Director: Imbi Paju
Scenario: Imbi Paju
Camera: Ants Martin Vahur
Montage: Riitta Poikselkä
Music: Arvo Pärt, Lepo Sumera
Production: Pille Rünk, Allfilm (Estonia), Tiina Butter, Filmmagica (Finland)
The elderly women in the film ””Sisters across the Gulf of Finland” have all experienced hard times, but with their warm and kind nature, they give the viewer hope that good can defeat evil. In the light of their humanity we can see the darker side of mankind, that which comes to the fore through political violence, when people are forced to remain silent, to withdraw into themselves and to forget. The past is connected to the present when we see UN Special Representative Elisabeth Rehn, herself once a Girl Lotta, assisting civilian victims in crisis areas. The film shows how the patterns of violence tied to war keep repeating regardless of time or place.
Review by Roland Campbell :
The film (Sisters Across te Gulf of Finland)tells the story of the bond between the women’s military auxiliary movements in Estonia and Finland, leading up to and during WWII and their subsequent disbandment and omission from popular history. The story is told by way of present day interviews with former members of the movement and rare archival footage from WWII. The interviews, pristine in appearance, provided personal time-filtered recollections of various elderly members compared to the grainy black and white archival footage which allowed for historical context and drove the narrative forward. They both act as windows to the past, one through the eyes, the window to the soul and the other through the lens of a camera.
Toronto, Estdocs 09
ABOUT IMBI PAJU
Film director, author and journalist Imbi Paju has won international
attention with “Memories Denied” (2005), her awardwinning
documentary film and book of the same name. Both the
film and the book deal with her mother’s experiences in a Soviet
slave labor camp, the occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union
and Nazi Germany, and the attempts by totalitarian regimes to
destroy human memory. Paju has been praised for her ability
to visually portray traumas of the past, something that is hard
to do with words alone. “Memories Denied” shows us how the
tragedy of an individual family repeated over and over gradually
becomes a national tragedy, a part of the collective but interrupted
European narrative, silenced by occupations and the cold
reality of politics.
“Memories Denied” has been translated and published in Estonian,
Finnish, Swedish, English and Russian.
In 2007 it was selected for use in the Swedish school program
“Living History”, which deals with both Nazi and Communist
crimes. In 2008 the film “Memories Denied” was translated into
Russian, as was the book in 2009. Since then Paju has travelled
around Estonia presenting the book to Russian-speaking
communities and has had the pleasure to meet with students,
teachers, community groups, and others.
In 2009, Paju and Finnish writer Sofi Oksanen publisheda collection of essays entitled
“Fear Was Behind Everything.How Estonia Lost its History and How to Get it Back”(WSOY)
which further develops the same themes. The year 2009 saw the premiere of her new documentary
film “Sisters across the Gulf of Finland”, which deals with terror, totalitarianism and humanity
in the next step on the search for the truth.
2011/2012- She published psychological-historical best-sellers nonfiction Sisters Across the Gulf of Finland. Watching the Pain of Others.
(publisher Like 2011/Finland;2012 Hea Lugu/Estonia). Is a story about how Estonian, Finnish and other Scandinavian women around Baltic Sea worked together to prevent
the onset of crisis and war their own unique actions. “Sisters Across The Gulf of Finland. Watching the Pain of Others ” reveals the pains left to us as an inheritance by the past.
Imbi Paju examines the way in which we look at each other, ourselves and our history. The stories of these women refresh our memories and call to mind
the pages of our story hidden in the silence of history.
Imbi Paju has lectured and taken part in numerous seminars and deliberations
about the crimes of communism and historical denial. Discussions inspired by her book and film in
Estonia, Finland, Germany, Norway,Sweden,Denmark,Taiwan,Ireland, Greece,Israel and the United States have helped open a dialogue in Europe as well as North America.
This discussion continues with increasing clarity and urgency.
During the Soviet occupation in the 1940s and 1950s, tens of thousands of Estonians were arrested and deported to Siberia. Among them were Imbi Paju’s mother and her twin sister. For those who grew up in the time of the terror, denial of memories has been the only way to survive. Memories Denied emerged from Imbi Paju’s need to understand her mother’s experiences.
She has interviewed people who lived through the Soviet occupation and the cruelty of the terror, as well as academics who have researched the subject. In her book Imbi Paju discusses the occupation of Estonia in psychoanalytical and philosophical terms, in which the traumatic experiences suffered by an individual are set against the background of major historical events.
Memories Denied shows us how the tragedy of an individual family repeated over and over gradually becomes a national tragedy, a part of the collective but interrupted European narrative, silenced by the occupations and practical politics. The weakening and destroying of memory, of intimacy, and of family ties was one of the goals of Sovietization.
MEMORIES DENIED was originally written in Estonian, but first published in translation in Finnish by Like Publishing Ltd. in 2006. Memories Denied was published in Estonian by Estonian Encyclopaedia Publishers and in Swedish by Atlantis in 2007. The Swedish edition, Förträngda minnen, became the best-seller of Gothenburg Book Fair in 2007 and has stimulated a far-reaching discussion in Sweden. A Russian translation will be published in 2009.
With her book and filmImbi Paju has been able to help open a discussion between Eastern and Western Europe as well as in the USA. The discussion continues and has already led to practical results. By a wide majority on April 2, 2009, as part of a Resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism, the European Parliament proposed August 23 as a Europe-wide day of remembrance to help Europe reconcile its totalitarian legacy, both from the Nazis and the Communists. For more and more people it is becoming clear that you can not, should not and must not deny memories any longer.
Written by author and film director Imbi Paju, Memories Denied is an impressionist work of art, which creates its images by abandoning the traditional rules and techniques of historical writing, instead using psychology, psychoanalysis, belletristics, philosophy, historical facts, personal memories of her countrymen, and the recollections of those close to her. It succeeds in creating an image of what a violent regime can do to people, showing the evil that man inflicts on man when the darkness lurking within his soul seizes power and when the political atmosphere fosters this kind of violence, and showing how a dictatorial regime manipulates remembering in order to hide its criminal actions.
