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Grigory Pasko: Dancing On the Graves

Dancing On the Graves By Grigory Pasko, journalist God is my witness – I really didn’t want to write on this subject. Because in any event, I’m taking it out of the blue. Let me start by saying that I don’t fully share the view of the overwhelming majority of Russians, including certain opposition democrats, relative to the decision of the Estonian authorities on moving that notorious monument. (The key word here is “moving”. Not tearing out of the ground, not turning inside out, not destroying, but specifically moving to another place, and not necessarily a worse one).

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Photo of graves of Russian sailors in Izumiosu, Japan by Grigory Pasko. These graves are tended by the Japanese.

The appraisal of the actions of the Estonian authorities, in my opinion, is more an emotional one: how dare they… hallowed ground… memory… ancestors. Yes, it is all so. The decision wasn’t very well thought through. At first glance. But let us suppose there is another way of looking at it. From THAT side. Democracy, after all, is just this – the existence of several points of view and the ability (and willingness) to heed another opinion, one that differs from yours. Let us suppose that you’re living in your house. And one fine day, strange people come to you and say: now we’re going to live with you, and you’re going to live according to our rules. Then they put up a monument to their dead relatives in your apartment. And so you all live like this for a long time, and not always happily. And then the strange people go away. Not exactly of their own free will, either. Indeed, they never had any intention of leaving. It’s just that circumstances happened to unfold in such a way that they were compelled to leave. But they left their monument. In the middle of your apartment. You, like the decent people that you are, continue for many years to step around this monument in your apartment, respecting the memory of the strange people towards their fallen kin, and of those who had fallen before the country and the apartment. (Including your own apartment, because they say that these people helped to liberate your apartment from other unasked-for guests – fascists. True, they also say that these people killed a few Estonians as well afterwards, but that’s another story). And then your children grow up and start asking: why is it that we’ve got a strange people’s monument standing in our apartment? You explain to them as best you can. But the children say: we understand, but ask that the monument be moved into the yard at least. With ceremony and honor to the memory of the strange people, but still – moved. And so they moved it. And if it weren’t for all the hullabaloo created by today’s Russian power, its insistence on proving to the whole world that it – the world – is made up entirely of enemies of Russia, this monument would just quietly continue to stand in its new place without any dancing at its base and even right on top of it. And the dancing were somewhat wild. Some Russians are proposing moving Estonia’s embassy in Moscow to another place, a former minister of defense calls for not buying Estonian yogurt, in Tambov Oblast it is decided to put special labels with an indication of the country of origin on Estonian goods in the stores in order to ensure that customers are making an informed choice… Not to mention the blatantly criminal deeds by specially instigated young people against representatives of the Estonian diplomatic corps in Russia and against Estonia itself right in Estonia. Of course I was ashamed for the leadership of my Russia. And not for the first time, either. Before this there were the situations with Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus… You might start to think that today’s leadership of Russia has made a conscious decision to put the country at odds will all the nearest neighbors. Europe – and probably the whole world, really – is one big house. Russia and its nearest neighbors are like neighbors in the same stairwell. And if one disorderly neighbour contrives to get into a brawl with everybody in this stairwell, then it’s not likely that all the neighbors are at fault in this. I won’t be surprised if all the neighbors decide to remove from their apartments all those monuments that the disorderly neighbor had put up all over the place in its day. (By the way, these are often rather mediocre looking monuments. Judged by its aesthetic value, the one in Tallin doesn’t even hold a candle to the one in Berlin’s Treptower Park, for example.) By the way, the disorderly neighbor has a whole bunch of monuments-graves of its fellow countrymen all over the world. But Russia never has the time or the money to maintain and repair its cemeteries beyond the boundaries of the country. I took a special trip once in Japan and saw in what condition the Japanese maintain Russian burial sites. They keep them up in good condition. Despite the fact that Russia doesn’t care about this one iota.

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Photo of grave in Russia by Grigory Pasko. Many Russian gravesites look like this.

The Japanese, to keep up our analogy, do not live in the same stairwell as the disorderly neighbor. But there may come a day when they, too, get tired of taking care of someone else’s monuments. And it’s hard to imagine what will happen if everybody suddenly proposes taking the graves of all 9 million Russians buried beyond the boundaries of the country back to Russia. We should silently care for graves, not organize loud dances on them. And it was perfectly possible to come to a negotiated agreement with Estonia about the monument, finding an optimal solution for both countries.