Saturday, January 11, 2020

The horizon is getting darker

‘The horizon is getting darker. Some days ago we heard about Ristlaan’s vicious speech at the Radio House, where he, among other things, had emphasized that the people who do not understand how hostile the letter is would have no place in an ideology establishment. I am not responsible for the wording but the atmosphere at the radio has been whipped to fine froth and some exaggerations are easily born in this situation.’ This is from a diary kept by Andres Tarand in 1980-1981 during a political crisis in Estonia, one that centred on a public letter written by 40 intellectuals, including himself. Tarand - who is 80 today - went on to become the country’s prime minister for a brief period in the 1990s.

Tarand was on born 11 January 1940 in Tallinn. He graduated from the University of Tartu with a degree in climatology in 1963, and the same year he married Mari Viiding, with whom he had two sons. He went on to complete another degree in geography (1973), as well as undertake research at the Tallinn Botanic Gardens, eventually becoming its director (to 1990). In 1980, he was a signatory to the so-called Letter of 40 Intellectuals, a public letter defending the Estonian language and protesting Russification policies. He was elected a member of the Estonian Parliament in 1992 remaining so until 2004. He served twice as minister for the environment in the 1990s, and, briefly, was prime minister (November 1994 to April 1995). From 1996, he was on the board of the University of Tartu. He was elected to the European Parliament in 2004. He has also been involved in many environmental organisations in the Baltic and Nordic areas. A little further information is available in English at Wikipedia.

I have no idea or not if Tarand has been in the habit of keeping a diary, but in 2005 (I think) he published an edited version of one he kept from 1980 to 1981 - he called it Litterae non Erubescunt Diary 1980- . . .’ An English translation can be found on his own website. He says of the work: ‘This book is my diary, kept during a couple of years in the 1980s. The decade was a turning-point for most of the nations who belonged to the so-called socialist camp. Some of them, though, are still struggling with immense internal difficulties. The Letter of 40 that was an acute irritant to the authorities at the time, was characteristic only of Estonia, where the main aim was to protect and preserve the national language. The publication was partly caused by youth’s demonstrations in the autumn of 1980 but the actual reason for it was the Russification that followed the secret decree of the Communist Party in 1978. I have no wish to diminish the role of the other nations, undermining the supports of the Soviet empire, be it the revolt in East Germany or the activities of the Polish Solidarnos c up to 1980 but I would like to emphasize that the fear of losing one’s native language is obviously inversely proportional to the size of the nation.’

Tarand claims that ‘changes in the text compared to the original diary are minimal and basically linguistic not contextual’. However, it seems, for several reasons, to be more of a diary-memoir than pure diary. Firstly, the narrative often flows as if written in the past, and is rarely interrupted by a date heading/headline (eg: ‘On the morning of 21 November I went to . . .’ and ‘The last week of November was rather eventless for me. . .’). Secondly, there are many entries which benefit from future knowledge (but this may be because, at the time, he wrote the diary days or weeks later). There are also many contextual additions (eg: letters) to the diary from later dates. Nevertheless, the work provides interesting detail, both personal and political, on events of the time.

7 January 1981
’The horizon is getting darker. Some days ago we heard about Ristlaan’s vicious speech at the Radio House, where he, among other things, had emphasized that the people who do not understand how hostile the letter is would have no place in an ideology establishment. I am not responsible for the wording but the atmosphere at the radio has been whipped to fine froth and some exaggerations are easily born in this situation. The idiocy embraced also the 1 January concert of the Ellerhein chamber choir the last song of which was announced as an English folk song Night. Actually, the beautifully performed song that was heard was Silent Night. Somebody, obviously the Central Committee employee Toomas Leito, “told the ones who needed to know“ and the event and song were declared to be dirt. And that despite the fact the the whole programme was made up of spiritual music of the seventeenth century. This clearly shows that not religion but cultural coherence is under attack, just like 40 years ago people who had the so-called English orientation were deported to Siberia or nothing can be heard of the “third way“ in 1944.

This is some general background. More concrete steps are summons to top men again. Fred Jü ssi had been summoned to Slutsk, Ita Saks to Jõ eruüü t. Juhan Viiding was at Kuusberg‘s already yesterday. These are the first blossoms of the third round.

