Friday, November 26, 2010

A Perspective to the Bronze Soldier Controversy

The Bronze Soldier (officially - originally - "Monument to the Liberators of Tallinn") was erected in Tõnismäe Park, Tallinn in the Soviet Socialistic Republic of Estonia in 1947, some years after the Red Army had invaded the country and entered the capital. The city and the country had been invaded by Germany during Operation Barbarossa, after being invaded by USSR. The German troops had been hailed as liberators - Tallinn even had a street named after Adolf Hitler - but in reality, the Estonians were oppressed.

The huge statue of a Russian (or Soviet) soldier was modelled after the Estonian wrestler Kristjan Palusalu, who later, as a Soviet soldier fighting against Finland, defected to the Finnish side. It also served as a tombstone for several Soviet soldiers fallen in the battle for Tallinn.

In the Soviet times the statue was used for Soviet propaganda - foreign visitors were brought to honor the Soviet war effort and the Estonians were required to pay respect to their oppressors. After Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the status of the oppressors' monument was brought into question. It was renamed as "Monument To the Fallen in the Second World War" and in 2007 relocated to Tallinn Military Cemetery. This caused a huge uproar especially among the Russian population, who feel being oppressed by the Estonians and who feel that the Russians did "liberate" Estonia and paid a huge price for the effort.

The Soviet propaganda effort is world famous. When I found some Neuvostoliitto ("Soviet Union") magazines from the 1980's at an antiquarian in Oulu, I spotted an interesting "news report" related to the Bronze Soldier.

A rough translation of the caption:
The Friendship Cities Days are a good example of the friendship between Finland and the Soviet Union. The Kotka Days held in Tallinn became a true celebration. The people of Tallinn showed great hospitality to their Finnish friends. Friendship events were organized in the production factories and city offices. In the photos: Estonian ladies in national dresses greet the delegation from Kotka in the Tallinn Harbor. Representatives of the Soviet Union - Finland Society and the Finland - Soviet Union Society lay flowers at the Monument of the Hero Soldiers.
Some things to note about this repor, published probably in 1984t:

  • The report is about the Kotka Days (as a nice example of the friendship blah blah)
  • The two photos do not have anything related to the Finns who participated the event
  • The first photo features only the Estonian ladies, not the Finnish participants
  • In the second photo - which is bigger than the first photo and the caption combined - there are some friendship societieis' representatives paying respect to the Soviet war effort
Remember, this magazine was an official Soviet instrument of outreach and its contents were approved by its government (as it was published by them).

This news story pretends to be a nice report about the friendship between the two nations, or friendship cities, but how it is presented is a story of the significance of the Soviet military. The foreigners bow to the power of the blood of the heroic Soviet soldiers who brought freedom to Estonia.

Would this be possible without the oppression? It would not. Bringing the war to an end is something the Estonians value and are probably also thankful to the Red Army. However, this monument became one of the symbols of the Soviet oppression. Estonia was one of the first Soviet republics to secede in 1991, proud to regain its independence, and with the other Baltic ex-SSR's views the Soviet era as an age of oppression - just like under the German regime.

This anecdote from the past is, I believe, very representative of the way matters important to Soviets were represented to the public. It gives an insight into their propaganda and also to the Bronze Soldier controversy of 2007.

You might also want to see some other scans from the Neuvostoliitto magazine.

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