The narrative emerges from Estonia’s experience, from the author’s own family story and personal childhood memories. In her work, Paju is not saying “never again!” On the contrary, the book tells us that events such as these might well happen again. If we make no attempt to keep remembering, we shall never escape the consequences. This book explains how violent regimes founded on totalitarian philosophies persuade people to follow them, thereby stripping them of all their humanity.
The early 1940s saw the immediate imposition of the Russian SSR Criminal Code, which defined the “objective enemy”– a bandit, an enemy of the people, a kulak, an undesirable element, a hostile nation. According to the renowned Gulag researcher Anne Applebaum, every memoir, every document on the history of the Gulag is but a fragment of the puzzle, a fraction of the explanation. Without these pieces, we might wake up one day not knowing who we are. And without these pieces, words such as “human rights”, “compassion” and “trust” will become mere clichés.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia
“Memories Denied is an impressive and essential
work. An important contribution to
cultural memory in Europe!”
-Prof. Peter Hanenberg
“I can recommend two books that make good reading for those
wishing to get a deeper insight into the large themes of Oksanen.
I’m thinking of the works by the Estonian documentary filmmaker
and author Imbi Paju: Memories Denied and Sisters across the
Gulf of Finland. In both books she uses material from her documentary
films (2005 and 2009) bearing the same titles, but deepens the
subjects in well-documented, essayistic reflections on the sexualised
violence of the occupation and the power of propaganda over human relationships.
…one can…read the books by Oksanen and Paju in parallel,
combine the former’s dramaturgic drive with the latter’s reflective
depth. No author is an isolated island, and Finnish – and
Nordic – literature needs Imbi Paju.”
Pia Ingström is a critic and scholar, currently
Pia Ingström is a critic and scholar, head of the cultural editors at the Finland- Swedish newspaper Hufudstadsbladet.
She writes for Norwegian Newspaper Klasskampen.
“One of the best books on the history of
Estonia and the fate of its people.”
-Stefan Brunow, Arts and Culture
Journalist, Tv YleFem/Finland
Stefán Jónsson, director and professor of acting, Iceland Academy of the Arts:
“In 2011, I directed Purge by Sofi Oksanen, at Iceland´s National Theatre. When researching the work, I discovered that Oksanen had been inspired by the book, Memories Denied by Imbi Paju. I read the book and found it both overwhelming and yet beautifully honest. It´s a great testimony to the love that the author has for her mother and her homeland, for humanity. It´s how history should be written. It was essential, both for me and my fellow artists, to have such a source of knowledge and inspiration, when working on Oksanen´s Purge. My utmost respect to Imbi Paju.”
“Imbi Paju’s book opens doors onto dark rooms.” – Edward Lucas, author of The New Cold War.
“By describing the fate of her mother – arrested, imprisoned, deported to the Gulag as a young woman – Imbi Paju has, in effect, told the story of an entire nation. Widely admired in her native Estonia and elsewhere, Memories Denied could bring that country’s history alive for many others too.” – Anne Applebaum, Author of Gulag
“Memories Denied is without question one of the books that will contribute to both the knowledge and the understanding of what our Estonian sister nation and the other nations that fell under the communistic oppression after the Second World War were confronted with.” – Dag Hartelius, Ambassador of Sweden in Estonia, Svenska Dagbladet
“Imbi Paju’s book is equally impressive and neccissary. It
focuses on the denial of atrocies suffered in Estonia during
the Soviet occupation: both the unspeakable and the
unspoken. On the one hand it is about the denial of the
victim. And on the other, it is a history of perptrators and
the dark powers that followed.
Imbi Paju’s book is an important contribution to a critical
update of cultural memory in Europe. Such stories are
critical, because only they can remind us how secretly
memories can be denied.
As the author says, it is personal memories that give history
a human face. The book does, however, also reflected
on the larger story: the history of a country that aspires
to retain its independence – and has put its hopes into
the EU for freedom and security.”
Prof. Dr. Peter Hanenberg
Professor of Cultural Studies
Universidade Católica Portuguesa
“I find myself now believing that, in the spirit of Dante’s divine author genius, Imbi Paju’s books can coach us – as individual citizens, as
independent nations and members of ever growing national organisations – to grow ourselves, and to grow a moral cosmos to combat and
treat evil – repression, submission, decimation and devastation.”
-Heikki Majava, psychiatrist, psychologist and psychosemiotician, Finland
“If you don’t even try to dismantle the evilness of the past, you will undoubtedly be met by it again.” – Risto Lindstedt, Suomen Kuvalehti Journal
“The time of shame is over.” – Suvi Ahola, Helsingin Sanomat Newspaper
“As certainly as Paju believes that man can be changed, she also unwaveringly believes in the healing power of calling forward and unravelling
the nightmares of the past. Unprocessed stories breed pain; the stories which are talked of, in turn, help understand the past and avoid
evil deeds of the future.”
– Rutt Hinrikus, literary and memoir scholar, Eesti Päevaleht newspaper
FIRST THERE WAS A PHOTO OF MY MOTHER
When I look at the picture of my mother, I see sadness. The photo was taken in 1955, about a year after she had been released from Stalin’s forced labor camp. Mother’s melancholic look brings the reality of that time into the present day. The past lives on in her expression, and a perceptive observer can see her nightmarish experiences engraved on her face. My mother does not like to look at that photograph. She thinks the look on her face is too frightening. “You don’t know how hard it was,” says Mother. I failed to grasp the full meaning of my mother’s expression “frightening” until the beginning of the 21st century, when I began collecting materials for the documentary Memories Denied.
Throughout the Soviet occupation, the people who had survived the Siberian forced labor camps and persecutions either kept their painful memories to themselves or shared them only within the confines of their family, even then keeping the most horrifying details to themselves. Fearing renewed persecution and hoping to conceal the fact that they were marked, they remained silent. When they did speak, they were often met with indifference and a lack of understanding, making communication of these bitter experiences even more difficult. Social memory had suffered the systematic elimination of the actual past, a socially designed amnesia. This was the case throughout Central and Eastern Europe.
