“Estonia has an apartheid regime”
Johan Bäckman is a Finnish sociologist and a Professor at the University of Helsinki. His 2008 publication “The Bronze Soldier” – a reference to the Estonian Soviet war memorial which was relocated from the capital Tallinn in 2007 – sparking huge public protest.
In his book Mr. Bäckman dismisses the Soviet occupation of Estonia as a myth and in April this year he was denied entrance into the country.
RT: As a Finnish man – why the interest in Russian-Estonian relations? Why did you write a book about that?
Johan Bäckman: The Finnish intellectuals have always been interested in Estonia. We have very close intellectual relations with the Estonian people. And what happened two years ago, in April 2007, was a big shock for the Finnish as well. The events of that “bronze night” were extensively covered in the Finnish media. It was a very dangerous situation in terms of security around the Baltic Sea, because what the Estonian government did to the monument and the graves under “The Bronze Soldier” was harassment of the graves and that’s why there was a sort of revolutionary activity in Estonia as a result of that.
RT: In the book you're making some pretty strong statements. You liken the integration policies of Latvia and Estonia to “an apartheid that represents the criminal discrimination of Russians.” What do you mean by that?
J.B.: By the criminal discrimination of Russians I mean the criminal discrimination of Russians. It’s an apartheid regime and actually I’m now writing a comparative study about the Estonian and Latvian apartheid in comparison to South African apartheid policy. There are several common features, such as the official segregation of people into two or more groups, the persecution of the political opposition, the persecution of several racial groups. If the person is Russian, he or she has much worse possibilities to be employed, to live in that society. They do not have political freedom; they don’t have democratic rights in this country even if a Russian person gets the Estonian passport, gets the citizenship of Estonia. Even in that case his or her possibilities are much worse than the possibilities of an Estonian person. The Russians are paid less; they don’t have free Russian language press in that country. Of course they don’t have free press at all in that country. The press is being controlled by the government. And of course that’s much easier in a small country like Estonia.
RT: Well, in drawing that comparison to South African apartheid some might say that you’re ignoring the history of Estonia and Latvia, which claim they were occupied. But I do know that in your book you dismiss the Soviet occupation of those two countries as a so called Nazi myth, on what basis?
J.B.: The truth is that these countries have never been occupied by the Soviet Union. Estonia and the Soviet Union made a mutual agreement about military bases in 1935-1940. After that, Estonia joined the Soviet Union. And after that the Estonian republic ceased to exist. And if something ceased to exist, it of course cannot be occupied by any forces. And of course the Soviet Union was occupied by Nazi Germany. At the end of the war, Estonia was liberated by the Soviet army, by Estonian soldiers of the Soviet army. The Estonian liberated their own country in autumn 1944. That’s it. There was no occupation. The myth of occupation is a form of hate speech against the Russian population in Estonia. The only purpose of this myth is to accuse Russians of being criminals and murderers. This is racist propaganda against the Russian minority.
RT: In turn many Estonians deny a Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Why is that?
J.B.: I wouldn't say Estonians themselves deny it. It is a radical nationalistic movement in Estonia which is now in power and which is now maintaining the apartheid system. Ordinary Estonians don't want to be hard-line politicians against Russians. Usually they lived in peace and friendship. There are many mixed families there. It’s not on the level of every day life.
RT: You said that Estonia will cease to exist as a country in its own right in ten years time. Why?
J.B.: This kind of policy doesn't have a future. It's not a constructive policy. It's a destructive policy. It’s a kind of a wild guess to say that Estonia would cease to exist within ten years but when I talked about this with my Estonian friends, they said that “you are exactly right except that today Estonia doesn’t exist any more.” I agree with this because Estonia doesn't have, in scientific terms, the features of an independent state. I would call it a kind of apartheid regime.
RT: What's your vision for the future of the region, a revival of the Soviet Union?
J.B.: I cannot tell you that because this is a very dangerous topic. As you know, I was already expelled from Estonia because of these kinds of statements. I would like to see Estonia as an independent country and as an independent state. I can quote one of the last leaders of the Estonian republic General Johan Laidoner, who was the dictator of the Estonian republic in the 1930s, and he said that small countries will cease to exist sooner or later and they will melt into the big nations. History shows of course that both Finland and Estonia have been parts of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union for a much longer time then they were independent states. However, there are other plans existing to unite Estonia with Finland. They are very close people in terms of language, culture, traditions and religion. It’s not a big deal to unite Estonia with Finland
RT: You mentioned about your deportation from Estonia. Why did that happen? How did it make you feel?
J.B.: My deportation order was signed by the Estonian Minister of Internal Affairs Jüri Pihl. The only reason for my deportation from Estonia is my criticism about the position of the Russian minority in Estonia. The main reason is that I’m accusing Estonian government for being an apartheid regime. They considered that very insulting and questioned my interpretation of history. It shows that they don’t want my opinions to be delivered in Estonia, to Estonians and Russians.
RT: What was the public reaction to your book and other publications? You accused Finland of supporting the Estonian regime. You also accused the Finnish foreign ministry of Russo phobia and racism.
J.B.: I accused the Finnish government years ago in 2002. In 2004-2005 Estonia joined the EU and NATO and today Russian-Finnish relations are excellent, but there are no relations between Russia and Estonia. My book was to gain public interest in the Finnish media It is very difficult to say what the public reaction is. It was published last September and the discussion is still continuing. I would say that the actual result of this is that the position of Finland towards Estonia has changed. Estonians reacted harshly to this and claimed to be a Russian agent sent to destroy Estonian-Finnish relations
RT: You are an independent candidate for the Worker’s Party of Finland. What's your mandate?
J.B.: That’s the matter of the voters of course. My program is to promote the security and wellbeing of Finland and to promote the wellbeing, security and bright future of Estonia.