Russian Intafada

The decision by the Estonian nationalist Prime Minister, Andrus Ansip, to uproot the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Tallinn brought this small Baltic state to the verge of civil war and severely disturbed peace in the region. The usually tranquil and delightful, Hansa-built Old Tallinn, surrounded by its long city wall with “Long Hermann” and “Fat Margaret,” two 15th century towers, is now full of heavily armed police, hundreds of detainees locked up and beaten up in Terminal D of the harbour, burned-down shops, torture and mistreatment, open ethnic conflict, vocal support of neocons – not what one expects to find in this pleasant country with its peaceful folks. The Eestlanes, the aborigines of the land — tall, quiet and blue-eyed peasant folk — were supposed to be so calm that “a red-hot Estonian lad” is a synonym for slow-wit among their neighbours. On the other hand, these good craftsmen and fishermen, fond of taking their coffee with the sweet liqueur Vana Tallinn, volunteered en masse for Nazi SS divisions and were prominent in ethnic cleansing campaigns.

For an Israeli, these Tallinn events had a strong touch of déjà vu. Uprooting of the Unknown Soldier Tomb was done by the nationalist government in a pointedly insulting and arrogant way. This triggered the Russian Intifada, the spontaneous uprising of the unprivileged. In a like manner, the provocative and arrogant visit of Ariel Sharon to the al-Aksa Mosque in the fateful September of 2000 had jumpstarted the Palestinian Intifada. In both cases a provocation was initiated by extreme nationalists of the ruling ethnic group keen on spoiling fragile inter-communal relations, for they feed on strife. In both cases, they claimed their unlimited right to do whatever they wish. In both cases, the media attention was concentrated on the response to provocation, rather than on its causes. For sure, the violent response of Palestinians in 2000 and Russians in 2007 — their rioting, stone-throwing and shop-burning — was obvious, visible and unpleasant. What is less visible is that each was a result of provocation, and of a long sequence of injustices leading to the outbreak of violence.

Estonia is notorious for coming as close to apartheid as any country in Europe since 1945. The Columbia Encyclopaedia tells us that “Estonians (Eestlanes) make up about 65% of the population; Russians constitute almost 30%, and there are Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Finnish minorities. Since independence (1991), citizenship has generally been limited to ethnic Estonians, a practice widely criticized because it denies political and civil rights to the many Russian-speaking inhabitants. In 1993 ethnic Russians were officially declared foreigners, raising even stronger objections.” The “Russians” of Estonia are of various origins – ethnic Ukrainian, Georgian, German, Armenian, Jewish, Russian – all non-aborigines are called “Russians”. The Russians were stripped of their citizenship, their ID cards are now stamped “Alien”, while in private, they are called ‘Negroes’ – an abbreviation of Ne-Gr, non-citizen.

This is not your ordinary immigrants-versus-natives conflict. The non-Eestlanes are no more “immigrants” in Estonia than Parisians are immigrants in Corsica, or Londoners in Wales. Estonia became Russian in 1721, before Corsica became French (in 1768), and remained in union with Russia until 1991, except for a short break (1921-1940). Non-aboriginal Estonians would be considered equal and ordinary citizens in every European country but new Estonia. Even “recent immigrants” moved to what became Estonia over fifty years ago in a perfectly legal way.

Estonia had all the preconditions for peaceful co-existence between its communities. The Russians had a positive attitude towards the native Eestlanes, their culture and their language in keeping with their tradition: indeed, the Eesti language survived and flourished, while the tongues of peoples with comparable territory and population, such as Breton, Cornish or Sorb (residing in the UK, France and Germany respectively) have all but vanished. Russian writers and poets were attracted by Tallinn’s Baltic charm, and made it a setting for many novels. While neighbouring Swedes considered Eestlanes uncouth and clumsy (“Estonian ballet” is a Swedish synonym for heavy and clumsy gait), the Russians nourished a flattering image of an Estonian as a silent, pipe-smoking he-man.

