It is time to recognize the validity of the struggle against the Russian cultural and political influence and not to look for machinations of abstract “Russophobes” in it, but to develop a local identity and culture independent of Moscow.
Where have you been for thirty years?
Since the 1990s, we have repeatedly heard about allegedly unfriendly attitudes to Russians in Estonia. No one has managed to prove any real discrimination of course – on the contrary, many Russians in Estonia have lived and used schools, hospitals and any other public services freely for all these 30 years without learning a single word in Estonian. Soviet monuments have not been touched either, although, looking ahead, I do not wish that stone bayonets and rusty tanks would remain the national symbols of all Russians and especially Estonians.
On the whole, the Russian-speaking citizens (and non-citizens) of Estonia have never been an obstacle to a comfortable life, unlike, for example, societies divided along racial lines, as was the case in South Africa.
Who’s dehumanizing whom?
Nevertheless, there have been occasions when there was a real conflict between conditionally Russian and conditionally Estonian, as during the Bronze Night. The stumbling block has been one key concept and everything connected to it – occupation. Depending on whether you recognize the suffering of the Estonian people under the occupation or not, you count yourself among the citizens of a free Estonia or, let’s talk frankly, supporters of the very same occupiers who once shut the country behind the Iron Curtain and carried out mass deportations of Estonians to Siberia.
This, in fact, is much closer in essence to the Holocaust, a repeat of which Philip Elk fears so much. If Estonia has a problem of dehumanization and the threat of a repeat of the tragedy, it certainly begins with the dehumanization of Gulag victims by those who are so fond of shouting “we can do it again.
When provocateurs dressed in blazer jackets with red stars glorify the Soviet occupation on May 9, they literally put pressure on the wounds of those families whose fates were broken by the deportations which followed the “liberation” by the Red Army. Of course, it would be strange to expect forgiveness and humanity in response, although until recently, this is how sensible Estonians preferred to respond to the annual victory festivities.
Today, proponents of war with Ukraine (most of whom speak Russian) are setting a new bar of inhumanity, denying or even rejoicing in the suffering of Ukrainians here and now, many of whom also live in Estonia. Thus, practically all conflicts, supposedly on the national ground, in fact turn out to be conflicts of (geo)political character.
How does Russophobia begin?
Russia, which has a huge influence on the Russians around the world through its propaganda, continues to live by the values of the 19th century, when the conquest of a neighbor was commonplace, while the rest of the world is in the 21st century, where imperialist policy is out of fashion. “Mass dehumanization” in relations with the Russians and the Russian state has not happened, because there has never been any humanism on Russia’s part.
Can anyone, hand on heart, say that a culture whose main symbols are the bronze soldier, the T-34 tank, and fake mass graves is a model of “common human standards”? Wouldn’t it be quieter to live without huge statues, constantly reminding everyone about the mythical feats of Russian arms?
At the same time Russia uses Russian culture in general in all its manifestations as a weapon. A vivid example: the other day the ensemble “Russian Song” came to the destroyed Mariupol, whose members cynically photographed against the background of the destroyed Drama Theater.
The Russian language in the occupied territories of Ukraine is forcibly and implicitly imposed with the help of such “patriotic” song-and-dance collectives. Portraits of Pushkin with the “United Russia” logo decorate the ruins of Ukrainian cities. Under such conditions, it is simply impossible to separate Russian culture from the Russian occupation, and thus Russia itself puts Russian cultural figures who try to remain “outside of politics” in a very difficult position.