Abstracts for Akadeemia 5/2006

Peeter Kaasik
Soviet political repressions against Estonian citizens after the outbreak of the war between the Soviet Union and Germany on 22 June 1941

The violations of international law and crimes against humanity committed in Estonia from 1940-1941 have been dealt with in numerous publications, but mostly their aim has been to ascertain the number of victims; the mechanics of repressions have remained in the background. The current article attempts to fill some of the gaps in the research of Soviet repressive policies and to specify some circumstances resulting from the state of war. The starting point for the treatment is 22 June 1941, the beginning of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union.

On 22 June 1941, a state of war was declared in the western part of the Soviet Union, including occupied Estonia. This brought about changes in the competence of the authorities and the process of decision-making became even more opaque. In the regions of the state of war, all the functions of public authorities concerning defence, public order, and national security were transferred to military authorities. Offenders who disobeyed their orders or committed crimes at places where the state of war was in force were prosecuted “according to wartime laws”. This means that crimes committed in the regions of the state of war were tried by military tribunals if that was found necessary because of the state of war. Thus, under the state of war, the significance of tribunals of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs decreased and that of military tribunals of the Red Army, the Baltic Fleet, and the railway increased.

Early in July, the whole staff of the Estonian SSR Prosecutor’s Office was dismissed and their proceedings were passed over to the military prosecutor’s office. Even after the outbreak of the war, investigation of political crimes remained the domain of the People’s Commissariat for National Security. As the front approached, these cases were passed over to counterespionage departments of military units (the so-called third departments, from 17 July 1941 – special departments) and as of 20 July 1941, the People’s Commissariat for National Security was dismantled.

After the outbreak of the war, the higher authorities of the Soviet Union as well as the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs and the People’s Commissariat for National Security issued legislation and regulations of a general nature that gave instructions on how to act in the war-time situation. These became the basis for massive arrests and extra-judicial repressions in the region near the front.

From 22 June to October 1941, almost 4000 people are known to have been assassinated or arrested in Estonia; in addition, there are hundreds whose circumstances of arrest or death are unknown. As Estonia soon became an active combat area, there was no time to deliver verdicts on a great number of prisoners, and they were evacuated to prison camps of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs in the rear of the Soviet Union. There are data on 3256 prisoners who were meant to be evacuated from Estonia; the names of approximately a thousand are unknown.

In the summer of 1941, an estimated 2000 people were assassinated in Estonia. After 22 June 1941, 141 people are known to have been sentenced to death by military tribunals. In addition, at least 68 had been condemned to death earlier, but their death sentences were carried out during the war. Another 90 people were assassinated in Saaremaa in September 1941; most of them were sentenced to death by the military tribunal of the Baltic Region Coastguard Staff, as it was impossible to evacuate the prisoners.

These victims underwent at least formal investigation, but most were shot in the summer of 1941 according to “wartime laws”. The basis for extra-judicial repressions was the directive of the Council of People’s Commissars and the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of 29 June and Stalin’s radio speech of 3 July 1941, which formulated the tactic of the “burnt-out country”. The task was undertaken by destroyer battalions, security agents, and the Red Army. Hundreds of people were shot being accused of “banditism”, assistance to “bandits”, “desertion of the work front”, and avoiding mobilization. A sizeable number of people were shot by security forces and prison staff in custodial institutions as the front approached, and it was too late to evacuate prisoners. In the largest massacre, 193 people were killed in Tartu prison on the night between 8-9 July.

It should be added that, from the viewpoint of international law, it does not make any difference whether the assassinated citizens of the Republic of Estonia were sentenced to death by a tribunal or were killed without a verdict as both methods were illegal.

The most essential provisions concerning Estonia’s legal status in 1940-1941 can be found in Section III of the 4th Hague Convention of 1907 (Laws and Customs of the War on Land), which regulates the authority of the occupying power over the occupied territory. Most countries of the world acknowledge the fact that in 1940 the Republic of Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union. Thus, from the viewpoint of international military law, a number of rules were violated in Estonia. The underlying principle of the 4th Hague Convention is the principle of humanity, which aims at protecting the physical security and property of the population of the occupied territory from violence by the occupying power. In addition, a number of concrete violations of military law could be observed in Estonia. For example, the citizens of the occupied country could not be forced to serve in the occupier’s armed forces, and, therefore, the so-called deserters or mobilization evaders should not be regarded as criminals. Estonian anti-Soviet guerrillas (“forest brothers”), when caught, were mostly shot on the spot without trial as saboteurs and bandits, although, on certain conditions, they should have had the status and rights of prisoners of war. The annex to the 4th Convention banned general penalty, but the Soviet regime took the family members of the “offenders” hostage, etc.

