By Margus Laidre, the ambassador of Estonia in London. Response to An insult to our war dead (THE GUARDIAN, 16/03/07):
Konstantin Kosachev claims that Estonia now permits SS rallies - but plans to pull down memorials to those who died fighting fascism (An insult to our war dead, March 6). This is not true. Different colours can be used to paint history. For Russia the years 1941-45 mean the great patriotic war, in which the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union and were defeated. For Estonia, alongside Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the second world war began two years earlier in August 1939, when Stalin and Hitler divided Europe into spheres of influence. As a result Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania lost their independence for 50 years.
Unfortunately, Russia does not want to recognise the words of its first president, Boris Yeltsin. In Hungary in 1992 he said that, after the destruction of fascism, another ideology of violence descended upon eastern Europe. Yeltsin, who apologised for the actions of the Soviet Union, said that one must know one's own history, because without the complete truth justice cannot be restored, and without the complete truth there can be neither remorse nor forgiveness.
According to Kosachev, chairman of the Russian Duma's international affairs committee, "a distinction must be made between the political realities of the day and the ordinary people who fought the war". Russia admits to winning the second world war, but elects not to see any connection with the barbaric crimes against humanity committed by the same regime. For Estonians, the September 1944 re-entry of Soviet troops into our capital, Tallinn, only meant replacement of one occupation regime with another. The loss of human lives during the Soviet and Nazi occupations in Estonia (1940-45) was huge: proportionately, it was as if today's Britain had lost 12 million people.
The Soviet "liberators" deported my aunt to Siberia for 17 years. To survive she had to drink her own urine. The "liberators" shot her husband without trial; the "charge" was that he was a bank director and supported a liberal market economy and she, his wife, was an accomplice. There are tens of thousands of similar stories.
The International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity, established in 1998 by the late President Meri, has published its first voluminous compendium of 1,337 pages, which describes the first Soviet occupation and the German occupation. Estonia dares face her history whereas, 60 years after the end of the war, Russia still has not.
According to Mr Kosachev, President Putin has described the plan to demolish the Tallinn war memorial as an "ultra-nationalist and very short-sighted policy". But unlike in Russia, which recently demolished a 30-metre second world war memorial in Stavropol with full approval by the authorities, the issue in Estonia is not about dismantling a monument, but about moving it to a more suitable location (a cemetery).
There are no neo-Nazis marching in Estonia's streets. But how is it possible that, having defeated Nazism 60 years ago, Russia today is home to more than 50,000 neo-Nazis? Such developments give cause for real concern - even Putin has admitted as much. It is in Europe's interests to help Russia re-evaluate the past and combat neo-Nazism. Estonia is ready to lend a hand.