At first glance, he seems to be a valuable asset for Estonia with an established position within the intellectual elite of Moscow opinion makers. His observations in brief:
The Soviets did occupy Estonia; the independence of the Estonian state was destroyed; Soviet deportations of women, children and the elderly were inhumane; in diplomatic standoffs between Estonian and Russia, the latter comes off as an idiot.
He's Mihhail Veller, best-selling Russian author, Estonian citizen, recipient of the Estonia's White Star presidential order, who keeps homes both in Tallinn and Moscow.
A member of the Estonian Federation of Authors, Veller was born in Soviet Ukraine, of Jewish parents, graduated from Leningrad State University in Russian language and was “forced” by the authorities to move to Estonian in 1979. (It's also said that Teet Kallas, editor of the literary journal “Looming” brought him to Estonia as an up and coming writer. There is a wide difference between the two reasons for moving to Tallinn. The first implies opposition to the regime. The second leaves the motivation open.)
How does Veller come by the reputation of leading opinion maker among Russian intellectuals? A TV broadcast series “Different Opinion” has captured a wide audience with its well-known personalities Leonid Mletsin, Jevgenia Albats, Nikolai Svanidze and others. The broadcast's corporate ownership has developed an electronic, push-button, method of instantly capturing audience agree/disagreement levels with opinions presented by the personalities. Typically agreement levels vary from 66% to 80%. But Veller consistently claims some 98% agreement immediately upon opening his mouth to speak.
One would logically be encouraged by the prospect that a popular TV commentator who consistently is able to win the hearts and minds of the viewing public in Russia is able to express the Estonian view on at least vexing historical controversies.
Some years ago, when Russia passed its legislation on compatriots abroad, Veller wrote: “It's nothing more than a super power's chauvinism. The Russian community in Estonia was created through violence. Russia still hasn't got over its loss of empire.”
It's heartening to hear such opinions from someone who moves within the intellectual leadership of Russia. But is he consistent in his views? Can he be relied on to make the same argument twice? Consider this evaluation of what Veller thinks about the potential of Russians in Estonia being be a tool of Moscow's foreign ambitions:
He views them as a useable fifth column, which should be supported and recruited by Russia's “emissaries” (supposedly by Russian diplomats and other representatives – ed.) to guarantee the assertion and dominance of Russian power. Russians who live on territory that cannot be annexed must be repatriated. This radically inconsistent with his views on Russia's compatriots program from a few years ago.
On a more emotional level, with respect to the Ukrainian famine of the early thirties, a monumental tragedy Ukrainians have always accused the Kremlin of deliberately creating, Veller has gone on the public record to oppose the designation of genocide as used by Ukrainians to characterize the holodomor. ”Presently (before the current pro-Kremlin leadership in Kiev – ed.) the Ukrainian authorities are trying to make the population break with Russia, whose influence in the country is still great. Russia's fault is also obvious. It should have recognized the mass crimes committed by the soviet power to avoid the consequence we have now.” For purely practical reasons, to keep Moscow's influence from slipping in Ukraine, Russia should be more flexible and pragmatic in acknowledging Soviet crimes of the past.
Is the ruling elite capable of restoring the Soviet Union? It is said that Veller regrets that the restoration attempts at giving rebirth to a Soviet empire are feeble, naïve and destined to fail. Tartu University's Urmas Sutrop puts it bluntly: “The intellectual elite in Russia wants the return of the Soviet Union.”
One must bear in mind that Veller has the ability to gain nearly 100% agreement with the public on his viewpoints. One can deduct from this, that while many in Russia hold the current power elite in disdain, they still have not abandoned the notion of Russia as a superpower, of the dominant presence in east and central Europe. The loss of empire is deeply rooted.