laupäev, detsember 30, 2006

Saddam's Death = John-John Squared

Remember the 1990s? We lost two of our most beloved celebrities, John F. Kennedy, Jr., the genetic embodiment of America's post-war high, and Princess Diana, who made anyone anywhere want to listen to Bananarama and go water skiing. Women drooled over steamy photos of JFK Jr. bearing his bare chest and men sheepishly peeked at Di's bikini in any number of tabloid photographs. And then they were both dead - John John took not only his life but his wife's and her sisters in a plane crash off Martha's Vineyard. Di died in a car crash in Paris. And we all partied on like it was 1 9 9 9.

But these are the Oh Ohs, dear souls. These are the times that try men's souls. Is it a decade of catastrophe? I am not sure. So many are not here that were here before. But it is a decade for scratching your head. In 1999, the film South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut was released. Saddam played a central role. Today, he was hanged. He exists no longer. And, as a bonus, the Iraqis got it on tape. And, suddenly, those old jokes aren't quite as funny anymore.

A big wave comes and carries away thousands after thousands of lives. A big storm comes and sinks one of America's most culturally significant cities. And, so long ago, two planes came and topple two of New York's most prominent office buildings. None of it made any sense. Everywhere are corpses, but sanity? It's nowhere to be found.

Inside ourselves we used to feel, at least, a modicum of stability. But now, if they told you that 2+2 = 5, you might start to believe them. Up *could* be down if the right people told you so. Dreaming *could* be awakening. All I have are the same pictures and text you are looking at. Change it to say, "Saddam's death sentence commuted" and show some photos of him alive and he'd still be alive to most people.

How am I supposed to feel about this? What am I supposed to think. The only honest answer I can come back with is nothing. Saddam was a murderer, but his execution doesn't change that, nor does it bring justice. It's just another heavy noose in history. They hung the gang that assassinated Lincoln too, but it couldn't bring back Lincoln. Oswald was shot in Dallas, but it couldn't bring back Kennedy. They hung the criminals of the Nazi regime but it didn't bring back 12 million people. Lavrenti Beria died a Trotskyite death, but his victims sat rotting in unmarked graves. No matter how hard we try, we cannot bring them back, dear readers. Eye for eye isn't a fair trade, it just means two guys are missing eyes instead of one. I am not a religious man, but sometimes I wonder what God would say about all of this. Most times I think he would just shrug his shoulders.

reede, detsember 29, 2006

Murder Begets Execution

It's been nearly three years since Saddam Hussein was captured by American forces. Now, apparently, the time left for the deposed Iraqi dictator can be measured more in hours than in days. The judge presiding over the case says that his death sentence will be carried out no later than Saturday, ie: tomorrow.

A lot of people died at the order of Saddam. Women, children, Kurdish, Sunni, Shiite -- it didn't matter. But a lot of people have also died since Hussein was captured, and again, brutality does not discriminate. So, while Saddam's death will have symbolic importance, most realists believe his execution will produce very little. Some call an execution justice, but I don't think it is. Regardless of whether or not he hangs or rots, all the people that Saddam killed are dead and will remain dead. "Justice" is a compelling concept, but when you are dealing with mass graves in Iraq, it becomes impossible to administer. So, in my opinion, Saddam's impending death will just add an extra digit to the death toll in Iraq.


Saddam is gone. Now don't we all feel better.

neljapäev, detsember 28, 2006

TNR Goes to Estonia and Finds it Stimulating

In the latest issue of The New Republic, Tom Bissell goes to Estonia to find out what all of the 'e-Stonia' buzz is about, and oh, how he finds it.

The best parts of his piece are definitely his first hand experiences in Tallinn, but my personal favorites are his glowing reaction to Estonian womanhood. "Tallinn boasted what I can say were--without fear of hyperbole--the most jaw-droppingly beautiful women I have ever seen in my life," he writes. When he loses his bank card and has to go to Hansapank to pick it up, "a six-foot-two-inch Estonian Amazon so glowingly blonde she appeared to be irradiated" retrieves his new card for him.

Bissell also reacts warmly to the wife of Scott Diel, who is editor of The City Paper. "Diel's biggest impetus for staying in Estonia, he told me, other than his predictably lovely Estonian wife, was 'lifestyle'," Bissell notes.

