<< TRIALERROR.org start next >>

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 pride.


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.


CONTROVERSIES

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.


POLITICAL ART

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 the Masses”.
  << TRIALERROR.org start next >>