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The Minister of Justice of Estonia Mr. Urmas Reinsalu replied to his Greek colleague Mr. Stavros Kontonis

30.08.2017. The Minister of Justice of Estonia Mr. Urmas Reinsalu replied today to his Greek colleague Mr. Stavros Kontonis in relation to participation on the European Day of Remembrance on August 23, 2017. 

I thank you for your letter in which you advised that you would not be attending the conference “The Heritage in 21st Century Europe of the Crimes Committed by Communist Regimes“ on 23 August of this year. I regret that you made this decision but appreciate your taking the time to provide a thorough explanation for your choice. Allow me, however, not to agree with the arguments that you presented as reasons for declining this invitation.

I do not wish to descend into a debate on 20th century European history. This has been done and will continue to be done by historians, lawyers, social and political scientists and philosophers from many different countries. We are politicians, and our job is to protect values and virtues. Our values are human rights, democracy and the rule of law, to which I see no alternative. This is why I am opposed to any ideology or any political movement that negates these values or which treads upon them once it has assumed power. In this regard there is no difference between Nazism, Fascism or Communism. All of these ideologies claimed the right, in the name of their distorted visions for the future, to destroy entire nations and societal groups, and to declare others to be unworthy and unsuitable for a Utopian future, due to which such peoples and groups had to either be re-educated, forced to suffer in misery without hope for a better future, or banished to uninhabitable wastelands. 

Condemnation of crimes against humanity must be particularly important for us as ministers of justice whose task it is to uphold law and justice. This is our duty, irrespective of the reasons these crimes were committed and regardless of who the victims of these crimes were. Every person, irrespective of his or her skin colour, national or ethnic origin, occupation or socio-economic status, has the right to live in dignity within the framework of a democratic state based on the rule of law.  All dictatorships – be they Nazi, Fascist or Communist – have robbed millions of their own citizens but also citizens of conquered states and subjugated peoples of this right.

The fate of our two states in the 20th century has been different. In Estonia, you do not need to be a historian to know what happened in Greece during the Nazi occupation. To bring but one example: Louis de Bernières’ novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has been translated into Estonian, and the film based on this book has been seen by thousands of my compatriots. Similarly, The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was translated into Greek shortly after its publication in 1974. It may interest you to know that Solzhenitsyn completed this book in Estonia during a summer he spent as a guest on the farm of Arnold Susi, an Estonian whom he had met on that very archipelago of which he wrote. There, Solzhenitsyn was less visible to the eyes of the KGB than he would have been in Russia where he was well known. Arnold Susi had been sent to the Gulag simply because he had been a minister in the Government of the Republic of Estonia. The Communist Soviet Union had occupied Estonia, and being a government minister in the Republic of Estonia was a crime in the eyes of the Communist Secret Police. Minister Susi was condemned to the Gulag two months after the Soviet Union together with the Western allies had defeated Nazi Germany, and he would return home only 15 years later. He was one of the lucky ones. Dozens of his colleagues from all of the governments that held office in the Republic of Estonia were murdered in the Gulag or perished there due to famine, disease or inhuman living conditions.

It goes without saying that Solzhenitsyn’s book was banned in Estonia throughout the Soviet occupation.

Unlike Greece, Estonia has the experience of living under two occupations, under two totalitarian dictatorships. Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, then by Nazi Germany in 1941, and again when the Soviet occupation continued in 1944 through to August 1991. In light of the experience of my country and people, I strongly dispute your claim that Communism also had positive aspects. While it is true that the Soviet Union played an important role in defeating Nazi Germany, the Red Army did not liberate Eastern Europe so that the states and peoples that had been occupied by the Nazis could determine their own destinies. This did not happen in East Berlin, and this did not happen in Tallinn. The Greek Civil War ended in 1949. In that same year, the Communist regime deported nearly 2 percent of the population of Estonia only because they as individual farmers refused to go along with the Communist agricultural experiment and join a collective farm. This was in addition to the tens of thousands who had already been imprisoned in the Gulag prison camps or deported and exiled earlier. Thousands more would follow, taken into prison up to mid-1950.

While Stalin’s death allowed most of the survivors to return to their homeland, this did not mean that Communism had become humane. I am forty years old, and thus I completed basic education under the Soviet occupation. I know what I am talking about. It may come as a surprise to you that at that time, private property – one of the self-evident foundations of the European economy – was forbidden in the Soviet Union. And free enterprise was a crime.

I know what I am talking about when I say that it is not possible to build freedom, democracy and the rule of law on the foundation of Communist ideology. We all know that this has been attempted on all continents, with the exception of Australia. It has been attempted in various shades of red and under all kinds of nationalist slogans. This has always culminated in economic disaster and the gradual destruction of the rule of law. But there are also countries and peoples for whom the price of a lesson in Communism has been millions of human lives. This cannot be allowed to happen again. 

In freedom and democracy, everyone has the right to their religious and ideological beliefs, but we must condemn all attempts or actions that incite others to destroy peoples or societal groups or to overthrow a legitimate regime by force. With regard to innocent victims, however, there is no need to differentiate. It makes no difference to a victim if he is murdered in the name of a better future for the Aryan race or because he belongs to a social class that has no place in a Communist society. We must remember all of the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian dictatorships, as the European Parliament calls for in its resolution of 2 April 2009 on European conscience and totalitarianism. It was this resolution that served as the basis for the commemoration of the victims of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes last week in Tallinn.

I herewith enclose a copy of the resolution of the European Parliament of 2 April 2009 on European conscience and totalitarianism for your reference. 

Respectfully yours,

Urmas Reinsalu

 

Katrin Lunt
Spokesperson
Ministry of Justice
+372 527 6806
katrin.lunt@just.ee