No. XXVII Tunne Kelam, Estonia

I was born in the independent Republic of Estonia. The 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact meant that from the age of four, 50 years of my life was spent under Soviet dictatorship (1941-44 under Nazi occupation).  I always strived to obtain as much independent information as possible, mainly listening to BBC English language broadcasts that were not jammed. Thanks to BBC, I daily followed with excitement the 1956 Hungarian revolution.  I was deeply impressed that a communist dictatorship that had lasted for more than a decade collapsed  in a week.  This was a signal – sooner or later such a system is doomed to fail.  At the same time, the unhindered brutal suppression of the Hungarian uprising showed clearly that the Western powers viewed this as an internal Soviet problem.  By refusing to help Hungarians leave the communist block, the West helped to lay the ground for the failure of the next anti-communist revolutions.

In 1968, while an editor at the Estonian Encyclopedia, I was also a part-time lecturer on international politics. After the start of the Prague Spring, I started to inform my listeners about the motives of the new Czechoslovak leaders and their reforms, using information obtained from BBC and the Polish weekly „Polityka“.  I obtained a copy of the Czech cultural weekly „Literarni Listy“ which had published the secret protocols of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact. With the help of a Czech-Estonian dictionary I translated that document and gave it to trusted people.  I also received and introduced the Manifesto „Two Thousand Words“ which openly pointed to the responsibility of the communist party.  At night, we often wrote „Dubcek“ and „Svoboda“ on the pavement with chalk.  By the end of July 1968, the attitude of Moscow towards Prague Spring had become ominous.  Just then I was to lecture to 300 delegates from working collectives. The head of the propaganda department of the communist central committee sternly warned the delegates about the „reactionary developments“ in Prague. Fortunately he left after his talk.  I began by saying that we just heard about problematic things happening there, but we also need to understand why all this has come about. And continued my usual tactic of speaking rather positively about communism with a human face.  In some weeks, my name disappeared from the list of approved lecturers.

The crushing of the Prague Spring had an unexpected effect in the very centre of the Soviet empire – the first citizens’ rights groups emerged in Moscow. Four years later, in 1972, I was asked by two Estonian underground groups to address a memorandum to the UN, asking for help to evacuate Soviet occupation troops and to organize  democratic elections.  Despite all, the Prague Spring spread in different forms and locations.

Tunne Kelam, MEP, Estonia