Saturday, October 06, 2012

Tõnisson and Päts

It is curious that both modern popular biographies of Tõnisson and Päts would be written by Finns. I read Turtola's book some years ago and was quite critical, echoing Estonian reactions: it seemed bit glib, wise after the fact criticism of Päts' handling of the Soviet ultimatums in -39 and -40. Tõnisson then, the icon of Estonian liberalism, is of course the more congenial historical figure for me, and has found an exemplary historian, one of my absolute favourites among Finnish politicians, the current Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomioja. Well, about the only favourite but anyway. A man inexplicably wasting his considerable scholarly talents in politics, of all things.

After having lately read Tuomioja's book I reread Turtola - and partially had to reconsider. Both books are popular, but still solid scholarly work, and though Turtola clearly overstates his case he does have telling points. Päts certainly was more rational than the Finnish government in the fall of 1939: who could have known that madness would work better than calculation. But the summer of 1940 is simply a different matter - I wonder what threats Päts received from the thugs, threats that he was alone confronting, alone and isolated. With Tõnisson in charge, there would have been a civil society, legitimate organizations, the rule of law.

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