Some may not know the history of Estonia, or its two sister states (Latvia and Lithuania). All three are tiny little countries (think 2 New England states each). Latvia and Estonia share their borders with Russia. If you don’t know the history, I highly, highly recommend the 90-minute video documentary made of their revolution: The Singing Revolution, available among other places on Amazon Prime. Check out a preview on YouTube if you prefer. To put it briefly, these countries have mostly been Swedish or Danish or Russian except for brief intervals; in 1944, they were spoils of war given to Stalin.
Russia did not let them go until 1991-92, at which point they quickly became capitalist, democratic, FREE people with hatred toward their captors. “Under Russian, we were very, very happy; if we weren’t happy, we were sent to Siberia” said our guide. One in five were imprisoned and/or shot by Russians. They could be sent to Siberia for wearing the colors of the Estonian flag: blue, black and white. There is a huge monument, comparable to our Viet Nam Memorial which lists the names of those known to have been sent to concentration camps.
The remarkable aspect of their freedom is that it was won with singing, as the documentary explains. A custom of the Baltic States is singing, and song in their language (similar to Finnish, but incomprehensible to Russians) kept their culture and their nationalism alive. “Gustav” is credited with quietly encouraging the singing, and Mikhail Gorbachev with allowing them to sing their national anthem (along with a full selection of Russian patriotic songs, of course).
The perfectly preserved medieval history of Tallinn, which became a key part of the mercantile Hanseatic League in the 1400s, can almost make you forget its recent history. The upper town is walled entirely with limestone walls; the lower town is a warren of narrow shopping streets. Those streets are now surrounded by beautiful, numerous hotels built in anticipation of heavy tourist traffic—stopped first by COVID and now by uneasiness about Russia and Ukraine. There is fervent hope that tourism will return soon.
At the start of Russian control, in 1944, housing was in serious short supply: three families to a flat. Khrushchev endeared himself to Estonians by building communist housing and schools. Ugly, pre-fab, but so welcome.
Other tidbits: Estonia and Finland have spent decades as neighbors across the Bay of Finland, blocked by Russia from communicating. Ironically, the Estonian and Finnish languages are intelligible to one another, but not to anyone else. Now these two countries are great friends—sharing liquor (limited to 100 liters per purchase; winter is very long in Finland), employment and an anticipatory thirst for heating fuel. Estonia is now buying its oil from Norway; Finland is now building nuclear fuel stations to which they had been opposed.
The drumbeat of war is very near, again, for this very young country. They are reaching out to Ukraine, asking for more NATO troops, and international support. As part of the U.S. support, we docked this morning adjacent to the USS Paul Ignatius, a destroyer here to “meet and greet” local dignitaries.
I have no desire to stay in this neighborhood.