There's a lot more meat to the story than Bissell's admiration for the exotic Estonian female. But I like it the best. It reminds me of when I was younger and single and sitting in a cafe in Oslo going, "Oh my God." And yes, there are some beauties in Estonia and I do recall at least one time going to the desk at Hansapank and completely forgetting what I was doing there or perhaps, what my name was. So here's a big "terviseks" to Bissell for so honestly portraying his experience. It is of benefit to us all. So read the piece. He is equally smitten with Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

pühapäev, detsember 24, 2006

IKEA - a Christmas Oasis for Väliseestlased

Where can an Estonian in America go, when Christmas means lots of stuff wrapped in boxes and piparkooki is a foreign afterthought? IKEA, of course.

Last night, with minu kallis naine Epp in the humdrums over the lack of genuine Christmas cheer in our lives, hungry for gingerbread and glögi and all the stuff an Estonian can comfortably buy in their neighborhood shop, we searched for an answer that could provide some measure of kodumaa to drive away her Yultide blues.

The answer came in the Swedish royal colors of blue and yellow -- IKEA, located on Route 107 in Hicksville on Long Island. Surely Ingvar Kamprad and Anders Dahlvig, the blue-eyed Rootslased that run IKEA must feel for their northern European compatriots abroad and would have made sure that every Icelander, Norwegian, Swede, Finn, Dane, Estonian, and whoever else drinks glögi at Christmas, had access to much needed gingerbread and mulled wine at this time of year.

And so we went to IKEA, in search of Estonian Christmas spirit. "Yes!" I thought. "We'll go to IKEA and there will be rosy-cheeked Scandinavians willing to indulge us in affordable Jõulu products!" But when I got there and asked for glögi, the Mexican guy behind the counter pointed to a case of sparkling pear wines. And when I went hunting for old-fashioned piparkook, all I could find was a box of capuccino-flavored Anna's gingerbread thins. All the while, a sign in the store market encouraged us to "take a taste of Sweden home." Yeah, right.

Cutting our losses, we decided that we'll make glögi on our own and we took a box of capuccino-flavored Anna's piparkooki thins, because piparkooki is piparkooki, even if tastes like Italian coffee. We also managed to buy several jars of Lingonberry jam, which was interestingly titled "Lingon sylt" and Epp also found cloudberry jam or "Hjoltron sylt" --something that Estonians know well, but that is unknown here in New York.

So although it didn't all work out as planned, we didn't go home empty handed. And at least we had some "sylt" in our basket.

reede, detsember 22, 2006

Estonian Christmas Customs

Estonians have some pretty interesting culinary treats, including herring cooked every which way, sült (meat jelly), kartulisalat (always with diced ham), and tatrahelbed - a salted porridge.

But it is during Christmas time, or jõuleaeg, that they break out the really "good shit," starting with the ubiquitous blood sausage or verivorst. I have tasted this Estonian Christmas treat with mixed results. Sometimes it tastes so foul, I feel like I might as well just go to a field of cows, pick one, and stick a straw in its jugular. Other times it is loaded with barley, and when salted and covered in sour cream, it is palatable.

That's why when it comes to Estonian Christmas food, I'll be the one at the table loading up on pork, sauerkraut, and potatoes with plenty of kangesinep (strong mustard). The added benefit of the mustard is that it makes you thirsty, which means you have to drink more really alcoholic beer, which means you have a better time.

Estonians typically celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve. "Like in other Nordic states," writes Estonia's foreign ministry, "Estonia's celebration of Christmas mostly falls on Christmas Eve, however, Christmas season starts from Advent with people buying Advent calendars or lighting Advent candles. Each year on December 24, the President of Estonia declares Christmas Peace, which is a 350-year-old tradition in Estonia."

There is also the tradition of putting out candles for departed love ones, especially by visiting their graves and placing candles there. At Christmas, whole cemeteries are illuminated. It's actually quite beautiful.

It's hard to tell what is ancient custom in Estonia and what is borrowed from neighboring countries. According to the Estonian foreign ministry, an old custom was to bring Christmas straw into the house and to make Christmas crowns resembling church chandeliers, particularly in northern and western Estonia. More recently, you can see some incarnation of this tradition in St. Lucia processions.