People living in the countries formerly within the Soviet system, countries that had once enjoyed freedom and democracy, have reacted with awkwardness, sometimes even hostility toward those who have suffered, especially when this suffering can not be reconciled with the belief that, despite the terror its system had inflicted, Communist ideology had actually been good. To a person who has survived the Gulag or the Holocaust, his or her experience is sacred, making the person all the more vulnerable.
Any humane approach to history must include the belief that concentration, forced labor, and death camps cannot possibly serve progress, no matter how good the ideology. In other words: when looking at a destructive system that claims millions of victims, one can not presume that this brutality was inflicted on behalf of a good ideology.
Recollections from my childhood include a plywood suitcase that I often played with, filling it with my doll clothes and toys. It was the same suitcase that my mother had carried on a summer’s day in 1954 as she stepped off the train that had brought her back home from a place 1,500 kilometers away in Russia. She was then 24 years old, having spent 6 years in a forced labor camp in Archangelsk oblast. She was released during the amnesty after Stalin’s death in 1953, having been labeled as someone “behaving in a hostile manner” against the Soviet system as a young girl. She had survived amid the terror, although death had often been too close. Her own mother Helene and her mother’s sister Heldi with her two small children Pille and Helve had also been deported to Russia in 1949. Their home, which could have offered them safety and reassurance, had been demolished by the new Soviet order and dismantled; its planks used to build a sauna at some collective farm. My mother’s passport bore the stamp “Enemy of the People,” making it hard for her to find work. Upon her release from the camp, she signed a promise to keep silent about what she had experienced there. Upon returning home, she had to register with the Soviet security apparatus (NKVD – Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennykh Del – People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, the Soviet Secret Police in the 1930s and the Second World War), and was forbidden to live in any coastal town, since the Soviet Union considered such towns to be strategically important.
I was born five years after Mother’s release from prison camp. At the age of forty, I began making a documentary film entitled Memories Denied about the story of my mother and her twin sister. I wanted something to endure from my mother’s life; something that would create a new sense of continuity. I believe that any kind of pain that is recreated on film, in a book, in a work of art, changes the source of its meaning, creating a new event. The screen is like a mirror in which the viewer does not directly see oneself; what the viewer sees gives birth to a feeling, which in turn creates an experience, an experience through which the viewer becomes a participant in the process of laying open this pain. And this pain often has universal significance.
As a child, I often awoke to hear my mother crying out for help as she struggled in nightmares. Her dreams were of Stalin’s forced labor camps and the Soviet soldiers who threatened her life. In those dreams, she was never able to return home to her mother. In my childhood, those dreams of my mother’s caused me great distress. The script of this story began taking shape in those childhood years. The forced labor camps and death camps filtered into my subconscious through my mother’s dreams.
This story is the untold story of all Estonian society, a story of sadness, arbitrary power, and images of violence – a puzzle. Many different feelings flow from mother to child; at that time, I did not know that my mother was suffering from something called remembering.
(From the film Memories Denied)
Even a documentary film can be dreamlike. A dreamer always stands within the events; the dreamer’s experience is actual and immediate. The film Memories Denied is the symbolic expression of those nightmares. Dreams themselves are moving pictures, abundant with events and meaning.
The French historian François Dosse claims that historical processes may be viewed through the prism of psychoanalysis. People today actually expect the historian to assume the role of psychoanalyst or psychologist. Two parties are required for the preservation of historical memory: the one who talks and the one who listens. Psychoanalytic treatment supports the “work of remembering,” forcing the person to break through the screen of memories and confront their pain and mourning. “Mourning does not consist only of sadness, but in actual discussion of the loss of a beloved person, a slow and painful surrender to reality,” Dosse writes. “This ‘work of remembering’ helps one to recollect, and the ‘work of mourning’ helps to create distance, and the necessity of such ‘work’ indicates that the normal functioning of memory can be guaranteed only if painful images can be eliminated and forgotten.”
The purpose of individual as well as collective memory is the preservation of the integrity of identity that is connected to a particular time and activity. The English moral philosopher Jonathan Glover writes in Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century3 that by keeping the past alive, we can prevent the repetition of horrifying events. These events, which people are sometimes required to forget, may be horrifying, particularly for the victims who survived them. In a speech given to SS soldiers heading for Poland, Hitler ordered them to mercilessly kill men, women and children. He hinted that these deeds would eventually be forgotten: “Who remembers the Armenian genocide any more?” This is strikingly similar to the comment Stalin made as he signed an execution order: “Who is going to remember all this riffraff in ten or twenty years’ time? No one! Who remembers the names of the boyars Ivan the Terrible got rid of? No one!”
Politics and politicians frequently have a hand in the demand for silence. A dissertation written by Turo Uskali, a scholar at Finland’s Jyväskyla University, investigates the work of Finnish correspondents in the Soviet Union during the Cold War (1957-1975). In it, he lists three topics that the KGB forbade foreign correspondents to write about: the exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union, the Winter War, and anything involving the Baltic States. Journalists were not to talk or write about the past of Estonia and the Baltic States, or if they did, only under strict self-censorship. Honesty and openness would have endangered the dictatorial regime, the guilty conscience of the Soviet system. Whereas the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians experienced actual Communism, the Finns, Swedes, French and other free nations experienced only the ideas of Communism. Communism has always had a wonderful brand – the “uprising of the working class.”
Talking about the victims of Communism has never been fashionable in the West. Nazism has been the “easy enemy;” it lived and died along with Hitler. The Soviet Union was enormous, with plenty of places to send people. Any person could be exchanged, unnoticed, for another. After arguing with Lenin’s widow Nadezhda Krupskaya, Stalin threatened to find Lenin a new widow… Communism in the Soviet Union resembled an enormous anthill, and it was hard to sympathize with victims who seemed not even to exist. Communism never had its Anne Frank.
