The destruction, removal and neglect of national monument as well as the purposeful, passive and untintional destruction of graves and cenotaphs is nothing new in Russia. Indeed, former Finnnish Karelia has suffered more than most. After WWII, graves which the native (Finnish, Karelian) population had planted over the span of their existence, were desecrated. This is a fact and one which even the Russians themselves admit. One Aleksei Oding is such a critic. History Professor Nikita Lomagin of Saint Petersburg State University only points out that the Aljosja incident is politically motivated.The idea is old: divide and conquer.
Now that the demo outside the Estonian embassy in Moscow has ended, one wonders what this was really all about. Was it the removal of Aljojsa in central Tallinn to a more secluded spot? Or was the Kremlin scheming, having a bigger end-game in mind?
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Yesterday the Nashi (in English: us, we) youth surrounding the Estonian Embassy in Moscow broke into the building during a news conference and proceeded to cause a stir. The militia was nowhere to be seen but that is as it should be. They were outside the consulates compound, lollygagging and sucking on iced creams. The Swedish Ambassador, Molander, was assaulted, that is to say, the car in which he was travelling. Sharp notes have been sent to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs but the result is plus/minus nothing. The thing for the Russians to remember is that the hens come home to roost.
In the meantime, on a report from Tallinn on the opinions of some of the Russian-speaking Estonians who have vistied Alojsja in its new resting place the general opinion was that it was dignified, serene and well … nice.
Ilkka Kanerva, Finland’s Minister for External Affairs, visited Tallinn yesterday, was given an exagerated thanks for Finland’s solidarity. He will be taking this matter up today in Germany as will Finland’s President Tarja Halonen, with Angela Merkel, the President of the EU Council. What the EU can do is a big question mark. Russia could be softening up the EU for a bilateral summit designated to take place in a fortnight. If so, it is having some success. The EU has responded caustiously, if at all, to the Russian balderdash. But on the other hand, what can it do? Threaten to stop buying Russian oil? Intimate that will stop selling Renaults and Volkwagens to the Russians? Burn Russian timber as it enters the EU?
The drama continues to unfold or rather it continues to show how soured the relations are between the Estonian and Russian states. The Russian Duuma visited Aljosja only to discover that it had been cut off in its move. The few marks (according to television and radio reports from non-Russian news providers was that the statue had not been touched. And if that was not enough, Leonid Slutsky of the Duuma Committee, told Agence France Presse that many grass-roots organizations claimed that the Estonian (police) had tortured the demonstrators it took during the demonstrations in the past few days. On television, pictures showing a new method of demonstrating; cars driving around Tallinn, slowly, very slowly, causing traffic jams and honking their horns. It is as though Russia had already won the Ice Hockey world championships. Last night, the Russians gave the Finnish a drubbing which was not only raw but not very pretty. But that is another story.
Russia’s President Putin and the Russian Duuma have been shooting each others’ feet for some time now and very often when foreign affairs are centre stage. The Riots in Tallinn over the past several days are a case in point. Both the President and the Duuma have accused the Estonian government of fascist influence if not tendencies and most recently in the way it has handled demonstrations against the removal of Aljojsa, the Soviet monument in the centre of Tallinn commemorating the countless deaths of the unknown soviet soldiers who fought off the Nazis occupation of Tallinn. The claim is spurious at best and perhaps even malicious. But this is not new and certainly Estonia is not alone in being at the sharp end of a good Russian tongue lashing. Many of the former soviet vassal states have been or still are on tender-hooks where relations with Russia are concerned. I can name Poland, Latvia, Lithuanian, Georgia, Armenia and Roumania.
Tallinn is an engaging small medevial city with a well preserverd charm. Visiting this city after Estonian independence is was clear that there was much neglect. A good lick of paint on some buildings would do the trick. Others needed more and still others needed a good razing. During the Soviet period, many momunents to Estonian history were taken down but especially those which divided the Russian-speaking population from the native Estonian speaking. It is highly unlikely that any systematic record was kept but this is a refrain which is heard whispered by native Estonians. Now it was the turn of Estonians to turn the tables and tear down some of the symbols of Russian occupation. What Estonians cannot do is remove one of the major symbols of Russian occupation which is the Russian population.
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Last night, I witnessed a happy National Coalition Party (Conservatives) leader twist his tongue around Finland’s second national language, Swedish. It did not come off well but then again, as he said, he was tired. On this issue alone, Matti Vanhanen, the present Prime Minister and likely PM to be, has learned Swedish and English, while in office, well enough to speak to politicians in Sweden in their own tongue and to the French in English – irritating Chichi* to no end, surely. His mild stutter does not show up in either of these languages. Minority language rights was not a major issue in this election but the new Swedish People’s Party of Finland leader, Stefan Wallin, got the votes and likely a cabinet post place in the new Parliament. It will likely be the Environment ministry which surely gets up the nose of the Greens who would love to be asked to join the government but since all three major parties are pro-nuke, it would make it morally difficult for them. Or would it? The Greens leadership has said that this might not be a problem. Any, Stefan Wallin bravely used Finnish language newspapers to get his message across, but in Swedish no less. Our local paper carried banners, in Swedish. Though Salo was a Swedish-speaking town, at the turn of the century, it is now almost 100% Finnish speaking. His gamble worked. This did not seem to fall on deaf ears because he got one more mandate than the last election.