Estonia: Identity and Independence

By Jean-Jacques Subrenat; David Cousins et al. | Go to book overview

Tunne Kelam


An Opinion

You were fortunate to be one of the participants in this unique era. As the saying goes, one swallow does not make spring: when did you begin to feel that independence might become possible?

During my university years (1954–59), I saw myself as more of a cosmopolitan than a nationalist. My instinctive desire was to acquire as much independent information as possible about world events. I was fascinated by world politics, philosophy, especially the Indian religions, art and literature; for me Estonia was relatively uninteresting. I independently studied English, German, French, Finnish and Polish; for decades my radio broadcast of choice was the English-language programme of the BBC World Service. These shaped in me a democratic and independent way of thinking; that alternative information permitted me independence from totalitarian propaganda, and when necessary simply to ignore it.

I followed world events with great interest, ever since the Korean War, during which, as a schoolboy, I would enter the movement of the front line on a self-made map. The UN forces' successful descent behind Communist lines and the aggressors' dramatic retreat offered the first ray of hope that the Soviet Empire was not invincible. I felt a particularly strong sympathy for the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. On the one hand the fact that Hungary declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops, and on the other the concentration of force that Moscow brought to bear and the brutality with which it maintained its domination gave the impression that the Communist system could not be permanent — it was precisely the Hungarians' desperate nation-wide resistance that led to the conclusion that sooner or later new attempts to restore independence would be conceived. I had a look back at my journal of the dramatic BBC radio report of 5 November of that year by the defenders of Budapest: [In this building young people are preparing Molotov cocktails and hand grenades. We are calm, we are not afraid. Send our message to the world and say that they must condemn the aggressor.] That was also the first time I realised the tragedy caused by the two leading Western countries becoming entangled in the defence of their own interests in the matter of the Suez canal, which gave the Red Army a free hand to crush the Hungarian patriots' revolt.

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