My good Finnish friend Carita Rosenberg-Wolff has a startling example from one of her school geography lessons in the sixties. Her teacher, describing the location of the Baltic States and Estonia, told the class that these states existed before the war, but that it was no longer appropriate to talk of them. The teacher then went on to a different topic, leaving Carita with the feeling that those countries must be part of some great secret. The teacher had behaved just like her parents when they hid sexually explicit materials from the curious eyes of their children. The child realized that this must be some kind of secret, something forbidden and thus all the more exciting. Playing on the beach in summer, she and the other children had cupped their hands and called across the Gulf of Finland: “Estonia, Estonia, where are you?” But Estonia did not answer until the early 1990s.
At the time of this writing, Estonia has been independent for 15 years, after half a century of forced silence. Occasionally, there is still discussion about whether the Baltic States were occupied or whether they joined the Soviet Union voluntarily. Those who delve into Estonia’s recent past and the crimes of Communism are sometimes labeled “Russophobes.”
Every so often, someone will claim that life was good during Soviet times or that traveling in the Soviet Union was easy. These people were not directly affected by the terror, the murders, the persecution inflicted by the Soviet system. The Soviet occupation authorities preached the equality of all peoples, while in reality there were always some people more equal than others. At certain store counters, some people could purchase “deficit goods,” i.e. household items and food not sold to the public; there were special hospitals that tended to the so-called superior people; there were special schools in which the children of the Soviet elite could study foreign languages. Labor unions handed out car purchase permits, apartments, and vacation travel packages to particularly loyal citizens. Whenever anyone was fortunate enough to acquire an item that was in short supply, such as toilet paper or a sack of sugar, that person would feel uplifted, superior. It did not take much to make someone feel special.
They would turn their eyes away from a fellow citizen who had fallen on hard times, because empathy was a relic of the bourgeois West, and dangerous in the circumstances of the occupation.
And the price of this superficial welfare? The destruction of hundreds of thousands of Estonian lives, disruption of traditions, and economic catastrophe – a loss which is still felt in this country that has now restored its independence.
The occupation brought about an abrupt and unexpected change in morality. It remained unnoticed by those outside the Soviet Union, particularly since the new morality was being described with expressions co-opted from the “rotting humanism and bourgeoisie”: freedom, equality, brotherhood and justice.
Those who had survived now lived in the shadow of the Gulag, concealing their personal loss.
Over the last five years, I have ventured into this nightmarish time, one step at a time. On my desk, I have copies of documents which the NKVD compiled about my mother in 1948-49. The KGB destroyed her interrogation files in 1962. I want to know the identity of the Soviet KGB agents who labeled my mother a “bandit;” I want to know how it all happened. It is for this reason that I must put everything in writing as well as on film. By opening these pathologies of history to the extent that I am able in this moment and at this time, I am attempting to re-create the lost era which engulfed my mother and her contemporaries, but which has sunk into silence and been denied the comfort of closure. This may not be reason enough to bring up these pathologies of history, but then again, there is no need to know everything, because total recollection could lead to madness.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Edward Lucas preface …15
First There Was a Photo of My Mother…21
Dangerous Elements Are Eliminated…29
The Work of History is a Twofold Work of Memory and Mourning…35
Heino Noor’s Journey from a Small Town in Europe to a Stalinist Death Camp…38
The Ill-Omened Idyll of 1939…60
Memories of the First World War…62
Kafka’s Prediction: An Apparatus That Tattoos the Text of the Law Directly onto the Flesh…69
Toward Freedom and Republic: Elsbet Parek Remembers…76
The War of Independence…91
A National Ideal That Respects National Minorities…104
The Faculty of Jewish Language and Culture was established at Tartu University in 1933. A celebration of the Estonian Jewish University Student Organization Hasmonea.Courtesy Estonian Film Archive.
Communist Historical Texts Have Their Own Truth…132
The Voice of KGB Propagandists Continues to Have Influence Today…134
Who Shall Rewrite the Past?…137
Erika Nivanka Remembers: Problems and Successes in Building a Civil Society…140
All Ours, All Together…146
The Spiritual Suitcases of the Survivors….148
Establishing a Disinformation Office…153
“Hang No Less Than One Hundred Known Kulaks”…154
Fear of the Nazis…160
1939: Swastika Flags Fly in Moscow…168
Foreign Policy Before the Fateful Year of 1939…172
How Did Soviet Russia React to the Pact Between Hitler and Stalin?…173
The Baltic Germans Return to Their Homeland…178
The Occupation Begins…182
1940: The “Joyous Union” and the World’s Fairest Judicial System…186
Stalin’s Theory of Species Transformation, Which Could Also Serve to Transform Estonians…188
Spoils of War from the Baltic States…190
Establishment of Soviet Justice in Estonia: “Confession is the Queen of Evidence in the Soviet Union”…191
Normalizing the Perversity of the Judicial System…198
End of July 1940: Soviet Cleansing Begins. Abolition of the Institution of the President of the Republic of Estonia…204
The Soviet Regime Rescues Children from the Grip of Fascism….204
From the Perspective of the Attacker, It Is the Victim’s Own Fault…231
Crushing the Country’s Spine…242
Extermination Battalions Are Put Into Action…250
Who Were They?…251
What Did They Do?…252
The Red Army Invades My Paentts Home Village…257
Hiding in the Cellar…260
Hitler Betrays Stalin…264
Forced Mobilization into the Red Army and the German Army:
A Fratricidal War…267
Schoolboys Fighting Against Each Other…268
The Fate of the Jews…270
The New Occupation…284
A Family of Bandits…295
Toward a Happier History…325
Chronology of Estonia History…330
Introduction by Edward Lucas
I am delighted to able to offer an introduction to this important book. As Milan Kundera so eloquently wrote:“the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” And nowhere is that more true in the Baltic states, where the small voices speaking quietly of traumatic memories are drowned out by the discourse of big neighbours to the west and east.
