Kaarel Tarand: Katri and the tank

Kaarel Tarand.
Kaarel Tarand. Source: ERR

The wise do not make choices that spark anger and leave their career in tatters, Kaarel Tarand writes in a comment originally published in Sirp magazine.

Narva Mayor Katri Raik has had ample opportunity in recent days to repeat her spring discovery according to which most Narva residents are suffering from a peculiar condition where they have a tank attached to their heart.

The mayor finds this to be a normal situation about which nothing needs to or should be done as it might split Estonian society, undermine national security and even give the enemy an excuse to launch a military attack against Estonia.

Raik is doing everything in her power to play down the significance of the tank [replica] installed to glorify the (Soviet Union's) imperialist conquest and occupation, as there is allegedly no problem, and even if there is, it has been artificially created by the central government. This puts her in sharp opposition to the government more decisive action on the part of which could see "people take to the streets."

The mayor is right in that the thank itself is nothing much when viewed as an isolated case. But it is not one, as is evident in rather sharp and critical reactions to the mayor's position in traditional and social media. Whereas at the heart of the matter lies not the tank itself but countless tanks that have grown into the hearts of Russian-speaking people living in Narva (and probably elsewhere in Estonia).

By suggesting that such a condition of the heart is not pathological, the mayor is indirectly telling a considerable part of Estonians that everyone who fails to sympathize, settle for and adjust to this peculiarity of Narva residents is themselves sick.

Estonia has a majority government that, therefore, represents the will of most people in Estonia. The government wants to be done with the topic of symbols of occupation by year's end. But the mayor in Narva has decided to oppose this, to prefer to the will of Estonian citizens that of Narva locals, many of whom are stateless of have Russian citizenship.

Clashes between the central government and its local counterparts are hardly new or surprising in democratic Estonia, while they almost always end with the stronger, that is to say the former, coming out on top. Even Tartu Mayor and later PM Andrus Ansip did not manage to thwart the construction of a new prison in Tartu a few decades back. The struggle saw various tales of horror and woe told about how the prison that would also house inmates from the rest of Estonia would spell doom for the city. But it didn't.

There is another and opposite example from Tartu. The city government, representing the majority of Tartu residents, managed to block the construction of a major pulp mill near the city, while this tells us less about the ability of the city government and more about the haplessness of the cabinet at the time.

Whatever the case, the Estonian Constitution prescribes no way for the will and self-organization capacity of local governments to override central government decisions, more so as the latter has access to the Riigikogu for suitable amendments should dialogue fail to produce results.

This means that the fate of the Narva tank is black and white: the government will prevail no matter what the local authorities may try. If the tank has not been removed from its current location by Christmas, it will become a serious campaign topic in Ida-Viru County, and I would like to see the party willing to defend the tank in Narva and, through it, Moscow's official ideology at Riigikogu elections (where only Estonian citizens can vote).

Things are a little more complicated when it comes to tanks in people's hearts. Everyone is free to carry in their heart what they will, but tanks are among the most senseless inventions of mankind and of little use even in environments they're meant to operate in.

Tanks do not win battles and are little more than mobile coffins commanders and leaders send young men to die in. Therefore, even as symbols, they do not represent victory, serving instead as manifestations of destructive cruelty and stupidity that should be removed from the hearts of the infected post haste, surgically if necessary. Because, as suggested, this particular coronary disease of the Russian-speaking victorious causes in Estonians suppressed but long-standing feelings of anti-Russian sentiment.

This sentiment, referred to as Russophobia in Moscow propaganda, is in no way characteristic only of Estonians and is equally widespread all over the former territories of the Russian Empire, stretching from Finland to Central Asia. And it keeps resurfacing in the wake of provocations, as one look at the Finnish press today will tell you. This sentiment perhaps goes back the furthest in Finland, to the great anger that followed the Great Northern War, even though this collective feeling sparked by violent deeds of the Czarist army got its name some time later.

Anger is a reaction to something, as opposed to a natural state of being. Someone had to create anti-Russian sentiment in Estonians, just as the now forgotten anti-German sentiment was manufactured. There can be no doubt that should Germany again start thinking about finding more lebensraum or suggest that the only good, hardworking and useful peasants in Eastern Europe speak German, anti-German sentiment would take off once more.

Such attempts by local Germans were rather feeble in the XIX century, unlike the wave of Russification from the east Estonians and other peoples had to weather like a storm also throughout the previous century. Allow me to once more turn to the unrivalled words of Marie Under: "Much has been taken - still we kept / our pride, honor and anger: let us stand with heads held high."

Therefore, those holding their heads high have an unalienable right to anger until everything that was taken has been returned. And until they are forced to toil to restore what others have taken away. What I mean by this is that Estonians, while often only making slow progress, have gradually been forced to address the aftermath of the last wave of Russification for the last 30 years, with no end in sight. Why shouldn't we be angry at times, having to work this unpaid or even lossmaking overtime.

It is the ultimate and urgent task of every local government representative to Estonianize their corner of the land if the full and free blossoming of Estonianness in all of its manifestations has not been guaranteed there. That should also be the number one priority of the mayor of Narva. However, she has chosen the opposite – oiling scrap metal in the souls of non-citizen babas and sparking the ire of Estonians.

My wish to demonstrate my anger cannot be illegal. What if, madam mayor, I joined a group of likeminded individuals in registering a public meeting for the day Narva's "tankhearted" are set to celebrate the "liberation of their city" next summer?

Liberation from its original citizens and almost everything human hands had built there over previous centuries. We would come and set up an impenetrable wall of hate around the lingering monument to occupying authorities just drawing near to which would create dread.

Whereas anger does not equal physical violence. Estonians are perfectly capable of being furious while keeping completely still and merely staring. Would such a meeting be allowed? Or would an internal security operative be instructed to talk me down? Perhaps I would be charged with extremism and acts against national security?

In the end, this matter can also be seen from a purely economic point of view. Which is cheaper for Estonia and the Health Insurance Fund: to send all pro-tank foreigners to cardiology or most natives in for anger management? Or perhaps the best solution would be to return the tank to its owner, especially in a situation where the warring country's need to send increasingly antiquated equipment to the front is growing daily.

The tank will disappear from Narva one way or another. If we move fast, it could slightly lift the spirits of Ukrainians, while every day the tanks stays where it is will fuel anger and undermine the future political career of the Narva mayor.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Marcus Turovski

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: