“All the attempts at being more friendly and courteous have given a rather contrary result. The current rigid positions don’t have to endure forever, but they have evolved over time. Both sides have chosen this manner of getting along,” says Viljar Veebel, international relations lecturer at Tartu University.
He stressed that the Estonian government has behaved rationally. Because Russia has constantly used coercion, it would not be possible for Estonia to adopt a friendlier stance. Russia has pre-determined the nature of the relationship. Estonia’s behaviour reflects this.
Veebel added, “It would be impossible for Estonia to take a softer line. Russian coercion tactics could even intensify with Estonia’s mellower approach. Perhaps there’ve been moments where the relations have been unnecessarily overly strained, for instance during the Georgian crisis, when the milieu was very emotional. But looking over the historical long term, then the poor relations are understandable.”
This fall Russia intends to have the UN General Assembly pass a resolution condemning the Estonian and Latvian governments’ “glorification of nazism and the justification of its ideology”. As prime evidence, the Russian foreign ministry has offered the exhumation of Red Army soldiers and the relocation of a Soviet monument from Tallinn’s downtown to a military cemetery.
Russian interpretation of the last century of European history is radically different from the Estonian version, in fact also different from the viewpoint of most of central and eastern European history. Given this factor the growth of mutual respect – at the very least mutual public tolerance – is unforeseeable in the near future.
Russia has distributed history school textbooks that idolize Stalin and his era. It justifies the deportations, labour camps and the consequent millions of victims as an unavoidable historical process. It’s been said that the new textbook derived from Vladimir Putin’s personal initiative.
Russia has not acknowledged nor condemned the consequences of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which made the USSR and Nazi Germany allies, which allowed them both to invade central and east European countries unimpeded by each other, which made them co-aggressors in initiating the Second World War. It would be unthinkable in Putin’s Russia and humiliating abroad for Moscow to admit that the Soviet Union was the enthusiastic recipient of German military aid just prior to the Communist-Nazi invasions of central and Eastern Europe.
Russia blindly lashes out at foreign parliaments who pass legislation banning Soviet symbols from public display. They oftentimes fail to mention that these resolutions always focus on Nazi as well as Soviet symbols and are meant to counter racial and ideological hatred and violence. Its apparent to many that the strong affinity between the totalitarian Soviet system and the current regime in Moscow accounts for Russia’s nostalgia for things Soviet. Their self-image, their self-identification must include the presence of a repressive and brutal system.
With the recent Georgia invasion as a backdrop the US Senate has just passed Concurrent Resolution 87 congratulating Latvia on its 90th anniversary and (amongst other things) calling “on the President and the Secretary of State to urge the Government of the Russian Federation to acknowledge that the occupation of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and for the succeeding 51 years was illegal”.
That’s the gentlemanly, civilized approach to arriving at a mutual understanding of stalemates in history. But with the Kremlin, that approach usually yields no results.
Estonia can’t treat Russia in a more friendlier manner than it has to date