Imbi Paju’s book is particularly valuable as it has been published at a time when the threat from Russia to Estonia has become a topical, rather than a historical, matter. It would be bad enough if Estonia’s only task now was working through the buried collective and individual memories of totalitarian rule, creating an authentic account of the past to replace the constrained and censored one created and enforced during the Soviet occupation.
Let me take a few lines to give a broader context to Estonia’s position now.
After the Georgian war, two mistaken conclusions were drawn. One was that the Kremlin’s military adventure there was an aberration and we would soon be back to “business as usual”. The other was that it was the start of a process that would lead inexorably to similar conflicts elsewhere. Neither of these were true.
The “New Cold War” (a phrase which became part of the mainstream discussion in the course of the summer) did not start in August 2008. Its roots are in the mid-1990s when the old KGB, in those days mainly the associates of the former spy chief Yevgeny Primakov, began regrouping and returning to power. Their approach is repression at home (the destruction of independent institutions public and private) but without the rigid and brittle controls of the totalitarian era. They have learned their lesson from that: markets work better than planning, and 80% control, including the media and all the institutions of power, is far better than the attempt to control everything, Soviet-style. A third lesson is that aggression abroad works best when it is pursued stealthily, It is Russian banks and pipelines, not tanks and warplanes, that are doing the dirty work. The Kremlin exerts more influence from selling weapons than from uses them. And the best way of dealing with the West is divide-and-rule rather than confrontation.
So if we are back to business as usual, it is a kind of business that is very bad for us. Having humiliatingly exposed our weakness by dismembering our ally, Russia can continue its main policies unchecked: bullying and subverting other countries, stitching up the energy market and turning money into power in Western Europe (most recently with the spectacular offer of a bailout of the stricken Icelandic economy). This plays off multiple forms of softheadedness and shortsightedness in Europe and America. But the taproot is money. In the old cold war, doing business with the Soviet Union was a rare and suspicious activity. Now Russia has penetrated markets and businesses, particularly in continental Europe, to a huge degree. It has bribed politicians and officials in a way that leaves western security services flabbergasted.
The result is that both NATO and the EU are so divided that neither is able to play a proper role as a collective security organisation. Even though the European Union is far stronger than Russia on paper, three times bigger in population terms, and more than ten times larger as an economy, it now seems wholly unable to stand up to the Kremlin.
The same is true even for NATO. Some countries – Italy and Greece, for example – seem no longer have the will to be in a military alliance that makes serious plans to defend its neighbours against Russian aggression. A majority of Germans say that even if Russia attacks the Baltic States, they would oppose using military force in response. Other countries – America, Britain, Poland, the Baltic’s, Romania – still wish to protect themselves. So do Sweden and Finland, which are not members of NATO but deeply worried by the resurgence of their eastern neighbour.
Misguided political considerations have prevented NATO from making proper contingency plans.
Consider this scenario. Imagine that Estonian extremists start intimidating local Russians (who in various categories amount to around a third of the Estonian population). Russia can easily stoke this covertly, while demanding publicly that Estonia crack down. Then imagine that Russian activists (again, backed, discreetly, by Moscow) set up “self-defence units” which start patrols, and then set up checkpoints. When the Estonian authorities try to stop this, the Kremlin complains; Russian military “volunteers” start mustering across the border, proclaiming their intention to defend compatriots from “fascism”. The Russian media reports this with wild enthusiasm; The Russian authorities say they cannot indefinitely restrain the spontaneous patriotic sentiments of their citizens.
Suppose Estonia (or Latvia, for it would be just the same story) goes to NATO and requests support under Article IV of the NATO charter (which pledges that members “will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any…is threatened.” . At this point Russia’s assiduous cultivation of assets in the west pays off. Germany, Italy and other big European countries turn up for consultations—but then tell Estonia to sort out its problems with Russia bilaterally. “This is not a NATO issue, this is an internal Estonian human rights issue” say people ranging from British Conservative MPs to German Social Democrats.
The result is a worse split in the alliance even than the one experienced over Iraq. Faced with the West’s visible weakness, the Kremlin ups the odds. Estonia tries to restore order; Russia terms that an intolerable provocation and demands a change of government, the prosecution of senior Estonian officials for abuse of power, immediate changes in the language and citizenship laws, and the establishment of what it calls a “Swiss solution”: cantons in which Russian will be allowed “to run their own affairs”. To back up this suggestion, Russian forces start menacing military manoeuvres.
So what does Estonia do then? If NATO was not ready to offer support under Article IV, what point is there in invoking Article V? America may offer moral support, but is it going to risk World War Three with Russia to protect Estonia?
Estonia’s politicians and diplomats have plenty to do here to bolster their military and security relationships with other states. But there is another front too: soft power. It is here that books such as Imbi Paju’s play their role: in highlighting what it is we are fighting for. History in Estonia has multiple layers and multiple meanings. Those whose family roots lie in the opposition to the Päts government will have different memories to those who served it. Jewish Estonians may remember the occupations differently from their gentile compatriots. Those whose families prospered under Soviet rule will recall it differently from those who suffered. Yet nobody can ignore the suffering of the deportees and their enforced silence after their return.
It is a tragedy that no similar project is underway in Russia. As a correspondent there in the late 1990s, I was delighted to report on the activities of the campaigning group Memorial, which had launched an oral history project in which Russian teenagers interviewed their elderly relatives and recorded their memories of Stalinism. The response was huge—but the project has withered since then. When Russians themselves are deprived of knowledge of their own past suffering, it is hardly surprising that as a country, Russia can seem indifferent to the crimes of the past.
My book, “The New Cold War” has aroused great controversy since it was published in February 2008. At public meetings I am sometimes accused of being “Russophobic”. My standard response is to quote a few names: Vladimir Dremlyuga, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Konstantin Babitsky, Viktor Fainberg. And then ask the audience if they can complete the sequence. Mostly they cannot. That is rather scandalous. A German audience asked what Claus von Stauffenberg, Willi Brandt, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer had in common would instantly know that these were Germans who resisted the Nazi regime, at home and abroad. They would be able to add other names (Thomas Mann, Marlene Dietrich); names of which modern Germans can be proud.
