Recently, I received a reminder that there are people in the world that have a much greater appreciation for Independence Day than many Americans do.
While attending a conference at the Acton Institute in Michigan, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Mart Laar, the former prime minister of the Republic of Estonia. Dr. Laar, who has a Ph.D. in history, spoke about what his country had endured at the hands of the Russian communists until they regained their freedom in 1991.
In June 1940, Russia occupied Estonia and immediately began a campaign of terror. Over 2,200 political and military leaders were executed and thousands more were deported to labor camps in Siberia. On June 14 – 15, 1941, as German forces were bearing down on them, the Russians implemented a mass deportation of over ten thousand Estonians to work in Russian labor camps. The KGB began removing whole families, separating husbands from wives and fathers from their children.
Thousands never returned.
Under Nazi occupation the reign of terror continued, particularly for Estonia’s small Jewish population. According to Dr. Laar, during World War II, Estonia lost over 20 percent of its population to the Communists and Nazis, the vast majority of them killed or deported by the Russians. At the end of the war, Estonia was once again under the dominion of the Communists and was made part of the Soviet Union.
Today Estonia is free and one of the most prosperous of the former Soviet bloc countries. But they have not forgotten what it was like to be in subjection to brutal regimes. For Estonians, celebrating independence includes remembering what it was like not to have it. Near the village of Pilistvere there is a memorial to the victims of the Communist purge. Their names are carved in a huge cairn of stones. And every year on June 14th and 15th, Estonians attach black ribbon to their national flag in remembrance of the thousands deported to Russia on those dates in 1941.