Three cheers for Margaret

  • 2005-08-03
Sometimes we Balts try a bit too hard to please. And to our misfortune, we end up trying to please the wrong group of people. The latest instance involves a monument in Tallinn. It turns out that a local organization, the Association of Turkic and Caucasian Peoples of Europe, petitioned the local government for permission to build a monument to 's believe it or not 's an Azeri eye doctor.

Estonian journalists are now scrambling to find out more about Zarifa Aliyeva, former wife of the late Azeri president, Geidar Aliyev, but one thing is certain: she was never in Estonia, or the Baltics for that matter, nor did she have any remarkable role in any of the Baltic countries, their struggle for independence, or, judging by reports, local ophthalmology. It is highly possible that she was an admirable individual who spent her life alleviating others' suffering, but she had nothing to do with the Baltics.

Tallinn's municipal design commission has reportedly approved a place for the monument next to the Tallinn Eye Clinic, and the mayor's office has stated officially it sees no reason to block the petition. A final decision has yet to be made, but as Deputy Mayor Aivar Reivik explained, even though Zarifa Aliyeva had no link to Estonia, Tallinn is a multicultural city and there is nothing inappropriate about a monument to an Azeri eye doctor.

This is reminiscent of Kaliningrad, Russia's neighbor-exclave, which is named after Mikhail Kalinin, former president of the Soviet Union and a man who had never stepped foot in Konigsberg (previous name of the city). It also brings home the bitter aftertaste of another recently erected monument in the Baltics, this one to an Uzbek astronomer. With much pomp and circumstance, it was hoisted up in a Riga park during the visit of the Uzbek dictator, Islam Karimov. No one understood why Art Nouveau Riga needed a tribute to a Central Asian astronomer, and with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga involved, few in the government bothered to ask.

After the slaughter in Andijan, Karimov is now a pariah, but his statue stands proudly in a downtown Riga park. Lovely.

Granted, it is one thing to accept a statue from a tyrant with blood on his hands and quite another to open the doors for any organization that seeks to deify its hero. We won't confuse the circumstances, but if we follow the Tallinn city administration's logic, then it is high time for Daugavpilians to break out their chisels and sculpt a Catherine, or for the group of Baltic expatriates in Baku to erect a tall statue to Ulmanis. Or, better still, for that club of nostalgic Whigs long ago nestled in Panevezys to sound the cry for a towering statue to Margaret Thatcher. Makes perfect sense, when you use Reivik's logic.

After all, what do an Azeri eye doctor and an Uzbek astronomer have that the Iron Lady doesn't?