versione italiana - russian version

(published in the monthly newsmagazine “Galatea”, july 2007)

A perfect metaphor for the "liquid society"

Estonia, Baltic pretty forgetful

Someone calls it the "e-republic." The small country close to Finland is perhaps the most "hi- tech" in the world. Completely projected to Scandinavia and to the future, it saw the ghosts of the (Soviet) past resurface. But more than Russia, Estonians, like other Europeans, should be afraid of globalization. That is why

Poor unknown soldier. In its bronze sadness, memory of many anonymous "soldier Ivan" of the Red Army, it does not communicate the triumphalism for the victory in World War II (for Russians, the "Great Patriotic War"). It is a statue for memory, silent meditation, not for the trumpets and fanfares, and perhaps it is better now, in a cemetery beside the graves of other fallen soldiers, than before, in the square of Tallinn. Before the incidents that made it famous, and led Estonia on the front pages of newspapers around the world, during the "bronze nights", as they are called here, almost to evoke other far more dramatic nights, the ones of a twentieth-century tragedy that refuses to be buried. What happened in the "bronze nights" at the end of April that seemed to have to restore the international relations during the Cold War? The news talked about the choice of Estonian government to remove the statue of Soviet soldier, like a trigger for the revolt of Russian (or rather, Russian-speaking) minority living in this country.
During the day there are protests, at night they turn into urban warfare, with violent repression by Estonian police. There is even a dead man (a young Russian, Dimitri Ganian, stabbed, probably in a fight with Estonian skinheads), plus dozens of injured people, even serious ones, and hundreds of arrests. Then, Putin triggers off the offensive. Estonian embassy in Moscow is besieged, Russian hackers piloted by intelligence attack en masse Estonian computer system, the Foreign Minister Lavrov talks with threatening tones. All this while Bush insists on a missile shield to be deployed in the Czech Republic and Poland, and Putin answers he will point his missiles at Europe. The media ride "old fashion" thrill of the Cold War; more pragmatic European governments fear for the supply of gas and oil, but they can not leave a member alone to face the ire of Moscow.
In this tense situation that touches on the grotesque, Europe is still compact in defense of Estonia cause, headed by the presidency of Angela Merkel (by far the best Continental leader, in these times so grudging in great personalities). During G-8 in Germany, the international crisis goes back, everything is back as before, and the summer brings tourists (mainly British ones) in Tallinn, which has one of the most charming old town centers throughout Eastern Europe.
For the facts of April, if you reset the blatant political exploitation by both parties (Estonia and Russia), are a telltale sign of many things. A little like a nervous tic on the face of a perfect person, or a water stain in a perfect-looking house, which is the image that Estonia wants to give of itself inside and outside. Cynical chauvinism of Putin and his gang was known for a long time, only people like Berlusconi can pretend not to see the authoritarian drift of Russia. But Russia, even if it took all the media space, is not the center of this story, indeed, one can say that it wanted to slide into a situation that does not concern it, at least from the political and international point of view. Putin in fact is not really responsible for Russian minorities in the Baltic countries, because the protection of minorities, and therefore the respect for human rights, is for him and his regime a minefield. He is interested only in defending the prestige of Moscow, and ride the wave of nostalgia for Soviet Union, as he has done since he was into power. No, Estonia, like the other Baltic republics, should interest only European Union. And not for the simple reason that since 2004, Estonia is a member country, but because it is a small, perfect metaphor for the challenges we wait for. If there was a historical political grammar, Estonia would be a strange correlation of repressed past, immanent present and possible future.
Let's start with the "immanent present". Estonia viewed from Tallinn's old town center is a post - modern postcard: perfectly preserved, very clean, with its medieval walls and Lutheran churches, and its tourists, always available Internet, with several wireless point, where everyone can surf for free with his laptop. Trendy clothing, beautiful Nordic girls, payments by credit card or directly from mobile phone, electronic music, futuristic interiors or, by the way, with a refined design. A kind of brilliant and powerful "cool Estonia",which speaks English with ease and moves seamlessly into new technologies and the "new economy".
Low cost flights from all over Europe, advanced services, foreign investment, an economy growing at Asiatic rates, unemployment, at least in Tallinn, close to zero. Really cool, “the immanent present" as a wave to ride without problems or guilt, like real surfers, as the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman says, he coined the term "liquid society" to define a modernity in which everything changes rapidly, and who hesitates is lost. Memory is measured only in giga-bytes, that of hard drive, certainly not what remembers you where you come from to clarify where you are going. And here we enter the "repressed past." The first removal takes place in an official way, at the time of independence: the Republic of Estonia was born in August 20, 1991 (the day after the attempted coup against Gorbachev) as a continuation of independent Estonia from 1918 to 1940. Ie before three invasions: Soviet Union in 1940, following a division agreement between Ribbentrop and Molotov, or between Hitler and Stalin; the Nazis' one in 1941, and the second Soviet invasion in 1944. Half a century of history is put in brackets, one directly returns to the alleged "golden age" that preceded the Second World War (whereas Estonia of president Konstantin Pats was an authoritarian regime, which had disbanded the Parliament and the parties). The first political consequence is the restriction of citizenship right: the right to vote is guaranteed only to who was Estonian citizen before 1940 and of course his descendants. More than a third of the population is cut off from the start: they are mostly Russian immigrants in Estonia from the days of Stalin on. For the new republic, they are only "aliens" or "Soviet Union citizens", Soviet Union which will soon become "former". The paradox is that some of them continue to be for years the only European citizens with a Soviet passport, member of a deceased state.