Anyway, since Estonians don't seem to mind borrowing traditions from their neighbors, one thing they should do is steal the tradition of Christmas beers from the Danes. Every year, Tuborg releases its special Julebryg Christmas beer, wishing you a "glaedelig jul" and plenty of drunken merriment. I don't know how many of those I could drink. They are really good.

neljapäev, detsember 21, 2006

Londongrad, Here We Come!

Well this is good news for the unemployed of Ida-Virumaa county, the ones that Amnesty International is worried about. Today, the Council of the European Union has decided to permit non-citizen residents of Latvia and Estonia to travel in the EU without visas.

The decision, approved by the EU's 25 agriculture ministers yesterday at the advice of the European Parliament and EU justice ministers, opens the Union's doors to more than 500,000 "resident aliens" of mainly Russian origin.

I've said this many times, but I'll say it again. The reason there is higher unemployment in Ida Virumaa is because Soviet population transfer policies created an unsustainable demographic situation, where thousands of people were enticed to live in a region that cannot, in the long-term, support them.

For example in Kohtla Järve, the population went from 20,000 in 1959 to 80,000 in 1989. That's crazy. Hopefully those newcomers that couldn't make it in Estonia can press their luck elsewhere.

kolmapäev, detsember 20, 2006

The Logic of Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's panties are still in a bunch over the idea that Estonia would pass a law outlawing violence-inspiring symbols of former occupation regimes.
Russia will oppose the heroisation of fascism in its contacts with Estonia’s leadership and in the international arena, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

“We considerate it sacrilegious and dangerous to put an equality sign between liberators and occupants. At present, this is happening in Estonia,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.

He added that Russia “will continue work in contacts with Estonian leadership and in the international arena to avert a revival of fascism and its heroisation”.

Let me walk you through this. Estonia has a provisional law - yet to be passed - that would ban the use of both the swastika and the hammer & sickle in public settings that could lead to disruptive activity. But the Russian foreign ministry sees this ban as a "heroisation" of fascism. Do you understand that? Because I just can't grasp how outlawing the symbol of fascism makes one part of a fascist revival.

Anyway, if Lavrov wants to see fascism he need not look in Estonia's backyard. Kremlin Inc. resembles more and more each day the regime that has come to define fascism for generations, that of Benito Mussolini's Italy. Is the Russian Federation of today so different from fascist Italy in the 1920s -- where the middle class endorsed corporatism in the face of chaotic laissez faire capitalism and reactionary bolshevism?

As long as the upper classes were pleased with Mussolini, he was given a free hand to convert post-war Italy into a police state. But when Italy lost the war, we all know what happened to Benito Mussolini. Word to the wise.

esmaspäev, detsember 18, 2006

The Economist Slams Amnesty International

And by The Economist, I mean Edward Lucas ... In his [very free] blog, Lucas is the first to look at the report and use the dreaded 'd' word, no ... not 'dipshit' - deportation. It's a gutsy move to remind other Europeans of what they once did when circumstances placed them in similar situations:

Since regaining independence in 1991 Estonia has become the reform star of the post-communist world. Its booming economy, law-based state and robust democracy are all the more impressive given their starting point: a country struggling with the huge forced migration of the Soviet era. The collapse of the evil empire left Estonia with hundreds of thousands of resentful, stranded ex-colonists, citizens of a country that no longer existed.

Some countries might have
deported them. That was the remedy adopted in much of eastern Europe after the second world war. Germans and Hungarians—regardless of their citizenship or politics—were sent “home” in conditions of great brutality.

Instead, Estonia, like Latvia next door, decided to give these uninvited guests a free choice. They could go back to Russia. They could stay but adopt Russian citizenship. They could take local citizenship (assuming they were prepared to learn the language). Or they could stay on as non-citizens, able to work but not to vote.

I am very pleased to hear Edward Lucas, and by Mr. Lucas I also mean The Economist, smack down the Amnesty Report. I don't think the report is as bad it seems from the title, but I do get a little sick of the sensitivity with which some people approach the topic - yearning not to offend. It's nice to see someone call a spade a spade for a change. I personally know a German that was sent "home" from Poland to West Germany after World War II, so the comparison is not lost on me.

