No. 16

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In Defence of History

  • Helle Ruusing

    Editor-in-Chief, Information Adviser of the Chancellery of the Riigikogu

Talking about history has become popular and often two mutually exclusive arguments are heard.

The first of these – and this is also the accepted view in historiography – claims that although history itself is objective, historiography is always subjective. Sometimes the call goes out for everyone to write their own history. In principle, everyone could do just that, for historians do not have a monopoly on history. However, in that case, the writer and reader must be aware that this is the case. Otherwise one event could end up looming large, while another one is completely overlooked. No doubt the work of writers, politicians, poets, film-makers have a greater impact on people´s historical consciousness than weighty historical treatises do. At the same time, I believe the view that it is never possible to gain an objective picture of history also to be fraught with risks. Actually, it is possible, by comparing the findings of the work of various credible researchers and scholars, to obtain a fairly authentic account of a given event. Of course it must be taken into account that historiography does not give rapid answers. It is not the case that if we create an institute for historical memory today, half a year later they will lay a book on our table. Yet we should be prepared to recognize how the narrative pattern of Estonians´ historical memory has taken shape. It has undoubtedly played a very important role in determining who we are as individuals and as an independent state. And, for a better understanding of ourselves, we should be able also to take a critical view of our historical memory.

The Republic of Estonia is about to turn 90, though due to interruptions in our history, it is sometimes complicated for us to say how old we are. If we think back to the time that Estonia became a sovereign state, it appears that the decision-makers of that time made superb decisions and indeed the only right ones. In fact there would have been no other course of action… Our conventional consciousness remembers three names – Vilms, Konik and Päts. Yet the number of decision-makers was several times greater. At decisive moments in history, the end result is influenced by those who are in favour as well as by those who are against. And the decision-makers do not know in advance the consequences of their decisions. Even though the newsreels are often black-and-white, history itself is always Technicolor, and also contains half-tones. I would like us to reflect more on the fact that we are living in the Estonian era and that this era continues to be the current one.

Full article in Estonian

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