Article is more than five years old, has been archived and is no longer updated.

Savisaar, The One and Only

Edgar Savisaar, just more deeply entrenched
Edgar Savisaar, just more deeply entrenched Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

Estonia’s freedom from the Soviet Union came with the so-called Singing Revolution. It has been said that we sung ourselves free. One of the most memorable songs from that period is "Koit" (The Dawn), dating from 1988. A one-time poll by a number of radio stations resulted in it being named Estonia’s most influential song of the 20th century.

The Manichean worldview of the liberation era perceived Soviet rule as darkness, and the Republic of Estonia as light. The transition from one to another was dawn. This is the hour in fairy tales and oeuvres of popular culture when the night’s specters and vampires vanish into thin air.

When we demonized midnight, we forgot the fact that our ancestors also regarded the transition from the night to the day, the time that wasn’t night but not yet day either, as a dangerous hour. In the Nordic regions it was also called "the hour of the wolf." It was a time when wolves prowled, when sleepless men were ridden by nightmares, and one could meet strange beings, partly from this world, and partly from the next.

The Hour of the Werewolf

Nowadays, with the wolf’s image much improved and hunting them frowned upon in the EU, we might do better to call the dawn the hour of the werewolf. The transition from totalitarianism to democracy that started in Eastern Europe 20 years ago is just that – the hour of the werewolf.

A good example of a transition politician is Edgar Savisaar. He is an intriguing person in the East European post-communist gallery if only because he has managed to stay in the political arena. Savisaar was chairman of the Popular Front in the late 80s, now he is chairman of the Centre Party, one of the largest political parties in Estonia. He has been prime minister, economics minister, interior minister and mayor of Tallinn.

He is one of the most hated politicians in Estonia. That politicians of other parties hate him, is no wonder. More tragic is the fact that Estonian media as a whole, or say, 90 percent of it, wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole. The majority of the intellectuals don’t love him much either.

Savisaar, like other politicians, has skeletons in his closet. He has made mistakes, he has been unethical. He is no saint. He’s a politician. However, the treatment of his mistakes and faults in the Estonian media has been immensely more passionate and choleric than in the case of any other politician. When Savisaar suffered a heart attack in 2003, several of my journalist colleagues couldn’t disguise their schadenfreude. There was open talk of finally being rid of "Old Fatty.” Nothing like that could have ever happened to anyone else involved in politics.

Why is Savisaar Hated?

Because he is a werewolf in the political sense.

Savisaar was born in 1950 in the Harku women’s prison. It has been claimed that his mother wasn’t an Estonian citizen. It has also been claimed that his father, who was an ethnic Estonian, could not have in fact conceived him. An Estonian journalist actually calculated the date of conception and found that Savisaar’s father, or his alleged father, would have already been arrested by then.

In the year 2003, a story began to make rounds that Savisaar was not ethnically Estonian but carried Russian genes. Patriotic circles were assured that it is written in Savisaar’s genes that he should be working for Moscow.

Mind you, I am writing of a man who in 1991 met with President of Russia Boris Yeltsin and received his signature on the recognition act of Estonia’s independence. I am writing of a man who in the late 80s and early 90s made Estonia’s independence possible.

But Savisaar communed with the powers in Moscow. He negotiated with them. He dealt behind closed doors with the masters of the Kremlin.

And this is his mortal sin. He communed with the masters of Kremlin. These, in the Manichean worldview, are the hounds of hell and the netherworld. A human being communicating with such creatures cannot remain untainted.

National-radical Manicheans used simple tactics in their quest for independance. Ignore Moscow, appeal to Washington. And one fine day, the President of the United States would demand of Chairman Gorbachev that Estonia be released from the Soviet Union...

One of the national-radical politicians, Tunne Kelam, expressed an interesting idea in a speech in 1989. Pursuers of independence were to raise their eyes above the "horizon of the Kremlin spires.” It was prayers to God that were needed.

Kelam: "If our reformers had channeled even a hundredth of the energy they were using to palaver with Moscow officials into sincere prayers to God, then the real and positive changes in [this] land could have been ten times bigger.” These days Kelam represents Estonia in the European Parliament.

In his book The Baltic Revolution, historian Anatol Lieven made a correct observation concerning the late 80s when the two forces in Estonian and Latvian political circles that were devoted to independence were pitted against each other - namely the Estonian (and Latvian) Congress, and the Estonian (and Latvian) People’s Front.

Lieven: "Congress movements in Latvia and Estonia were founded on the explicit premise that the forms of the 'First Republics,' in particular in relation to citizenship, had remained unbroken by Soviet rule and should be restored as before and in their entirety. For their part, most of the leaders of the Popular Fronts, while they stressed the legal continuity of independence, also tended to believe that the new states should be based on 'existing realities,' particularly as regards the position of the new Russian populations in the region."

The leaders of the Popular Fronts were pragmatic people. Common sense tells one that pragmatism was inevitable in the process of secession from the Soviet Union. Had the behavior been idealistic, the whole endeavor would have ended in a terrible bloodbath. Savisaar’s pragmatism avoided the creation of a Transnistria-type of formation on Estonian territory. We could have gone Yugoslavia’s way, too.

Why is nobody grateful to Savisaar because of that? Let me remind you once again that his reputation of a political werewolf dates from the time when he communed with the masters of the Kremlin. Decent people traveled to Washington. Those who traveled to Moscow were bound to be creatures of the KGB.

In his book, Lieven writes: "The question of whether or how far the KGB may have contributed to the formation of the Popular Fronts in 1988 cannot be answered until its archives are opened – if they have survived.”

I dare say that whether confirmed by the archives or not, the doubts will remain forever.

Two Decades of Distrust

Had Savisaar given up politics after 1992, he could now be a revered man. But he did not. All these years he has functioned as a living reminder of the Soviet era, a reminder of the fact that the transition from darkness to light didn’t happen in an all-cleansing apocalyptic blast of fire. That our freedom was not an outcome of a heroic battle at all. There are no battle graves where we can gather to hold anniversary speeches.

Savisaar has always been suspected of a connection with Moscow. In 2007, it was said that he didn’t take a decisive stand against the looting by Russian-speaking masses exactly because he was Moscow’s handler. In 2010, it is finally confirmed: he asked money from Moscow for his election campaign.

Does it change anything in the present constellation? Not a thing. His supporters are convinced that this was a provocation organized by the KAPO against Savisaar, his adversaries have only received confirmation that Savisaar is, well, Savisaar.

On the evening of December 27, President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves gave an interview to Estonian Public Broadcasting, condemning Savisaar’s actions. Since Ilves is for one camp an instrument of light, a positive force, and to the other an emissary of America, a negative force, his statement will not change anything either.

The front line dividing the field of Estonian politics will remain there. Only the trenches will be deeper.

Andrei Hvostov is a writer and columnist for Eesti Ekspress.

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: