I always found it a little sad that Vyacheslav Molotov died on November 8, 1986. Had the Old Bolshevik lived five more years, he could have seen his old pact with Joachim Ribbentrop come undone. In this alternate reality, I imagine how Molotov is awakened one morning in his pajamas in his penthouse suite at the top of the foreign ministry in Moscow to be informed by a nervous aide that the Kremlin has recognized the independence of Estonia. “It can’t be,” Molotov whispers from his bed upon hearing the news. “It just can’t be.”
Several Estonian Bolsheviks did live to see independence restored in their country. One was Max Laosson, a Communist Party functionary who was notorious for a 1950 speech in which he accused former “June Communists,” like Nigol Andresen, Johannes Semper, and Hans Kruus, of bourgeois nationalism. The result was a purge of the pre-1950 Communist elite, which ended for many in sentences of 25 years plus hard labor.
Born in 1904, Laosson lived until 1992, long enough to see the birth, death, and rebirth of the Estonian state. I imagine him in some Tallinn apartment, distressed by what he’s seeing on his television. It’s November 7, 1991, and there’s no parade. Laosson keeps hitting his TV with his cane, hoping the parade will come on.
Laosson’s name came up about a month ago in Kuressaare, the capital of Saaremaa. Our friend Mele was telling us of her childhood in Kingissepa, where she lived on Kingissepa Street and attended the Viktor Kingissepa School, named, like Kuressaare, for the famed Estonian Communist. From 1952 to 1988, Kuressaare was called Kingissepa, and in little Mele’s world, all was red. “My aunt knew Max Laosson,” she recalled suddenly. “We have his skis.”
In that moment, the old Communist became real. When he wasn’t accusing people of bourgeois nationalism, Max Laosson found time to ski. He had watched them all fall: Kruus and Semper, and, before them, Tõnisson and Päts. Estonian domestic political history in the 20th century was like some kind of Shakespearean tragedy: the murders, the suicides, the “accidental deaths.” In a land of rotating masters, someone could always be found to serve the new boss. When it came to the Bolsheviks, that someone was Max Laosson.
Those were the days when Estonian political life was passionate and dangerous, a time when someone was always plotting something. The dark memories of betrayal still stalk Estonian political discourse to some extent. While all officials serve the Estonian state, but there is always the insinuation that so-and-so is on the Kremlin’s payroll or is in bed with the CIA or is a puppet of the Bilderberg Group or the Knights of Malta. The Singing Revolution gels society, but the 20th century political history, the Shakespearean tragedy, picks it apart. Who was your grandfather? Who was your grandmother? Whose side were they on?
Don’t ask, don’t tell. People around me talk about Swedish politics and American politics and British politics, but few care to talk about Estonian politics, and parliamentary elections are but months away. In person, Estonians tend to keep their politics tucked away in the closet with Max Laosson’s skis. Eighty years ago, this country’s politics were scatterbrained and firebrand. Today, they feel kind of dull.