These are real things. We live in a real world of living history. Congrats to Edward Lucas for giving us a quick, in-your-face history lesson in response to a report from an NGO that really should be working on something more important. Is there room for improvement in Estonia? Always. Is it worth Amnesty's time while it works on reports about Sudan and Afghanistan? I am not so sure about that.

kolmapäev, detsember 13, 2006

Sweden and Estonia Forge EU Partnership

Taking a break away from flag burning in Russia, let's discuss something that actually matters for the future, shall we?

I was asked recently on Radio Free Finland what Estonia's feelings toward the European Union were, and I basically said that Estonia's accession was very much in the interest of its largest economic and political partners, Finland and Sweden, which also have a considerable presence in Estonian media ownership.

Over the past few weeks though, two events have presented themselves of how Estonia will function within the EU, and I think they both point towards members of a Nordic voting block coordinated by Sweden - which seems to be the only northern European country, other than Estonia, that is constantly throwing out ideas in the European Union and hoping some of them stick.

For example, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and his Estonian counterpart Urmas Paet published an editorial in Die Welt aguing for closer ties between the EU and Turkey at a time when Germany and France appear hesitant to further engagement with Ankara:

The strategic decisions on enlargement to be taken by European leaders in the coming days are about the kind of Europe we want to create. Is it a static Union turned inwards focusing on its own integration capacity? Or is a Europe looking outwards to the rest of the world ready to take on global challenges and global competition? Does the EU see the merits in building a wider community of stable, prosperous democracies or will we keep our neighbours at arms length?

And apparently Bildt and Paet are continuing their united front on the Turkey issue:

At Monday's meeting of EU foreign ministers, Sweden and Estonia reportedly signalled to fellow EU members that they were prepared to open up representative bureaus in Northern Cyprus, and begin offering direct flights to the northern part of the island.


At the 8 hour meeting of EU foreign ministers, South Cyprus met with a tough front after requesting that a higher number of Turkey's EU accession topics be shelved, and that Turkey be forced to open its air and sea ports unconditionally. Both Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt asserted that Turkey's new efforts on Cyprus should be taken into account, reminding fellow EU foreign ministers of the promises made to Turkey in 2004 that isolationary measures against Northern Cyprus would be lifted.

While Estonia is a small player on the international stage, its addition to the EU debate backs up Sweden's policies and gives its argument extra gravitas with talk of "the success of EU enlargement" in Estonia and Estonia's ability to reform based on the "opportunity of EU enlargement."

You can clearly see now why politically, as well as economically, the addition of Estonia to the EU has paid off for the Swedes.

esmaspäev, detsember 11, 2006

Estonia's Slavs Get Screwed by Moscow

Just when they thought the Language Inspectorate was fear incarnate, Estonia's Slavic residents have woken up to a new menace - their cousins in Moscow. Today a group of young Muscovites, most of whom we can assume have never been to Estonia, organized a protest in front of the Estonian embassy in Moscow burning Estonian flags decorated with swastika designs on them.

The actions of the group, called "Young Russia," come just a week after a bill was submitted to the Estonian parliament that would ban the use of the swastika as well as the Soviet hammer & sickle in public places where the display could cause a public disturbance. Let me repeat that - Estonia wants to ban the use of the swastika too, but the "Young Russians" painted one anyway on their mock Estonian flag that was burned during the demonstration.

The demonstration also happened shortly after Amnesty International issued a report suggesting ways that Estonia could improve its integration policies. At a time when Estonia's Slavic residents could be enjoying a genuine debate about integration law reform, they have been ambushed by a loud, hateful protest in the streets of Moscow that arouses the displeasure, if not the fear, of genocidal Russian nationalism.

If Russians interested in Estonia wanted to do the local residents any favors they would a) shut up and let Estonia's Slavs speak for themselves; and b) actually read Estonia's laws. Sadly, the Russian audience is fed information by state-owned media that is hostile to Estonia. I wish I could somehow change the situation, but I often fear that I can't. There are too few antidotes for ignorance.