Late at night the phone rang. Rein Saluri sounded a bit more sober than he actually was. When I had gone up to his flat, it became clear at once what he was trying to talk about. His mixed up phrases and fragmentary sentences summed up as a lament how difficult it was for him and Jõ eruüü t to condemn Ita Saks at the party bureau session. This was given as a reason why both men were drinking excessively. Another worry seemed to be that the authors of the letter have carelessly given a blow to the Estonian culture in general, as now the journal Keel ja Kirjandus (Language and Literature) was being investigated. The pillars of culture, he said, were extremely busy saving the Estonian culture and they were irreplacable as there were so few of them. This was about Kuusberg as the secretary of the Writers‘ Union among others. The emphasisis laid on the differences between him as a pillar and me as a second-rate figure made me angry for a while and my reply was that Saluri’s inner tensions and ambiguity between the party life and culture should not be extended to culture in general. Piret Saluri was obviously embarrassed about her husband‘s proclamations and the next day she tried to explain his outbursts by the undue influence Jo eru u t had on Saluri.

Evidently at the same time another conversation like that took place in Tartu between Hans Trass and another student of his - Martin. These two men discussed the possible sad fate of the Botanic Gardens thanks to the unworthy behaviour of the vice director. It is only a supposition and Martin should be more than medium-drunk to admit it.’

8 June 1981
’On the 8th of June something happened in the Botanic Gardens that I eyewitnessed. I still do not know how much it was connected with the letter, i.e. the connection has been openly admitted but its deeper meanings have not been disclosed. I came to work from our summer cottage by the morning bus and so could not get there before 11 a.m. In my office, Pä ts’ kitchen, I found hordes of dead and injured bees. One swarm had settled in the chimney already earlier and now they had evidently come into the room through the flue. The weekend in the cool room and hunger had played havoc with them. I opened the window and started to collect the bees on a punchcard and placed them in the small patch of sun that reaches the windowsill only in June. Being busy with the bees I noticed three men approaching from the direction of the barn. Their gait was so characteristic of their profession that I said to myself: again some KGBeshniks, let them walk, I am busy with more important things. I did not see them any more and did not pay attention either. (They evidently went to make a phonecall at the secretary’s.) It took me about an hour to save the bees and do some current jobs before I could go to the clayhouse. I had not been there long when I noticed Rein Ratas going into Taimi’s room. I would not have paid much attention to it had he not had a very peculiar look on his face. About ten minutes later another man appeared in the same corridor, asking for me. Approaching him I recognized the senior investigator Jaup. I greeted him and commented on our former acquaintance. He asked me to come out for a private talk. We had our private talk in front of the clayhouse. Jaup asked whether Aasalo was our employee and I answered in the affirmative. Jaup said he had a search warrant for Aasalo’s workplace and home both and passed it to me. I made clear that the warrant was indeed sanctioned by the prosecutor and could not think of anything to gain time. It might be possible that this is what the brigade was waitng for, some underground activity perhaps. (Why else did they not do anything before, although they had been at the Botanic Gardens already since morning?) As Martin was on a business trip in Tartu, I was the highest official present and could not protest. Jaup asked me whether I knew anything of the key to Aasalo’ safe. I said that I had not worked in that house for some time and did not know even the safe for sure. On our way towards the 46th house, Jaup deliberated about how we (the forty authors) had wanted to do good but the letter had got abroad and now they had to investigate again how it could happen. I might have asked what sort of crime was spreading a not anti-soviet material but the warrant stated “also anti-soviet material”. I was afraid that there might be something like that in the safe and in this case I must be stricktly official. I was still hoping to gain time with looking for the key but it became clear how nai ve I was at once. Two more KGB men who joined us in front of the greenhouse did not introduce themselves. When we reached no 46, the taller, spectacled one, stood on watch about ten metres from the door (does this mean that they hoped to discover some organized activities?). Together with the others we entered the passage where three safes stand one upon another. We asked which of them could be Aasalo’s. L. Saaver did not know but Sander who was coming downstairs suggested that we should try the upper one as the middle one was mine. The last hint was quite unnecessary and I did not like it at all, as my safe was full of maps, among them copies of the presently “secret” ones. The investigators were very happy about Sander’s directions and they were ready to open the upper box. For that they needed the tall man who was keeping watch in the yard who stepped in, pulled a key from his pocket and opened the safe at once. A preceptive moment on the background of our thoughts at the moment when we put our valuables in a safe. . .

Later I understood that a totalitarian state could not afford to make complicated locks for safes: men in its own service would have more trouble only. I risked offering the skilled safeopeners an opportunity to open the other safes as well but they were not interested. So I just stood there and watched how the shorter KGBeshnik was taking one folder of detailed plans of land use after another out of the safe and laid them aside after having given each a cursory glance. I even started to hope that the safe was clean but then I glimpsed something pinkish red and the hope died. The searcher said hurriedly, too quickly actually, “Here it is!” and it really was there. My immediate impression that the searchers knew exactly what they wanted and the searcher was too quick, not even pretending to have a better look at everything in the safe.’

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