Vol 1, No 2, 5 July 1999
T H E A M B E R C O A S T:|
Doing It Half Right
The Estonian government has managed to defuse the controversy surrounding the reburial of Estonian freedom fighter Captain Alfons Rebane on 26 June. In the process, however, the government essentially compromised itself and the ideals its parties and leaders have stood for over the years.Who is Alfons Rebane?
To understand the Rebane story it is necessary to understand 20th-century Estonian history. Rebane personified the complexities of the region's history in his illustrious career. Already an active military officer in the 1930s, Rebane took to the forests during the Soviet occupation of 1940-41 and led a partisan unit fighting to evict the Soviet invaders.
But the Germans succeeded in pushing the Red Army out of Estonia, and over the next few years, the Baltic region became a staging ground and later a battle ground for clashes between the Red Army and Wehrmacht. At that point, Rebane was serving in the Estonian Legion of the German army: under the Waffen-SS, he fought against the Soviets.
In 1946, Rebane fled abroad, eventually landing in Great Britain. There he played a key role in directing anti-Communist insurgency and resistance movements in the Baltics. He led the Estonian portion of "Operation Jungle" by British intelligence SIS well into the 1950s and was once even trapped by the KGB while on a clandestine mission to Estonia on speedboat. Sadly, Rebane did not live to see Estonia regain its independence.The government's controversy
The Estonian government found itself in hot water when Prime Minister Mart Laar (pictured left) followed his conscience. The government earmarked 40,000 EEK for a reburial ceremony for Rebane in the Forest Cemetery - with full military honours. As a well-known historian and ground-breaking researcher on the activities of the "forest brothers" movement in his book War in the Woods, Mart Laar is one to know the story well. (see footnote for book details)
Agitators soon condemned the government for "honouring a fascist"(for the period Rebane fought under the Estonian Legion). Russia and "like-minded" organisations heavily criticised the decision and even protested outside the government meeting. Though they do not oppose the reburial, most are vehemently against the military honours. Unlike the controversy in Latvia concerning the marches by the Latvian Legion, Western countries remain quiet over the Rebane issue since, after all, Rebane was a British agent.The surprising no-shows
The ceremony on 26 June for Rebane took place without a hitch, and some 500 people attended. Taking part in the ceremony were many veterans and "forest brothers" who had once been under Rebane's command, as well as Lieutenant General Johannes Kert (pictured right), the commander of Estonia's Defence Forces.
However, no members of the government appeared at the ceremony. Only two Members of Parliament showed up. One veteran stated, "Kert must be quite a bold man to dare to come."
Clearly, the government made the demonstrative no-show as an attempt to quell the controversy over the subject. But with that move, they dishonoured both Rebane and their own decision.
Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves stated that "in giving the money, we already drawn fire on ourselves," adding that "whether government members participate in the ceremony or not does not make much difference."
The well-respected foreign minister apparently missed the whole point of the reburial itself. Prime Minister Laar, having done so much research into the movement, should have known better than anyone. However, it appears the government simply copped out of a difficult situation.
Mel Huang, 1 July 1999
War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival, 1944-1956 by (current Prime Minister) Mart Laar. Translated by Tiina Ets with a forward by my good friend, the late Tonu Parming. The Compass Press, Washington, 1992. ISBN: 0-929590-09-9
Order the book from Amazon.com.
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