There is no clear racial divide, either: ethnic Russians are a fusion of Slav and Finnish tribes (like the French are a fusion of Celtic and Germanic ones), and they can’t be distinguished from the ethnic Estonians by their facial features. In the present conflict over the monument, Jurgen Ligi, Estonian ex-minister of defence, called for the removal of “the idol with monstrous Russian face”. The ignorant racist did not know that the “monstrous Russian face of the idol” was an Estonian face, sculpted after a known Estonian sportsman by Estonian artist Enn Roos.

The local Russians were extremely pro-Estonian: they liked the Estonians, they supported Estonian independence in 1991 and expected to remain citizens with full rights in new Estonia. “When the Eestlanes demanded independence, the Russian Estonian intelligentsia [the educated classes] not only supported them, but were in the forefront of the struggle” – writes Lara Larson, a Russian Estonian, whose blog is extremely popular these days. “Now we understand that the reasons were different: Eestlanes fought for their separate isolated life, while the Russians fought for democracy. The newly independent Estonia fitted the Eestlanes’ vision, while the democracy we looked for did not materialise. Non-Eestlanes were stripped of their civil rights. That was the first blow. There were many insults, we were habitually slighted. At first, we hoped it was a temporary development; and that soon, equality and fraternity would blossom. Indeed, there were improvements, but two years ago, an extreme nationalist government made things worse.”

“The Russian-speaking community is discriminated against. Officially, they just have no right to vote for the Parliament. But unofficial discrimination is much worse. The Russians suffer from heavy unemployment, they earn less; there are practically no Russians at the top. There are no Russians in the beefed-up state organisations. The Eestlanes practice full segregation in the working places. Does it mean that the Russians are less able, can’t be taught, are doomed to sweep streets? Probably not. The Language Laws provided the perfect machinery for discrimination, for they made it almost impossible for the Russians to become citizens: one has to show such a proficiency in the Eestlane language that an ordinary Eestlane can’t pass it. For instance, one has to pen a long essay extolling the advantages of investments in Estonia.”

“You could not get any job, even a verbally-non-demanding one, unless you pass the exam. The exams became more demanding every year; one has to be an extraordinary well-read and well-educated person to pass the test. Now they introduced a new measure: the language commission can check you anytime and void your exams if they would decide your knowledge of Eesti is not up to scratch. But even Estonian citizens of Russian origin were kept out of jobs and were discriminated against in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways.”

“The Tomb’s demolition was a trigger, rather. The discriminated part of population did not agree to take it laying down. Such sustained pressure and mistreatment could not last forever. Masses of people went out to the streets in protests, they had no leaders, no organisers, but they were fed up with discrimination. This is not a political conflict; this is a movement for civil rights, for equality.”

The strange idea of stripping natives of their citizenship because their fathers were born just across the present border seems out of place in Europe. In neighbouring Sweden every immigrant obtains Swedish citizenship, and becomes as much a Swede as the king (who is a descendent of immigrants himself, from France on his father’s side and from Germany on his mother’s). It is not necessary to master Swedish, though one may learn it at the state’s expense – as opposed to Estonia. An immigrant may take exams, get his driver’s license and fill out applications in his native tongue. In Finland, a small Swedish minority has full rights, and can freely use their language everywhere. There are no problems between the native majority and ethnic minorities in these countries.

The outbreak of the Russian Intifada should sound an alarm for Estonians. Instead of bewailing the burnt shops and writing offensive letters to their newspapers, they should give thought to what caused the riots, and change the situation to fit Swedish and Finnish model. They should void their language laws, give citizenship to their Russian-speaking minority and forbid discrimination. They should strive for equality, and elect a Russian for president, as the Indians elected a Muslim. Follow the Human Rights declaration. In short, they should get off the tree and enter 21st century.

