Reede, 28 Veebruar 2014 12:17
Laas Leivat - Estonian Life No. 09 2014
On February 18th the foreign ministers of Estonia and Russia signed a border agreement, the aim of which was, amongst other things, to help normalize frosty, sometimes venomous relations between the two countries.
Don't bet on that happening say experts who have followed the dynamics of Russian-Estonian diplomatic and political interaction for years. Estonia is still relatively young in spite of the fact that it celebrates 96 years of recognized de jure sovereignty this year. Founded in 1918 the topic of national identity is still a matter of public discourse. The legal continuity of the Republic is to be an integral part of the country's national identity as is the illegal Soviet occupations, both of which Russia summarily rejects.
De facto independence was brutally interrupted in 1940 when the Soviet armed forces took over the country. After regaining its independence in 1991 Estonia firmly held on to the Tartu Peace Treaty as its 'birth certificate' and insisted that internationally it be similarly considered. Estonians vehemently object to Moscow's claim that it joined the USSR voluntarily, and thereby ceased to exist as a subject of international law. Equally noxious to Estonians is Russian insistence that Estonia became independent by quirky coincidence in 1991.
The Peace Treaty of Tartu, signed in 1920, has been the course setter of the citizenship and border issues which Russia regularly points to as "territorial revisionism" and discrimination of the Russian-speaking minority. (It's interesting to note that one of the reasons Russia rejects the legitimacy and currency of the Tartu agreement is that it was signed by an entity that long longer exists – the Soviet Union. On the other hand Russia, in both domestic and international context, has claimed that it is the legal successor to the Soviet Union – an outright contradiction in terms.)
After the previous signing of the border treaty in 2005, the Estonian parliament during its ratification process included an addendum to the treaty's preamble which mentioned the Tartu treaty and the fact of Soviet occupation. On the basis of this addendum, Moscow rescinded its signature and the two sides had to commence from ground zero knowing there were deep divisions in the interpretation of crucial historical items. Although this did not change any of the day-to-day practices of the de facto border, critics claimed that the European Union's external border was not "complete".
Probably the most emotionally charged accusation against Estonia is its seeming tolerance and even promotion of fascism. As Russia sees it the annual reunions of Estonian war veterans, most of whom were forced to join German forces, are the most glaring examples of covering up the 'war crimes' of Estonian 'collaborators'. Related to this and equally insulting to Russians is the insistence by Estonians that the Red Army was not the liberator of Europe that Russia insists it was. To Estonia, Soviet forces were the vanguard of an immediate, cruel and brutal occupation that lasted for decades. The ensuing riots in 2007 (facilitated by Moscow) after the relocation of the Soviet monument from Tallinn's city centre to a military cemetery showed the radical differences of historical memories between Estonia and Russia.
Moscow denies the crimes of the Soviet military in the 'liberated' countries. The post-war generations have never heard anything about them. The concept of the Soviet soldier with his saintly achievements is a key part of the mind set of all who have undergone post-war history schooling. It's nearly impossible for them to accept stories of the work of the Soviet 'destruction battalions, of pillaging, of the killing of civilians, of mass arrests and brutalization of the population by the lionized Soviet soldier.
Estonians claim that Fascism and Communism represent the same ilk of repressive, murderous political systems. They point out the friendly and mutually beneficial relationship between Moscow and Berlin prior to the signing of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Moscow hates to be reminded of the friendly relations between Germany and the Soviet Union which lasted until virtually the end of the pre-war days, June 22, 1941 (For Russia the war doesn't begin with the Soviet invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, some days after the singing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.) A reminder of the joint military parades and manoeuvres, the reciprocal gestures of attention and generous concessions such as the 1939 division of Poland are to be avoided. Documents reveal that the Communists were most helpful in giving the Nazi minders of the concentration camps details of the 'efficiencies' that can be adopted, methods the Soviets themselves had acquired establishing their own Gulag network. The hammer and sickle being equal to the swastika became a well-known symbol of the moral equivalency of the two evil systems.
Within the Russian 'national identity' is its claim to being the only true and committed opponent to fascism. The Great Patriotic War with its casualties numbering in the millions was the historical foundation for this struggle. The war is not seen as a shared European tragedy or the battle with Nazism as a pan-European battle. It gives them a certain solace for the loss of empire and of suffering resulting from the 'greatest geo-political catastrophe of the 20th century' as Putin put it in a moment of self-revelation.
Moscow finds the 'discrimination' charges against Estonia to be a convenient theme to use time and again when necessary. The fair/unfair treatment of ethnic Russians in Estonia is related to the disagreement on whether the Soviet Union was a liberator or occupier of Estonia in driving out German forces. Russian opposition politicians claim that the accusations are a tool meant for domestic use to divert attention from the numerous social problems with which Moscow itself is burdened.
In Russia only now is the hard truth coming to the surface after decades of false legends and disinformation. The opening of the tragic and akward pages of history is very painful for the older generation who had been fed only with an heroic image of WWII. Until distorted facts are fully replaced by the legitimate truth and accepted for some sustained period, reconciliation about the war, occupation, legal status of indigenous people and all related issues will be impossible. With Putin's invigorated emphasis on strengthening, in school texts the heroic legends of the Red Army soldier and the righteous goals of their fight, a border agreement will not erase the emotions and passions of collective memory.