Editorial: no house without mourning

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Photo: Postimees

1941 and 1949 mass deportations by Soviet powers are genocide.

The heading comes from the poem Christmas Greetings 1941 by Marie Under, dedicated to the first wave of deportations that swept Estonia under the hand of Soviet occupants in June of said year. More than 10,000 people were robbed of homes; men were separated from families, arrested, and dispatched to rot in prison camps; the women and children relocated to Siberia. Fearing the nightmare might repeat itself, in the fall of 1944 – the return of the Soviets now being obvious – 70,000 Estonians fled across the sea, lion’s share of these the intelligentsia. These also were now homeless, having to start over in foreign lands.

And repeat it did! Today, 65 years ago, cattle cars packed with 20,000 Estonians got a-rolling towards Siberia – women and children, mostly. Stripped of the future planted in their hearts, as seed, in independent Estonia. And even for those that did make it back, a decade later, no longer did they have any right for home place, village or town. To compensate the injustice done to them was to be the lot of the very Republic of Estonia, destined for the valley of the shadow of death – for half a century. For the Soviet powers, you see, never thought to regret. Rehabilitation remained mere form.

The mass deportations then also hitting Latvia, Lithuania, Western Belarus and Ukraine, Moldova, and Crimean Tatars in 1944 till totally «purged» from their historic abode, is either qualified as a state’s genocide against own people(s) or genocide by conquerors.

Thereby, Estonia lost about a tenth of its national body. The trauma, ever more sounding like just a statement in history-books, still remains in our collective subconsciousness as sign of potential trouble. Whatever they say against it. So even now, with revanchist and neo-imperialist (imposing justice of a larger nation/state on smaller ones) blowing from the East, these events in Estonian history – and in that of Europe and the entire world – take on the meaning of a defining backdrop. Not limited to that, though: again, history as a category of human existence becomes alive and understood.

The violence which took tens of thousands of Estonians to depths of Russia, two generations ago, is not some sad fate – rather, terror by power. How some survived, how some adjusted, how the trauma was healed – that’s for the biographies, that’s for the arts to cover. Facts thus become subject to interpretation. Even so, how vital that the historic fact be not dissolved in stories that are told. It will ever have to retain the name it carries as a fact – genocide against the people of Estonia.

«Facts assert themselves by being stubborn,» wrote Hannah Arendt is her essay Truth and Politics, «and their fragility is oddly combined with great resiliency – the same irreversibility that is the hallmark of all human action.» Or, as sayeth the age-old wisdom: your sin will find your out.