As the Estonian Social Democrats (SDE) join with the Russian Party in Estonia (VEE) the most basic difference in historical interpretation remains unsolved – the question of whether the Soviet Union occupied Estonia or not.
The Russian leadership has offered a bizarre solution – though they don’t directly reject the notion of occupation they insisted on placing a moratorium on the debate until the courts have passed judgment. The occupation from their viewpoint is currently the subject of faith rather than a judicial decision.
“The evaluation of such crimes [resulting from the occupation] cannot derive from the standpoint of individual politicians, especially when the communist regime is equated with Russians. Neither Russians nor their descendants are occupiers,” the VEE leaders added.
The Estonian leadership of the SDE stressed that the Soviet occupation is a historical fact that was the result of the Nazi-Communist Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939. Prominent Estonian historians considered the suggestion of the VEE to suspend discussion of the occupation until a court decision to be laughable. They called it ludicrous to have historical facts analyzed by the courts. If there are divergent views then they must be debated openly, not given to the judiciary to be evaluated.
Some historians go even further and claim that debating the possible verity of an established historical fact is unproductive. They insist that both the occupation and the holocaust are historical truths, the denial of which does not make them nonexistent. As a corollary to the occupation issue is the question of whether the Red Army liberated Estonia. Historians in the main have argued that yes, Soviet forces helped decisively in the destruction of the Nazi regime in Estonia. The VEE leadership insist that the Red Army was definitely instrumental in ‘freeing Europe of fascism’. Estonian historians claim they did not help in the Europe’s liberation from fascism as an ideology.
It is, they say, pointless to use the word ‘liberated’ in this context. It would be equally nonsensical to say that the Wehrmacht ‘liberated’ Estonia in 1941. In Estonia and elsewhere the Red Army replaced a repressive Nazi regime with a repressive communist one. Most of Europe, the north, south, west, was liberated by the Western allies.
Putting a moratorium on discussing the occupation goes against legislation passed long ago. The Estonian parliament officially declared the Soviet occupation of Estonia as criminal ten years ago. It very specifically identified the tribunals, special meetings, the destruction battalions and many other communist organizational units as criminal. Similarly the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2006 and the European Parliament in 2009 condemned the crimes of totalitarian communism.
While it has been widely acknowledged that Russian political parties in Estonia should strive for cooperation with mainstream Estonian parties one questions the wisdom of the SDE leadership in accepting partnership with politicians who seemingly have a widely different historical value system than Estonian parties. Are the leaders of the SDE willing to make a serious compromise in principles that form the national ethos? Are they willing to bend on issues that help maintain the country`s cultural integrity like promoting the primacy of the Estonian language in schools and as the state language, issues on which the SDE had a recognizable nationalistic stance.
In the broader political context, will some of the Russian speaking electorate in Estonia begin to shift their vote from the Estonian Centre Party, which in the past has been a favourite of Moscow both morally and financially? To what extent will this electorate expect a shift in party direction on citizenship, defence policy, interpretation of history etc?
Some pundits predict that Tallinn city politics will change substantially. Since non-citizens can vote in municipal elections, the political stranglehold that the Estonian Centre Party has had on city government thanks to the loyalty of the Russian language voter will predictably weaken.
Western observers say that pulling Russian politicians and voters from political marginality is progress. No matter what the effects will be the political landscape will be significantly altered.