Peeter Kaasik: Of invisible front lines

Peeter Kaasik.
Peeter Kaasik. Source: Private collection

The truth never completely disappears, it will always be there in between extremes, while navigating the perpetual flood of information is difficult as everyone keeps pulling on the blanket, with the allegedly discriminated minorities far outweighing the majority when put together, Peeter Kaasik writes.

The piece at hand was inspired by the anniversary of the 1934 coup on March 12 – a day that Konstantin Päts summed up in the following words: "The people are sick, and we must make manifest the symptoms for a cure to be possible."

While this attempt at justification might seem absurd in hindsight, let us not overlook all of its facets. The event sparked mixed emotions. On the one hand, Päts and his close circle where democracy's gravediggers, while others suggest that what they did helped avoid a "fascist" path. It has also been said that the aforementioned "fascists" represented the "will of the majority."

Like always, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Generally speaking, the coup (or introducing a state of defensive emergency) was received rather peacefully, as the silent majority was actually utterly fed up with constant changes of government, states of emergency, political meetings culminating in fistfights, daily verbal abuse in the press and the general domestic political confusion. In that moment, it might have been possible to see in the coup a grain of statesmanlike wisdom that restored order and put an end to pointless skirmishes.

We must also remember that this was not Päts' solo and the emergency situation was backed by other forces. The fact that Päts later refused to give up power and return to the path of democracy is another matter.

Why am I writing about this? It is an event in history that holds a lesson, provided one wants to learn. For example, this domestic wrangling would have left Estonia open to external threats during that period. It would have been impossible to switch from in-house skirmishes to facing a common enemy quickly enough and sufficiently motivate the silent majority stuck in mental bomb shelters.

Bringing this context to the modern day, at least Ukraine – numerous domestic front lines and "bloody battles" against even more abstract enemies and in the service of even more utopian goals than those Vladimir Putin used to drag Europe to war could be felt in Estonia before Russia launched it.

I would largely leave aside "professional Russians" here as the topic is somewhat different. The army of trolls literally praising Russian hardware today make for a rather simple group of individuals. Their message has more to do with the animal kingdom staple of marking one's territory and is aimed at those who already share much of their understanding of the world.

There is some confusion on that front today as Russia, after backing the local offices of the Russkiy Mir, has now become an international pariah. Justifying mass murder of civilians could scare off a part of internet warriors, not to mention the target group. The question of the size of this company of Russian "patriots," how dangerous they are and how far their words still are from actions is one for law enforcement.

I consider far more dangerous for internal security numerous "hybrid wars" that, amplified by social media, have at times led society into a complete quagmire, or the so-called post-truth world where one struggles to make sense of up and down.

The truth never completely disappears, it will always be there in between extremes, while navigating the perpetual flood of information is difficult as everyone keeps pulling on the blanket, with the allegedly discriminated minorities far outweighing the majority when put together. Social media is also the meeting place of so-called novel ideas and backward "black-hundredists," with the origin of the "discussion" quickly rendered a secondary matter in the ensuing war of words.

While the "civil war" was mostly public and carried by newspapers in 1934, it has largely moved online today. Because I do not actively use social media, I lack a clear understanding of the extent of the disaster. However, public media, comments' sections, forums, everyday social media contacts and conversations with the representatives of the "alternative avantgarde" are enough to realize that there is an elusive "funhouse mirrors world" right next to me.

While this might even add color to the world during peacetime, it is somewhat risky when living next to an aggressive neighbor and downright dangerous in the case of war.

A "useful idiot" is both practical and pleasant in that they are usually capable of paying for the rope used to hang them. And, of course, refuse to admit that they will be among the first to meet that fate.

The Kremlin's talking points are either consciously or unknowingly spread by a truly diverse group of people that we could sum up as "deniers," without tying them to any one political party, because what is being denied at any given time largely depends on the "mainstream" that needs to be constantly opposed. Outside factors to have shaped attitudes in recent years include (civil) wars, refugee crises, the pandemic, climate anomalies, energy crisis and the sporadically blind intolerance of those fighting for tolerance.

One's field of view narrows at an alarming rate in the conditions of "internet warfare," with the sights soon full of nothing but abstract enemies and the age-old truth of the enemy of my enemy being my friend. Noble ideas quickly become boots-and-all obsessions that are petrified in the conditions of "internet warfare" and become caricatures of the original idea.

All of it works to blur the big picture and replace it with conspiracy theories. Despite the frankly baffling complexity of the latter, they are also quite simplistic in allowing the "blame" to be placed with some kind of abstract dark forces.

It is an established truth that weapons are useless without motivation and a country only as strong as its rear. Things are worrying in terms of the will to defend ourselves. Allow me to remain a military historian and give two examples of periods immediately before hostilities began.

