As Estonia marks its 16th year of regained independence on August 20th the nation has withstood 16 years of unrelenting accusations, threats and vilification from Moscow.
When it became evident that the Soviet occupation would end in 1991 Moscow fired off the first of its prolonged salvoes of bad-mouthing Estonia, claiming that Estonia was a country with insurmountable economic problems that western investors would and should avoid. In fact, Estonia’s starting position economically was indeed precarious, but fast and determined actions put it on a sharp growth curve.
Moscow actively supported so-called “autonomy” for northeastern Estonia, a region heavily populated by non-Estonians aggressively relocated there by Moscow during the Soviet occupation. As Estonia resisted this offensive, Russia countered with economic sanctions. Estonian imports were burdened with high tariffs, that in fact Russia was forced to remove after Estonia joined the European Union in 2004.
Those sanctions actually spurred Estonia to seek reliable and stable western markets and business ties. Prior to Estonia’s ascension to membership in NATO and the European Union Russian officials also frequently threatened military action. (The small, Moscow-instigated movement for autonomy quickly faded out, as locals weighed the obvious benefits of aligning their future with growth-oriented Estonia dominated by western values, against Russia with its hallmarks of governmental chaos, rampant corruption and economic uncertainty.)
Over the years Russia has targeted Estonia’s relations with its non-Estonian residents, accusing Estonia of withholding citizenship from Russians, demanding Estonia make Russian an official state language, insisting non-citizens be given the vote, etc. (In fact Estonia grants non-citizens the right to vote in municipal elections. Canada and most other democratic countries do not.) Most international observers and commissions have dismissed Russia’s accusations.
Moscow’s overeagerness to defame Estonia betrays its insecurities as a major player internationally amongst progressive, liberal democracies. Russia’s monotonous use of the “fascist” label makes its finger-pointing less credible. Estonians are fascists because they relocated a Soviet-era monument to a military cemetery. They’re fascists because they insist that the USSR invaded their country and occupied it for 50 years. They’re fascists because Second World War veterans who fought the Red Army are allowed to hold periodic reunions. They’re fascist for interpreting recent history from the Estonian perspective.
Recently the fascist label has included a new bugaboo: the annual international Erna Raid, an international military competition with participation from many NATO member states, Red China, Sweden, Finland and others. Estonia has organized and hosted this competition for 14 years. Russian teams have yet to participate.
The Erna Raid, one of the world’s longest and most difficult military competitions commemorates the actions of the Erna long-range reconnaissance mission from Finland, targeting Soviet forces in communist occupied Estonia of 1941. (The most absurd offshoot of the Erna controversy appeared in Rossijskaja Gazeta on August 13 in which Erna was identified as a possible culprit in a Russian train derailment.)
Russia found an ally in this latest and ludicrous accusation: The Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s director Efraim Zuroff.
(To be continued.)
Should Estonia flinch at Russian harassment? (17)