Ottawa in January can be a miserable place with cold weather so for a retired guy like me there is not much to do except walk the dogs and surf the internet.
The other day by accident I happened on a high quality video on YouTube that looked like one of Vaado Saarapuu’s Esto videos. People were singing in Estonian. Dancing wearing wonderful folk costumes and having a great time. The folk dancing group was lively and the dancing was of a caliber I had never seen before and I used to folk dance myself. The singing was obviously professional quality, especially the solos.
However, something about this happy scene did not seem right. I couldn’t figure out what was amiss until I noticed the big sign behind the dancers. This was not Estonia’s coat of arms (vapp) but rather a huge picture of Stalin! The scene was at a collective farm (kolkoz). I half expected to spot former comrade (endine seltsimees) Arnold Rüütel who got his start as a kolkhoz director in the background lifting a mug of beer!
I had stumbled on to Estonia’s first color film made in 1951, starring well known singer Geog Ots and directed by Gerbert Moretsevich Rappaport. The film was about farm collectivization in Estonia after the war. Georg Ots’ character, a decorated soviet Estonian soldier returns home after the war and decides to form a collective farm (kolkhoz). The love interest is provided by the comely eldest daughter (all Estonian women are good looking) of a surly dislikeable local kulak that is adamantly against collectivation.
(For those of you that do not know what a kulak was, these were well to do farmers-usually defined as somebody that owned more than one cow or horse, hired help or owned a piece of machinery-this definition was often relaxed by the authorities if it got in the way of fulfilling quotas of class enemies to be eliminated. Only a couple of years before the film was made around 20,000 Estonian so called kulak family members had been deported to Siberia in cattle cars in order to facilitate the introduction of the kolkhoz system in the Baltic States. This was Estonia’s largest one time mass deportation, twice the size of the first deportation in 1941 that we commemorate every June. About half of these people never returned. Among other things collectivization dealt a serious setback to the partisans (metsavennad) as they could no longer easily obtain food supplies from the local people. The main result of course was that agricultural output plummeted although people did not massively starve to death as they had previously in the Ukraine.)
One scene in the movie that is still in my mind is that where the bandits (read metsavennad) attack the hero’s farm. It is late at night; he has his whale oil lamp burning and is just getting ready to read a book with the title “Stalin”. His reading is rudely interrupted by bandits that torch the outbuildings and use obviously German machine pistols to shoot up the house. These are real bad people! The Ots character manages to hold them off with what appears to be a new Winchester rifle. (How he was allowed to obtain and keep a weapon is not explained but in Soviet Estonia it appears that farmers were armed with high quality guns to fight off bandits!)
Anyway, a couple of locals out and about in their wagon notice the fire and call for help. Interestingly, they do not call the fire brigade; they call the local party (communist party) headquarters for help. The bucket brigade arrives in time by way of galloping horse drawn farm wagons and even by bicycle. (These were obviously politically astute peasants seeking help first from the party.)
At the end, the kulak character satisfies him that the situation in Russian kolkhozes is so good that he asks to join the local kolkhoz himself. Everyone rejoices and they all live happily ever after, or so we are to assume. There is even suggestion that they will be able to eventually obtain a bus so that they can ride to town in style to watch movies!
After watching this film you have to sit back and ask why people foolishly risked their lives to get away from this wonderful system.
The answer is obvious to us, but even today many fellow travelers and idealistic leftwing intellectuals maintain that if this film did not represent reality, then it did represent what that system was meant to achieve for those living under Marxist-Leninism. The perpetrators meant well. The communist system was not evil although maybe it made the odd mistake, especially under Stalinism. In no way could it be compared to the horrors such as the Holocaust. experienced under occupation by Nazi Germany and anyway, Estonians voted to join the Soviet Union by an overwhelming majority (some accounts even suggest by more than 100%).
How they can still mouth these platitudes two decades after the collapse of the evil empire when the real situation was exposed to the world is almost unbelievable. Oh well, Lenin had it right when he referred to useful idiots.
Vabariigi aastapäev is coming up soon. For me it will bring back not so fond memories of those boring aktus things we had to endure as children. These memories have become softened with age and now they simply remind me of my Estonian heritage. It is also the anniversary of my father’s untimely death after a hard illness.
I will lift a glass to celebrate that day and also to toast my father who went back to Estonia in a small boat and brought my mother safely to Sweden so I could be born in the free world. Unfortunately he did not live long enough to see the rebirth of Estonia as a sovereign country.
I wish you all head vabariigi aastapäeva.
Valgus Koordis (6)