Thursday, 30 June 2022 18:30
Estonian Life No. 26 2022 - Erik Kõvamees
There is a commonly-held superstition that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, and it appears to be the result of two different superstitions having converged. The first superstition is that Fridays are evil days, because a Friday is the day of the week on which Jesus died. The second superstition is that the number 13 is a disreputable number, given that there were 13 attendees at the Last Supper.
81 years ago, in the June of 1941, there was a Friday the 13th. As Mart Laar has chronicled, on the night of June 13th towards the morning of June 14th, a deportation raid was undertaken in all parts of Estonia, intending to deport a total of 11 102 people from the country. People had gone to bed on the evening of Friday the 13th without any inkling of the upcoming raid, were woken up early by a pounding on their doors, were declared to be under arrest and subject to deportation without any court decision or legal process, were told that they had an hour to pack and that their property had been administered for seizure, and were thereafter loaded into trucks and transported to railroad stations.
From June 14th to June 16th, the search for individuals on the deportation list continued, and in total 9 254 people were captured, including pregnant women and seriously-ill elders. It was later reported that those carrying out the deportations behaved with extreme cruelty, and on June 17th, nearly 500 cattle cars or stock cars, specially set aside for the purpose, were overloaded with human beings and began a journey out of Estonia en route to Siberia.
Many people died on their way to Siberia because of the transportation conditions, and many more died over the course of their first Siberian winter, on account of poor nourishment, the cold, and the taxing forced labour, not to mention shootings organized by on-site investigative commissions, who carried out interrogations and passed court decisions. In the end, only 4 331 people ever returned to their homeland of Estonia, or less than half of those who were abducted. And of the approximately 3 500 men who were dispatched to prison camps, only a couple of hundred survived, and upon returning to their homeland, many were psychologically damaged and turned to alcohol.
There are two more facts from Laar’s report worth pointing out. First, when the Republic of Estonia was invaded, the leadership believed that surrendering the country without a fight would help them avoid the terror of the Red Army, a belief which proved to be untrue. And second, the deportations that were carried out were planned in a thoroughly <i>systematic<i> fashion (the Soviets had been collecting personal data and formulating liquidation lists already in the 1930s, for example).
81 years later, the idea behind commemorating the operation that began unfolding on the evening of Friday the 13th, in the June of 1941, is to ensure that it does not happen again. Recent events, however, have shown that patterns of behaviour and justification repeat: The February invasion of Ukraine has been justified by the Russian state as a necessary process of “denazification,” just like how, in 1941, the invasion of Estonia and other countries was justified as a necessary process of removing “socially alien elements” from the Soviet Union.
Given this historical repetition, one could argue that commemorating the deportations of 1941 has been a failure. But instead of viewing these remembrances in terms of their lack of success, one could also look at them in terms of what has been learned. Firstly, for instance, we now know that, unavoidably—and for those who value human life, tragically—breaking these historical patterns of behaviour and justification will necessarily involve a dimension of physical violence and death, and that this must be prepared for accordingly. Secondly, we know now that, on the grand scale, the deportations and/or invasions that we have heard about and witnessed—and the subsequent physical and psychological destructiveness they have brought about—have nothing to do with opportunism or the spontaneity of a moment, but are the products of systematic deliberation and implementation.
For those feeling discouraged, despaired, or outright hopeless, having learnt new things about the patterns of history—while these patterns themselves repeat in front of the eyes—may seem like a hollow victory, as pointless as learning the origins of a superstition. Indeed, the fact that the June 14th deportations from Estonia began on the “unlucky” date of Friday the 13th is probably nothing more than a coincidental historical fact, something to be considered as an “interesting” footnote or a trivial observation.
But, given its origins, perhaps this fact can also provide a bit of solace. Jesus was betrayed and died on a Friday; remained dead on a Saturday; and came back to life on a Sunday. Analogously, Estonia was occupied and annexed during the Second World War; stayed that way for five or so decades; but regained its Independence in the early 1990s. Is it not fair to ask, if one historical pattern, that of oppression, can repeat itself, then why is it the case that a different historical pattern, one of enfranchisement—or the movement from a so-called Crucifixion, to a Vigil, to a Resurrection—cannot do the same?
In the end, commemorations of the June 14th deportations from Estonia—and other commemorations of similar events—should not be perceived as failures, even in the face of recent occurrences. Instead, the ways in which remembrances expose patterns and raise awareness, for instance, may prove to play a role in the liberation of Ukraine, however major or minor, especially given the relevance of disinformation in the contemporary context.
Given the progress that we have made in our understanding of history, maybe the fate of Ukraine will follow the same pattern as Estonia. But it should not be taken for granted that this will happen organically; nothing should be left to chance, or to God, or considered in terms of superstition. Especially, no matter the date or the day of the week, and regardless of whether it is seen as “good” or “bad,” the notion of <i>luck<i> must not be invoked. Instead, in the fight for a cause, the activity of a remembering must trump a passivity of forgetting; or, put differently, acts of neglect and laissez-faire must be superseded by those of Commemoration. Erik Kõvamees