Abstracts for Akadeemia 6/2006

Ain Kaalep
Maiden Europe

The miniature that entails symbols of ancient mythology was written in 1944 when Ain Kaalep served as a volunteer in the Finnish army. The author, the first editor-in-chief of Akadeemia after it was re-established in 1989, says that the piece can be read as an emotional document from those forgotten years when the word “Europe” was of no smaller significance than it is today.

Rein Veidemann
Spontaneous existentialism – the ideological code of Estonian culture?

The starting point for the essay is the statement in Paul-Eerik Rummo’s cycle of poems Return Address [Saatja aadress, written 1968-1972, first published in full 1989] about Estonia as a country where spontaneous existentialism has helped many to retain their existence and to survive. The author argues that this poetic thesis by Rummo is not accidental as existentialist “traces” can be found in the same poem and in the whole cycle. All history of twentieth-century Estonian literature is rich in existentialist declarations, including existential self-expressions that have not formed into a system of thought as well as manifestations of philosophical existentialism. The canon of the literary grouping Young Estonia [Noor-Eesti] and its founder Friedebert Tuglas are known to have been influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche. The existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus can be found in the works of the writers of the 1960s generation (Mati Unt, Jaan Kaplinski, Arvo Valton, Mats Traat, Enn Vetemaa, and others). One of the most consistently existentialist writers was Karl Ristikivi (particularly his novel All Souls’ Night [Hingede öö, 1953]), but Aadu Hint’s Leprosy [Pidalitõbi, 1934] and August Mälk’s Death of the Dead [Surnu surm, 1926] can also be viewed in the existentialist key as literary treatments of the “borderline situation” so essential for existentialism.

In the second half of the 1960s, existentialism in Estonian literary and cultural awareness acquires the meaning of counterculture and political opposition. Social behaviour became double-coded. The absurd machinery of power was opposed by the absurd (thoughtless heaping of praise, pretence of ignorance, so-called Svejking).1

However, the Soviet occupation was not the only cause of existentiality among the Estonian intellectual elite. It is essential to emphasize that throughout most of its history Estonian (literary) culture has functioned under total censorship (in an intellectual borderline situation); therefore existentialist behaviour and tendency to existentialist understanding of life seem to be in collective memory. Like human existence, Dasein (to paraphrase Martin Heidegger) is cast into tradition, so the existential feeling for life seems to be the conditio sine qua non, the inevitable ideological code of Estonian cultural awareness. Even the nineteenth-century Estonian literati, the founders of Estonian national literature Kristjan Jaak Peterson, Friedrich Robert Faehlmann, and Friedrich Robert Kreutzwald measured themselves and their creation on the axis of “meaninglessness – meaningfulness” which they crossed as “rebellious men of the absurd”, if we apply Camus’ philosophy to their behaviour.

Thus, the author finds that the uniqueness of Estonian culture consists in the manifestation of existentiality.

Pavel Petrov
The Red Banner Baltic Fleet and Estonia in September 1939 and the incident with the steamer Metallist

For the Soviet Red Banner Baltic Fleet (RBBF) the decisive day after the outbreak of World War II was 17 September 1939, when operational readiness no. 1 was declared, which meant actual readiness for combat. From 19 to 26 September, two operations were conducted in the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea in order to find “unknown” submarines. By these submarines, the RBBF command primarily meant the Polish submarines that had left their bases immediately after the German attack on Poland on 1 September. The cause for such a reaction by the Soviet command was the escape of the interned Polish submarine Orzel from the Bay of Tallinn on 19 September.

On 24 September, the Estonian Foreign Minister Karl Selter, who had gone to Moscow to conclude trade agreements, was presented with an ultimatum to conclude a mutual assistance pact. The pact envisaged the foundation of Soviet military bases on the territory of the Republic of Estonia. At the Cabinet meeting of the Republic of Estonia on 26 September, commander-in-chief of armed forces General J. Laidoner and Foreign Minister K. Selter expressed the opinion that signing the mutual assistance pact with the USSR was unavoidable as Estonia could not count on foreign assistance and was unable to resist on its own.

