Kalju Mätik wasn’t a “Soviet dissident”. Kalju must have had a patriotic streak early on, because the teachers were mortified when instead of singing the Soviet national anthem at school, this young man stood up and launched into the forbidden national anthem of pre-war independent Estonia, which has nowadays been restored to its rightful place in this country’s public life.
According to people who knew him, Kalju Mätik got involved in underground resistance activities in 1970, at a time when the post-war resistance and passive resistance of much of the Estonian population had waned, and people were joining the Communist Party in large numbers. Most of the massive post-war armed resistance in the Baltic States had already been crushed in the years before Stalin’s death.
Perhaps Kalju’s most important contribution to his country’s cause was his active involvement in the founding of the Estonian National Front and the Estonian Democratic Movement, which organizations sent a memorandum from Estonia to the United Nations Organization in 1972. The memorandum appealed for UN help, for removal of Soviet occupation troops, a referendum to determine the status of Estonia, and for the restoration of democracy.
No response came from the UN. The Memorandum did however receive attention in the West, and sent the signal that many people in Estonia continued to aspire to freedom. Tunne Kelam – a present-day Estonian politician and also a participant in the resistance movement back in those days has said: “This was a desperate message to the West, sent in the full knowledge that all participants would be harshly punished” not for supposedly slandering the Soviet Union as accused, “but simply for openly stating their concerns.” Dozens of others were interrogated, their houses searched, and many were fired from their jobs. This was but one of many similar episodes in fairly recent Estonian history.
During his interrogation by the KGB on July 24, 1975, as marked in the official record, Mätik stated: “I consider myself a democrat and my activities has been aimed, I’m convinced, at the restoration of true democratic freedoms in Estonia”.
I’ve heard from contemporaries that of all of the defendants, Kalju stood the firmest and the straightest at the trial in October of 1975, showing no hesitation or remorse. Kalju Mätik and several other memorandum signatories were convicted of anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation. He was forced to serve six years in prison camp 389/36, where prisoners considered particularly dangerous to the Soviet state were confined under a strict regime. He’d previously also been a victim of the political abuse of psychiatry in the USSR at the infamous Serbsky Institute in Moscow. Kalju Mätik was released on December 13, 1980.
Self-assured but not self-important, Mätik was a man of principles and character who stood out in the relatively small and now dwindling community of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians who were punished by the Soviet regime for their political beliefs and actions during the latter part of the past century.
People who know Mätik are convinced he refused, until his release from the camps, all offers from prison staff and the KGB to receive a reduced sentence or other favors in exchange for collaboration with representatives of the regime.
Upon his return to Estonia, Mätik was deeply involved in the MRP-AEG movement (the Estonian Group for the Publication of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) and was a founding member of the groundbreaking Estonian National Independence Party, being one of the leaders of that party.
Kalju remained politically active until the end of his days, succumbing finally to respiratory issues after a heart attack. Friends were fortunately at his side as his health faded.
Although the Soviet tradition of dissent was a proud one, and unfortunately still is under Putin, and although Kalju Mätik came to meet and associate with many Soviet dissidents of various nationalities during his years in the camps, and though he got along with them and wished them well, Mätik will go down in history not as a Soviet dissident, which is a category of opposition within Russia and the USSR, but as one of the prime examples of the people who dared to participate in the Estonian resistance movement during the years of Soviet Russian occupation.
The Present Day
Kalju was formally recognized by the Estonian state after independence was restored in 1991 and received state awards, but Estonian society hasn’t as a rule embraced its resistance fighters and opposition figures, not as been the case with – let’s say – Vaclav Havel or Lech Wałęsa in nearby countries. Estonia and Estonians are, for whatever reason, still slow to accept and give the full credit that should be due to their sons and daughters from the desperate and very dangerous era of resistance to the Soviet regime.
I nurse the hope that future generations will come to comprehend better, and also give Kalju Mätik and his comrades their full due of respect in future years. Kalju Mätik was a freedom fighter’s freedom fighter, and it was a privilege to get to know him personally.
Kalju Mätik’s funeral will be held at the nationally important Raadi cemetery in the city of his birth in Tartu, in Southern Estonia, to be followed by a wake. Many of his colleagues from the past will be in attendance, along with others who have come to respect this great son of a small nation.
Jüri Estam came to know Kalju Mätik well after 1991, when he moved back to the country of his parents, who had lived in exile in the West after WW II. Kalju Mätik and Estam were both members of the now defunct Congress of Estonia. Jüri Estam continues to write for media organizations internationally and in Estonia, and also works as a consultant in the area of communication.