Eesti Elu
A must read: Lauri Vahtre’s Empire of the Absurd (2)
Arvamus 01 Apr 2010  Eesti Elu
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Translated by Tarmo Heyduck. Executive Editor Markus Hess.
English edition, 2010, Canada.

Dictionaries offer these definitions for “absurd”: utterly or obviously senseless, illogical or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense; laughably foolish or false; preposterous, ridiculous.

Numerous books have dissected the Soviet Union’s faults and fallacies, exposing the monstrous, vast system of forced labour camps that terrorized its citizenry; ridiculing the severe limitations placed on travel to democratic countries; listing the privileges enjoyed by party “nomenkultura” embedding a rigid class structure on Soviet society that would rival pre-revolutionary Russia; analyzing the near-pathological sense of entitlement with which the Kremlin assumed control of the countries of the ‘near abroad’.

Lauri Vahtre takes on the bizarre Soviet phenomenon and jabs deep into its ludicrous absurdities. Vahtre’s choice of absurdities to be spotlighted covers the socio/political spectrum from collective farms to state secrets, from the scarcity of consumer goods to brainwashing and many aspects of life and relationships in between.

Vahtre zeros in on numerous Soviet postulates. Two that cover a large chunk of the landscape of absurdities are as follows: 1. The Party is always right. 2.In the event that the Party is wrong, please refer to point 1. We are reminded of those thousands of fanatic Stalinists, who, as they were sentenced to death, shouted, “Long live Stalin”. The author is convinced that these victims were lacking full mental capacity. Into the same category he places “a whole galaxy of Western intellectuals”, Stalin’s and Soviet apologists infected by the “communist germ”. Vahtre has little sympathy for those westerners who possessed a perplexing fashionability for Soviet despotism.

Like the mind of the fellow traveller in the west, Soviet mentality has never been well articulated. Vahtre’s treatise suggests that one had to give oneself a partial lobotomy to cope with the daily routine of bewildering contradictions. Or one could turn one’s frustration into humour:

Sunflower seeds are sold at a market. They’re displayed in two tea glasses. Although both hold the same quantity and quality of seeds, one glass sells for 10, the other for 20 kopecks. A buyer is amazed and asks, “If one glass costs 10 kopecks, who’s going to give 20 kopecks for exactly the same thing?” The seller looks at him in amazement. “Well those who don’t want it for ten will pay twenty.”

Vahtre - historian, university lecturer, author of numerous books, essayist, film scenarist, politician, parliamentarian - had been expelled from university in the 80’s for his activities and for voicing opinions contrary to accepted party dictates. He finished his studies ‘externa’ and holds graduate degrees. Enjoying a reputation for politically blunt discourse, Vahtre does not whitewash the inherent evil of the Soviet Union nor indulge those who still see something redeeming in the Soviet system.

The translation does justice to the Vahtre’s academic vernacular as well as his “no-holds-barred” style of caustic prose.

‘Empire of the Absurd” is a must read. The book makes sense of nonsense.

Available from: Estonian Central Council in Canada, Toronto Estonian House, 416 465 2219, estore,
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