The Bane of Your Existence

When I lived in Denmark about five years ago, I made it a point to learn some Danish. Like fellow Nordic pessimists the Estonians, the Danes told me that I shouldn't even bother, that their tongue was impenetrable, and that they'd rather speak English. But I felt strongly that if you are a foreigner in a foreign culture, you should learn the language - even if it's Swahili or Breton or Frisian. Why should I expect people to know my language in their own country. When I got back to the US I tried my Scandinavian skills on a Swedish woman at a party, who promptly pulled her husband over and said, "William, this young man has lived four months in Denmark and can speak some Swedish." Apparently, he had lived with the woman for years but still couldn't muster a word paa svenska.

When I then became 'involved' with an Estonian woman, I kept up my promise that I would never, ever, be that guy that expects his life companion should think in a foreign language 24 hours a day just because, yawn - scratch, he's too lazy to learn. So far I have had mixed results. People tell me I speak very well, even the coveted "vabalt" (fluently) but I don't think so. My mind still works in English and it is hard to quickly assemble those sentences with Estonia's tricky grammar. And then there are the exceptions. You can go "Tartusse" but you can't go "Kuressaaresse" - no, you must go "Kuressaarde." But as bad as I think I am, young women still think I am good enough to introduce to their non-Estonian knowing boyfriends to me who then will procede to hate my guts for being able to speak the Finnic bog language.

So to all of you out there I am sorry if my private ambitions not to be that guy have ever gotten you in hot water with your loved one. If it makes you feel any better, I took five years of Spanish and I don't remember any of it.

pühapäev, detsember 10, 2006

When Aino met ... Aino

This Sunday night at 9 pm Phil for Finland for Thought will be interviewing me about Estonia and Finland - two countries that should be best friends but tend to still have residual negative feelings towards one another.

This will be a funny interview as Phil is an American - from Baltimore, a city on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland south from New York. I have been to Baltimore on several occasions and I have visited the ghettos of "Ballmer" as well as its nice harbor where they serve crab cakes and you always feel like you are in a John Waters movie.

Having visited the murky ghettos of Baltimore, I think I have a free ticket to ridicule any provincial attitudes from the Finns about their neighbor Estonia. Too often I have heard actual fear from the Scandinavians and Finns about venturing forth into Estonia. They are afraid Estonian mobsters will attack them with accordions, tie them up with knock-off Nordic headbands, and steal their valuable Euros and Kroner.

But the sad thing is that 15 years on, they know so little. There are a lot of enlightened Finns who have spent time in Tallinn and feel safe, and most opinion polls show that they feel closer to Estonia than they do to Sweden. But rather than Phil interviewing a *real* Estonian as a spokesperson for the nation, I will be subbing as a semi neutral force - an outsider that will speak of both peoples frankly.

And, in the true American spirit, there will no doubt be plenty of filthy language and perhaps, if you are lucky, a shoot 'em up car chase at the end. One can only hope. Let me know what you think about põdrad, and I'll be sure to let those reindeer hear what you have to say.

Aitäh JA kiitos!

reede, detsember 08, 2006

Comrade Wolf

Being rather young myself, it's hard for me not to sympathize with Estonia's younger politicians. In my country, politicians like Barack Obama, age 45, are treated as if they are 20-something -- Obama is regularly referred to as a "rock star" in the Beltway media -- while old geezers like John McCain, 70, try their hardest to stay "middle-aged."

So I had warm feelings towards Parts' government in '03 when they came into office because they were young and seemed like they cared. But after the nightmare of watching the ritualistic sacking of minister after minister in the Parts government in '04 and '05, I started to believe that Parts belonged in the opposition because he makes a great critic. And Juku didn't let us down yesterday when he scathingly tore into Estonian foreign policy:

“If we take stock of our foreign policy of recent years, we get a bleak result,” the MP from the merged opposition party Pro Patria and Res Publica Union said in his comments following a keynote address by the minister of foreign affairs ahead of a foreign policy discussion in parliament.

“We’ve lost to Russia in the propaganda war in Estonia and in Europe alike. And that is only because of our own sluggishness and passivity,” the former leader of Res Publica said in his remarks to fellow lawmakers after the speech by Foreign Minister Urmas Paet.

