed for using the Soldier as a tool in the election game, it is Savisaar? It was he who didn't want to alienate his Russian speaking voters and made the issue drag on for so long. Ansip simply promised to throw money at everyone and since he made the most lucrative offer at an election characterized by many as a populism fest, he won.

Going all emotional here, but I have ceased to regard Savisaar as a human being because what we have here is clearly an organic organism developed in a different solar system and in command of some very powerful and impenetrable technology because there is just no other explanation for the fact that there still is a Center Party with members other than Vilja Savisaar (probably shared the spaceship on the way over here), Maria Savisaar and Evelyn "I'd do anything for power" Sepp. And since he still seems to command that technology, I would not be so sure that this is the end of him. Sadly. And poor North Koreans have enough on their plates without him!

Kristjan said...

It seems to me that Keskerakond has already distanced itself from him. I was quite amazed today to see Ain Seppik speaking like a sensible human being on TV.

As for Savisaar's nature, it seems to me that he is simply the antithesis of us: deceitful, unjust, barbaric, while we are truthful, just, and civil.

martintg said...

I think it is easy to look at this as some kind of election play to garner more votes. But there were deeper issues involved than merely some kind of election stunt gone wrong.

Apart from the fact that the location of the graves in a the city centre under a bustop is in contravention of the Geneva Convention, the statue was becoming more than a simple memorial to fallen soldiers. It was becoming a focal point of a rise of a radical ethnic Russian nationalism, partly inspired by the Russian media, which many have access to in Estonia. This really had to be nipped in the bud before serious ethnic divisions developed in Estonia.

The anti-Estonian rhetoric present in the Russian media, that we all thought was aimed for domestic consumption for the upcoming Russian election cycle, is also being piped via cable into the homes of Estonia's Russian speakers.

Estonia needs to adress this as a national security issue. These people need to be given an alternate source of information rather than from the increasingly Kremlin control Russian media.

karLos said...

In 1944, a four-year Nazi occupation gave way to a more damaging, decades-long Soviet one. But for many ethnic Russians the bronze soldier symbolises wartime sacrifice and the defeat of fascism.

question - mart laar suggested in a recent comment on his own blog that estonia was in fact in control of the country when the soviet army invaded, and this so called "liberation" was therefore just a simple invasion, "liberating" estonians not from the germans (who left due to a hitler decision) but from themselves.

is this true? and if so, i find it incredible that estonains have so conciliatory as they have been toward this monument to their own oppression. perhaps i simply read his comments incorrectly...?

mina said...

Yup, it is true - after Germans left the "svastika" was taken down and replaced with Estonian flag. Exile goverment tried to restore free Estonia. But after couple of days came the "liberators".


"As the Germans retreated in September, 1944, Uluots organized a new government, headed by Otto Tief.

Tief's government was then overthrown by the returning Soviet army, which executed several of its members in 1944. The remainder of the government fled to Stockholm, Sweden, where it operated in exile from 1944 to 1992 when Heinrich Mark, who was prime minister acting in duties of the president, presented his credentials to incoming president Lennart Meri."

karLos said...

wow. then in my opinion, the fact that russians are allowed by the ee government, or even their own conscience to celebrate this only demonstrates the patience of estonians for the BS they put up with in their own country.

Kristjan said...

Reading Postimees, it seems I was wrong about Seppik, and I am insulted. He will have to go as well.

prii said...


Look this:


Priit Utsar.

Agu-Enrik Ubailves said...