The problem is, Estonians are the least believing, most godless folk in Europe, tells the Answers.com: according to the most recent Eurostat “Eurobarometer” poll, in 2005 [4], only 16% of Estonian citizens responded that “they believe there is a God”. This, according to the survey, would have made Estonians the least religious people in Europe”, while the Russians of Estonia believe in Christ. So, though there are twice as many Eestlanes than Russians, Lutherans are 39% while the Orthodox are 28%. Godless population is easily trapped by nationalist myths. That is why they erect monuments to their SS fighters, foam about Russian occupation and Stalin’s repressions and publish racist attacks on “Slavic degenerates”. Forget Haider, forget Le Pen – these guys are liberals and democrats in comparison with the present Estonian leaders.

While Germany was severely punished and fully denazified, Estonia was considered a Nazi victim, rather than a willing collaborator with the Nazis. The Jerusalem Post noted “the active participation of numerous Estonians in WWII era crimes and the support of much of the local population for the Nazi occupation. There was no anti-Nazi underground or resistance movement of any kind in Estonia.” “Stalin’s repressions” were a form of de-Nazification less severe than that carried out by the Americans in occupied Germany. While Anglo-Americans caused the death of millions of Germans, while the French killed probably some 50,000 of their collaborators, Stalin’s denazification was not thorough enough. After 1991, the Nazi elements in Estonia made their come-back.

Ephraim Zurov of the Jerusalem Post writes: “The Estonian judicial authorities have invested much effort in prosecuting Communist criminals, mostly Russians, at least 10 of whom have already been convicted in Estonia. The same cannot be said, however, of the investigations carried out regarding Estonians who collaborated with the Nazis in the crimes of the Holocaust.

Not a single Estonian citizen who participated in the persecution and/or murder of Jews during WWII has been brought to trial by the Estonians, despite the existence of abundant incriminatory evidence”.

I have now spent a few days in Estonian Internet and it has been a shocking experience. Their writing oozes with hate and racism, much of it aimed at Russia. An official guide to Tallinn says that a Russian Tsar had built the beautiful Alexander Nevsky Cathedral “to obliterate the grave of Kalev, the Estonian hero”. It refers to destruction caused by the Red Army while taking Tallinn in 1944 in a most dramatic manner: not even the neo-Nazis in Germany speak in such terms.

This is one of the reasons for the trouble between the Eestlanes and the local Russians: the latter celebrate the V-day, while for the former this is a day of mourning. Surely there were native Estonians in the Red Army, but now their sons and daughters apologise that “they were forced to join”.

The pro-Nazi apartheid regime of Estonia is tolerated and supported by the West because the US and NATO needs an anti-Russian Estonia. The neocon flagship, the Wall Street Journal (30 April 2007, Estonia and the Bear), encouraged the Eestlanes to escalate their conflict with their Eastern neighbour. Once this newspaper pushed the Iraqi WMD threat, now, it decries “Russian involvement”: “Some of the 1,000 rioters arrested arrived only in recent days from Russia”, “The real inspiration was Moscow”.

This is far from true. Russia is doing good business with Estonia. Independent Estonia is rather useful for Russia, as a nearby banking centre, a good place for transhipping, for small import-export operations, for popular tourism. Russian businessmen send their oil via Estonian harbours and develop its infrastructure, use Estonian airline connections and build tourist projects. Russia does not want trouble in Estonia.

The Wall Street Journal and its neocons have no moral considerations; they preach human rights when it suits them, and ignore their breach when it fits their plans. They write: “[Estonians] insist, not unreasonably, that Russians learn a few words of their language to gain citizenship.” This is a lie. All inhabitants of Estonia know enough of the native language, but they can’t pass the test as its purpose is to deny equality to non-purebred Eestlanes. “And the majority of Latvian and Estonian Russians have gotten their citizenship”, says the WSJ, and this is another lie. Estonian apartheid is real, and it is obvious, but the neocons ignore it.

