TALLINN - In a largely unexpected gesture, Russian Ambassador Konstantin Provalov expressed on June 14 condolences to Estonians on the anniversary of the Soviet mass deportations of 1941. "Generated by intolerance and fanaticism, persecution of people on social, ethnic or religious grounds runs like a black thread through world history. The 20th century was no exception," Provalov was quoted as saying at a commemoration ceremony in Tallinn.
"The cruel fate did not spare the Estonian nation, either. More than 9,000 people were rooted out of their homes. Estonians, Russians, Jews, Gypsies 's it made no difference to the Stalinist regime. Whole families, women, children were deported," he observed.
Provalov said everything possible should be done to keep alive and pass on the memory of all innocent victims of the repression. "The past cannot dictate the future, but remembrance of the past in our hearts is a pledge that the preciousness of such simple and understandable things as human life and human dignity will not need to be proven ever again," he said.
The ambassador reminded that Russians also suffered deportations and repression. "A bloody civil war, white and red terror, emigration and annihilation of most members of the old elite, the collectivization that started at the end of the 1920s, the repressions of the 1930s 's this is but a part of what Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Tatar and many other peoples of the former Soviet Union had to suffer in the 20s and 30s," he said.
The confession surprised many Estonians, who have become used to a climate of distrust and mutual criticism between the Baltic state and Russia, which uses every international forum it can to lash out against Estonia's policies toward its noncitizens.
Economy Minister Edgar Savisaar said he was impressed by Provalov's speech.
"The ambassador acknowledged the processes to which the Estonian people were subjected, gave a judgment of them, voiced regret, and expressed condolences. It was very clearly expressed," Savisaar said on June 15.
In the Centrist leader's opinion, the speech provides hope for continued reappraisal of the Stalinist-era processes. "I would highlight the part of the ambassador's speech in which he stressed that Russians themselves suffered repressions, too. The condemnation of Stalinism continues, the truth becomes clearer, and this no doubt affects not only Russian society, but Russia's neighbors as well. In my opinion, this has a positive meaning," Savisaar said.
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip likewise hailed Provalov's speech, saying it had clear undertones of remorse. He added, however, that he would have expected the ambassador to make an outright apology.
Speaking on the eve of the anniversary, President Arnold Ruutel said it was important to understand the pain of each and every individual.
At the same time, Ruutel stressed that the soldiers who were forced to fight on either of the warring sides in World War II were likewise victims of the regimes that annihilated Estonia's independence, the president's office reported.
"Luckily, a part of them returned, but only to experience fresh injustice when they began to be labeled 'our own' and 'strangers' at home. It is time to get over this. Let us not allow the seeds sown by alien powers to grow into hatred in our hearts," the head of state said. "Let us remember and mourn in the conviction that the past must not overshadow the future."