Maarja Vaino: Freed serfs and the surface gleam of freedom

Maarja Vaino.
Maarja Vaino. Source: ERR/ Ken Mürk

It increasingly seems that those who speak loudest about freedom are only offering a surface glow of the latter, the mentality of manor lords that treat free citizens as subjects making a comeback, Maarja Vaino finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

I read somewhere that in the dark says of serfdom, peasants only got to keep 10-20 percent of what they made. While times and histories differ, we still hold true that times were toughest for Estonians during the period of serfdom when peasants belonged to the estate owner and had no rights whatsoever. Among our greatest pieces of literature are works that describe the gradual process of freeing the serfs, all in their own way – first Eduard Vilde's "Mahtra sõda" and later Anton Hansen Tammsaare's "Tõde ja õigus" ("Truth and Justice") the protagonist of which, Andres of Vargamäe, was a freed peasant and master of his own farm.

We have always taken pride in having achieved a good living standard on the back of our freedom and hard work. We have believed that people have the right to own property, which is also among the more remarkale manifestations of freedom.

As put by the Estonian Constitution, ownership gives persons independence and freedom to organize their lives.

However, I have been feeling peculiar recently. Especially when I read and hear people's reasons for defending the decision to keep Juhan Smuul's bas-relief on the wall of the Writers House, despite the fact he participated in the crime against humanity of deportations. Smuul participated in the crime by recording people's property for confiscation.

I feel weird because most people currently defending keeping the bas-relief in its place of honor are also private owners and should settle for the bas-relief taking note of their belongings before liquidating them should history repeat itself.

I do not condone such a society and do not yearn for a return to the days where possessions work to stigmatize a person and may result in their own destruction. And yet, something of this attitude seems to be rearing its head again.

The attack has been fiercest on owners of vehicles lately and, indeed, steps are being taken. Several other recent decision and intentions, seemingly aimed at punishing the middle class for taking care of business, seem equally unfounded. Best not make the effort to improve one's condition and cope independently!

The post-election surprise of new taxes and the feeling of powerlessness it sparks remind me of a thought from Eduard Vilde's aforementioned novel "Mahtra sõda." Allow me to quote it here.

"Even after being 'freed,' the peasant remained fully under the sway of the estate owner, whereas the latter's misuse of said situation did not lessen and rather the opposite was true. The peasant was not given true freedom but rather just a surface glow of it. Serfdom and slavery themselves were not destroyed, it was merely the words used. Because peasants had no way to secure less onerous conditions for themselves and had been left fully at the mercy of manor lords, their labor and tax burdens did not just stay the same, they increased by quite some margin. And so it happened that freedom pushed the already unfortunate peasants into even greater poverty over time."

The mentality of manor lords, treating free citizens as subjects to be ruled, has not disappeared either, nor has relevant misuse.

It increasingly seems that those who speak loudest about freedom are only offering a surface glow of the latter. Labor and tax burdens are also going up significantly. Suddenly the situation of a seemingly free serf no longer seems as alien and incomprehensible.

Literary classics are in the habit of becoming relevant again in one aspect or another. A peculiar paradox during a time that should be the freest and wealthiest era for us.

What has happened?


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: