Estonia is one of the smallest states in Europe with a population of 1.5 million, writes Risto Penttila in a newspaper International Herald Tribune.

„Why is the elephant so concerned with of the mouse And why are the Russian comments so emotionally charged?,” askes Penttila, who is director of EVA, a Finnish business and policy forum. „The questions are particularly pertinent in the wake of the removal of an old Soviet statue, the so-called “Bronze Soldier,” from the center of Tallinn, the Estonian capital.”

Part of the answer, finds Penttila, is that the statue symbolizes different things for different people: For the Estonians it is a reminder of Soviet occupation; for the Russians the statue is a tribute to the role of the Red Army in defeating Nazi Germany.

Yet something more fundamental is at play here. We are dealing with a great power that is failing to come to terms with its diminished stature.

„For many Russians, Estonia today is Finland in the 1930s — a former pearl of the empire whose independent existence is a painful reminder of a glorious past. Finland became independent in 1917 at a time when Imperial Russia was in the process of becoming the Soviet Union. Estonia became independent (for the second time) in 1991, when the Soviet Union was in the process of becoming Russia.”

In the 19th century Finland had been the most modern part of the Russian empire; in the 20th century Estonia had had the same distinction in the Soviet Union, continues author.

„Being a runaway child is not easy. In the 1930s, the Soviet Union accused Finland of all sorts of bad things — it was a Nazi stooge, a fascist sympathizer, an unreliable neighbor.

In the spring of 2007 similar accusations are being made against Estonia: It mistreats Russians, glorifies fascists and, of course, is an unreliable neighbor. One can understand why Stalin’s Russia was so hostile to a capitalist Finland in the 1930s. But why is Putin’s Russia so hostile to a democratic Estonia? After all, the Bronze Soldier has to do with the Soviet Union, not with the Russian Federation.”

The answer is simple: The present Russian regime sees itself as an heir to the Soviet Union.

The contrast to the Yeltsin years is radical — Boris Yeltsin turned against the Soviet Union and declared Russia independent of the Soviet empire. Intellectually he was in the same camp with the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians — all wanted to make a clean break with the past.

A clean break with the past is the last thing President Vladimir Putin wants. For him, the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical mistake of the 20th century. For him, there is no distinction between Russia of today, the Soviet Union of yesterday and the Imperial Russia of yore. The history of these three is a continuing history of Russian greatness.

„The Kremlin wants to salvage the last moral justification for the existence of the Soviet Union — that its brave people played a crucial role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Without this justification, the whole Soviet era appears a sorry experiment, an absurd period of history,” Penttila concludes.

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