«Hopefully, we'll become properly Nordic»

Anneli Ammas
, reporter
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Photo: Liis Treimann

35 years back, it felt quite a feat for Andres Tarand to join in signing the Letter of 40 - as it afterwards became to be known. As it soon turned out, however, the prosecutor's office had nothing much to take hold of. Even now, Mr Tarand advises for people to be bold, while admitting a change will take a generation or two.

-During these 35 years, the «Letter of 40» has often been called to mind, and those involved praised. Like now, again, by President Ilves. Was it worth it, to remember and laude these intellectuals and creative community personalities for decades?  

Well, it’s been a long time. Perhaps, this is the way it is with history, that things start falling into place as decades elapse. Just thinking...

-Thinking back into the 1980iea, having the hindsight wisdom, one might assume that the crumbling of the empire was beginning to «feel». Might the letter have come earlier?

What we all felt clearly was an atmosphere totally abating. While we were young, the Khrushchev times were a bit like that, lifting the spirits somewhat. The clatter of the prison chains was growing dimmer, people were coming back – those that survived.

The year 1980, however, a Russification dominated, we lacked any decent self-defence. That, probably, was the motivation leading to the letter. Sure: the letter was very careful, balanced, so as to not be jailed. And we did not. That was not throwing ourselves on the altar, just an attempt. What was most encouraging was the masses hopping on board. The way the letter was duplicated, it was fantastic.  

As we have learnt, it really hit the mark though while writing we lacked total agreement as to what it was for. We did have some differences.

-Did you feel like writing a letter was not as dangerous as in former years?

I have never been able to see it in the key like it was the peasants writing to the Czar. It was no plea, rather a revealing of things, but so as to avoid being accused according well-known clauses of nationalism etc. We really tried to avoid such stuff so they could not get hold of anything.

In hindsight, we might have been bolder, but back then I don’t think it could have been much. That the people got hold of it – that was what really counted.

-Did the letter or the rumours thereof spread fast?

Quite so. It was obvious in two months. People came up and whispered about «you know what». Not too explicit, but loads of recognition like that. We needed that.

-Did it come in handy, to feel confident when you were called on the carpet?  

Well this is the way men are, if a fight happens you fight, nothing doing. For me, all these prosecutors and stuff was like sports already. Then, I was no longer afraid. While it was on the balance a bit, the accusations presented were rather stupid. They were fabricated, easy to refute. I think the story of this letter serves to prove that every drop counts.

-What can we learn from this today?

That now, with all the opportunities, the people would be quickened, learn to choose better. That would be the next step, which will indeed take time. It has never been fast, to go from habit to habit, from one situation in the society to another. It will take a couple of generations. 25 years ago, I was very brittle in my thinking, and I was thinking it would be one-two-three and we’ll have it all okay. Not so. There always are the setbacks, and the advances. But we have the way, and I believe it’s better than ever before.

We do not have to down any more, like it felt back then that we were declining daily. There was this day that I rode a bus past Rummu jail and the noise made by the people gathered around the prison, it was so depressing – no Estonian heard at all. That was no nationalism, it was self-defence. These were the times it weighed so heavily on the heart – something just had to be done.

-Could people be a bit more daring today too?

I sure wish they were. But I don’t think it will happen overnight. Gradually it will grumble and I hope we will become properly Nordic. Perhaps.