hammer of the gods

They took an Estonian Cross of Liberty from 1919 and stuck it on a pedestal in Tallinn. The monument was officially opened June 22 to coincide with Võidupüha — “Victory Day” — which commemorates the victory of Estonian troops over the German freikorps at Võnnu (Cesis, Latvia) 90 years ago.

I like that they built a monument to the veterans of the Estonian War of Independence. I enjoy how Estonian nationalism is focused on 1918 rather than 1945. The First World War lacks the Biblical narrative of postwar Allied history. The narrative of the Great War, the assassination that led to thousands of more deaths, the collapse of empires, the shifts in alliance, the chaotic emergence of new states, seems more representative of the nature of human conflict. Estonia at that time produced heroes, heroes who actually won and made a state from a territory that was only several years prior two Baltic provinces that had been traded by neighboring empires for hundreds of years.

So the victory deserves commemoration. But how? The erection of the võidusammas — victory monument — was your typical Estonian production, filled with backbiting and intrigue, allegations of misused resources, aesthetical battles pro and con, and worries over whether it was just too “anachronistic” and “aggressive,” in the words of one German-born Tallinn academic, for a modern city center.

I went there Sunday morning. There was no one around. Like most commentators, I was pleased that it was not completely revolting, but — a Cross of Liberty on a pedestal? That’s the best you could do? In Suure-Jaani they have a statue of Lembitu of Lehola on his back, sword in the air, fighting to the death for his freedom. I always liked Suure-Jaani Lembitu. He was fearless man holding a weapon. But the new monument? It looks like a weapon itself.

I could imagine some science fiction film where the buildings of Tallinn come alive. The Stalini maja — an imposing multistory Stalin-era building across from Stockmann kept intact for historical purposes — begins to breath fire. From its perch on Liivalaia and Tartu maantee, Stalini maja uproots itself and starts moving towards the Riigikogu on Toompea. It’s slicing the air with its hammer and sickle star. It could be the end of the Estonian republic.

The Riigikogu is defenseless — the Russian Orthodox Church won’t allow him to hook up with his stalwart ally Vana Toomas on Tallinn’s Townhall Square. But, suddenly, the Riigikogu reaches around the Orthodox priest and grabs a hold of the võidusammas, a ready-made battle axe, a hammer of the gods. A couple swift blows from the võidusammas brings the Stalini maja to its knees. Its remains are jackhammered and used to make new parking places. The Riigikogu dusts off its battle axe and returns it to its place, where little girls in national costumes bring it flowers.

It would make a great film but, in reality, the monument looks kind of out of place. Tallinn’s vibe is a Hansa one. It’s the air of thrifty merchants of various backgrounds making a living backdropped by picture perfect cobblestone lanes. It was the hometown of Jakob de la Gardie, a statesman of French extraction turned nobleman of a German-speaking city in the imperial Swedish center of its Estland province. There’s a shopping center named after his family now, across from the McDonalds near the Viru gate. That’s Tallinn right there. That’s what the city is about. Is it also a home for this hammer of the gods? Apparently so, but I am not yet convinced.

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69 thoughts on “hammer of the gods”

  1. PS. I'm fully aware that nowadays there are more humane ways to put terminally ill animals out of their misery. 😉 It was just an expression. And if my post was slightly shocking – well, it was intended to be! For your own good – and mine. 😛

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  2. I was at Laulupidu. I am a välis-eestlane (born in Sweden) and I love the monument.

    I am an Estonian (born in Tallinn) and I daresay, a patriot, who thinks that this monument sucks. But I didn't go to Laulupidu, so I guess you win. Enjoy the cross.

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  3. In regard to my post, plasma-jack commented: I am an Estonian (born in Tallinn) and I daresay, a patriot, who thinks that this monument sucks. But I didn't go to Laulupidu, so I guess you win. Enjoy the cross.

    But before addressing Jack’s comment, let me say that I was responding to Giustino’s … I haven't met anybody yet who *loves* the võidusammas.

    And also to Inner monologue’s Happened to run into couple of Estonian emigrees on their way back from Laulupidu, boarding the plane in Copenhagen earlier today. I asked how did they like the monument. They didn't.

    Therefore, I mentioned I “loved” the monument and also that I’m an Estonian born abroad.

    As for Jack’s comment? Well Jack’s English is commendable… pretty damn near perfect. As for his sense of irony? Putting me down in such an elegant manner? Just too much. Beats the typical Russian swearing and threats and foul mouthed comments anytime!

