19 May, 2007

A new kind of war

In case you've missed it, the Washington Post reports that Russia and Estonia are still having a tiff over a hunk of metal.

Okay, it's a little more meaningful than that. The hunk of metal in question is a memorial to the Soviet soldiers who died liberating Estonia from the German armies. The Estonians recently decided to relocate it from a prominent square to a cemetery. Part of this is because the Estonians are still sour over a 50-year occupation of their country which began before World War II, thanks to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

The Russians are quite sore that the Estonians have decided to move it, and consider it an insult. Even my wife is appalled, and she's probably the most sensible person I have ever met. (This is why I married her!) On the one hand, there have been some nasty things said by some Estonians regarding the monument, and the Estonians have been reluctant to grant citizenship to residents who are not of Estonian descent; twelve percent of the population consists of Russians who do not hold Estonian citizenship. Nine percent of Estonia's population has no defined citizenship at all. And you think we have problems with illegal immigration...

Russians are sensitive about anything related to World War II and tend towards credulity in matters regarding Estonians' complicity with Nazi occupation. This is somewhat understandable, considering the colossal number of casualties they suffered and the barbarity of the German occupation. Victory Day celebrations remain one of the few things that still unify the entire Russian population. But this sensitivity is also excessive in my opinion, extending a pathological mentality of being the only victim. For example, the last time I was in Russia, someone asked me why Americans didn't give the Soviets as much assistance as we gave the British during World War II, and why we waited until June 1944 to invade Europe.* You can imagine therefore how open Russians are to someone who points out that the Estonians have no need to express gratitude to a country that engaged in a campaign of murder and cultural assassination before the Germans invaded. Saying this won't make me popular at home, but when tens of thousands of Estonians who have survived the German occupation prefer exile in Sweden or Finland to the Soviet Union, you should feel shame, not indignance—much as I feel about the Iraqi doctors, scientists, etc. who have had to flee their own country right now. Estonia is a small country, so tens of thousands of exiles is a sizeable number. There was another monument before this one, a wooden one, but two schoolgirls blew it up in 1946. Even during the Soviet occupation, the monument required a protective barrier. That doesn't sound to me like a monument to "liberation".

As far as the memorial goes, the Russians aren't letting this perceived slight go lightly. In the past month or so, Estonia has received a high degree of harassment from organized Russian gangs. This has included the usual thuggery such as attacks on their embassy, but has now developed into an all-out cyber war attempting to shut down Estonia's economy. Estonia has spent the past 15 years trying to make their economy a dynamic, technology-based economy much like Finland's, with internet banking and electronic voting, so, the post reports, these cyber attacks pose a genuine threat to Estonia's economic health.

The cyber war may not be an organized attempt by the Russian government, but it has been organized by Russians and some of the attacks have been traced from offices in the Russian presidential palace. Apparently the attacks on Estonia proper won't make these thugs happy. Navigate to Wikipedia's entry on Estonia and you will see that it is currently locked.

* My response had three parts.
(1) Russians should be proud that their country needed much less assistance from the US than Britain did.
(2) There were four major fronts in World War II, which included the massive Pacific front and the African front. Both the US and Britain were a little involved in the war against Japan, to which incidentally the Soviet Union contributed nearly nothing even after Germany fell.
(3) In any case, the United States and Britain invaded Europe well before June 1944, in July 1943 in fact, from Africa into Sicily and then working their way up the Italian peninsula. So the accusation is false on its face.


Clemens said...

Good post, but I think that there actually was a lot of aid given to the Soviets under some very trying circumstances. Stalin made sure it was not widely known. That said, I don't know how much it amounted to in relative terms. It certainly must have been a drop in the bucket compared to what was needed.

I once had an Estonian colleague. She told me that as a little girl she and her family had been evacuated from Estonia just before the Soviets drove the Germans out. She said they left on a U-Boat, the last boat of any sort to leave Estonia. I was too polite to ask her what her dad had done during the war.

jack perry said...

...I think that there actually was a lot of aid given to the Soviets under some very trying circumstances. Stalin made sure it was not widely known.

Interesting. I actually had the impression that Stalin refused some offers of aid. It had to look as though the Soviet Union was strong enough to overcome fascism on its own.

But I have zero references for this, just a vague notion of it. It's probably wrong.