Although the Soviet Union had not joined the Hague Conventions, during World War II international military law was already considered generally valid common law, and the crimes committed by the Soviet institutions in 1941 can be regarded from the viewpoint of international law and respective conclusions made.

Ene-Margit Tiit
Estonia needs statistics; statistics needs data

Knowledge-based development of Estonia primarily needs knowledge-based decision-making in the management of our country. For this, precise information on the current situation of Estonian society, about the processes happening here, is needed in order to predict reliably the situation of the labour force, migration, birth rate, public health, and so on in the next ten or twenty years. In order to answer all the above-mentioned questions, Estonia needs reliable statistics.

Collection of statistical data always means collection of individual records (similarly, we cannot pick strawberries by basketfuls but have to place the berries into the basket one by one). Analysis of collected individual data yields generalized results that can be used for making predictions or conclusions. A number of misunderstandings have been caused by collection and use of person-specific or identifiable data (ie including a variable, most often the personal code, which makes it possible to identify the person). Actually, the problem is when and how to turn identifiable data into unidentifiable data and what will change as a result of this. It is a misconception that statisticians and researchers want to use identifiable data (eg provided with a personal code) out of curiosity. Actually, they are not interested in linking the data with a concrete person but only linking the data of the same person between themselves, which enables them to treat data in a systemic way. This is necessary for checking the quality of data, for conducting repeated studies as well as for linking different databases – in order to find answers to the socially significant questions mentioned above.

In order to change identifiable data into unidentifiable data, it is possible just to cut off the identifying part – personal code, name, and address. This is usually done when using data (their copies) in scientific research. Still, “cutting off” the identifier is not the only option nowadays – information technology can be used to encrypt the identifying section of data so that it can be used as an identifier only by the holder of a respective key. In that case, the problem boils down to possession of the decryption key and its responsible use. For expedient use of encrypted data, the data obtained from different sources have to be encrypted or encoded together. This means that, for example, the personal code is replaced with a code generated by the computer that is not known to the researcher or the person and makes it impossible to identify any characteristics of the person but enables researchers to link the polling or measurement results obtained at different times or at different places. Naturally, such a study and its results are anonymous. This kind of technology exists; to use it here and now, only the necessary legal and organizational measures have to be taken to protect our data.

Data protection is in the common interests of all statisticians and data analysts. It is based on the knowledge that data comprise invaluable national wealth, and their protection is as essential as protection of the rest of cultural property – literature, traditional and material culture. Data protection has many facets, which include securing their physical preservation. However, data protection (neither the laws regulating it nor monitoring of their implementation) should not hinder or restrict the work of their main users – statisticians, researchers, and health care workers. Otherwise, collection of data would become senseless –they are collected in order to answer questions which are essential for society.

Robert D. Putnam
Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital

The author’s starting point for the empirical study written in 1995 is the central premise of the social capital theory – that social connections and civic engagement pervasively influence our public life, as well as our private prospects. It appears that in the last decades of the twentieth century, after a steady tendency of growth, a number of large civic associations in the US (church-related groups, labour unions, parent-teacher associations, scouts, etc.), have witnessed a great unexpected and almost simultaneous decline in their membership.

Three potential countertrends – tertiary organizations, nonprofit organizations, and support groups – need somehow to be weighed against the erosion of conventional civic organizations. The theory of social capital argues that associational membership should, for example, increase social trust, but this prediction is much less straightforward with regard to membership in tertiary associations. From the viewpoint of social connectedness, the Environmental Defence Fund and a bowling league are just not in the same category.

The author emphasizes the importance of social trust and expresses the opinion that all the forms of social capital discussed are coherently correlated across individuals. Members of associations are much more likely than non-members to participate in politics, to spend time with neighbours, to express social trust, and so on.

The author presents some hypotheses explaining the causes for the erosion of social capital: the movement of women into the labour force, mobility or the “re-potting” hypothesis, demographic transformations, leisure time becoming technology-centred. In the afterword from 2005, Putnam adds three other important factors: the growth of inequality, the growth of diversity, and the decay of mobilizing organizations. The author believes that American democracy seems even less healthy today than it was a decade ago and that practicable ideas for revitalizing American civic life are needed more urgently than ever.

Gregory Chaitin
A century of controversy over the foundations of mathematics

Many threads that have led to computers and computer technology have their beginning in mathematical logic. Chaitin speaks about Georg Cantor, who invented the theory of infinite sets in which Bertrand Russell discovered a number of disturbing paradoxes.

To overcome the crisis, David Hilbert attempted to create a completely formal axiomatic system, an artificial language that would outlaw all paradoxes. A formal axiomatic system is complete if any question A can be settled either by proving it (A) or by proving that it is false (¬ A). The problem arises if one can prove the assertion (A) and also prove the contrary assertion (¬ A). That is called inconsistency, and it is very bad.

