TALLINN, Sep 24, (BNS) - A group of Estonian and Finnish cultural figures, scientists, journalists and politicians has sent the leaders of the University of Helsinki a public letter comparing Johan Bäckman, the author of a controversial book on Estonia that has triggered heated debates, to deniers of Holocaust and questioning his competence as a university teacher.
The authors of the letter addressed to the rector, chancellor and dean of the law faculty recall that Bäckman on Monday presented in Tallinn his book "The Bronze Soldier: The Backdrop and Content of the Estonian Monument Debates," which among other things denies the Soviet occupation of Estonia and calls the corresponding viewpoint a Nazi myth.
They added that Bäckman predicts a speedy end to Estonian independence, speaks in favor of Estonia's unification with Russia and calls Estonia an apartheid state in both his book and his blog as well as in public appearances. He contrasts different ethnic groups such as Estonians, Russians, Jews and Russian Estonians, and distorts the Estonian history.
The authors note that at the presentation of the book Bäckman, diminishing the historical experience of Estonians, said it is time for Estonians to understand that there was no Soviet occupation. He supports his claim among other things by the Nazis' anti-Jewish propaganda spread by Nazi Germany in occupied countries during World War II, which he represents as the ideology of Estonians and the Estonian state, thereby labeling people who speak about the Estonian history and experience as disseminators of Nazi propaganda.
The letter notes that Bäckman lectures on sociology of law and the specific features of the Russian and Estonian legal policies at the University of Helsinki this academic year.
The signatories add that Bäckman's public statements are not a mere expression of opinion. In their words, questioning the existence of the Estonian state and declaring Estonia to be a part of Russia can be considered hostile propaganda against the state and the nation.
Bäckman as a lecturer on Estonian and Russian legal policies can be compared to a denier of the Holocaust teaching Jewish history at a university, they added.
"Would that, too, be possible at the University of Helsinki?" they asked.
The authors of the letter asked the leaders of the university how is it possible that the University of Helsinki considers it acceptable for subjects linked with Estonian and Russian law and policies to be taught by a person who disseminates hostile propaganda about Estonian history and present-day reality.
They also asked whether the university expects its teachers to be familiar with facts and whether it intends to take a position on the lecturer's statements.
Among the signatories were University of Helsinki researcher and noted columnist Iivi Anna Masso, journalist, writer and film director Imbi Paju, Finnish author Sofi Oksanen, journalist Stefan Brunow, Jewish Estonian historian and writer Elhonen Saks, and Jevgeni Krishtafovitsh, leader of Estonia's Russian-speaking youth association Avatud Vabariik (Open Republic).
Suvi Salmenniemi from the University of Helsinki, researcher Anna Rotkirch, leader of the free-thinkers' association Jussi K. Niemela, members of the European Parliament Lasse Lehtinen and Henrik Lax, writer Mikael Enckell, and Katri Vallaste from the Alexander Institute also signed the letter.
Open letter to the University of Helsinki regarding Bäckman