• 2007-05-02

cartoon by Jevgenijs CHeKSTERS

Ever since the impassioned debate over the fate of the Bronze Soldier monument and nearby war grave arose almost a year ago, it has been the opinion of The Baltic Times that the remains of the soldiers should be reburied in a military cemetery but that the statue should remain. There was more logic to this stance than want for compromise. During the war, soldiers were buried where they fell; civic planning was not a consideration. Modern urbanism has different requirements than those of wartime, and so there is absolutely no sense is keeping a dozen coffins beneath the ground in a busy Tallinn intersection.

The statue, however, is a matter of pricipal. It is our opinion that adherence to the will of a minority is crucial if a democratic society is to function properly. Otherwise, the opposite, "majority takes all" approach to societal "consensus" will foment an irreparable schism that in the long term will incur more damage than the need for tolerance. If a government continually ignores the wills of its minorities, it can only blame itself for the ultimate consequences.
We are, to be sure, in complete solidarity with the Estonians who wanted the statue removed to more remote location solely on historical criteria. The statue represents Soviet oppression and occupation, it represents the tens of thousands of innocent Estonians shoved into train cars and sent to Siberia and the Arctic Circle to work as slaves, and lately, it has come to represent the hypocrisy of Russians everywhere who embrace the achievements of the Soviet Union yet protest innocence when it comes to the crimes of that totalitarian empire.

Are these not sufficient enough reasons to dismantle the Bronze Soldier then? Not quite. There are dozens of structures symbolizing Soviet oppression and occupation throughout the Baltics and Eastern Europe. Warsaw has its "Stalin tower," and for many years the Poles wanted to raze it; after years of reflection, however, the population made its peace with the building, and it still stands. In America there are hundreds, if not thousands, of places remaining that symbolize slavery and discrimination, but they still stand. (Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, but his face is still on the nickel and two-dollar bill.) The battle against symbols is a losing one, and the sooner we recognize this the wiser we will be.

The riots and looting were a sham and a farce. They were organized by a gang of desperate rebels who needed an explosion of violence to support their spurious claims that Estonia was on the brink of civil war. Worse, the mayhem was carried out by a mob of backpack-totting adolescents whose understanding of history is on the level of a fifth-grader. Instead of venting on legitimate targets 's e.g., government offices 's they went for commercial enterprises. Their ignominy will not be forgotten.
The Russian legislators who dropped into town were a continuation of the circus. The group, headed by the wildly tactless Nikolai Kovalyov, clearly showed its truth-avoidance tactics when it refused to attend a press conference with Estonian and international journalists. This is typical cowardice of liars; hard questions from a clique of indignant journalists would've melted their ire and made them walk away with their tails between their legs. Kovalyov and company were on a public relations mission of "search-and-destroy" in Estonia, and if they had done anything less they would've been welcomed back in Moscow as traitors.

But the Russian lawmakers were symptomatic of the entire farce that goes by the name "Russian media." The extraordinary amount of errors, misinformation and abject lies in Russian reporting on the war monument removal ought to be documented by a team of journalism graduate students and used as a case study. The Kremlin-run propaganda orgy included such apocrypha as the dismemberment of the Bronze Soldier and mass resignation of ethnic Russians on Estonia's police force. The latter falsehood was particularly stunning in that it ran in all Russian media, and everywhere with the same attribution: the Estonian anti-fascist league. Just astonishing reporting.

The Bronze Soldier affair 's undoubtedly the most scandalous event in Baltic history since independence 's was in many ways misguided from the beginning. But in the end perhaps the greatest lesson that will emerge will be the staggering hypocrisy and mass hysteria of Russian society and government, who have once again demonstrated their lack of preparedness for a place among civilized nations.