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.