Pekka Erelt: Does great literature redeem author's actions as citizen?

List of seized property made by Juhan Smuul and Debora Vaarandi.
List of seized property made by Juhan Smuul and Debora Vaarandi. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Journalist Pekka Erelt, who was the first to bring evidence of author Juhan Smuul's involvement in the deportation to the public's attention, said on Radio 2's morning program that Smuul's talent does not give him carte blanche as a citizen. Erelt said that every member of the deportation-involved operational group was complicit in the crime at hand.

Erelt said that although the topic of Smuul being involved in deportations has resurfaced now, it has been discussed earlier with reference to the memoirs of Roland Lään, an active party member in Kohila parish, dated March 25, 1949.

"Roland Lään gave an unusually detailed account of that day, of how they gathered at Kõue parish hall, how they headed to the farms and how the [confiscated] property was documented. Lään said that he was joined by Juhan Smuul and Debora Vaarandi. These memoirs have been the initial source for the claim that Smuul was involved in the deportation," Erelt told Radio 2's "Hommik!" program.

"When the issue came to the fore in 2010, Andres Kahar, an ISS officer assigned to the case, said that these charges were false and the memoirs are not accepted as evidence in court, although they could be used to supplement the allegations. And now here it is: a document drawn up and signed by Juhan Smuul and Debora Vaarandi, has been released bearing the same date of March 25. There are no inconsistencies between this document and Lään's memoirs," Erelt went on.

Erelt said that reading the 1949 minutes of the Writers' Union's party sub-organization is crucial. "There is a gap of several months before the deportation period begins. There are no minutes for that period. However, the names of four people — Juhan Smuul, Debora Vaarandi, Arnold Tulik and Paul Viiding — appear frequently in the minutes of the preceding months, where they are regarded as reliable party members. This explains why they were sent to Kõue municipality; the authorities had confidence in them. They were not taken off the street and told to perform the task, so to speak. They were comrades who were trusted by the party and the local authorities. They arrived there with intent," Erelt said.

According to him, Smuul was only a candidate for party membership in 1949, but he was a member of the Komsomol's central committee [Leninist young communist league]. "As late as 1969, he remembered his Komsomol friends who had fallen to the bandits' bullets. The bandits were the Forest Brothers [partisan armed resistance]. Smuul's actions and his ideals are clear," Erelt added.

Leelo Tungal and Andrus Kivirahk, among others, have tried to defend Smuul as him being a talented author. Erelt said, "I would like to pose the following question to them: does good literature, good creation, redeem actions as a citizen? I would not want it to be the case that talented writers are permitted to do anything. That is just not the case," he said.

According to him, a firm stance must be taken against the operational groups that carried out the deportations, which included Juhan Smuul and other party activists. "To avoid having it appear that some members of the operational group committed a crime against humanity while others did not. If we were to compare this to the Holocaust, then all parties involved would be guilty. The correspondence secretary at the German concentration camp Stutthof was recently convicted. Because he participated in a system that led to the deaths of many concentration camp inmates, he was deemed guilty. Nonetheless, we assert that some [members of the deportation operational group] were not."

Smuul's defenders have argued that writers, considered being "bookworms," were forced to record the property of deportees. We shad writers; no one sent Tuglas, for instance, to record property. The party did not choose participants of operational units at random. For a long time, Smuul belonged to the party nomenklatura and enjoyed the benefits," Erelt said.

Erelt also said the fate of the bas-relief is not solely in the hands of the Writers' Union. "Since it is in a public space, the bas-relief will be removed if a firm position is taken that this Soviet symbol should also be removed. It is not a part of the building's architecture, but was erected by the party's central committee in 1972. It was not erected at the request of the Writers' Union, nor was it their initiative; it was the party decision," Erelt explained.

At its April meeting, the general assembly of the Estonian Writers Union resolved not to remove the bas-relief of writer Juhan Smuul from the wall of the Writers' House. 47 members voted in favor of removing the barrel-relief, 97 opposed, and 45 abstained during the vote.

In the same week, Erelt wrote in the daily Eesti Ekspress (Link in Estonian) that a document preserved in the national archives confirmed suspicions that writer Juhan Smuul not only penned songs of praise to Stalin, but also participated in the deportation.

Namely, the national archives have preserved inventories of property confiscated from deportation victims in Kõue parish (LVMA.3HA, n 1, p 377), one of which, on March 25, said that a commission consisting of Debora Vaarandi and Juhan Smuul "wrote down property belonging to Elmar Jaan Saadi, located in Jõepere farm in Kõue parish, Harju County, Ardu village," the newspaper reported. The list includes a dwelling house, buildings and other property, and Smuul and Vaarandi's signatures appear at the end of the document.


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Editor: Mari Peegel, Kristina Kersa

Source: "Hommik!", Raadio 2

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