Raul Rebane: On remembering national traumas

Raul Rebane.
Raul Rebane. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Every nation must fight for its historical truth and the struggle is becoming more serious every day, Raul Rebane finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

I will never forget an Estonian businessman's idea of history. "What difference is there between deportations and Swedish banks, both took away my apartment!" he said. While it was painful listening to someone likening deportations to a bank foreclosing on an apartment, it needs to be understood in context. He was hoping to do business with Russia and business often does not have a memory. But people do.

Time marches on and we will soon mark the passing of 80 years since the June 14, 1941 deportations and 72 years from the March 25, 1949 deportations.

New generations grow up with new problems and these national disasters seem far away. Fewer and fewer people taken to Siberia survive and their stories are slowly fading away.

My uncle Erich Ausmaa will turn 92 this summer. He was deported along with his family a week before his 12th birthday. He is a living symbol, a lovely and important person for all of us. It is our task to make sure the terrible things he went through, that his father, mother, uncles, brothers and sisters went through are never forgotten for family members of policemen very seldom managed to escape Siberia and even then mostly by happenstance.

Why cannot we forget, one might ask. The deportations took place a long time ago and these melancholy memories cannot cheer anyone up. While an individual is allowed this question, the nation is not. History has shown time and again that forgetting major psychological trauma comes with the risk or repeating it. A Jew will not forget about the Holocaust, a Pole about Katyn, an Armenian about the genocide, a Ukrainian about Holodomor, while the Baltic peoples and a lot of others must never forget about the deportations.

Every nation must fight for its historical truth and the struggle is becoming more serious by the day. Especially after Russia has returned to Stalinist concepts of history. Vladimir Putin is personally seeing to their dissemination.

A lot has been done in Estonia to remember deportations, people's life's stories have been collected, art installations, documentaries and a lot of music created. A book called the "Priboi Files: Articles and Documents of the March 1949 Deportation" has been published. These achievements are crowned by the imposing Maarjamäe monument complex, which is one of the most important objects of Estonian memory in the world.

What else? I believe we also need a major motion picture. A movie to give future generations an artistic key they could use for interpreting events increasingly far in the past.

I am left envious looking at Norway recording its history in films some of which are circulated internationally. ETV is currently showing the series "Atlantic Crossing" about Crown Princess Märtha who placed her charm at Norway's disposal during the war in her friendship with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

All Baltic states have made a movie about the deportations. We have "In the Crosswind" ("Risttuules") from 2014, the Lithuanians have their "Ekskursante" from 2013 and Latvia has "The Chronicles of Melanie" from 2016. All are good movies of considerable effect, while it is now time to take a step forward towards a great narrative. An international audience could be considered.

It would also be nice were the Estonian Academy of Music or music historians to collect the music of Estonians in Siberia, especially songs. Most of them are about Estonia, about home, longing and love – the things people missed the most in Siberia. It would be nice to see a collection of these songs.

But perhaps there is something else all of us could do.

Allow me to recount a personal experience. In 2011, we erected a simple commemorative plaque with the names of 14 people deported from the village of Urissaare in Pärnu County in 1941. Now, there is a place for people to come together, remember and light a candle. Children learn far more from such outings than from textbooks.

Such local places of memory can be found all over Estonia but not everywhere. The names of everyone hurt in wars and deportations are displayed next to the church in Viru-Jaagupi. A simple solution but effective, especially if you see seven names from the same family. The injustice of history is tangible there.

It would be good to see villages and rural municipalities remember their deported. It doesn't take much, a plaque with some names and a little effort. Therefore, dear municipality mayors, perhaps we can start by finding out the names of locals who were deported. We have proper databases and I'm sure a local enthusiast could get it done quite quickly. After that, it would be possible to discuss where to erect the monument and whether one is needed. But it would give people a place to go and light candles.

While such a future-oriented narrative about the past might come off as an exaggeration, it is not. The coronavirus will pass, while memories must remain. Major events are not possible but lighting a candle on the windowsill would be appropriate and a sign that we will not forget.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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