It has become a popular tradition for young couples who have just tied the knot to visit a Soviet tank – a monument marking the Red Army’s successful battle in taking the city of Narva in 1944 – and tie colourful ribbons around its gun barrel for luck.
Are there other monuments in northeastern Estonia, such as those commemorating Estonia’s War of Independence that hold a similar emotional significance for Russians as does the tank that helped conquer Estonia? No.
Self identity is directly related to historical memory. Irrespective of whether Russian speakers are Estonian citizens or not, it’s observed that the vast majority still personally relate to Russian culture. Feeding one’s historical memory is a composite of things such as monuments, memorials, place names, literature, etc. The Russian leadership is directly involved in the forming and packaging of the story of history. In fact in 2009 President Dmitry Medvedev signed an ukaz to establish a “historic truth” commission to fight the “falsifiers of history” who attack Russia and its heritage.
One might ask why such a group was given presidential blessing in 2009. In the preceding years most Russian history texts faithfully followed only the dictates of the Kremlin-sanctioned historical version. As a prime example, Alexander Dyukov in his book “The Myth About Genocide” says the Soviet repressions including mass deportations to Siberia were not much worse than a family picnic, that Estonia’s recollections of the suffering is too harsh. To totally deny the deportations would lack credibility. But belittle them, yeah that might have cachet.
Djukov insists that Soviet brutality as depicted by Estonia is obviously done for anti-Soviet and then anti-Russian reasons. In this regard one might also note that the book has the financial backing of the Historical Memory Fund in Russia, is published by Tarbeinfo in Tallinn, available in Estonian, and promoted by the Russian media club ‘Impressum’ in Estonia, who invite speakers to address socio/political issues from Moscow’s perspective. Djukov is a veteran publicist, writing several dozen books covering topics of concern to the Kremlin, a master of the political use of history.
That the book is undeniably slanted is readily apparent. But it also contains blatant historical falsehoods and is factually wrong in some crucial aspects. In covering the annexation of the Baltic states and in describing the mass deportations of June 1941, Djukov states that those were decisions that the Soviet Union was forced to take because of the situation with the war. He says that the June 1941 deportations were in essence a needed response to a war-time front-line situation.
He writes: “If Baltic nationalists had not cooperated with German special services and had not prepared for acts of diversion, there would have been no need for deportation. It was the activity of nationalists and of Nazi agents that provoked the deportations – and Estonian historians prefer to keep silent about it.” This and other similar passages are not simply matters of a differing interpretation of the historical record. They’re major misrepresentations. During the 1941 deportations, the war had not yet begun. In fact Moscow was in direct collaboration with Berlin supplying Germany with military resources and accepting Nazi expertise on how to deal with an untrustworthy occupied population. Djukov conveniently ignores the substance of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that gave the Soviet Union carte blanche on how to handle the Baltic states.
It’s been stated that Russia spends more on propaganda targeted against foreign countries than it spends on supporting the unemployed. Estonia cannot financially afford to compete with Russia nor ethically create a propaganda ministry or the formation of a group of politically governed historians.
A realization that pivotal aspects of Estonian history should also be presented (not only on government web-sites) in a language that meets the audience’s comfort-level, in Russian. The distorted (but credible to the Russian-speaking audience) version is delivered in the language and vernacular that the family uses to describe the day-to-day, tangible and immediate reality of their lives.
Soviet T-34 tank turret in Narva brings Russian newly-weds luck (5)