Datelined Moscow (JTA), the Canadian weekly “Jewish Tribune” says in its Aug.16th issue that “Estonia’s commemoration of the pro-German World War II past – including the re-enactment of a Nazi victory – has outraged European officials and the Russian Jewish community”.
It wasn’t a Nazi victory. Relying on its sources in Moscow the Tribune has taken some historical errors and Russian fabrications as fact. In fact the veterans did not celebrate the devastating battles of Sinimäed in 1944 (north-east Estonia), but gathered to remember the fallen. The numbers of dead and wounded were catastrophic. The Germans all but abandoned the Estonian units and the latter were left to fend for themselves against the advance of the many times larger Red Army.
Contrast the Jewish Tribune’s Moscow-friendly tone with that of The Economist, which in its Aug. 16th issue states: “Estonians look back on the Nazi occupation with loathing. Their country was caught between the hammer and anvil in 1939 (the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Stalin and Hitler relegating Estonia and eastern Europe to Soviet captivity – ed.), and whatever they did only suffering and destruction awaited them.”
The two perspectives are polar opposites in points of departure. The Jewish Tribune adopts the Moscow-sponsored view that Estonians recall the German occupation with fond nostalgia, suggesting that Estonians mobilized into German forces willingly advanced the cause of a victorious Nazi empire.
The Economist’s position reflects that which many Estonian veterans’ published memoirs and oral accounts stress: they didn’t have a choice, either defend the country against its “first enemy” or be condemned indefinitely to communist totalitarianism. Easily identified as Estonia’s “first enemy”, the Soviet Union invaded Estonia in 1940, liquidated the government, forcibly annexed the country and killed, arrested, deported those it felt were untrustworthy. The Republic of Estonia had ceased to exist de facto.
Thereafter, in 1941, Germany attacked the USSR and drove the Soviet occupation forces out of Estonia. Young Estonian men donned German uniforms with reluctance. But having already experienced brutal Soviet repressions, fighting the Red Army was the critical task on hand – to save the country – not to help Hitler realize his ambitions.
Back to the question – should Estonians flinch at Russian harassment? A simplistic analysis and naive observation would conclude that on this particular issue, Moscow has surely influenced the Jewish Tribune, a newspaper of limited circulation and narrowly targeted readership. On the other hand, The Economist, a widely respected magazine with journalistic clout worldwide, seems not to be influenced by Russia’s constant anti-Estonian harangues.
But Russian propaganda has seemingly won some allies. Rene van der Linden, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE, of which Russia is a member), has promised to put the question of “Estonia sympathizing with Nazism”, including the Erna military competition issue on the Council’s fall agenda. More critically, as of the new year, 2008, PACE’s new president might be a Russian delegate — Mihhail Margelov — who has made his obsessive views on Estonia well known.
Should Estonia flinch at Russian harassment? III (8)