Yet how many Russians know that the modern human rights movement was founding in few brief minutes on Red Square on August 25th 1968, when the four people mentioned, plus Tatyana Baeva, Larisa Bogoraz, Vadim Delaunay and Pavel Litvinov, held up banners saying “For Your Freedom and Ours” “We are losing our best friends” “Long live free and independent Czechoslovakia” and so on, to protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia? The fortieth anniversary of that heroic protest—an memory that should make every Russian heart swell with pride—was not commemorated officially in Moscow. Indeed, a handful of protestors who tried to mount a protest in the same place, marking the erosion of political freedom under the Putin regime, were swiftly arrested. Unlike the 1968 protestors, however, they were not sent to psychiatric hospital or to labour camps in Siberia.
It is fashionable in some quarters to say that Estonians are neurotic about their history. Yet the real cause of neurosis is repression. Imbi Paju’s book opens doors onto dark rooms. Let them flood with sunlight. And let others follow the same example.
Edward Lucas is author of “The New Cold War” published by Bloomsbury (UK), Palgrave (USA) and 15 other publishing houses worldwide, including Varrak (Estonia).
Chronology of Estonian History
Estonian ancestors settle along the Baltic coast.
German crusaders conquer and Christianize pagan Estonia. Until this time, the Estonians have lived as free peasants organized under local leaders. The Germans become landed gentry and wield huge influence for 700 years.
Estonia is conquered by Sweden; the Russians are repelled. Swedish King Gustav II Adolph founds Tartu University in 1632.
Russia conquers Estonia to acquire a “window to the West,” though Germans retain local control.
Agrarian reform laws abolish the age-old system of serfdom in Estonia.
An Estonian cultural awakening takes root; many Estonian cultural and economic societies are founded. Some leaders become more daring in their demands for greater political rights.
The Estonian-language newspaper, Johann Voldemar Jannsen’s Pernu Postimees begins publication, laying the foundation for Estonian-language journalism. The national epic Kalevipoeg, compiled by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, is published in a series of separate booklets.
A new Agrarian Law separating the core lands of each manor from the peasants’ lands takes effect. Peasants are granted the right to purchase farms in perpetuity. The population of Estonia is about 760,000.
The first All-Estonian Song Festival is held in Tartu. Great strides are made in education and music, reflecting Estonia’s overall cultural awakening and growth.
Russification is imposed upon Estonia. Russian becomes the language of instruction and official business in Estonia. In response, the Estonians begin a vigorous campaign of Estonian folklore collection. Thanks to the gathering and preservation of Estonian folklore initiated at that time, the Estonian folklore collection is the second largest in the world, after Ireland’s.
Strikes and unrest break out as revolution erupts. The Russian tsar sends punishment units to Estonia.
Estonians stage a large demonstration in Petrograd, demanding autonomy for Estonia. The Russian Provisional Government signs the Law of Estonian Autonomy on April 12. Estonian soldiers serving in the Russian Army are brought to Estonia to form the nucleus of the new Estonian Army. The Maapäev (Estonian Diet) fears that the Russian Bolsheviks will not abide by the assurances it has given to the Provisional Government, and declares itself to be the highest authority in Estonia.
The Manifesto to the Peoples of Estonia, which declares Estonia an independent republic, is printed and read out publicly in Pärnu. The Manifesto adresses all the peoples of Estonia and promises the right of cultural autonomy to all minorities, including Jews, Russians, Swedes, and Germans. The independent Republic of Estonia is proclaimed in Tallinn on February 24. The Rescue Committee appoints Konstantin Päts to be head of the Estonian Provisional Government.
MANIFESTO TO THE PEOPLES OF ESTONIA
In the course of centuries never have the Estonian people lost their desire for independence. From generation to generation have they kept alive the hidden hope that in spite of enslavement and oppression by hostile invaders the time will come to Estonia “when all splinters, at both end, will burst forth into flames” and when “Kalev will come home to bring his children happiness.”
Now that time has arrived.
An unprecedented fight between nations has crushed the rotten foundations of the Russian Tsarist Empire. All over the Sarmatian plains ruinous anarchy is spreading, threatening to overwhelm in its wake all the nations living in the former Russian Empire. From the West the victorious armies of Germany are approaching in order to claim their share of Russia’s legacy and, above all, to take possession of the coastal territories of the Baltic Sea.
In this hour, the Estonian National Council, as the legal representative of our land and people, has, in unanimous agreement with Estonian democratic political parties and organizations, and by virtue of the right of self-determination of peoples, found it necessary to take the following decisive steps to shape the destiny of the Estonian land and people.
within her historical and ethnic boundaries, is declared as of today an
INDEPENDENT DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC.
The independent Republic of Estonia shall include Harjumaa, Läänemaa, Järvamaa, Virumaa, with the city of Narva and its surroundings, Tartumaa, Võrumaa, Viljandimaa, and Pärnumaa with the Baltic islands of Saaremaa, Hiiumaa, Muhumaa, and others where the Estonians have settled for ages in large majorities. Final determination of the boundaries of the Republic in the areas bordering on Latvia and Russia will be carried out by plebiscite after the conclusion of the present World War.
In the aforementioned areas the only supreme and organizing authority is the democratically supported Estonian Salvation Committee created by the Estonian National Council.
The Republic of Estonia wishes to maintain absolute political neutrality towards all neighbouring states and peoples and expects that they will equally respond with complete neutrality.
Estonian military troops shall be reduced to the extent necessary to maintain internal order. Estonian soldiers serving in the Russian military forces will be called home and demobilized.