Now, from a very practical point of view, let's say of Realpolitik, the choice could also be understandable, because most of the "aliens" was definitely linked to Moscow and nostalgic of communism. But in any case, they could ask people born and raised in Estonia, often the second or third generation, a free choice of belonging, also because they all have lived for nearly 50 years under communism, not only Russian immigrants (or Ukrainians, Belarusians, Moldovans), and they all have suffered from the restrictions or enjoyed the privileges of that system. Instead the equation Communism is Russia and Russia is communism, which is a forgery. Of course, Estonia has avoided this way the changes of other former Soviet republics, in which "everything changed, to change nothing". But this new virginity, this total resetting does not only have positive effects, such as Estonians seem to believe, and not only for the problem of Russian-speaking minorities, as we shall see later. The second removal regards the period of Nazi occupation. Surely, Estonia was the victim of two totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, submitted as by Hitler as by Stalin, just like the other Baltic countries or Poland or Ukraine, which had the misfortune of being in the geographical middle of the Nazi-Bolshevik grip. For Estonians, the final victory of Stalin meant death and mass deportations. A veritable decimation. But this consideration is not sufficient to understand History, and get the appropriate lessons.
This is not to make rankings among the different peoples of Europe who have suffered German occupation, but to understand that the reactions were different, however, to recognize responsibilities and treasure it. Estonia was a diligently collaborator nation. Just like Latvia, more than Lithuania, just to remain in Baltic countries, which are much less similar to each other than we are led to believe. Estonians were volunteers and conscripts at SS side. We talk about a brigade (volunteers) and an entire division (conscripts), ie, tens of thousands of people who fought on the Eastern Front until the end of hostilities. There was no trace of anti-Nazi resistance, in Estonia, whereas there were concentration camps and Estonian police departments working with Gestapo. Estonian soldiers were "cleared" by the U.S. State Department in 1950: they were not comparable to the Nazis, and in any case"they did not proved to be hostile to the U.S.". Eventually, in the unbearable lightness of "repressed past", they were still considered "patriots"struggling against Bolshevik enemy, lined up to protect Europe as an extreme-right party "Isamaa" ( "Fatherland") deputy in parliament supported. In their memory, a beautiful monument was erected in the east, which then was removed following Jewish community's protests. Statues, contradictions, the inconvenient past, problems: Estonia removes everything. At the end, the risk is removing the truth. That is why the fighting in April for the statue of the unknown soldier displays the interior discomfort of Baltic pretty forgetful. Take Estonian version of the affair, which has two main themes, both true, but always by half: the first, the minimalist one, solves all in terms of gross vandalism, common delinquency passing for political rebellion; the second one expands enormously the framework, and it sees the direction of Moscow everywhere: "The monument had been there for years and no one has cared about it until Russian embassy got involved, beginning in 2002".
In fact, riots were caused by gangs of drunken young Russians, that night they took the place of the few peaceful protesters, mostly nostalgic for the USSR, war veterans, and representatives of the older generation (more than 40 years in 1991), which have been cut off since independence and the boom of the "new economy". Young Russian are very similar to their peers of French banlieues or other European suburbs, and they are simply the waste of globalization: no money, no identity, no home, no religion, no ideas. Clearly, in absence of anything better, after having wrecked tram stops and fired garbage bin, they made an assault on Hugo Boss and Armani stores: they get what the society asks them to have to exist for, but without giving them the means to get it.
They are children of the void, just like their Nazi skinheads peers in "Woodstock" bar (now names do not matter anymore), who are maybe a little more well off, certainly favored by being Estonian native-speakers, but they are also condemned to count almost nothing in a country that moved abroad and in the most impalpable and floating economy sector the key of national wealth and the political control: the foreign trade is three times the gross domestic product, since the early nineties Estonia has got in the "new economy" roller coaster and now it can no longer get out, regardless of governments that lead it, as claimed by a reporter from the "Baltic News Service". Fortunately for it, it has to do mainly with Scandinavian countries, starting from Finland, and it has a society that wants to look like a candinavian country, otherwise the social issue would have exploded for long time.