The Estonian PM Ansip explained his actions by the urgent need to rid central Tallinn of the graves of “marauders, drunkards and occupants”. His actions were applauded by the Wall Street Journal: “The Estonian government transferred the bronze statue of a Red Army soldier and exhumed remains of Soviet troops to a military cemetery near the capital. Estonians are generous to keep them at all: France doesn’t have a memorial to the Nazi occupation.”

Who was buried there? The Unknown Soldier’s Tomb was a common grave of 12 Soviet soldiers who perished while taking Tallinn from the Germans. One of the twelve was a twenty-year-old Jewish girl soldier, Nurse Elena Warshawsky, born in Ukraine. Her revolutionary father Moses called her Lenina, but she preferred her less exotic name. She was killed in action on September 23, 1944. She was not an occupant; she was a young woman who died fighting the Nazis. Now her remains and the remains of her eleven comrades-in-arms have been removed by a tender Estonian bulldozer, while she is compared to the Nazis by the neocon WSJ.

The neocons are notorious for their lack of scruples, but this case takes the cake. A comparison of Israeli Jewish soldiers with Nazis is usually met with an outcry of condemnation by Israel and by its American friends including the WSJ. But no one objected when the WSJ compared Elena Warshawsky to the Nazis. Israel kept mum. Jewish organisations were silent as fish. The Jewish-owned and edited WSJ usually is quite vocal, and rightly so, when a Jewish grave is vandalised. But in this case, they applauded vandals.

Indeed why should they care about the dead Jewish girl, when they have bigger fish to fry: they try to cause confrontation between Estonia and Russia, they try to convince the Eestlanes that they may pull the bear’s whiskers under protection of the NATO shield: “the Kremlin can still stir the Baltic pot. Fortunately, as a NATO member, little Estonia doesn’t fear for its life, circa 1940.”

Wrong again. In the 1930s, the predecessors of NATO, England and France, enticed Poland and Czechoslovakia in similar way to confront Russia and Germany. The Poles and the Czechs fell for the trick, they did all they could to provoke Russia and Germany believing that the West would help them. But in their time of need, the West dropped them like a hot brick. Tomorrow the West will repeat this manoeuvre with Estonia.

Estonians may learn much from their neighbour, Finland. In the 1930s, the Finns embraced an ambitious anti-Russian policy, to the great pleasure of the neocons’ spiritual fathers. They paid for it with two lost wars and a chunk of lost territory. After this painful lesson, Finland swapped its Mannerheim’s Line of confrontation with Russia for the Paasikivi Line of friendship with Russia. Finland has never had reason to regret it. The country flourished, prospered on its transit trade with the USSR, and afterwards with the new Russia. Finland stayed out of NATO, out of anti-Russian blocs, and remained perfectly independent, free and prosperous.

The external anti-Russian course of the present Estonian leadership is inherently connected with their internal apartheid. Unless Estonians change both, the days of their independence are numbered. One fine day, when the US tanks move in to establish “democracy” in Teheran, a Russian airborne division may provide an asymmetric answer by removing the apartheid regime in Tallinn. Great countries have their ways, and Russia may learn from the US treatment of independent and hostile Panama. The passage to the Gulf of Finland is no less important for the Russian fleet than the passage through the Panama Canal is for the American Navy. Unless the Estonian leadership wants to share the fate of President Manuel Noriega they should give thought to whether the US will fight for them. The Eestlanes will always have the Russians for their neighbours, unless they plan a great trek to Manitoba. The elimination of apartheid and the establishment of a Paasikivi Line of friendship with their great Eastern neighbour will guarantee Estonian independence better than NATO and the WSJ neocons.

Israel Shamir

Israel Shamir is a critically acclaimed and respected Russian Israeli writer. He has written extensively and translated Joyce and Homer into Russian. He lives in Jaffa, is a Christian, and an outspoken critic of Israel and Zionism.