Thursday, February 15, 2007

Oh what a tangled web there Eastern/East Central/New Europe

There's an interesting controversy brewing in one of the Baltic states--Estonia, to be precise. Legislators have just voted to remove a monument to the Soviet, or Red Army's liberation of the Estonian people from Nazi invaders in World War II. Estonians are ecstatic; Russians are preparing mass protests of the removal.

If you wonder why this is a controversy, why it is a big deal, you are not alone. There's a convoluted history between Estonia and the USSR that begins when the Baltic states were conquered by Russia during the Imperial period, in the l8th century. Those Baltic peoples never appreciated their lives under Russian rule, and became independent after the l9l7 revolution in Russia. However, that independence was short-lived, ending in l939, when the Germans and Russians signed the infamous Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact. The secret protocol provided for the Russians' reconquest of the Baltic states and parts of Poland and Romania, in exchange for standing aside as the Germans took their half of Poland and attacked Great Britain. When the Germans double-crossed Stalin and invaded Soviet territory, they gave the Russians a chance to confront them and then drive them all the way back to Berlin, where they linked up with their friends, the United States and Britain, to put an end to Nazi Germany. The Soviet forces liberated or re-occupied the Baltic states, depending on your point of view, and the Balts faced another long period of living under Russian rule, in the Soviet Union. Just to make sure it would be very difficult for them to break away, Stalin deported many Balts to Siberia or Kazakhstan and resettled Russians there, so that the percentages of Balts vs. Russians were very close in each state.

In l991, of course, the Soviet Union fell. The Baltic peoples understandably vented their indignation, their fury, at their fate, condemning their forcible inclusion ino the Soviet Union. Less understandably, they took out their frustrations on the Russian residents, who after all were not given a choice in their resettlement. They slapped restrictions on the Russians, namely the requirement that every Russian learn the Estonian language, an exceedingly difficult language, within three years as a condition of citizenship. Estonia was particularly adamant about this. Estonian leaders were forced to back off these draconian conditions when they applied for EU admission, but the tensions between Estonian and Russian residents continue.

Now, the removal of this statue appears to the Russian residents as another gratuitous insult directed at them. They place a high premium on the sacrifices of the Red Army on behalf of Baltic residents and believe the memorial's disappearance is an intolerable insult. There is talk of general and hunger strikes in order to force the leadership to renounce their decision. It just goes to show you how difficult life remains for some citizens on the post-Communist political landscape in eastern Europe. It also demonstrates dramatically how the past is not prologue at all. It is not, in fact, even past.


jodmeister said... that the story is in the news, someone may take matters into their own hands and knock the thing down. The problem would be solved! Well, maybe not.

SS97 said...

Interesting story. I heard the French want to do the same thing to the US memorials in Normandy.

moville said...

where did you see the item about normandy, 97? when i was there, everyone, and i mean everyone, flew the american and british flags and came up to me and my dad(an american greatest gen/vet)to express spontaneously their welcome and gratitude. i've never seen anything like it--and this was 2004, the year following the high emotions of the iraq war.
if that has changed, you will be able to knock me over with a feather.

SS97 said...

That's sincerely refreshing to hear. Was all of France that way, or just Normandy? All you ever hear about is the anti-American sentiment in W. Europe (France in particular). I'd actually heard that from a friend, but after further investigation, I assume that this is what he was actually talking about:

Here's another one:

Disgusting act, but apparently it was just some hooligans graffitting (the things I would've done to them had I been there to witness them doing that....). Apparently the French government condemned the acts.

german said...

well my brother was in bastonge and they were still very appreciative and enjoyed the american tourist still. he was there in the summerof 05 and they in bastogne had nothing but good things to say about americans

buckarooskidoo said...

I would guess that the war memories aren't so fresh elsewhere as they are in Normandy. Just think about how Paris was liberated--the allies deliberately took a back seat to General de Gaulle and his Free French/resistance fighters in the parade down the Champs-Elysees. By contrast, the people in Normandy first encountered the Americans, British and Canadians when their days of liberation came, and that made a big difference. You tend to dance with them that brung ya, i guess.