I used to think that Jüri Liim was a bit too intense for my taste. Sure, it was cute to see a guy in his mid-60s threaten to blow up the Bronze Soldier monument in 2006, because, in my heart, I didn’t think that he would really do it.
Even better is that the stock photo of Jüri Liim used by most Estonian news organizations, as seen at left, is of Härra Liim looking down in a mix of sorrow, disgust, and vengeance, perhaps fantasizing about what old, rickety Soviet monument to take care of next. It is widely assumed that Liim is incapable of smiling, even on February 24, Estonian independence day.
But it gets better. This week Liim, presumably distressed that Prime Minister Andrus Ansip moved the Bronze Soldier to a military cemetery before he could blow it up, decided to drive around Tallinn with a crane and remove two other Soviet-era memorials to a nearby museum.
One of these monuments was to Estonian communist Hans Pöögelmann. Like all great Estonian leaders, from Lembit of Lehola to Jaan Tõnisson to Mart Laar, Pöögelmann was born in Viljandimaa in southern Estonia in 1875. Like many a good lefty, he spent some time in the journalism world before his political leanings got him a full-expenses-paid trip to Siberia courtesy of Tsar Nicholas II (whose portrait hangs in current Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s office).
After doing time in Siberia, Pöögelmann was released and fled to New York where he took in indie-rock concerts, tried ecstasy, and wrote Marxist poetry* until he returned to Tallinn in the heady year of 1917. Pöögelmann was “economic affairs minister” of the short-lived Estonian Workers’ Commune, set up in Narva in November 1918, that lasted six months.
Unwilling to submit to the sinine-must-valge, Pöögelmann fled to Moscow in 1923 where he held various administrative positions in the Comintern and wrote nasty books about Estonian President Konstantin Päts until he, and his fellow Estonian Workers’ Commune members-in-exile Jaan Anvelt, Johannes Käspert, Rudolf Vakmann, and Otto Rästas, were executed during Stalin’s Great Purge in 1938.
For these reasons, Russian state-owned media outlets RIA Novosti and Russia Today have referred to Pöögelmann as a “Soviet war hero” or “Soviet soldier” and raised the possibility that Liim’s actions might provoke some response on the part of the local Estonian Russian community, who it presumes to hold Pöögelmann and his socialist virtues in high esteem. They also have written Jüri Liim’s name as “Yuri Lijm” for shits and giggles.
From my perspective, Liim is looking more and more like some kind of street performer than a rabid nationalist. I mean, how many Estonians even know who Hans Pöögelmann is? How many care if his memorial stone is in a museum or outside a university or part of the foundation for Jüri Liim’s new sauna. Nobody cares.
This is the kind of crap that only news media and blogs will write about. The only unbelievable thing is how an Estonian communist who was executed by Stalin in 1938 is rendered a “Soviet World War II hero” in Russian state-owned media. Liars.
* Pöögelmann never tried ecstasy or listened to indie rock. I was just making that up. He did, however, publish a newspaper in New York, Uus Ilm.