Taking away someone's right to vote after it has been given, filing off five-pointed stars fashioned in plaster or ending train station announcements in "their" language does little to win wars, Eero Epner finds.
There used to be an elections slogan called "Plats puhtaks!" (Sweep the square). The poster depicted an older gentleman, a well-known professor, sweeping away imaginary vestiges. The old system's turkeys. Traitors, collaborators, all manner of good-for-nothings that were not compatible with the effort to build the new Estonia.
I liked the slogan. It was concrete and the broom came off swinging. It is said that the bold transition gave Estonia momentum that quickly led us to European values where differences inspire development instead of working as a hindrance. Sweep the square!
I cannot recall the sweeping metaphor applying to representatives of flora or fauna, people of other nationalities, dust mites, cynics, flying ticks, instigators or history. As mentioned, the sweeping was done by a renowned history professor who valued being buried in archives, trying to determine how things used to be quite highly. At least that was my takeaway, that of a simple poster fan.
Looking at the professor's friendly expression, one did not walk away with the impression that he was a big fan of banning things. He also did not seem pro-woke, someone who finds that cancelling phenomena can help solve complicated and controversial problems. That is not the impression one got, and I will stand by this even if it kills me. (I have heard the latter phrase is making a comeback as it helps emphasize the principled nature and steadfastness of positions.)
I'm sure the good-natured reader has by now gotten an idea of where this is going.
Allow me to jump ahead and claim what I have to claim: 30 years on, we seem to have arrived at another point in time where the best solution to all problems seems to be to sweep the square; however, very differently this time. Not as a future-oriented slogan, but an order with the aim to take revenge on the past and present.
Not by asking questions, delving deep in nuances, but, in accordance with the best traditions of brutalism, by filing off five-pointed stars on facades, prohibiting announcements in Russian on when the next train to Türi is set to depart or grabbing people's modest right to have a say in local matters and making a run for the virgin forests.
We are told that all of it should result in a more coherent, healthier and nicer society. Where you can sit down in front of your fireplace at night, light a universal price fire and think: we lived well today. We banned, confiscated, dispersed and scrubbed out. How could anyone not like that? Or stuff it – not everything has to be to everyone's liking. How could it not result in a safer and more united country? It certainly can. My brothers in misery – the square has been swept!
There was a meeting recently. A well-known historian was telling me in a hushed voice how their colleagues, scholars of memory dare not speak up anymore. They feel the need to point out that remembering is multifaceted and that many monuments, with the exception of the Narva tank and a few others, could be deserving of – you know – discussion, analysis and consideration. Couldn't we instead complement some monuments with text to explain the context because...
And the hammer falls – stop! Have you lost your mind! Think of how expensive that would be. We need that cash elsewhere. For example, we need to build a proper pillory for everyone who thinks that even Soviet monuments can be nice to look at and are needed in order to explain and learn from our past.
We are reminded of the ongoing war and told that half-tones need to give way to black and white solutions during such times. Only the latter can help end wars, boost work efficiency and male sex hormones count, making sure there will be fewer wars and all manner of conflicts in the future. Would dialogue be a better way to avoid future misunderstandings and conflict? Please! In this day and age? Sweep the square!
It is generally counterproductive to think too much. If Russia behaves in a certain manner, it means all local Russians are the same. Let's draw an equals sign between the two and be done with it. Period! Let us draw another between nationality and voting rights instead of ideology and the right to vote. The move seems trifling at first glance but proves decisive.
Foreign and domestic policy need to follow the same principles. If we are fighting Russians abroad, why shouldn't it manifest domestically? It's only natural! Sweep the square!
When the Narva tank was removed, people here and there felt it appropriate to add: now do you understand that you don't mess with the Republic of Estonia. Pride was taken not just in the fact that the symbol of violence masquerading as a monument was removed but also in how it was done – forcefully and with the involvement of men in green uniforms in addition to blue ones. That the crane used towered so tall above the treetops that half of Narva had to have seen it and realized they have lived and thought wrong.
We put them in their place, and not only those who are ideologically challenged, but also those who speak another language and recall a different memory.
It is not about individual decisions or choice of ideas but rather a principle that strives for universality for which war seemingly provides justification. The square needs to be cleared and that's that!
And yet, it seems that this aspirant principle follows not just the war but entirely different desires. Taking away someone's right to vote after it has been given, filing off five-pointed stars fashioned in plaster or ending train station announcements in "their" language does little to win wars. There is a hint of nascent decisiveness: we put up with all of it for 30 years, enough is enough. We should have done it ages ago. Sweep the square!
Take revenge for a failure of sorts, while only "they" are responsible for that failure. The same goes for monuments and memory in general. We had all but forgotten about these unfortunate monuments, had to launch efforts to find them again, asked the public to provide information on moss-grown landmarks so they could be found and dismantled. Canceled, erased and forgotten.
A voiceless monument somewhere on the other side of Karksi can do little to motivate people to take up arms, while it could perhaps be significant enough to make us talk, teach us to remember and, God knows, maybe even learn from the past. But there's no need. We are at war, we're reminded, in which process the ancient principle of war is for some reason adopted: that he who is in the wrong can only use force. Sweep the square!
It wasn't long ago when today's prohibitors lamented the removal of other monuments, efforts to cancel those who disagreed and the introduction of a new ideological idea of how the world works through bans and censorship. And now a renowned historian tells me that they and their colleagues fear losing grant money should they even whisper about the significance of the Maarjamäe Memorial.
It is a new wave of cancel culture that wants to know nothing of debate or half-tones. The latter considered a pastime of the overeducated in "serious times," while finding that only a simple, holistic and truly sensible principle can help avoid future trouble – really sweeping the square once and for all!
One should pledge allegiance to core values no later than upon reaching the home stretch as it is all the rage these days. Okay, let's do that.
Rural Estonia is beautiful in July – agreed. The Narva tank had to be removed, you cannot compromise with Russia as force is the only thing it understands, and the Russian society shares in the responsibility for the war – agreed. We need to make sure Russian ideology doesn't take root here, which requires decisive action – of course.
But whence this conviction that a quick campaign is preferable to analysis, shooting from the hip better than taking careful aim and that the best approach a small country can take is a total one? That I cannot understand.
There are many things one cannot explain. Should I happen to walk the streets of Tallinn with my grandchild a decade from now and have them ask about pick marks on buildings or why some people are keeping their mouths shut, I will likely not have a sensible answer.
Editor: Marcus Turovski