23 June 2009

Dedication of the War of Independence Monument

So, in fear of offending one million people, I am going to confess that I have had a problem with the Vabadussõja võidusamba from the very beginning.

The monument is part of a major reconstruction project of Vabaduse väljak (Freedom Square), which poured out from one of the gates on the southern end of Old Town in about 1910. I believe the square should have been restored to its 1937 appearance, given the similarity between the architecture surrounding the square then and now, with the new monument (maybe a little leaner but a little taller) erected where the column stood. Less is rarely more in Estonia.

Nevertheless, on June 22 at about 8.30 in the evening, the glass monument to Estonia's War of Independence, constructed with 3,000,000 Estonian kroons in privately donated money, stood at an awkward attention in front of two dozen rows of blue folding chairs and a surprisingly large crowd of people with cameras and flags, pressed against the customary metal barricades that circumscribed the empty chairs. Over the next hour, grey-haired veterans and hunched-over grandmothers shuffled to their seats of honor. Men in dark suits blew into the VIP section as well and waved a number of times but at no one in particular. A few clogged the aisle with their convivial hand-shaking and back-slapping. Other well-dressed indiviudals wandered into the cordoned off area, too, a bit put off that the only seats left were those in the last rows underneath the television cameras. Finally, the constantly constipated prime minister, the permanently squinting speaker of the Riigikogu, the perpetually smirking defense minister, and a number of other politicians filed in and dutifully filled up the first row.

Then the president rose from his blue folding chair, walked up the "steps of victory", opened his leather-bound folder and said - on this very festive occasion under a peaceful summer sky before so many talkative Estonians - "...only 190 years ago we were serfs. We were, literally, enslaved." And he continued with more poignant reminders: At the beginning of the last century we lacked liberty, ...the freedom to speak, to write, to sing, ...the right to elect our own government, ...to lead complete lives and to speak our own language." Well, that really burst my "We Are the Champions" bubble. The glass is usually half empty in Estonia.

"Pro Patria", Urmas Sisask's oratorio, sung by Finnish mezzosoprano Merle Silmato and Estonian baritone Jassi Zahharov with members of the Society of Estonia Choir, the A. LeCoq Chamber Choir, the Pärnu Chamber Choir, the Old Town Choir, and the Revalia Mens Chamber Choir, accompanied by the Estonian Military Orchestra (Peeter Saan, conductor) was absolutley fantastic!