Under such a tense political situation in the Baltic region, the Soviet steamers Metallist and Pioneer were mysteriously attacked by unidentified submarines. Estonian historians have rightfully pointed to the absurdity and inconsistency of the official version about the events. They have proposed that the transport ship Metallist was sunk by the Soviet submarine Shch-303 and the guard ship Tucha as a provocation. As the torpedoes of Shch-303 did not seem to hit the mark, Tucha had to ram Metallist.

The author supports the version of the Russian historian M. Morozov, according to which the whole story about the sinking of the transport ship Metallist is a mystification. In his opinion, several facts testify that the mentioned ships were not sunk at all but “sank” on paper only.

At the negotiations that started on the evening of 27 September, the Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, referring to the ostensible sinking of Metallist, informed the Estonian delegation that Estonia was unable to guarantee its own security. Therefore, he argued, to secure order, a 35 000-strong Red Army contingent should be deployed to the Estonian territory. By the end of negotiations, the size of the troops had decreased to 25 000 people. Finally, on the evening of 28 September, the mutual assistance pact between the USSR and Estonia was signed. Similar treaties were forced on Latvia and Lithuania. By doing so, the Soviet leadership achieved its aim – the right to deploy its land, air, and naval forces to the territories of these countries. Consequently, the foreign policy of the Baltic States became hiddenly controlled by the Soviet Union.

Indrek Martinson
Swedish lecturers at the University of Tartu 1919-1940

During the independence of the Republic of Estonia in 1919-1940, several Swedish lecturers were invited to work at the University of Tartu. After becoming the Estonian national university, the University of Tartu needed professors in many specialities. The Swedes who came to Tartu were relatively young and had not become professors in their homeland yet. Professorship at the venerable University of Tartu was definitely a great honour, which made the posts in Tartu desirable.

The lecturers who returned to Sweden in a few years obtained high positions in Sweden and were satisfied with the years they had spent in Tartu. In the article, I deal chronologically with seven Swedish scholars who arrived in Tartu between 1919 and 1933. The first four who got professorships in Tartu were classical philologist Johan Bergman, jurist Andreas Bjerre, and art historians Helge Kjellin and Sten Karling. They were followed by archaeologist Birger Nerman and linguists (and also historians) Per and Greta Wieselgren. Personally, I have briefly met Karling, Nerman, and Per Wieselgren, and recently I have talked quite often to their relatives and acquaintances.

The article provides an overview of the professors’ youth, their career in Tartu, and their later activities in Sweden. All the professors seem to have been highly satisfied with their life in Estonia. Without doubt, their work at the University of Tartu was successful and significant for Estonian science. Several of their students in Tartu achieved great academic success. Having returned to Sweden, the Swedish lecturers remained great friends of Estonia and Estonians and paid generously for the years spent in Tartu, for example by supporting Estonian refugees, their organizations, and Estonian culture in Sweden.

Jaan Lahe
Was Simon Magus a Gnostic? II

Compared to St. Irenaeus, the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and St Peter’s Acts (third century) represent a new stage in the development of the Simonian tradition. Partly these writings contain information taken from earlier texts, but there are also numerous motifs unknown in earlier tradition: Simon’s stay and studies in Egypt, his pretension to be the Jewish Messiah, his title “The Standing One” (ho hestos), Simon’s relations with St John the Baptist and being one of his disciples, and so on. Although the Homilies and St Peter’s Acts, the central theme of which is the competition between Simon Magus and Simon Peter (which is definitely inspired by Acts 8:20 ff), add many new details to Simon’s life, most researchers doubt their historical authenticity. Neither do these texts add any essential information on Simon and gnosis.

