After-War. Kristina Norman
Kristina Norman is a visual artist and documentary filmmaker in Tallinn, Estonia. Her 2009 video, After-War, which was part of a larger installation shown at the 2009 Venice Biennale, revolves around a Soviet WWII memorial, Monument to the Liberators of Tallinn (from Nazi Germany).
In 2007, Soviet soldiers' graves were exhumed and, with the large bronze Soviet soldier in the monument, taken from their original location in the centre of Tallinn to a cemetery on the outskirts of the city.
With the collapse of the USSR, the former eastern block countries that had acted as a buffer between Russia and the west, including the Baltic countries – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, embarked on a program of de-Russification. In the construction of a postcolonial identity including language, customs and political structures the former occupiers are either expelled or demonised. Of course this is very difficult, much intermarriage and cultural hybridisation has occurred and identities and allegiances become hotly politicised. For seventy years Russians had been relocated to all the Soviet republics, occupying the top levels of bureaucracy and power. Just as Zimbabwean white farmers cry, 'But we've farmed here for generations; this is our land, our country', so do Russian Estonians. The removal of the heroic statue of a Russian soldier to the margins of Tallinn and the periphery of history caused riots, now known as Bronze Night.
After-War documents this divide between nationalist Estonians and Russian-speaking Estonians. It is available on her website www.kristinanorman.com Scroll to the bottom, it is about 10 minutes long. It helps if one spoke Estonian of course, which I don't. However, it is so clearly an interrogation of the politicisation of war memorials.
Is there any generosity in the postcolonial state that would herald any kind of reconciliation of the past? There must be sometimes, otherwise the whole world would be full of Rwandan-like massacres, or the bloody and painful battle for borders and ethnicity in the former Yugoslavia. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, for all its faults, still stands as a model. Kristina Norman's video is humorous, moving, troubled. Her art tackles the problems of reconstructing a national identity by taking the statue as a kind of tragic monolith, mute, clumsy and vulnerable to appropriation by political interests.
For a really nasty example of what Kristina Norman is mediating with After-War, try this video from EstonianTV. Yes it is a riot, yes it stems from the removal of the Soviet war memorial, but the commentary, so anti-Russian, is shocking in its racism and violence. Clearly the bronze statue was a match to the tinder of post-USSR ethnic resentment. Surprising too how many references there are to WWII, and the Soviet liberation of Estonia from Nazi occupation. WWII continues.