Parts said that Estonia at this point has no clear-cut mission in foreign policy, it lacks initiative and acquiesces in mirroring the policy of large European nations.
Parts described Estonia’s foreign policy of recent years as mediocre and lacking ambition.

Parts in right. The Russian foreign ministry has at least three English-language news services pumping out its version of Estonia to the world 24/7. And what does Estonia have? A generous post by Radio Free Europe? A helping hand now and then from The Economist? Every day when I put "Estonia" into my search engine, it comes back with four articles of Russian foreign ministry-approved pornography about those swastika-loving fascist Estonians who force their poor "compatriots" to speak to them in Estonian. So yes, in that sense, Estonia is very much losing the propaganda war. Even Georgia has its own "news service" with its own "point of view" - but Estonia has none. At the very least, the Estonian foreign ministry should have its releases circulated via all international press wires. They post it on their website, but nobody reads it!

Still, I don't like Juhan's tone. He sounds agitated, almost as if he'd rather use Russia to score points against the Reform Party (which leads in most polls for the '07 parliamentary elections) than actually work with the Reform Party so that Estonia has a coherent foreign policy. I, for one, think that it does. How "coherent" is Finnish foreign policy or Danish foreign policy? Estonia is just 1.3 million people - how "big" a foreign policy do you expect it to have? Over the past two years the country has expanded its foreign presence considerably, worked with its Nordic and Baltic partners, built up its relations with key partners like Sweden, Germany, and the UK, and scored visible visits from high-profile world leaders. That's a lot of work for one large building on Iceland Park.

So my reaction to Parts' comments is mixed. In some ways he is very right. In other ways is a living example of the phrase, "An Estonians' favorite food is another Estonian."

neljapäev, detsember 07, 2006

The Amnesty Report

So the new report about Estonia's minority policies by Amnesty International is out and it is meaty. The document, entitled Estonia Linguistic minorities in Estonia: Discrimination must end at first glance appears like an indictment of current minority policies. But if you actually go through and read Amnesty's Report, you will see that Amnesty, as a whole, agrees with Estonia's integration policies, but believes that they should be better funded, and that economic barriers for Russian-speakers in private business should be removed in areas where Russian-speakers make up an overwhelming majority.

For example, Amnesty makes it clear that it supports the scheduled school reforms, but it points out areas where the Estonian government should focus to end discrimination, as the NGO deems it. For example, Amnesty recommends:

The Estonian authorities to monitor levels of drop-out rates in secondary schools where Russian is replaced by Estonian as the language of teaching; to provide more support for teachers who will be required to replace Russian with Estonian as their language of teaching; to provide additional and adequate resources (including necessary psychological and learning supports) for all students who are required to replace Russian with Estonian as their learning language to successfully manage this transition.

Amnesty also takes a hard look at Ida-Virumaa:

In many parts of Estonia, notably the north-eastern region of Ida-Virumaa, Estonian is not spoken by the majority of those residing in the region. This means that Estonian language skills are de facto not necessarily needed in all professions. The result is that although many persons belonging to the Russian-speaking linguistic minority would be able to carry out several functions in the labour market without endangering public safety or order, they find themselves unemployed with no or limited realistic opportunities to gain legal employment in the formal sector as they do not have the appropriate Estonian language certificate.

I advise anyone who is interested to read this report. My first reaction is "easier said than done" but when you have Amnesty International essentially agreeing with Estonia's integration policies - agreeing with its unitary language policy in the public sphere, I can't say there is much to complain about. Can Estonia's integration policies be steamlined or made more effective? Of course they can.

I think Estonians are still very frightened by the Russian language. They feel as if there is a seven-ton linguistic elephant hovering over their small land at all times. But the reality is that *physically* most of Estonia is populated by Estonians that speak the Estonian language. And it takes two and a half hours by bus to get to the overwhelmingly Russian-speaking portion of Estonia in Narva and Sillamäe.

There are neighborhoods in Tallinn where people only speak Russian - but there are neighborhoods in New York and London also where people only speak Russian too. In some ways you could consider these minorities - the Narva minority versus the Tallinn minority - to be in very different situations. The Tallinners are undergoing a pretty stereotypical "immigrant experience." Like Italians in New York's Little Italy of the 1900s, they live in communal neighborhoods, preserving their culture, but using the language of the majority - in that case English, in this case Estonian - to interact in the private and public spheres.