But all this is not said, the official optimism should not be lost. That is why the celebrations around the statue of Soviet unknown soldier were interpreted only as Moscow maneuvers to destabilize Estonia. Certainly, there was Kremlin exploitations, but it is clear there was also a spontaneous movement, which then was only a small piece of a signal from a society that does not feel represented, that feels despised or ignored, however. Now, the problem of citizenship was partly solved, now seventy per cent of Russian-speakers has a Estonian passport, and more generally who was born after independence is automatically Estonian citizen irrespective of origin. The political rights issue now regards, more or less, 100 thousand people in a population of one million and a half, and in any case even "aliens" can vote at least in local elections.
But they are especially mentally "aliens", and not just because they hardly want to learn difficult Estonian language (even though for years Estonians were forced to learn Russian), but also because they reject modernity in which there is no place for them. “Russians in Estonia, as opposed to those of Latvia, were mostly laborers for industry, for power stations or in Soviet military bases", said Joseph Katz, a Russian-speaking jew of "Molodezh Estonia", a Russian publication. "They have never formed a true elite, and this largely explains the total absence of a party of Russian minority". This, above all, increases their frustration. Social, linguistic and mental differences. Going across that little piece of Russian territory between Poland and Lithuania, there is Kaliningrad, formerly Koenigsberg, Kant and Hannah Arendt's Prussian homeland. Of course, some features are now the same everywhere in Europe. But in Kaliningrad the legacy of Soviet urban planning (which is also found in Tallinn, anyway) is much more present. But it is not as gloomy or depressing as you might imagine. Here the atmosphere is a bit sad and a bit naive, very sixties - seventies, with people going fishing on the river, couples carrying food in the parks, families visiting perhaps the most sad and abandoned zoo in Europe. Or boys (and girls) sharing a beer in the square, because the few bars have prohibitive prices. All stuff from "losers", as seen from Tallin, which is so "trendy" and "hi-tech." But if you go away from the center and take a tour around the railway station, you can find the same humanity, just more sullen, even if being poor in Estonia means, however, feel much better than in Russia. This too is part, in Estonia, of the "repressed past". Nobody seems to remember that the current Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, born in 1956, liberal reformer in a country where the left simply does not exist, who is at the head of the "best government in Europe", according to “The Economist", was a leader of Estonian communist party at the time of USSR. Just like the former President Ruutel. In short, even if the ruling class in Estonia is largely composed of young people, they have had a huge political experience. But no matter, even Ansip, orthodox liberal and monetarist, he reset memory: he led the fight for the removal of the statue, when he realized that the Russians' celebrations were beginning to really bother Estonians, and that showing off determination and national pride increases supporters. Other parties followed him, and, paradoxically, the nationalists of "Fatherland" party seemed to be the least enthusiasts. Even this is not accidental: too much economy hurts politics, which is still concerned in some matter of principle, because you do not live just by consumerism. Or maybe you do. And here we come to "possible future". Of course, personal computers, mobile phones, I-pod are the new frontier. Nokia has been using Estonia for years, as a nation "tester", and Skype was invented here, by Estonian engineers.
Nations such as Ireland or Estonia are the new models of progress, flexibility and international investments, companies of advanced services, post-industrial nations par excellence. But the too quick well-being drives you mad. Here people live with much higher standards than their means. Cash is almost gone, everything is done by credit cards, but they should be called debit cards. Estonian families do not save money, and do not invest in the "old economy". Estonian economy is strictly linked with the disloyal world of international finance, as a perfect globalization wishes. What happen when the boom will come in the falling stage? Who will take care of vulnerable range, that no one really represents? After 16 years since independence Estonians have lived apart from other minorities, what would happen if they were to face the problem of emigration? What faith, what strength of mind a post-Christian nation could get (a nation that has gently put aside religion)? Maybe little Estonia will be able to easily answer these and other questions, because it is not so difficult to deal with a million and half people. But countries like Estonia can not be the model for an united Europe, as Tony Blair and the Anglo - Saxon Unique Thought have repeated for years, infecting even Sarkozy 's France: a free market, with a weak policy and without social justice, which possibly manages contradictions relegating in the sphere of public order, under the banner of a "law and order" that is only for losers, and the waste of the system.
Someone has buried with communism any discussion about equality, equal rights for everyone.. Someone, by reducing Christianity to tradition and national identity, or canceling it as silly burden of the past, has deleted any speech about poverty, the central message of the Gospel. And about the meaning of life. Someone thinks Europe was born to fight inflation and custom duties, and not to bring peace, justice and freedom for everybody. The poor unknown soldier is there to remember it, but no one seems to trust it.
Cesare Sangalli