A Soviet Heritage

So this happened. And yes, snowflake that I am, I find it offensive. Deeply so.

“We are disappointed that the largest retailer in the world and in the U.S., Walmart, does not acknowledge or respect the millions of victims of various nationalities, who suffered under the Soviet regime – those deported, including the elderly, infants and children, political prisoners, dissidents, members of resistance movements and all those who lost their lives, health or family in the Gulag or other repressions of the Soviet totalitarianism,” a letter to Walmart, signed by the chairman of the Estonian Pro Patria party, Helir-Valdor Seeder, Estonia’s minister of justice, Urmas Reinsalu, and the Estonian member of the European Parliament, Tunne Kelam, said.

It’s like some symbols of authoritarian regimes are verboten, while others… are hip and trendy? By virtue of being labelled differently? (And yes, the term ‘communist’ as applied to the Soviet Union bears little resemblance to its application to the underlying philosophy, but this is not that discussion.)

The scars are still too fresh to turn them into a fashion statement, and it’s hard enough to deal with the 9th of May as it rolls around every year:

via delfi.lv

via nra.lv

via rusantro.com

For those who want a virtual stroll through the remains of Soviet cemeteries and other monuments around the country, you can visit here. Some leftovers are more impressive than others, and in better state than others, but they are all a painful reminder of a painful piece of history.

But to cheer us all up, here’s a short story about my first introduction to the works of an Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt, who survived the regime and still lives today to compose very interesting and varied works for a wide variety of instruments – voice, strings, orchestra, also tape. The story really has very little to do with him, but he’s the missing link.

About ten years ago, the choir entered a competition in Tallinn, where one of the competition pieces was by Pärt, and yes, I forget its name. We entered with the best of intentions (go, have fun, rejoice when it is over!). Our performance was lovely, and we spent the evening having a good time and staying up far too late for our own good. The results were announced the next morning, as were the selections for that afternoon’s Grand Prix round. Not expecting much, we were tired and planning our trip home, when suddenly our choir’s name was announced among the GP selections! Other GP selections around us were cheering and congratulating each other, but I distinctly remember the crestfallen faces of my fellow choir members and most especially our conductor.

Let me tell you, that was some of the most intense hours of singing I’ve ever done – we only had about 3, which isn’t a lot when most singers are hoarse and hungover, and we hadn’t even prepared the official Grand Prix program listed for us (which you’re supposed to do, because you just never know, eh?). Our conductor (the one mentioned previously) quickly pulled together some other pieces we’d been preparing anyway, we did a lot of warming up and soothing exercises, and in the end we had a very (positively) emotional performance in the final. Of course, we didn’t win, but the Swiss judge gave us an honourable mention for having one of the most expressive conductors he’d seen.

And in honour of that event, here’s some Pärt, a piece for chorus and string orchestra, a haunting version of Stabat Mater:


  1. says

    Towards the end of the regime things ímproved slightly where I live, but I still do not consider “pretty good” a regime where people can be barred from certain jobs or even incarcerated for life for simply mouthing off about the wrong person at a wrong place and time.

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