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Jüri Estam’s summary of the article by George Feifer on the Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty website (
There are two kinds of unsolved mysteries: the kind that unresolved, but without apparent funny business, such as the case of Amelia Earhart, who disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean during an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937, and the ones that seem fishy.
One of the most recent unsolved big mysteries is that of the Arctic Sea - a cargo ship ship registered in Malta, owned by a company registered in Finland, and alleged to have been boarded by pirates in Swedish waters. Once the "pirates" were on board, the Arctic Sea headed southward on an erratic course. Why the Russian government would take an interest in a foreign vessel (the owner, it is true, is a Russian subject, and the crew was Russian) remains unclear. In any event, the Russians dispatched a task force that included destroyers and nuclear submarines, and boarded the vessel on August 17, after "finding" it off the west coast of Africa. Considering the capabilities of modern surveillance means available to large governments - satellites and the like - it is difficult to talk of the ship ever having truly gone missing very seriously.
Even more curious are several other matters. What was the ship transporting other than timber that was important enough for the Russians to mount such a determined and expensive policing operation? Was the Arctic Sea boarded by more than one group of intruders? Why were the eight alleged hijackers and some of the crew -- 16 people in all -- flown to Russia on two large Ilyushin-76 cargo planes, each capable of carrying 40 tons each?
For people interested in Baltic affairs, it might seem curious that the eight suspected hijackers were recruited in Estonia and Latvia from among ethnic Russians living in those countries. Who hired them? Why Russians? Why from the Baltic States? Is the story told by these suspects, now in custody in Russia, a plausible one? The eight claim that they were hired to carry out some sort of an environmental fact-finding mission, that they lost their way on the Baltic Sea, and were rescued by the crew of the Arctic Sea. Considering the life stories of these men, many of them having had previous brushes with the law, something doesn't seem right. Environmentalists with prison tattoos are an unusual occurrence.
Many journalists have delved into the story of the Arctic Sea, but few have come up with much. One of the best researched stories so far, under the headline "Unlikely Pirates: The 'Arctic Sea' Mystery's Estonia Link" was published by Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty on its website on October 15.
Written by Gregory Feifer, the article is successful in part because Feifer took the trouble to travel to the tenement district of Lasnamäe in Tallinn to do his research. During his look around the Estonian capital, Mr. Feifer interviewed acquaintances of the six alleged hijackers from Tallinn who say the men are "ordinary layabouts, petty criminals and heavy drinkers who couldn't possibly have been capable of pulling off a major international heist on the high seas". In general, the feature is very good and worth reading.
There is an aspect to Feifer's account, however, that is bound to rub many Estonian readers the wrong way. Gregory Feifer is of the school who are convinced that the large minority of Russians in Estonia are the victims of a brutal disenfranchisement. "Born in Estonia, all but one never met the tough requirements for Estonian citizenship. Locals say they are part of a lost generation of former "Soviets" who were unprepared to make it in what became a new country after the communist collapse.... the feeling of exclusion from mainstream Estonian society among the many Russians who live here weighs heavily. A wife of one of the alleged hijackers says nothing good ever happens in Lasnamäe: "All you get here is grayness and squalor, that's it.... Although Russian language echoes on Tallinn's streets today, there's a thinly veiled resentment among many Estonians of the presence of so many Russians in their country.""
Jüri Estam wrote the following commentary in response to George Feifer's observations.
I would have expected a more balanced story from RFE-RL, an organization that gave hope to the Soviet pale during the years of Kremlin hegemony.
I contend that the Baltic countries weren't "briefly independent", but were three viable European parliamentary democracies abducted by Hitler and Stalin in 1939. We were the "disappeared" of Europe.
Were large numbers of German ex-military personnel and civilians left to live in the Netherlands in 1945? Would problems not have come of this? How would Americans or anyone else elegantly solve the problem of a large number of uninvited and at least partially disloyal "stay-behind residents" after an occupation, if they were presented with such a difficult issue?
International law forbids population transfer to and from occupied lands. Moscow broke this rule here on a massive basis. We try to cope with limited resources - to provide full human rights for all and also enable Estonia to remain sovereign. We didn't struggle to become free, only to have independence whisked away again in our own Parliament by a prematurely enfranchised "fifth column" that wants Estonia brought back into Russia.
The literary device of a "mean little Estonia" may help build up drama in the narrative, but the story is partially an opinion piece - not just a report. It reminds me of many stories done during Soviet years by Western journalists based in Moscow who briefly traveled to the Baltic States. Such stories were prone to be "Russian Empire-centric" and not tuned in to all local sensitivities. The efficiencies of news organizations don't always treat "backwaters" kindly. The Baltic story deserves telling too.
Some of the "rubber boat protagonists" involved might have had a fondness for the bottle or have done time in Western European countries or in Russia, not just here. The possibility that supposedly flawed Estonian policies drove these men to be who they are is a mental plaything, not a proven theory. There are successful Russians here too.
Estonia's citizenship requirements for Soviet colonists of yore are not draconian. Loads of Russian youngsters have learned Estonian well and have Estonian passports. Learning a language at a relatively elementary level before citizenship is granted is not an insurmountable obstacle. I learned basic Swedish without language lessons at the age of 40 during two years in Stockholm. Surely Russians here are not education-challenged? Very many Russians in Estonia have proven that this isn't the case. It is a more a matter of respect and motivation.
The Soviet regime built Lasnamae specifically for the influx of Soviet settlers when Estonia was unfree, during intentional russification of the Baltic region. Lasnamae is a relatively sad tenement area, but it is systematically being improved upon. A Russia Orthodox Cathedral is being constructed there with the help of the Estonian authorities. Many Estonians live cheek by jowl aside Russians and others in Lasnamae. Considering the traumas experienced by Estonia earlier, but also the increasing aggressiveness of the Putin regime, Estonians turn the other cheek to an incredible degree. Life in Lasnamae is not like life in Ulster. People ride the same trams to work. Only belligerent and "in your face" Russian irredentism may make an Estonian avoid a Russian. Large numbers of Estonians work side by side with Russians in many organizations without problems. Many young Russians who embrace their new postcolonial homeland are literally welcomed by Estonians. I'll gladly provide examples upon request.
While many of the dimensions that it investigates are well done, and the piece helps us better understand the "Arctic Sea" puzzle, Mr. Feifer's feature is undeservedly unkind to Estonia.
The "Arctic Sea" has the scent of classical Russian destabilization and disinformation operations to it. Could it have something to do with the soon-to-come Russian militarization of the Baltic Sea, in tandem with the Nord Stream strategy?

Jüri Estam


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