Victory of Stalin in WWII absolved the criminal system from criticism for along time. Even after the condemnation of Stalin, the role of soviet army in WWII remained largely unquestioned. Victory is a sacred thing for Russia and everyone could agree with that, if you just fail to notice that it is also a safe haven for the seeds of stalinist totalitarian thinking. New growth emerged, when Russia become marginalized during Yeltsin’s laissez-faire rule. Putin has deliberately fed the germs of mighty derzhava, and totalitarianism even to the point of sticking to the stalinist ready-made clichés. Estonia felt the consequences of this development on and under its own skin. Many non-citizens, who were given fair options to choose between open democratic civil society and totalitarian regime, sticked to the latter. Blaming Estonian integration policies certainly has point, but it is a really good question, how it is actually possible to succeed with integration of people, who are not interested or against it and keep waiting white (or red) ship from Russia. In the whole world there is mostly the experience with the people who have migrated voluntarily (accepting the terms of residence) into another country. In Estonia we have many immigrants, who do not want to accept the fact, that they are not here on fairly legal basis, although they are not personally responsible for that.
Many Estonians felt, that the shitbag was ripe to explode and the main question was – who will hold the trigger. Not terribly impressive (and I agree with You on this) Ansip did it. Estonians preferred a terrible end to the endless terror (and this is not over yet). Holding the trigger gave the government at least necessary level of control over the situation. Estonians, feeling victimized already once in the history by the soft and too careful politics of the government, think mostly, that we can not afford the mistakes of this kind any more. Therefore most of the Estonians are backing government right now, although it is highly questionable whether Ansip and other reformist pet shop boys will be of any use when we have to face the reintegration again. And You know, that estonians are not hypernationalistic and overemotional crowd, but rather nasty pragmatics and individualists minding their own interests weighing always the gains and losses of any action undertaken. We know, that we have lost many bonus points – well, we have just to start to earn them again. This has happened often in our personal life in this unstable neighbourhood and we certainly can transform this experience to a policy.
I hope, that the further analysis of the whole plot, revealing the part of the Kremlin in the massive psywar will open more and more eyes in the West.

Sean Hanley said...

Both articles are pitched very much in terms of who's right, who's wrong, who misjudged things, who should have done what, what ar the geo-politics of this, but I would like to know what you think the (likely) consequences of this quite widespread disorder with an ethnic subtext - I can't think of close parallels outside Romania. Has any kind of rubicon been crossed?

Alexey said...

It is certain that this article is biased in a pro-Estonian direction. It throws out gross statements such as "...Nazi occupation gave way to a more damaging Soviet one...", while no attempts are made to support these highly controversial statements. The Soviet rule in Estonia may have harmed it, that is a separate issue, but this rule for the next forty years is not the work of the average Red Army soldier. The average Red Army soldier willingly spilled blood to liberate foreign peoples whom he didn't know (including the Baltic and Estonian nations) from Nazi tyranny, and this statue is in His honor- in the Honor of the One and Only true Hero of World War 2, the one true Hero to whom the whole World must be grateful. But it isn't. Many countries like America simply choose to skip over the fact that USSR won that war almost singlehandedly, while those like Estonia take an even more extreme position- that of actually likening the Red Army to Nazis, or even claiming PREFERENCE to Nazism over Soviet rule. This is sick and this article supports it. Russia's current government is wrong and undemocratic. I do not support it. But there are other groups-- like the NBP, or National Bolshevik Party, who fight Fascism at home and abroad, as well as for the respect of heroes. The NBP protests Putinism while defending the Heroes against Fascists in Estonia. And how is a re-burial of a historic grave-site not a desecration? IT IS!!!! The Soviet Union did the Estonians a favor by LIBERATING THEM! Russia has new nationalist feelings, as well as old communist hold-overs, but this is not the case. It is the Estonians who are the Idiot Nationalists in this case! To desecrate the graves of the Common Hero!. Right now I have in my hands a copy of my relatives' war records-- KIA tables, as well as a Nazi Concentration/POW camp personal card. These brave Russian men fell in the fight against Nazism (for that matter many in the Baltic Area, 403rd infantry regiment, 145th infantry division). Anyone who shows disrespect to victims of war and The Camps is almost like a fascist himself. truly. Estonian government included. If it was known in 1944-45 that Estonia would be so ungrateful, that they would refer to sacred dead heroes as "rapists," perhaps the Red Army shouldn't have given so many lives in their heroic effort... maybe rape, slaughter and eventual total destruction as Untermenschen at the hand of Nazi stormtroopers is what they like. maybe. GLORY TO THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER! i completely disagree with Russian internal politics and decreases of freedom, but externally some certain things may be right. Just because Russia wants to remain a separate, independent body not swallowed up by the USA or the EU doesn't mean they are a violent imperialist nation that threatens European "peace and stability"... after all in WW2 it WAS the Soviets who brought peace and stability by VANQUISHING NAZISM! Glory forever to the Unknown Soldier! Estonia and the Author of this Fascist Propaganda-- maintain your last shreds of dignity, for the good of mankind.