Until the Estonian Constituent Assembly, elected by general, direct, secret, and proportional elections, will convene and determine the constitutional structure of the country, all executive and legislative authority will remain vested in the Estonian National Council and in the Estonian Provisional Government created by it, whose activities must be guided by the following principles:
1. All citizens of the Republic of Estonia, irrespective of their religion, ethnic origin, and political views, are going to enjoy equal protection under the law and courts of justice of the Republic.
2. All ethnic minorities, the Russians, Germans, Swedes, Jews, and others residing within the borders of the republic, are going to be guaranteed the right to their cultural autonomy.
3. All civic freedoms, the freedom of expression, of the press, of religion, of assembly, of association, and the freedom to strike as well as the inviolability of the individual and the home, shall be irrefutably effective within the territory of the Estonian Republic and based on laws, which the Government must immediately work out.
4. The Provisional Government is given the task of immediately organizing courts of justice to protect the security of the citizens. All political prisoners shall be released immediately.
5. The city, county, and township local governments are called upon to immediately continue their work, which has been violently interrupted.
6. For maintenance of public order, people’s militia, subordinated to local governments, shall be immediately organized and citizens’ self-defence organizations established in the cities and rural areas.
7. The Provisional Government is instructed to work out, without delay, on a broad democratic basis, bills for the solution of the agrarian problem, and the problems of labor, of food supply, and of finances.
You stand on the threshold of a hopeful future in which you shall be free and independent in determining and directing your destiny! Begin building a home of your own, ruled by law and order, in order to be a worthy member within the family of civilized nations! Sons and daughters of our homeland, unite as one man in the sacred task of building our homeland! The sweat and blood shed by our ancestors for this country demand this from us; our forthcoming generations oblige us to do this.
May God watch over thee
And amply bless
Whatever thou undertake
My dear fatherland!
Long live the independent democratic Republic of Estonia!
Long live peace among nations!
The Council of Elders of the Estonian National Council
Tallinn, February 21, 1918
Estonians fight the War of Independence against the Russian Red Army as well as the German Landeswehr.
A treaty ending the hostilities is signed in Tartu with Soviet Russia on February 2. In the Tartu Peace Treaty, Russia recognizes the independence of the Republic of Estonia and renounces in perpetuity all rights to the territory of Estonia.
Estonian becomes a full-fledged member of the League of Nations. A radical land reform is begun: the manor lands (58 percent of all agricultural land) are nationalized and redistributed to 55,000 peasant farmers. The former German large landowners are compensated.
The Soviet Union, with the help of communists operating underground in Estonia, attempts to overthrow the government of the Republic of Estonia, but is unsuccessful. The Communist Party is outlawed in Estonia.
The Law on Cultural Autonomy is passed in Estonia for the protection and development of the culture of national minorities, giving national minorities in Estonia the right to operate schools in their native language and organize cultural life with the support of the Estonian government. Under the law, the German population in Estonia is given cultural autonomy. One year later, the same is achieved by the Estonian Jewish community. The Cultural Endowment of Estonia is founded to support cultural life.
In a referendum, a draft Constitution proposed by the League of Veterans of the War of Independence veterans passes, giving the head of state much greater power. The Estonian kroon is devalued, and the consequences of the 1929 world-wide economic crisis begin to ease. In late 1933, National Socialism is outlawed in Estonia as a hate-mongering ideology.
Tartu University creates a Chair of Jewish Studies in its Faculty of Philosophy. Leipzig University Professor Lazar Gulkovitsch, persecuted in his native Germany, is invited to serve as its chairman. Similar faculties had already been established in Oxford and Cambridge.
Estonia has a population of 1,126,000, of whom 89 percent are Estonian, 8.8 percent Russian, 1.5 percent German, 0.7 percent Swedish, 0.5 percent Latvian, and 0.4 percent Jewish. The country prepares for presidential elections. Since a victory by the candidate of the far-right radical League of Veterans seems likely, Head of State Konstantin Päts thwarts their plans with a pre-emptive coup, establishing his own authoritarian rule until a new constitution can come into force. Meanwhile, Estonia prospers, with GDP reaching or surpassing Nordic levels.
With political passions running high, political parties and organizations are disbanded, and restrictions placed on freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
Stalin launches an anti-nations campaign: Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Tatars, Koreans, Chinese, Kurds, and Iranians are declared criminal peoples. The campaign has its roots in 1934, when Stalin told the Party 17th Congress that the issue of nationalities presents a danger to the people’s political and moral unity. A plan to politically persecute and destroy these people is initiated on the territory of the Soviet Union.
A new Constitution is enacted in Estonia, significantly more liberal than the previous one.
Under the threat of war, the Soviet Union forces Estonia to sign a mutual assistance treaty. The USSR brings its troops onto the soil of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Answering Germany’s call, more than 12,000 Baltic Germans leave Estonia.
On June 16-17, 1940, the Soviet Union extends an ultimatum to Estonia and sends in the Red Army to occupy the country. After farcical elections, the Riigikogu (Parliament) convenes under the “protection” of the Red Army and sends Moscow its “request” to have Estonia admitted into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which Moscow immediately approves. Private property is abolished. Estonian currency is replaced by the Russian ruble. Arrests, executions, and persecutions sweep the country. All Estonian political, judicial and military leaders and their family members are subjected to complete terror and liquidated. The Russian SFSR Criminal Code enters into force on the territory of Estonia. On June 14, 1941, nearly 12,000 persons are deported from Estonia to Russia, where many are executed or starve to death. The cultural autonomy of Estonian Jews is abolished, because “it insults the Soviet working people.” Estonian Jewish leaders become victims of political persecution. Among those subjected to particular terror are the Russians who live in Estonia. Soviet authorities begin destroying books.
Estonia is overtaken by German occupation. The Gestapo arrives. A new wave of persecution ensues. Most of the Jews who escaped Soviet terror to remain in Estonia are now annihilated. Estonian Gypsies also fall victim to extermination.
