BY MICHAEL PETROU • Some wars just won’t stay finished. In the autumn of 1944, the Soviet Red Army drove the last German troops from Estonia. The Russians called it a liberation. For most Estonians, however, the Red Army’s arrival heralded the beginning of a brutal occupation that saw thousands murdered or deported to the gulags of Siberia. For them, the Second World War didn’t really end until Estonia’s re-independence in 1991.
Today, age-old divisions are once again forcing themselves to the surface. Last Friday the Estonian government removed a statue of a Soviet soldier from the centre of the capital, Tallinn, and then moved it to a nearby military cemetery. The remains of Soviet troops exhumed from the original memorial site will also be reburied in the cemetery. Ethnic Russians, who make up more than 25 per cent of Estonia’s population, rioted in A MEMORIAL to protest. At least one Russian troops person was killed. in Estonia has What seems like a sparked riots local incident has international implications. Estonia accuses Russia of provoking the riots and has reportedly stopped Russian activists from entering the country to join the protests. Russia says that Estonia is mocking its war dead. But according to Aurel Braun, a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Toronto, Estonians are right to blame Russia for fomenting strife. Moscow, he says, is engaged in “diplomacy by intimidation. It’s part of a much larger picture of a Russia that has become extremely assertive, that wants to impress on the Baltic States that even if they have joined NATO and the EU, Russia is still dominant in the region,” Braun says. “What the Russians are saying is that we can put pressure on these states. We can use the ethnic minority, or we can use oil or natural gas. We can use economic tools. And therefore, you are very vulnerable. You cannot engage in activities that we do not allow. You will be punished, in one form or the other. You will have chaos domestically. You will have boycotts in Russia. There are very significant repercussions.” M
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.