THE MAKING OF A NATIONAL HERO –
During WWI, Germans troops in Estonia blew up a horned statue of Kalevipoeg
in Nõmme as it could serve as a landmark for their enemies.
Only the legs remained standing among the pine trees and ”Kurat”
(the Devil) as the locals called him, was gone.
It was the eccentric German landlord Nikolai von Glehn who had built
the Estonian hero out of granite blocks in 1902, along with a cave
like palm house and a fantasy crocodile. It would take almost 80 years
before Kalevipoeg would once again look out over Nõmme and
the city of Tallinn a bit further away.
It has been argued that national symbols are a recent innovation developed
at the same time as industrial capitalism. In the case of Kalevipoeg
this is true. Just as the Grimm brothers used folksongs and an oral
tradition, kept alive mainly by women, for their moralizing tales,
so did the men of the Estonian Learned Society set out to create a
national hero from Estonian folklore.
Much inspired by the Finnish ”Kalevala” it was stated
that it was a matter of the highest cultural priority to create a
national epic, ”like revealing to a beggar that he is in truth
the long-lost son of a king”.
Kalevipoeg, mostly known only by name or as a giant who molested women,
was converted into an ancient king of Estonians, fighting for his
country’s liberty. Creating the epic was not an easy task but
it was finally completed by F. R. Kreutzwald and printed in Estonian
in 1862. Kreutzwald invented much of the myth himself and only about
12 % of the epic is from Estonian folklore.
– AND A SOVEREIGN STATE
”Kalevipoeg” was written at a time when the Estonian national
movement was at its height. The word ”Estonians” was used
for the first time in 1857 in an Estonian-language newspaper, replacing
the term ”country people”. The Estonians had suffered
from centuries of serfdom and was torn between German and Russian
interests. In 1880-90 there was a systematic and ruthless Russification
policy by the tsarist government but after the fall of the tsarist
regime, Estonia declared itself an independent state on February 24,
1918 – still with both German and Bolshevik troops in the country.
A Bolshevik invasion in November triggered the Estonian War of Independence,
which was won in 1920.
RECLAIM, REMOVE AND REBUILD
A second monument to Kalevipoeg was unveiled in Tartu 1933, celebrating
the victory over the Russians. But in 1940 Estonia was illegally annexed
by the Soviet Union in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Nazi Germany occupied the country 1941 only to be replaced by the
Soviet Union once again in 1944. This time the Soviet Union did not
leave and the Kalevipoeg statue in Tartu was removed. The Kalevipoeg
epic on the other hand was praised as a weapon against the Germans.
Estonia was not liberated until 1991. The Kalevipoeg statue in Nõmme,
which had been blown up by the Germans, was restored in 1990. In 2003
a replica of the Kalevipoeg statue that had been removed by the Soviets
were unveiled in Tartu. The drawings by Kristjan Raud for the Kalevipoeg
epic, published 1936 during the first independence, are now on display
at the new Art Museum of Estonia – presented as ”Symbols
of National Identity”. The museum, opened in February 2006,
can in itself be said to be a manifestation of national identity and
THE RETURN OF THE KING
In the young democratic state of Estonia a group of people thought
it was about time to revive the idea of an Estonian king once more
and a Royalist Party was founded. They claimed to believe in absolute
monarchy and suggested the Swedish Prince Carl Philip to become King
of Estonia. In the first election campaign after the liberation, their
leaders reportedly appeared in public wearing everything from shamanistic
headdresses to dustbin liners. They received 7.1 % of the votes in
the 1992 election.
The Royalist Party and their supporters might have been on the right
track. Two American political scientists, Jeremy D. Mayer and Lee
Sigelman, state that monarchy leads to prosperity, democracy and world
peace. They found that “in monarchies, public support for revolution
was significantly less widespread, interpersonal trust was significantly
higher, per capita wealth was significantly greater, income was significantly
less concentrated, and the political system had been significantly
more democratic” than in non-monarchies.
In 1994 the Royalist Party offered Britain's Prince Edward to become
King of Estonia. A spokesman for Buckingham Palace termed this "a
charming but unlikely idea".
The popularity of the Royalist Party seems to have coincided with
other royal activities in the country at the time. In 1992 a statue
of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus II, who ruled the country in
the 17th century, was unveiled in Tartu. The Swedish King and Queen
attended the ceremony. The statue is a replica of a previous one erected
1928, which was destroyed in Soviet times. The rumour has it that
the bronze was used to make Lenin statues. The new Gustavus Adolphus
was in turn made of melted down Lenins.
A MODERN HERO
What expectations do we have on a hero of today? To win an Olympic
medal or the Eurovision Song Contest? Does s/he serve to instil a
sense of national identity and unity, to feed the tourism industry,
or something completely different?
The Estonian artist Tauno Kangro wants to erect a third monument to
Kalevipoeg. His 14 meter bronze statue is sponsored by a local businessman
and would, according to Kangro, provide Estonians with a symbol they
need. The statue, placed in the water at the most visible spot in
Tallinn, would undoubtedly become a landmark and a city symbol.
Tauno Kangro is a successfull artist who has managed to turn his activities
into a prosperous business and his name into a brand. Public space
has become his field of action and his projects are privately founded.
His studio in Old town has hosted many receptions with Estonian ministers,
politicians and representatives from the business world.
Kangro has fought for his Kalevipoeg statue since late 1990s and his
proposal has caused a fierce debate. A full-scale model was made some
years ago as a preparation for the bronze cast, but someone set fire
to it and it was partly destroyed. Kangro has now set his mind on
making an 18-metre version instead.
But who has Kangro depicted? It might actually be the wrong guy. In
Kangro’s version, Kalevipoeg is carrying a boat in his arms.
In the epic there is no such episode, but another giant fits the description:
Suur Tõll. The artist Juri Arrak has depicted him many times
and has accused Kangro of plagiarism.
It has also been argued that Kalevipoeg is disturbingly much alike
a well-known businessman, in fact the very sponsor of the project.
A small replica of the statue is adorning the sponsor’s garden,
as a token of gratitude from the artist.
Kangro’s critics say that it would be a huge, stupid mistake
to erect his statue, that it is bad art and not a worthy representation
of the national hero. But maybe the interesting question to ask here
is not if it’s good art, but rather: What does it do? Kangro's
proposal could in fact be said to be a perfect visualisation of the
state of things. It's just that his intentions were not political.
The result though, is highly political.
Trial and Error supports Kangro’s proposal for a Kalevipoeg
in the sea, but we want to bring out it's full potential by adding
some new elements to it. To transform it into a "Monument for