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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A History of Animosity

Along time ago, when I was still a schoolboy, I took a car trip with my parents to the Soviet Baltic republics. When we got to the Estonian capital, Tallinn (it was spelled in the Russian way, then, with only one "I") we got lost and stopped a passerby to ask directions. The man, an Estonian, was very polite, and, in broken Russian, explained exactly where to turn to reach our destination. We followed his instructions to the letter, and a half hour later ended up at a dump somewhere outside the city.

"We probably didn't understand him correctly", said my mother, "His Russian was not very good". "No, we just missed one of the turns", objected my father. But then we noticed that there were four other cars with Moscow license plates, and five minutes later another one showed up. Every one of the drivers had stopped to ask directions. One, like us, was trying to find his hotel, another was looking for a department store, a third was heading out of the city toward Leningrad. But we all ended up in the same place - a dump.

I learned the reason for this many years later, when I was in college. I had a close friend, an Estonian, with whom I once went to Tallinn. and there my good friend, an artist and the son of an artist, an intelligent, educated young man named Khugo, told me that it was customary in Tallinn to direct every lost Russian to that dump. "Because that's where he belongs", added Khugo.

I knew, of course, that Estonians do not like Russians, and I was surprised, not by the subtlety of the joke, but by the fact that Khugo was telling me, a Russian, about it openly, and without the slightest shade of embarrassment. I expressed my puzzlement. "But you're different, you're an intellectual. I often forget that you're Russian", said Khugo.

I have visited Tallinn often since then - until it became a foreign city. I associated with Estonians and with Russians who lived in the city. I began to understand many things. Estonians called the Russians an occupying force, and, in general, they were right. But the Russians living in Estonia did not feel like an occupying force. They just felt extremely uncomfortable. They were constantly reminded that they were second-class citizens, and they were given to understand that they were allowed to stay only temporarily - one fine day they would have to get out.

Russians were irritated by Estonian arrogance. Estonians considered themselves Europeans, while Russians were dirty, uncultured barbarians. Both views have some truth. Chukhna (Estonia's name before the Revolution) was one of the most backward corners of the Russian Empire. Industry was developed by the Soviets - it is no accident that even to this day, Russians, brought from the provinces, work in Estonia's large industrial plants.

The Russians who came to Tallinn after the war were not distinguished by their level of culture. There is a famous anecdote that Russian officer's wives began to appear on the streets in silk night-gowns - they thought they were dresses. But at the same time in the 1970s an 1980s the children of these Russians formed a wonderful class of intellectuals. Things were less restrictive in Estonia than in Moscow, and Russian poetry, theater and literary analysis developed much more freely than in the capital. Just look at the university in Tartu.

The intellectual atmosphere in Estonia attracted poets who were having a difficult time in Russia. Igor Severyanin spent the last decades of his life in Tallinn. Do the Estonians remember this, do they know about it?

We reap what we sow. There are 25 million Russian living outside Russia. What are they supposed to do now? Many come back to Russia, if they have a place to come back to. But what if they do not?

Estonians and Latvians put the question quite simply: We did not ask you to come here, but you came anyway. Now get out. The answer follows: We did not come of our own free will, we were sent here to work in the factories. The Estonians reply: No, you came to get out of Russia, to get away from the poverty and ruin. But again the Russians object: Wasn't it we who created the base for your wealth? Yes, but at the same time you stuffed us full of your Marxism-Leninism, you put Lenins on every corner, you forced us to learn your language. The Russians again object: So, did I make you sweat over your scientific communism texts? It was a chore for me, as well!

And there is no end in sight for this quarrel.

The former U. S. president Richard Nixon was recently in Moscow. He went to the Baltics as well. Nixon tried to convince the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians that violating the rights of the Russian population was not in their interests. In general, violation of any rights is not in the interests of any state. But it is all too painful and fresh. The Balts listened to Nixon, nodded in agreement, saw him off at the airport, and then passed yet another anti-Russian law.

There are strikes at the factories. "We don't want to learn Estonian! " shout the workers. Why shouldn't they learn it? They are living in a country that is the state language. How would they live in Germany without German, or in England without English? They must adapt to different laws, different customs. But they do not want to listen, so they go on strike.

If I had my way, I would publish an item in Russian and Estonian publications in large letters: "Russians! Estonians! You must get used to living together. There is no sense in asking why things are the way they are. They just are, and there is no way back. and if you cannot yet love each other, at least respect each other".

But nobody would publish such an item. Neither the Russians nor the Estonians.

Andrei Malgin is editor in chief of the weekly news magazine Stolitsa.