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Of Nightmares and Putin

A few days ago, I translated Bjorn Engesland’s “Dreams of Empire and Other Nightmares,” which appeared in Aftenposten, Norway’s leading newspaper. Today a friend and former Swedish military officer posted a link to Fredrik Antonsson’s blog on Estonia’s choice to celebrate its 97th birthday with a military parade as close as possible to Russia, its threatening neighbor. The US 2nd Cavalry as well as troops from Latvia, Lithuania, Holland, Spain, and Britain marched with Estonian troops to honor the day. Entitled “A Provocative National Day Celebration?” Antonsson’s blog, which I have posted in English, connects nightmares to Russian imperialism as it addresses the fears of a small nation that can not actually claim 97 years of independence.

Daniel Staberg, the aforementioned friend provides some context for the article, which mentions that Narva’s population is 96% ethnic Russian. Staberg explains that Narva, the town where the celebration was held, had been cleansed of its Estonian residents.

“The main reason for the lack of Estonians was the heavy fighting during the battle of Narva in 1944 during which the inhabitants were either evacuated by the Germans or fled on their own. Post war the Estonians were not allowed to return home as the Soviets planned to build a uranium processing plant there. Narva was declared a “closed town” and the few remaining Estonians removed.

In the end the plant was located in nearby Sillamäe and Narva returned to a more normal status but by then large numbers of Russians had been moved into Narva to get industrial developments started and this ‘ethnic’ transfer still effects demographics today.

Then there were the deportations which had an effect on the whole of Estonia including Narva.”

The independent Estonia has a strong connection to Sweden, even marching “in Swedish uniforms with Estonian national ensignia sewn on” in the early parades after they gained independence from the Soviet Union. Sweden also “donated huge amounts of equipment that belonged to brigades that were disbanded due to the end of the cold war.” Swedish officers, Staberg among them, trained Estonian and Latvian troops with this equipment.

Surprised that I had heard none of this in today’s news, nor anything on the military parade, I thought it important to provide an English version of Fredrik Antonson’s “A Provocative National Day Celebration?”

The Estonian national song is translated from the Swedish rather than from the Estonian. The original Estonian and English versions of it can be found online in much more poetic translations than I had time to produce. It might be interesting to compare it to English translations from the original Estonian. Wikipedia is not in favor I realize, but it suffices for our purposes of comparison if interested.

Link to the blog post in English: https://www.academia.edu/11061061/Antonssons_A_Provocative_National_Day_Celebration_

Link to the blog post in Swedish: http://www.6mannen.se/ett-provocerande-fodelsedagskalas/

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The Gallatin! A Self-Indulgent Piece on Wilderness.

Voices from the Prairie, the regional literary anthology I co-edited with Kristi Rendahl, is in the hands of the printer. I am hopelessly impatient, so to cope with this minor problem, I have posted my contribution to the volume, The Gallatin!, to Academia.edu.

The Gallatin! takes its name from the section in my mother’s photo album that provides a visual foray into my family’s summer in the northeastern corner of Yellowstone National Park. As the youngest child, I am convinced they did most of the cool stuff before I came along on purpose, and the Gallatin was no exception.

I have never been overly fond of the wilderness, though my family drags me into it year after year, but I am interested in the concept of wilderness. In fact, I find it fascinating.

The premise of this piece comes from Roderick Frazier Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind. Nash argues “that civilization created wilderness. For nomadic hunters and gatherers, who represented our species for most of its existence, ‘wilderness’ had no meaning. Everything natural was simply habitat…” (xi of the 4th edition)

Nash explains that as people began to control – or attempt to control – nature, “Wilderness became the unknown, the disordered, the dangerous.” (xii) After the so-called closing of the frontier in 1890 (See Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis.), “Americans were becoming civilized enough to appreciate wilderness” (xiv) As they came to appreciate it, they developed a myth about it – that it was virgin land, unpeopled.

This virgin view emerged after Yellowstone had been a National Park for a few decades, and the new view reshaped how the Park sold itself. Rather than as a playground or giant zoo of sorts, it became a preserve, a sanctuary where nature could be untroubled by human interference. (For the challenges of non-intervention, see the last chapter of Chris Magoc’s Yellowstone: The Creation and Selling of an American Landscape, 1870-1903.) Ranger Stations were dismantled and camp sites were removed, among them the Gallatin Station. The aim was to return to an untouched wilderness.

The trouble is that they were returning to something that never was. Patricia Limerick and others have argued that this recent notion of wilderness as pristine and untouched is a myth. William Cronin discusses this in Changes in the Land as well as in The Trouble with Wilderness – or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.

A brief piece, The Gallatin! is something of a family story set in the supposedly unpeopled wilderness of the northeastern corner of Yellowstone.