The Soviet Army occupies Estonia once more. Before the Soviet conquest is complete, approximately 70,000 people have fled to Sweden and Germany and from there to other places around the globe. Estonian communities are established in Sweden, the United States, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. The Swedish government grants residency to all Swedes who had lived in Estonia. In Estonia, a large number of men and women take to the forests to begin conducting resistance against Soviet authorities. A new wave of mass arrests and executions sweeps the country. Estonians are accused of deceiving the Soviet Union.
Soviet security agencies in Estonia begin to fight, arrest, and exterminate “bandits” and their families.
Soviet security agencies make preparations for the collectivization of agriculture. To stamp out resistance to Soviet rule and support for the Forest Brothers (partisans) in rural areas, approximately 21,000 people are deported to Russia in the night of March 25 to be kept under KGB control.
An official Estonian government-in-exile is formed in Norway to keep the West informed about developments in occupied Estonia.
After the death of Stalin (1953), Estonians who survived their years in Russian prison camps are released and allowed to return to their homeland.
A regular ferry line begins operating between Tallinn and Helsinki.
Estonian émigrés organize the first Worldwide Estonian Festival (ESTO) in Toronto, Canada. Demonstrations are held in favor of restoring Estonian independence.
Russification intensifies in Estonia: Russian is forced upon educational institutions, from kindergarten through university, as the language of instruction. Soviet industries serve as a magnet for migration, enticing Russians to live and work in Estonia with the promises of better pay and living conditions. Nearly a third of the people living in Estonia are now immigrants who do not speak Estonian. Students hold anti-russification demonstrations. Many students are arrested; many fall victim to the psychological and physical terror of the KGB and Soviet police. Forty Estonian cultural figures compose a letter of protest against russification.
All Estonia joins a grass-roots campaign opposing phosphorite mining on Estonian territory. This paves the way for Estonia’s separation from the Soviet Union. Estonian press begins to write more freely. The concept of economic self-management for Estonia (IME) is introduced.
The Popular Front is established. The Estonian Heritage Society brings the Estonian national colors of blue, black and white, strictly banned during the Soviet era, out into public once more. Spontaneous Night Song Festivals take place between June 10-14; about 100,000 people gather each night to sing patriotic songs. These events give birth to the name “Singing Revolution.” On November 16, a special session of the ESSR Supreme Soviet adopts a declaration of sovereignty of the Estonian SSR. This is considered to be the first step in the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
On February 24, the anniversary of Estonian independence, the blue, black and white national flag is raised to the top of the Tall Hermann tower in Tallinn. On August 23, a demonstration to remind the world of the consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact takes place: a human chain of approximately two million people stretching more than 600 km (373 miles) across all three Baltic States.
In late February, delegates are elected to the Congress of Estonia, an alternative grass-roots Estonian parliament. The Estonian SSR Supreme Soviet passes a decision on the national status of Estonia, declaring the governmental power of the USSR to be illegal and proclaiming the re-establishment of the Republic of Estonia and the initiation of a transitional period. The country abandons its name of Estonian SSR and once again calls itself the Republic of Estonia. The use of the ESSR flag, coat of arms, and national anthem is abandoned.
Additional Soviet amphibious troops are sent into Estonia. After bloody clashes in Riga and Vilnius, barricades are erected in the center of Tallinn. In the referendum on independence, held on March 3, the people vote in favor of Estonian national independence and self-determination. The Estonian SSR Supreme Soviet declares Estonia independent of the Soviet Union on August 20. The first country to recognize Estonia’s independence is Iceland, on August 22. Russia (under President Boris Yeltsin) extends its recognition on August 24, and the USSR Supreme Council follows suit on September 6. The Soviet security police KGB is abolished; everyone who has collaborated with the security organization is given the opportunity to disclose their collaboration.
Estonia brings its own money – the kroon – into circulation. The popular constitutional referendum results in a 91.2 percent vote in favor of the new constitution. The Congress of Estonia disbands. Estonian athletes compete under their own national flag once more at the Olympic Games. With the support of Western democracies, Estonian begins rebuilding its civil society. National minorities begin seeking their roots. The Estonian Jewish Community is established. The Tallinn Jewish School and the Noarootsi Upper Secondary School for Swedes in Estonia opened their doors in 1990. Ingrians begin paving the way for their own community’s cultural autonomy. The Old Believers living in Estonia begin talking about their history, bring out the icons they have kept hidden during the Soviet years, and open up the places of worship that have been secret from over five decades.
Estonia is admitted to the Council of Europe as the body’s 29th member state. The Popular Front disbands.
The last Soviet troops leave Estonian soil on August 31. Estonia joins the NATO Partnership for Peace program.
Estonia requests admission into the European Union as a full member.
On March 6, the Estonian Life Histories Association is created at the Estonian Literary Museum in Tartu.
The association agreement between Estonia and the European Union takes effect, which recognizes Estonia’s goal of becoming a member of the European Union.
NATO recognizes Estonia as a potential candidate for membership. President Lennart Meri creates the Estonian International Commission to Investigate Crimes Against Humanity. Max Jakobson, a retired Finnish diplomat and journalist, is invited to serve as chairman.
As a result of the competition entitled “One Hundred Lives of a Century” announced in the spring of 1999, Estonian life stories are collected for the publication of a 20-volume anthology entitled Estonian Life Stories. One Hundred Lives of a Century in Two Volumes.
President Lennart Meri establishes the tradition of the Broken Cornflower Badge, which is presented to thousands of people who suffered persecution during the occupations.
On March 29, Estonia becomes a full member of NATO. On May 1, Estonia joins the European Union.
Diplomat and journalist Toomas Hendrik Ilves is elected President of Estonia. Ilves was born into an Estonian refugee family in Stockholm, Sweden. He grew up and was educated in the United States, and worked as a journalist for Radio Free Europe in the 1980s. From 1993 to 1996, he served as Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia to the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Ilves served as Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1996 to1998 and again from 1999 to 2002. In 2004, he became a member of the European Parliament. He began serving a 5-year term as President of the Republic of Estonia in October 2006.