Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Fragile Freedom Needs Political Courage


Estonia quietly celebrated its independence last week. This celebration was symbolized by the unveiling of a controversial monument to commemorate its War of Independence in 1918.

Estonia was brisling with confidence some two years ago when a series of events reminded the country how fragile freedom is.
Firstly, the tensions between the local Russian and Estonian populations were fully exposed when the Bronze Soldier Memorial – which commemorated Soviet troops – was removed and placed in a military cemetery outside of town.

This was followed last year by the Russian incursion in Georgia. A reminder that elite troops lie just across the border and that Russian aggression, even while under the cover of NATO and the EU, is still a threat.
History is fickle – whether the tanks will role in some day is difficult to say, but the nation’s confidence is fragile and this is based on a good understanding of the past.
So why was the unveiling of the new freedom monument significant? It is a symbol that Estonia has a history of independence and, despite the cost of some 100 million kroons (6.39 million euros) and the risk of alienating part of its population and its bellicose neighbour, Estonia went ahead to commemorate its freedom.

Such action requires political bravery, which is rare commodity in Estonia.
When I was a lad I read a book called “Profiles in Courage.” It was written by John F. Kennedy and celebrated members of the United States Senate who had put their careers on the line for a matter of principle. They did ‘the right thing’ irrespective of public opinion. Oh, what we might give for some of that in Estonia.

Politicians of all parties seem to live a very comfortable lifestyle. Even the most evangelistic supporters of the government admit corruption is endemic in the system. So where are the idealists? Where are the patriots?
The recession will come and go. But there seems to be no plan for the development of this country – for good or bad. There are no big ideas, no sense that someone has a vision for this proud little country.

It was somewhat amusing to notice one of the most high profile politicians in Estonia, Tallinn City Mayor Edgar Savisaar, was not at the ‘top table’ at the monument’s unveiling ceremony.
Although as the city’s mayor he no doubt had approved the monument – instead of the Orwellian 50 meter image of Edgar many had expected, he was nowhere to be seen.

Later he claimed to be there, in the crowd with ‘the people.’ How noble! A man who could not say whether to join Europe or not, a man who failed to condemn the mysterious cyber attacks on his country, a man who opens more events than the Queen of the England, and a man who apparently fears bad Russian press for attending a freedom event for his own country. What a tangled web!
The time has come for Estonian politicians to get their act together. Let’s start talking about the future and what you’re going to do to develop this country and reward the ancestors of the very people who died for the freedom we now enjoy.

Integrating the significant local Russian population with equity while retaining an individual Estonian culture is surely not the most complicated conundrum man has ever had to solve.
Surely you just focus on the elements that unite you rather than the ones that divide you.
To quote JFK himself, “our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

And there is a good place to start.

From The Baltci Times

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