In Narva, you have much more of a "national minority" situation. This is where you have an ethnically different community residing at some distance from the national ethnic majority. The Russian Estonians of Narva, unlike those of Tallinn, therefore find themselves not unlike the Swedes of the Aaland Islands, or the Sami of Finnmark, or the Bretons of France (bear with my comparisons here, for my sake). They are more of a national minority or cultural isolate than an immigrant community.

Now, I've heard some people tell me that Russian is a "stronger" language. That if it isn't kept in check it will overtake Estonian - turning Estonia into the next Ingria or Karelia - Finnic lands that have been colonized by Slavs. This is a deep-seated, territorial fear. I respect it.

Yet even when 25 percent of the residents of Estonia speak Russian as their native tongue, the language somehow hasn't caught on. In fact it's the Russian teenagers in Tallinn that correct MY bad Estonian when I attempt to order something or pay for tickets. And the younger generation of ethnic Estonians - those younger than 25, even in Tallinn, barely speak Russian at all.

Amnesty International is an NGO. It does not know all and does not command the moral respect of a God. However, they have invested time into preparing this report, and I am not afraid to reconsider some of the questions that exist regarding Estonia's minority policies.

Your thoughts are always welcome.

kolmapäev, detsember 06, 2006

Mina või?

Let me pose a serious question to you. Other than Russia, is there any other country that militarily threatens Estonia? Think hard. Do you expect Swedish tourists to sack the capital? British stag parties to occupy the Riigikogu? Angry Finnish dockworkers to shut down Estonian ports? Since the 14th century, has any other country, other than Russia, ever explicitly waged war against the Estonian people? Wasn't Russia also the country whose soldiers put up a sign saying "we'll be back" when they were forced to withdraw their presence in 1994? Don't Russian military planes routinely violate Estonian airspace?

Then why should the following comments from Major General Ants Laaneots be treated as anything but fact:

Major General Ants Laaneots, new commander of the Estonian Defence Force, who was appointed to the post on December 5, said in his first interview that he regarded Russia as the main threat to the security of their republic.

“We border on an unfriendly state, to put it mildly. Relations with Russia are our main problem from the point of view of ensuring our security,” he said in an interview, published by the Eesti Paevaleht newspaper on Wednesday. He believes Tallinn should rely on the NATO armed forces for neutralizing “the Russian threat”, and should take part in NATO missions.

As they say in the valley, "like, no duh." Anyway, these words drew a response from the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Greece:

Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov has suggested that the leaders of Estonia and Latvia should stop taking Russia and its people for extraterrestrials and should pay attention to the “impermissible heroizing of fascism.”

Ivanov spoke about it here on Wednesday after the talks with his Greek counterpart Evangelos Meimarakis.

“Using the diplomatic language, I could say that such statements evoke perplexity and concern, that they are impossible to understand,” Ivanov said, commenting on the interview of Major General Ants Laaneots, commander of the Estonian Defence Force, which was published by the local Eesti Paevaleht newspaper.

I love how Estonia and Latvia usually become the same country in the eyes of Russian foreign policy. These were comments from an Estonian general, yet he managed to work Latvia in there too.

But I feel their rapid response betrays the obvious, that the last thing they want while they meet with the French or the Greeks or the Italians as to be seen as threatening to an EU neighbor. They'll continue to act like chauvinistic pricks behind the scene, mind you, but in public they want everyone to know how much they love peace. So in a way, you could read Ivanov's comments as a good thing.

teisipäev, detsember 05, 2006

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

That's Mister Fred Rogers there, an icon of my and many others' childhood. Each day I would watch his TV program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and ponder like so many other children why he changed his shoes every time he came inside his house. But this blogpost is not devoted to shoes, it's devoted to neighbors and how you feel about them.

I am interested in learning from Estonians how they feel about four other nations: Swedes, Finns, Latvians, and Russians. These are the four neighbors of the Estonian people. Different Estonians are likely to know more about certain neighbors than others. Estonians from Valga probably know the Latvians well, while those in Jõhvi have a firm understanding of their eastern neighbors, the Russians. Estonians in Tallinn probably know Finns the best, while Estonians from the islands are in a position better than the others to know the Swedes. So tell me your impressions are, what you like and what you don't like, and simply what you know.