    My only complaint about Jack is that he considers himself a middle-of-the-roader… someone neither left-nor-right, like Leonard Cohen. And expresses himself as such.

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  4. Don’t ignore the fact that the Russians destroyed all the monuments dedicated to Estonian Independence within a very short time period after the beginning of their occupation of Estonia. This monument partially compensates that.

    There's plenty of nice monuments dedicated to War of Independence everywhere in Estonia. You´ve probably seen that one

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  5. The timing of the monument is no good. The only thing worse would have been to put up our own human form symbolizing the brave men (who would have probably also looked just like Palusalu).

    Estonia is a far more sophisticated and worldly and ironically detached (in a good way) place. We gave the world semiotics, or at least made it cool. Estonia is a place where you discuss the meta-meaning of symbols in cafes over Skype, not build new static monuments. And certainly not, in the middle of a recession, waste taxpayer money paying Slavs to carve glass into an ambiguous shape and putting it in the middle of town — as if it's the last word.

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  6. Well, “slaves” DOES come from “Slavs” 🙂

    This a monument for a war. War is not a feminine thing! Young girl riding on goat, playing with flowers?? I think the men who were engaged in battle would turn over in their grave, if that was how we commemorated their fight!

    In democratic societies, armies are *always* tools – means to an end. How could something symbolizing be an insult to the soldiers when freedom was the end they were fighting for?

    Also, they're dead. Where is your Estonian pragmatism? 😉

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  7. Plasma-jack wrote: There's plenty of nice monuments dedicated to War of Independence everywhere in Estonia.

    Touché!

    If indeed you meant that there are monuments that are “nice” in the artistic sense and that have been re-erected.

    In case you didn’t realize that the monument you linked to is one of the “taastatud” ones, then consider this.

    There were over 150 monuments dedicated to Eesti’s Vabadussõda and the vast majority were destroyed or ruined. Not all have been re-erected like the one jack points out.

    Have a gander at this story:

    http://paber.ekspress.ee/viewdoc/266851090B9FC7C4C2257273003A71EA

    And no… I’m not trying to have the last word. But I am amazed at the civility and high intellectual level of all of your comments. Not to mention the remarkably good English.

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  8. Luckily I was familiar with the Estonian Vabadusristi before I heard about this monument and its design. Therefore, I avoided having any other associations than simply “the Freedom Cross” or “Freedom” when I saw it.

    I was surprised to learn, though, that it is not actually a freedom monument like the one in Riga (which I consider extremely beautiful), but a victory monument. But of course the Vabadusristi must be associated with both notions – to the extent that it is known at all. How well known is this order in Estonia?

    I actually like both the design and the materials now that I have seen and touched it. But the SIZE?!

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  9. Toomas, though I probably agree with you more than with others here — I tend to like the monument, which I see as typical of its kind — I can also see the points some of the others are trying to make.

    True, saying that the monument is “too masculine”, “not modern”, “likely to offend the Russian government” etc. is missing the point.

    But it's also true that the symbolism of this monument can and will be misinterpreted — and not only by the Russians, who would misinterpret anything, but by others as well.

    Probably the Estonian government shouldn't go as far as choosing a girl riding a goat while making a daisy chain (though I can see the piont here too — freedom is this beautiful wonderful thing that justifies the death of all those courageous fighters; it's the sun rising after the darkness of occupation, etc.). And all in all I also like the shape of the current monument, as I've said above. Still… I can understand those who say that having chosen this particular shape will make it a wee bit harder for pro-Estonian advocates abroad to insist there is no Nazi imagery in it. And that is a pity.

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  10. I was surprised to learn, though, that it is not actually a freedom monument like the one in Riga (which I consider extremely beautiful), but a victory monument.

    Good point, especially because Vabaduse väljak (Freedom square) was called Võidu väljak (Victory square) during the Soviet era.

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  11. Can´t help to line out once more: the Eestimaalased or Esthlanders or Baltic Germans tied to Estonia were part of Estonia´s forces (among other minorities and members of friendly nations) that fought for Estonia´s liberty and helped to establish it in the end. Overthrowing of the Landeswehr was not the big issue, and the Landeswehr was already in a pitiable state when it met with Estonian forces. The big issue was to stop the Bolshevik assault and imperialism. Praise to the Kaitseministeerium and their information policy as to be viewed at youtube:
    “The Estonian military forces included Estonians, local Baltic Germans, Russians, Swedes, Latvians, Jews and representatives of other nations.”

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