Soviets trying to squelch nationalism in Estonia
Moscow — Three new examples of minority restiveness in the Soviet Union have come to light -- this time in the Baltic republic of Estonia. * It has just been learned that several hundred Estonians, many of them high school students, staged a rare public demonstration in the university city of Tartu on Christmas Eve. They lit candles, sang Estonian patriotic songs, and called for independence.
* A leading Estonian activist, Mart Niklus, says he was fired from his teaching job and now is applying to emigrate to Sweden.
* Estonian scientist Jurii Kukk says he has resigned from the Communist Party after being a member for 12 years. He also has been fired from Tartu State University and is thinking of emigrating.
All three examples follow the signing of a "Baltic charter" last August. It called for Baltic independence and public disclosure of reportedly secret clauses in the Soviet-German pact of 1939.
Of 45 signatures, four were Estonian. Sources say all four, including Mr. Niklus, now are being harassed by the authorities.
They include Erik Udam (fired from his engineering job), Enn Tarto (fired from a heating plant), and Endel Ratas (threatened with sacking from his post as an auto mechanic).
The nationalist demonstration followed a Lutheran Christmas Eve service at St. Peter's Church in Tartu, a city of 90,000 people (one in four of them students) about a hundred miles from the capital of Tallinn. Estonia's population today is about 1.5 million.
Sources say at least 400 people from the congregation gathered in the church cemetery to pay homage at the monument of Julius Kuperjanov, an Estonian hero killed in 1919 in the fight for independence against the Russians. That independence lasted until the Russians moved in again in 1940 after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939.
Homage is paid every Christmas Eve, usually by only a handful of people. Sources say the latest demonstration was due to word of the "Baltic charter" broadcast of Western shortwave stations, including the Voice of America.
The crowd, watched by a roughly equal number of bystanders, lit candles and placed them on the monument.
In a 10-minute speech a young man called for Estonian independence.
After shouting nationalist slogans, about 40 high school students walked to the Tartu town square, some 1 1/2 miles away. Other students shouted greetings down at them from the windows of hostels en route.
Police did not appear until the students reached the town hall square, and one demonstrator stood on the edge of a fountain to make another brief speech. A busload of police turned up, and four or five students were detained. They were released several hours later. Sources say they know of no arrests.
"Many of the boys found they didn't know the words to our patriotic songs," said one source later. "They made a resolution to learn them by Feb. 24, which is the day we celebrate the independence we won in 1919."
A smaller crowd gathered the same night in the grounds of another church. Some people returned to St. Peter's on New Year's Eve but sang no songs and shouted no slogans.
Meanwhile, Mr. Niklus says he was fired from the Tartu foreign languages evening school on Nov. 13, 1979. He had worked there 12 years, teaching English , French, and German. He said his troubles began when he signed the "Baltic declaration" Aug. 23.
His classes were reduced to the minimum. He offered to teach students for no payment and was dismissed for "systematic violation of work discipline."
He appealed to the Tartu city court for reinstatement. The ruling went against him Nov. 30. He appealed to the Estonian Supreme Court -- which on Dec. 28 ordered the lower court to hold another hearing.
He now says he wants to emigrate to Sweden. "I don't want to leave," he said in an interview, "but it's either emigration or another term in prison."
Soviets crack down on Christian activists: Story, Page 9.