380 days that shook estonia

13 January 2022, the day the monument was dismantled

I CAN ONLY vaguely recall the day when the Jaak Joala Monument was installed in Viljandi. I remember Harri Juhani, the Finnish entrepreneur, was there, and perhaps Heiki the historian (and former mayor) was as well, but Heiki might have not been there. This might be what is called a false memory, a trick of the mind. For the next 380 days, I was to live my life in the shadow of the Joala Monument. I was there at its inception and installation, and I witnessed the parades of wayfaring pilgrims that came from all over to delight and bear witness to the great singer’s likeness. Strangers arrived into town and accosted me, asking where they could see the famed Joala. On cold winter mornings, I would go out to the wood barn and hear the echoes of disco blaring. At night, the Joala Monument would glow with extraterrestrial light. Toward the end of the first month, there was something of a vigil around the monument. Neighbors were selling soup and, I think, pastries, though that might be another false memory. Coffee was also being sold, hot cups of brew steaming in the cold, for the pilgrims of Joala. Then one day, Helir-Valdor, this wiry and friendly politician with the name of a Lord of the Rings character, met me outside of the monument, and we posed together, brandishing my latest book. It was an experience, and I felt as if I had been caught up in the great political winds, as if I was with Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries riding into Havana, or alongside Napoleon declaring himself emperor. “Peace, land, bread, Joala!” Yet I was a two-faced revolutionary. To my monument supporting friends, I feigned sympathy for their interests. “Yes, it is an interesting monument. Yes, it brings people to town.” For my monument opponent friends, who had pledged in blood to not rest until it was removed from the drunks’ park at the corner of Koidu and Posti Streets, I nodded and complained of the loud music. On the second day of February, a year ago, the first part of the saga of the monument came to an Orwellian end. The monument was enclosed in a wooden box. After which, the park became known as “Box Park,” and strangers asked me if I could show them the way to the “Joala Box.” I showed them. Still they came, from Jõgeva, from Rakvere, all to see this enchanted energy column. One morning, I even saw a couple, dressed sharply, posing in front of the box with a baby in an elegant bonnet. I imagined they had just come from a Christening, and wanted to celebrate it by visiting old Joala. The day when the monument was dismantled is clearer in my mind. I know because I was there, holding out my phone to play some of the singer’s more popular songs, so that the workmen could hear Jaak Joala sing, even as they unfastened the lower part of the wooden box and crawled inside. The hands of Joala came out first, still clutching that microphone, and then the head. Such was the mournful scene around the Joala Monument when it was at last dismembered on the 13th of January. It was like the death of a king. The famed box was surrounded by reporters and photographers. A journalist asked me for my personal opinion. One photographer I knew from Tartu was there, and I asked if it had been as exciting when they took down the Lenin statue in 1991. He said that he had been there that day in Tartu when Lenin came down, and that nobody had really paid much attention, as far as he could recall. Drones buzzed in the skies. People watched and chattered. And, at some point, nothing was left except some tubing extending from the icy ground. Later that same night, I encountered Heiki the historian outside of the Courthouse. He was in a sour mood and talking about “Black Thursday,” the day the Joala Monument had come down, a day that would no doubt live forever in infamy. I expressed sympathy. I asked Heiki about what had been in the park before the Joala Monument, and he said it had once hosted a bust of a Communist named Jaan Sihver, which had been removed in 1991. Sihver’s monument had been taken away to the same warehouse where Joala was now being kept and guarded, but was later stolen, and was last rumored to be an ornament in someone’s garden in the suburbs of town. I wondered about who would want to steal the bust of a dead Communist and worried that someone might wish to do the same with the remnants of our dear revered Joala. I also wondered what other secrets were kept in the Viljandi storage facility, perhaps the remains of a UFO crash from the 1940s, or other strange items that might have turned up here and there in the course of history. None of them, though, have been as peculiar as the remnants of the once proud Joala Monument. Yesterday, I happened to walk through the park, and saw that someone had built a snowman on the site where the monument once stood. Maybe a father and daughter had built it, or a mother and son. A simple snowman from this very snowy winter, with rocks for eyes and sticks for arms. I stood there and looked at it. Life does go on, you know. It changes, and you may not like the change, but it does go on. It was a beautiful February day, with a light snowfall, falling against the sunlight. There is something I like about the way the snow falls on these days. It’s like poetry.

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