The world has been in the clutches of the evil coronavirus for the last few years. The "internet warfare discussion" has had no effect whatsoever here – in addition to being completely useless, calling someone a flat-earther can even make them believe that particular natural wonder.

Whereas the physical shape of the planet is a matter of very little significance to everyone involved. Figuratively speaking, a decree by "Kaja Kallas' government" constituting that the Earth is flat would automatically render it pyramidal for the non-conformists. Even the virus itself is unimportant, while it is still used as a cudgel in "internet warfare."  The relevant question is who or what is construed as the enemy, which process usually leads to the real enemy remaining hidden in "internet warfare" conditions.

This multilayered partisan conflict culminated (or at least came to a running total) in a well-known activist completely losing his nerve and making a statement that could be briefly summed up as his willingness to write off the Republic of Estonia "in the name of freedom" if only the occupant would not force people to get vaccinated. It is unimportant what he meant by it and hardly important which words he used – what matters is that he said it a mere week before war broke out, during a time when the air was thick with premonitions of wretchedness to come.

The media is painting (or not painting) a somewhat distorted image of "unity." It is perhaps understandable as conflict and confrontation are dangerous and out of place today. But while the coronavirus topic is largely off the agenda by now, people who only yesterday (?) were saying that they would not go to war for Kaja Kallas' government despite being Estonian patriots are very much still out there.

More than a few messages we heard in spring serve as proof that a part of people is simply incapable of exercising their constitutional right to stay silent even during war. The limits of absurdity cannot be far now. Rage has boiled over to a point where it no longer realizes it has aimed an ICMB at a sparrow.

Therefore, the entire "coronavirus warfare" would even be comical if it wasn't a ticking time-bomb undermining constitutional institutions. While the state can survive it in peacetime, it is water for the enemy's mill in a warlike situation. And Estonia is indirectly at war, whether we want it or not.

Another example falls in the category of curiosities. Next to "deniers" there are, of course, "yeasayers." There are certain statements that while noble in their goal are made at the absolute worst time and place.

For example, just when the price of electricity spiked a few months ago there appeared an article that urged those with wood-burning stoves to replace them with electrical heating on environmental considerations. This literally insane proposal at the worst possible time did the most damage to the green turn itself.

Next, allow me to present an excerpt from an environmental activist's statement:

"Instead of spending on warfare, we need to consider "impossible" moves. By investing in society's independence and values, we can create a land that cannot be occupied, that gets its energy from renewable sources and that stays two steps ahead of cyberattacks. Even though a free country and a people at peace might seem impossible without an army, we need to ask what kind of a future we want. Constant fear of Russia's insanity cannot help develop our country but forces us to invest in munitions that expire and military hardware we may never need."

This was two weeks before war broke out…

In other words, the activist comes up with a "swords to plowshares" proclamation when the threat of war has already become tangible. The reader of the piece is also given a short summary of Estonia's true and tested infantry: "The profile of an average Defense Forces member is that of modest education and low income. We will basically be sending to die people whom society has failed to help attain the good life."

Why highlight the former quote? Because it is a clear indication that the author has not the slightest idea about what they are writing. Yay-saying morphing into denial when the topic becomes something in itself and starts to ignore the surrounding context.

The article is not characteristic of the entire field that has plenty of sensible opinions. The article, written in the name of the "coming generation," also alludes to the so-called generational conflict and the utterly useless contrasting between "former people" vs "the next generation."

Teacherly sophistication is equally useless as we have long since realized that the climate topic matters to young people and is not one to be ridiculed. But beyond-the-clouds slogans are to no avail, at least in the current situation, and mainly work to undermine the green idea itself. The question today is not where electricity comes from but whether it comes at all, with epochal musings on an ideal world either hopelessly ahead or behind the times.

The environmental topic I chose for a reason as it brings together the "yeasayers" and "deniers" down to the argument that the green turn was one of the main reasons for the war. It is difficult to strongly disagree here as Russian gas was seen as a so-called transitional fuel, while it also paid for the Russian war machine and led the aggressor to believe that its dependence on the resource would lead Europe to turn a blind eye once more.

But, to quote the classics, we cannot let a good crisis go to waste, and people sporting a greener worldview can take solace in knowing that Russian tanks stuck in the mud in Ukraine are doing more for the green turn that all the trillions of characters typed into social media text boxes put together.

Political forces in Estonia and the wider democratic world have arrived at a rare sense of unity (hopefully not just seemingly and temporarily), which is why I would urge internet warriors to refrain from clogging up the waves with armchair messages and undermining front line moral by waging their own personal "partisan wars" at this time. Pick up where you left off once peacetime returns.

Estonia is also headed for major economic problems, needs to boost its military preparedness, deal with refugees etc. More than enough fuel for "internet warfare." But let us not forget that Ukraine has given the democratic world a breather, and instead show our gratitude and use the time to bolster our ranks instead of trading abuse amongst ourselves.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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