Sunday, June 28, 2009

One Hell of a Skateboard Park

Granted, my opinion as a foreigner matters not one damned bit. And, when it comes to Estonian monuments, that’s exactly how it ought to be.

But Estonia’s monument to her War of Independence is nearing complete completion (not yet ready, but ready enough for the dedication ceremony to already have taken place), and now its critics, including me, are free to wander in its shadow and ponder whether the nation got its 100 million kroons worth.

My verdict: Not half as ugly as I feared. The monument is too totalitarian for my taste and provokes in me a sense of irony that a people who have freed themselves from the grip of both Fascism and Communism would choose such a structure. It is, in a word, unEstonian. Standing under the glass Balkenkreuz looking over Freedom Square (or Victory Square, as some insist), one may wonder if the government has not constructed Northern Europe’s largest skateboard park. Concrete and glass may be the calling card of modern Tallinn, but for me they have little to do with Estonia. For me, Estonia will always be country lanes, stark coastlines, and forests so picturesque that frolicking hobbits would not be out of place.

But a monument is more than its physical structure (witness the Bronze Soldier), and this one will be whatever Estonians make of it. If, in winter, the city fathers elect to clean the concrete plaza of ice, then perhaps it might function as more than just another source of broken limbs. And there’s no arguing the monument has improved the neighborhood. The marijuana paraphernalia, porn-video, and “French hot dog” shops in the tunnel have now vanished.

The day I visited there were far more Estonians than foreigners present (one thing you can’t always say for Old Town), everyone milling about, taking photos, and sharing their thoughts. “I think it’s pask,” said one old man, though he wasn’t quite old enough to have fought in the War of Independence. But he was courteous, very quietly calling the monument “runny shit,” since a veteran of the War dressed in sportcoat and necktie, medals pinned to his coat, stood only a few paces away.