Hilbert’s idea was that by an artificial language that has completely precise rules or a mechanical proof-checking algorithm it would be possible to formalize all of mathematics. Kurt Gödel, however, showed that Hilbert was wrong; that it was impossible to take all of mathematical truth, to agree on a set of rules and to have a formal axiomatic system for all of mathematics. Gödel’s original proof is very clever and difficult to understand. Chaitin claims that if one looks at Gödel’s original paper, it seems as if Gödel had used LISP programming language. In Gödel’s paper the computer existed in an implicit form, but Alan Turing brought it out of the closet. While Hilbert never clarified what he meant by a mechanical procedure, Turing said that there should be a machine that would be capable of performing any computation that a human being can do. He also immediately proved that the capability of a machine had its limits. That is the halting problem, which, as Turing was able to show, cannot be solved. No formal axiomatic system can enable us to deduce in advance whether a program will halt or not. Turing shows that if no time limit is set, serious difficulties arise.

Chaitin himself, however, having analyzed quantum mechanics, came up with the idea that randomness appears even in pure mathematics, and he called his new set of ideas algorithmic information theory. Its basic idea consists in the size of computer programmes. It is the measure of complexity, a kind of computational complexity. In his theory, Chaitin measures the complexity of something by the size of the smallest computer programme for calculating it and asks how he can be sure that he really has the smallest computer program. There appears to be an infinity of elegant programmes. For any computational task, there has to be at least one elegant programme, and there may be several; one can never be sure except in a finite number of cases. Almost everything has more complexity than the axioms that are used.

Chaitlin claims to have found that the foundations of mathematics are full of holes. Most of the infinite number of mathematical facts stand apart and cannot be unified under any general theorem or theory. The major mathematical theories and even branches of mathematics have appeared at random; their creators have simply been lucky. The briefest and most shocking of Chaitin’s ideas would be “Mathematical truth is random(ness)”.

Jaan Lahe
Was Simon Magus a Gnostic?

Simon Magus is one of the most controversial personalities in the history of ancient Gnosis. Apologist St. Justin, church father St. Irenaeus, and church historian Eusebius call him the first Gnostic, and the sect bearing his name (Simonians) always occupies the first place in the lists of ancient sects. Although the view that Simon was the founder of the whole Gnostic religion has been abandoned by today, his name is still the first that is mentioned in relation to the history of Gnosis. Many twentieth-century researchers have also considered Simon one of the earliest representatives of Gnosis or its immediate predecessor. Most researchers do not doubt the historical existence of Simon, but a number of historians of religion and theologians doubt whether the historical Simon was a Gnostic. Some have suggested that Simon became a Gnostic only in later tradition.

To find an answer to the question, the author views the ancient sources dealing with Simon in their chronological order. Analyzing the oldest source on Simon – the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which dates back to the late first century – the author of the current article also reaches the conclusion that the Book of the Acts of the Apostles does not contain anything referring directly to Gnosis. Simon could be seen as a charismatic or miracle worker who considered himself the revealer of the highest God or even His incarnation. His title Magus (Greek magos) has been seen as a reflection of antiheretic polemics that attempts to degrade the man who pretended to godliness to simply a sorcerer. However, it can also refer to his membership to a class of priests known as Magi (Greek magoi) who functioned as astrologers and fortune-tellers (the same name has been used in Matt 2:1 for the “wise men” who came to Bethlehem to worship the newborn Jesus). The tradition of Simon’s baptism and his collision with Apostle Peter definitely reflects the contacts of Simon’s followers with early Christianity and witnesses that such contacts existed as early as the first century.

Temporally, the next source on Simon is the works of St Justin Martyr or Philosopher (died ca 165) Apologies and Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon. Justin, who dates Simon Magus’ activity into the period of Emperor Claudius’ rule (AD 41-54), provides some information on Simon that is missing in the Acts of the Apostles. He is the first author who says explicitly that Simon’s followers considered their teacher God. Justin is also the first to speak about Simon’s female companion Helena who he claimed was his “first conception” (Greek ennoia) and about his activity in Rome. However, even in Justin’s treatment Simon has no Gnostic features. These appear for the first time only in the writings of Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons (died ca 202), who in his Adversus haereses describes Simonianism as a Gnostic system where Simon has the role of the saviour of the godly female Helena from the powers of this world. The appearance of Gnostic features as late as in Irenaeus seems to confirm the supposition of many researchers that Simon was made a Gnostic only in the tradition of the second century. Even then, the question of why he came to be viewed a Gnostic remains unanswered. To find an answer, the author continues the discussion of sources on Simon in the second part of the article.

Published 9 May 2006
Original in English

Contributed by Akadeemia © Akadeemia Eurozine

PDF/PRINT

Published in

Discussion