One of the central tenets of Estonian restoration policies since 1991 has been to create a state where citizens are willing to actively resist subordination to foreign powers. The ghost of the Soviet war on the Republic of Estonia that was waged from 1940 until the amnesty of 1957, that sought a total purge of that republic’s leaders and patriots looms large in the minds of the children of refugees like President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, or the men who were born to replace dead Estonian statesmen like Mart Laar and Andrus Ansip. Their mantra has been simple: “Never again.”
“Never again” will Estonia allow itself to be humiliated as it was by its neighboring country, which arrested, deported, and shot its most promising citizens and waged a war not only on the Estonian republic, but everything that held it together — its families, which were separated and destroyed, its intellectual accomplishments, derided as “fascist” for having anything to do with something un-Soviet, its young men who were hunted in the woods and killed like game, its language, which stood side by side with a foreign one as an official language in the post-war republic, even before the tides of Soviet settlers began finding their way to Estonia in the late 1950s and 1960s.
That effort to restore the republic has come to a point over a memorial for Red Army soldiers, who chased the Nazi occupation army out, and then kept the spoils from their conquest — a boggy nation with good harbors, nice beaches, arable land, and hardworking residents. To justify the imposition of foreign power on a country where the locals spoke their own language, had their own intellectual history, and had built their own system of government to protect their way of life, the warlords in Moscow knew that they had to silence those who would be strongest to resist their power — the men of the Estonian nation.
Part of their effort to emasculate Estonian manhood has been to criminalize the accomplishments of their forefathers as being evil collaborators in the greatest crime of the 20th century — the Nazi German war on Europe and its efforts to destroy populations it deemed unfit for its Third Reich — Jews, Roma, intellectuals, homosexuals, and anyone that stood in the way of accomplishing that goal. Estonian men have had to live with the knowledge that their forefathers had taking rifles and uniforms from the Germans to fight alongside them to fend off the advancing communist Red Army.
The shame, handed down in big, rhetorical helpings from the Russian intelligentsia, is that Estonian men are nothing and they have nothing of which to be proud. Their leaders that did not enable the Nazi occupation, like Jaan Tõnisson (see photo), who was most likely shot by the Soviets BEFORE the Germans invaded in 1941, are still fascists because they are Estonian men. And by the way, the war of 1918 was also a victory for fascism, and the Estonian republic that existed until Päts became an effective dictator? Also fascist. Metsavennad that fought in the woods for their lives and families’ lives? Fascists. Unable to divorce itself from the potent mix of Russian nationalism and communist ideology, Estonian nationalism becomes “fascist” under all circumstances.
You see, Estonian men, to Russia, should be grateful eunuchs, kneeling before the “Soldier Liberator” of Tallinn with his tough expression, flowing cape, and leather boots. Any attempt by Estonian manhood to assess their fathers’ actions by themselves, without dictation by Moscow, is akin to “glamorization of Nazism” or “glorification of fascism.” Russia is angered by the empowerment of Estonian manhood, after decades of conscription from the country and forcing Estonians to make it through a difficult training program in Russian with other Soviet nationalities.
They are deeply wounded because they know that the actions of their fathers and grandfathers in Europe were not altogether honorable. Nobody accepts their account of what happened in Tallinn in 1940, nobody still alive can corrobrate it, because their account is false. And so their heroes are also villains. Would that fact be enough to provoke overemotional tirades against Estonia, like those you have seen from Lavrov and Margelov? You bet.
Remember when Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet met with Sergei Lavrov in happier times, before France and The Netherlands rejected the European Constitution, and the 7-7 bombers attacked London? Just look at the body language. Here you have Russia – tall, proud, standing with assertiveness, standing beside Estonia, smaller, less confident, and still a bit scared shitless of Russia. The posturing in these photos tells a lot about how Estonian men feel about Russian men.
They don’t entirely trust them. They remember what happened to their fathers. They recall how the Russians signed a mutual assistance pact with them, how they had normal relations, and then, with one order, they were rounded up like stray cats and euthanized by the Soviet state. And what’s worse? Russia tells the Estonians that they were the criminals and that their actions were just. What’s a guy named Juku to do?
In this scenario some Estonian men do choose to think favorably of the Eesti Leegi – the 20th Estnisch Waffen SS that fought alongside Hitler’s troops on the Narva front.
Because in their world if the Red Army are heroes how can the SS be villains? How can men like them that thought they were trying to defend their country be the enemy? It’s a crisis in Estonian masculinity that is boiling over to this day. And it comes down to this – you can’t ignore who you are. You cannot change yourself. Estonian men are Estonian men, and their forefathers acted in what they saw was the national interest, just as Estonian leaders today attempt to act in the national interest.
This realization is a triumph for Estonian manhood, which was kept under the sole of a Soviet Red Army boot for decades. It’s a coming out party if you will. Estonian men not be able to do those exotic Kossack dances after they blow up another village like the Red Army has been caricatured as doing, but they are proud of what their fathers and grandfathers accomplished and they are not willing to put it aside to please diplomats or to make Russia feel their own private crises less.
For those who are scratching their heads over Estonia’s latest row with Russia, I would suggest to remember that Russians are not used to being told off by a bunch of roly-poly guys with names like Mart, Andrus, and Urmas. They liked the days when the words that came out of Arnold Rüütel’s mouth were filled with praise for the accomplishments of the USSR and cute Estonian schoolchildren sang songs in Russian for Lenin, that Russian intellectual juggernaut. Remember this when tensions flare up. It is very heavy shit we are dealing with here.