Tribute to the imperishable memory of a Baltic soldier

  • 2004-06-17
At 2:00 p.m. on June 22, 2004, near the town center of Viljandi, the heart of Estonia, an event of national and international significance will take place.

Eighty-five years after the eve of the Battle of Vonnu (in Estonia) or Cesis (in Latvia) a bronze equestrian statue will be unveiled. It is entirely appropriate that this life-size statue of an Estonian warrior on a charger should be placed in Viljandi, since it was in Estonia that Johan Laidoner was born 120 years ago on Feb. 12, 1884.
The president of Estonia, Mr. Arnold Ruutel (worthy successor as commander in chief of the Estonian Defense Forces), the archbishop of Estonia, the Prime Minister, the minister of defense, the chairman of the Laidoner Society, Mr. Trivimi Velliste, veterans led by Mr. Rein Randveer (now 92 years old and first chairman of the Laidoner Museum), the mayor of Viljandi, councilors, school children, defense forces and all manner of folk will be present and play their allotted roles.
General Laidoner was an international figure and a European of merit and distinction. He was also a distinguished member of the Imperial Russian Military Academy of St. Petersburg, a delegate to the League of Nations, Estonia's chairman of the Olympic Committee, Estonia's roving ambassador, a representative at King George V's state funeral in January 1936 and at the present Queen Elizabeth II's father's coronation on May 12, 1937.
The cost of the statue has been covered by the national exchequer, the county of Viljandi local government funds, veterans and 10 percent of the donations come from abroad. The Estonian communities in America, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Finland, and our British Estonians have all subscribed.
Britain owes Laidoner a very special debt. Not only on account of his skillful strategy and tactics that saved many British sailors' and pilots' lives between 1918 and 1919, but also because, in 1925, as chairman of the League of Nations' commission at the behest of the British, he negotiated a border treaty in the Mosul area of Iraq that gave relative peace and stability to the unhappy country for over half a century.
The statue can be described as larger than life. It has been most skillfully designed and executed by the distinguished sculptor, Terje Ojaver (See picture on Page 3). It shows the general in 1919 at the summit of his achievements as "The reflective warrior at peace in his environment." Weighing one ton, the statue is massive, indestructible and in harmony with its environment.
The life of Laidoner was not without controversy - both during his time and after his death. After living 13 years in deportation, exile, imprisonment and suffering inexcusable ill treatment at the hands of the tyrant Stalin, the man died in the Vladimir prison in March 1953. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that minor controversy should arise concerning the memorial. The general, who well understood the need to reconcile the irreconcilable, I suspect would have rather enjoyed it.
Some purists have argued that Laidoner, a highly distinguished infantry officer, should not be mounted on a horse. During the War of Independence, Laidoner commanded 83,000 Estonians in uniform by radio, direct and indirect orders, signal, telephone and from an armored train. But perhaps the city fathers of Viljandi and the sculptor Terje Ojaver would have baulked at erecting an armored train. So like a "knight of old," a horse fits the bill.
The victorious commander on his horse signifies command, control, and communication. In this, Laidoner was supreme.
A minority - albeit a small one - has argued that Laidoner does not deserve a monument on account of his actions (or lack of action) leading to Estonia's "Years of Silence" in 1934 and before Estonia's illegal occupation by Soviet Russia in 1940 and Nazi Germany in 1941. They are entitled to their views, but I do not agree with them. This is for historians and Estonians to debate, if they so wish, among themselves. As Patron of the Baltic Council of Great Britain, all I will do is quote a remark made about Britain's greatest soldier and Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, after his death: "His virtues were so great I have forgotten his faults." Likewise Laidoner.
Nearly 80 percent of the 1 million kroons has been raised. The appeal fund remains open. Those wishing to contribute should send their contributions to account No 22 101 176 97 95 in Hansapank "Kindral Laidoneri malestuseks." All contributions will be most gratefully received.
All nations celebrate the genius of those who liberate them from tyranny by erecting monuments to honor them. How fitting of the Estonians to create such an imperishable monument to the imperishable memory of one of Estonia's greatest men - General Johan Laidoner, a most worthy son of Viljandi. o

The Earl of Carlisle
The Baltic Council
of Great Britain