At the end of April, 2007 in Tallinn, Estonia, there were two nights of rioting in which one man died, dozens were injured, and hundreds arrested. The cause of the conflict centred on the removal of a public war memorial by the government.
That Estonia’s capital was consumed by riots over a war memorial would appear surprising. If there are riots in a former Soviet Republic sparked by the actions of the government you would expect them to be in reaction to poverty and unemployment rather than the disappearance of a statue.
The rioting was about more than a statue, and certainly about more than the Red Army. Most of the protestors were Russian, an ethnic minority in Estonia comprising a quarter of the population. Russians in Estonia face discrimination in employment and healthcare and are exempt from the rights Estonians have as citizens of an EU state. Taking the statue away, and rounding up Russians on the street after the protests, have made the Russian population feel even more marginalised.
At the end of World War Two, the Red Army liberated Estonia from Nazi oppression and Estonian Jews from Nazi extermination. Supposedly, it is not the Estonian government’s contention that this should not be commemorated, rather it is their feeling that the statue symbolised ‘the oppression of Soviet occupation’.
Though the Western media will no doubt portray the events in Estonia as, at best racial unrest and, at worst, disaffected dinosaurs causing trouble, the removal of the statue is in fact part of the European Union’s attempt to criminalise history. Anti-communist legislation banning the hammer and sickle and drawing parallels between Communism and Fascism has been discussed in the European Parliament and the EU has backed the Czech Republic’s outlawing of the youth movement of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, the KSM.
This is not merely a handful of reactionaries using their positions of power to work anti-communism into law, it is an attempt by the ruling class to criminalise class struggle. Already there an international campaign in solidarity with the KSM has been launched.
The removal of the war memorial is part of a campaign of historical revisionism which is attempting to counter the nostalgia amongst workers for the stability and security that was provided under socialism. The bourgeoisie in the former socialist countries in Europe are keen to portray the restoration of capitalism as the restoration of democracy and liberty. But there is no evidence to suggest workers wanted privatisation, structural unemployment, migration, deprivation, people-trafficking and prostitution.
It is obvious now that a shake-up of the socialist systems of Eastern Europe, involving the retention of the planned economy and the extension of worker management, would have been preferable to the restoration of capitalism. The beneficiaries of the ‘liberation’ from the ‘Soviet Empire’ were not millions of workers but the millionaire bosses in Western Europe and the newly-crowned oligarchs. There was never a clear choice offered to the masses of Eastern Europe, but few would have chosen neo-colonialism.
The claims to democracy seem laughable in light of these events. The statue of the Red Army soldier had to be removed at night – and only after a tent had been erected to obscure this act of official vandalism. The reason for the banning of the KSM was not, as originally claimed, their supposed espousal of violent revolution, but their support for public ownership of the means of production! This is a frightful notion for the bourgeoisie – a planned and managed economy is not focused on the accumulation of wealth for the disposal of a minority. The ban was because of the success of the group in gaining support among workers, not because they were planning violent acts against the state.
US military bases have replaced those of the Red Army in Eastern Europe, not that this troubles the EU – not yet, anyway. For now, militarised inter-imperialist rivalry in Europe is limited to provocations by the United States against the Russian Federation. Plans for an American missile system to be situated in Poland and the Czech Republic have been met with public protest, and the Russian government has recently expressed its dismay by ripping up a treaty with the US.
Watch this space…