There are two texts whose Simonian origin has been postulated – Apophasis Megale quoted by Hippolytus and The Exegesis on Soul found in Nag Hammadi. In Apophasis Megale, Simon’s historical personality has disappeared – he has become only the revealer of Apophasis, and Helena, who was still essential in Pseudo-Clementine literature, is not mentioned any more. According to Apophasis Megale, Simon Magus is simultaneously a harbinger of redeeming revelation as well as a human who has realized his godliness and, thus, achieved immortality. As such, he is the archetype and model for every Gnostic. The Exegesis on Soul, discovered in Nag Hammadi library (NHC II, 6), is the closest literary parallel to the myth of Helena described by the Church Fathers and describes the decline and redemption of soul but does not say anything about Simon. Thus, the ancient tradition about Simon’s personality found its end in Pseudo-Clementine literature, but as the founder of the sect he is mentioned in the Samaritan tradition even in the Middle Ages (Chronicles of Abu’l Fath, fourteenth century). Simon’s strong ties with Samaria are a motif that pervades the whole tradition about him from the Book of the Acts of Apostles to Abu’l Fath’s Chronicles. The latter definitely represents the Simonian tradition independent of Christianity. Several features in Simon refer to the Judaic-Samarian tradition (the idea that the world was created by angels; his titles “The Great Power” and “The Standing One”).

In conclusion, it should be said that “historical Simon Magus” cannot be considered a Gnostic. He was a Samaritan charismatic who had posed as an embodiment of God and was made into a Gnostic only in Simonian gnosis, which included the figure of Simon in its system. The earliest source on Simon – the Book of Apostles’ Acts – does not depict him as a Gnostic. Reliable facts on the Simonian Gnostic system date from as late as the second century. Even in this case, the justified question remains – why was it namely Simon Magus who traditionally came to be regarded as the first Gnostic. Considering the preceding discussion, particularly Simon’s links with the Judaic-Samaritan tradition, there can only be one answer: although Simon was not a Gnostic, he originated from the same spiritual ground from which gnosis emerged. This spiritual ground encompassed certain circles associated with Judaism that different researchers of gnosis have called either “Jewish heterodoxy” (G. Quispel), “periphery of Judaism” (K. Rudolf), or “syncretistic Judaism” (G. Kretschmar). These circles were widely open to the influences of Hellenism, and in many questions their treatment of the faith differed from mainstream Judaism. Along with Egypt, one of the regions where we can meet such circles was Samaria, which was extremely open to Hellenist influences. Simon Magus is the earliest representative of this spiritual trend known by name. He is also one of its most remarkable representatives. Considering this and the significance he has had in the history of gnosis, we can rightfully call him the “first” Gnostic – regardless of the fact that his pretension to be God is not Gnostic, and he cannot personally be considered the founder of the Gnostic religion. Simon’s pretension to godliness, which surpassed the limits of the traditional Judaic-Samaritan religion, and his activity as a charismatic could give Samaritan Gnostics reason to associate his person with their teachings and their own Gnostic pretension to godliness. One cannot really state that the Gnostic movement emerged in Samaria, as the Gnostic movement is so multilayered that its emergence cannot be associated with only one place or person. The oldest records on Simon Magus, however, show us an early form of (originally) non-Christian Gnosis, which soon started to settle scores with Christianity. Consequently, Samaria is one of the places where the Gnostic vision of the world first emerged. Simonian Gnosis also demonstrates the great role of images of Jewish origin in early Gnosis. This fact makes us wonder if the researchers who look for the roots of the whole Gnostic movement in the “periphery of Judaism” might be right.

Illar Leuhin, Jaanus Uibu
What do we know about Estonian reptiles and what is our attitude to snakes?

