It has been a hectic few days since late Thursday when the riots in Tallinn broke out. I happened to be out of the country, returning on Friday and trying to get information myself on what is really going on (most of Estonian online news outlets were under heavy DDoS attacks originating from “friendly neighbors”) as well as responding to worrying friends and colleagues, especially from outside Europe.
Things have calmed down now a bit. Tallinn was under police control last night, it seems. Some action shifted (in a much smaller scale) to North-Eastern cities of Estonia, but nothing extreme there, I understand. So maybe it is time to think about what happened and what’s next.
I’d like to take a step back and steer clear of discussing very operational details of the events, but share some personal reflection.
First, to understand the controversy today you need to see the very grim history behind it. You see, the removed (note: to be relocated not destroyed) monument was erected in the honour of Soviet Red Army as the Liberators of Tallinn. The same “liberators” who shot my great grandfather because he was employed by Republic of Estonia as a forest keeper. The “liberators” who imprisoned my grandfather for several years because his father owned a village shop. The “liberators” who deported my grandmother’s whole family, including kids & the elderly to Siberia for 20 years. The “liberators” who shut the country down behind an iron curtain for the next fifty years.
However, for me the things listed above were carried out by communist regime, not Russians as a nationality. There were dozens of nationalities among the “liberators” (sadly including Estonians). And there was enormous amount for Russians who suffered from communist repressions both during the war and after.
Secondly, there is the reality today. I am too young to remember more than vaguely the tension and specific events when Estonia regained independence in 1991. I did cry silently when I saw the tanks moving in and cheered when they pulled out before a bloodshed came to be. I have a few Russian friends and dozens of ethnic Russian acquaintances and colleagues whom I respect and love working together with. I am occasionally ashamed when my Russian skills are worse than their Estonian.
It is criminal to have nationality-based pre-justice about people. And I would be an idiot and should be isolated if I mixed the above referred history and today’s reality, as well as Russians and communists up in my mind and started acting accordingly.
Unfortunately the last few days have displayed the existence of people acting just like that. And even more, the drunk street gangs, robbery and senseless violence have quickly moved to the picture – snatching pants from a smashed-in Hugo Boss store or grabbing bottles of beer from a burning streetshop is not a political statement no matter how you look.
I am sure that this is a temporary (for what time exactly, still remains to be seen) fluke that will be overcome. The unfortunate things we need to get through very calmly are are violence and plain criminal activities disguised into liberty of free speech. Russian international propaganda working to feed the tension. Estonian nationalistic minority feeling that they need to respond to any provocation. The government in power dragging the issues into another (pre-election) political game. Their political opposition raising the opportunity to point fingers and blame above the interests of the country.
The vast majority of the people in Estonia, regardless of their nationality will make this work. It is a European democracy after all, with all it’s features and flaws, not an instable third world idiot pool.