There are many reasons why, out of the innumerable inhabitants of the animal kingdom on all continents and throughout history, namely snakes have received special attention by our species. People have been enchanted by the elegance of snakes as well as by their mystique and dangerousness. Both facts and fiction on snakes have given rise to myths of many nations. The semantic field of the snake is extremely broad – from the embodiment of cruelty to being the symbol of primordial forces, fertility, and wisdom. Generally, the snake as a symbol has an ambivalent meaning – in many cultures it is simultaneously feared and respected or admired. The fear of snakes is believed to have both cultural and evolutionary roots. It is possible that we still carry traces from the evolutionary past of our ancestors when quick and adequate reaction to a dangerous reptile was much more essential for survival than it is now. On the other hand, we should not forget the prevalently positive undertone of snake symbolism among the peoples still living in close harmony with nature – this may hide more than we usually think. As seen from ethnographic literature, in Estonia, which belongs to the Christian cultural space, the negative attitude to snakes has predominated at least in the last few centuries. Still, to some extent our own pre-Christian beliefs with a milder attitude to snakes have survived, for example, in myths about the house snake and the snake king.

In a recent two-part study, we attempted to find out how well informed Estonian young people (2753 respondents) are about the reptiles of our country and what their attitudes to them are. The questionnaire that applied multiple-choice questions and the Likert scale concerned several issues related to the adder, the grass snake, and the slow worm. The respondents were questioned about the main exterior characteristics of different species, about their attitudes to snakes and the reasons behind them, as well as whether they knew what to do in the case of an adder bite. As for factual knowledge, even students interested in biology knew only the most characteristic features of Estonian reptiles, for example, the zigzag pattern and the poison fangs of the adder and the yellow collar markings of the grass snake. In the case of an adder bite, rapid medical assistance was considered most essential; as for first aid, however, many students expressed outdated views (sucking out the poison, making an incision). The attitude to snakes, however, was surprisingly positive. Most respondents found that snakes were necessary for equilibrium in the environment or simply nice and beautiful animals. 93 per cent of the respondents disapproved of killing snakes. Still, nearly a third confessed that they were afraid of snakes, and nearly a fifth did not like them (mostly because of them being poisonous).

In summary, it seems that Estonians’ centuries-long fear and contempt for snakes is slowly being replaced by respect and care. Despite some diehard misconceptions and false beliefs, we have reason to believe that in the future Estonians can live in a more harmonious coexistence with the reptiles of their country.

Jaan Sootak, Paavo Randma
Criminal drug policy or drug policy?

Criminal drug policy is viewed from two aspects: repression and prevention. The former applies primarily to supply as a manifestation of international organized crime. In most countries (including Estonia), penal legal regulation with its extensive norms and draconic punishments is spearheaded at this. Prevention deals with demand, and it encompasses three kinds of preventive measures – primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary prevention is directed at those who have not faced the drug problem yet; secondary prevention deals with the endangered, and tertiary prevention attempts to involve addicts. Penal law, understandably, deals with the third group, while prevention at the primary and secondary levels is, in its essence, social work. Penal law of a democratic and law-governed state tries not to treat addicts as criminals but as people needing help and to be cured. Although criminal repressions against the drug user are not excluded, attempts are made to avoid them. The current article discusses the arguments that are used to substantiate the criminalization of owning or using drugs. The authors do not find them justified from the viewpoint of jurisprudence or the law-governed state. Firstly, the alleged legal right – public health – does not meet the definition of either an individual or a collective legal right. Secondly, punishment of the drug user contradicts the generally recognized principle in penal law according to which voluntary self-harm is not punishable. The only argument worth considering is that drug dealing could be punishable as an abstract danger delict – a delict that does not cause damage to a legal right but threatens it. Here, too, serious doubts arise as the threat is indeterminate and, therefore, does not provide sufficient ground for applying the state’s penal power. Finally, the authors present the most essential models for legal solution to the drug problem: division of markets, full legalization of use, economic strategy of partial legalization, and a gradual model of avoiding dangers.

Reference to The Good Soldier Svejk by the Czech writer Jaroslav Hasek (translator's note).

Published 9 June 2006
Original in English

Contributed by Akadeemia © Akadeemia Eurozine


Published in