For your benefit, I will discuss my neighbors. As a New Yorker I have many neighbors, including people that live in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and, yes, Canada - both Quebecois and from Ontario. Here are my thoughts on each neighbor.

Let's start with New Jersey, perhaps New York's closest relative. People in New York look down on New Jersey as they have usually only seen it from a car window and smelled it from that position as well. The perspective is that Jersey is, in one way or another, dirty. Plus Jersey has no real cities. Its two population centers either commute to New York City or to Philadelphia. And the culture that Jersey does produce is ridiculed in New York. In Jersey Bruce Springsteen is "the boss" and Jon Bon Jovi is a native son that has done good. In New York, both of these guys are tolerated, perhaps privately enjoyed, but publicly mocked. And forget about their marketing schemes. Nobody really believes Jersey is the "Garden State" or wants to sink their teeth into a ripe "Jersey Tomato." Gross!

Beyond New Jersey is Pennsylvania. The line is that "Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between." It could be right. Pennsylvanians to New Yorkers, I think, come across as a bit more folksy and, yes, even Midwestern. Pennsylvanians have their share of all American working class roots, things that New York City dwellers find exotic. I mean, people in PA, as it is called, may have an uncle that worked in the coal mines! And it is hot out there in the Keystone State in the summer! There are so many parks for kids in PA, and so many memories of hot days sucking down sickeningly sweet lemonade. Uh oh, I am getting that gross feeling again ...

Connecticut, on the other hand, is a state I can deal with. Despite their somewhat more elitist attitude and inability to not dress preppie, Connecticutians, as I call them, are generally ok. The only thing is that I feel bad for them because no matter what they produce, it always seems to be less impressive than something from New York. I mean, do you want to listen to New York hip hop or Connecticut hip hop? Do you want to swimming at a sandy New York beach or a rocky Connecticut beach? See what I mean.

To their north are the people of Massachusetts, or Massholes as they are collectively known. Massholes love the Red Sox and hate the Yankees. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they harbor genocidal feelings towards all New Yorkers. You can tell them by their large pushy SUVs making their way back to Braintree with the ubiquitous "Yankees Suck" sticker on the bumper.

North of Mass. is Vermont, Howard Dean's turf.
I like Vermont because it is simultaneously culturally conservative and liberal. You can own as many guns as you want, listen to country music (you'll hear it on many radio stations up here) AND marry your gay partner in a civil ceremony. Traditionally Vermonters have disliked New York (Vermont was a part of New York during the colonial period). Vermont is known for skiing, all sorts of rugged activities, and Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. Not a bad reputation to have.

As for the Canadians, they are a plodding diplomatic-like people that fear, above all, confrontation. They are so friendly it is scary and will engage in such Good Samaritan behavior as letting you ride the public transit bus, even after your bus ticket has expired! At the same time, they are passive aggressive. I think they secretly also despise Americans and believe that the world would be so much better if Justin Trudeau was king of the world. Truth be told, they could be right.

pühapäev, detsember 03, 2006

West Grows Wary of 'Poisonous' Putin

I never thought I'd see the day where the murder of a Russian dissident topped a local shooting or a celebrity divorce on the cover of the New York Post. But, dear friends, that day has come to pass.

Today, every man, woman, and child that walked into a grocery store or deli in New York had two words staring back at them - Putin and poison. In some ways this phenomenon - of the West viewing Russian President Vladimir Putin as basically a low-life scumbag - to put it bluntly, is the result of the Anglo-American alliance failing to find new enemies in the War on Terror. Osama bin Laden hasn't released a video in awhile, Zarqawi is dead, Ahmadinejad just isn't that funny anymore, and well, Putin is just so easy to despise because he's your stereotypical short guy (5'7" / 170 cm) that enjoys imagining himself as powerful.

With Saddam sentenced to death, we need someone to fear and dislike, and Russia is certain to be as appetizing the second time around as it was 20 years ago. What is interesting though is that this is all happening because of the murder of Aleksander Litvinenko - a former FSB agent who said publicly that he was ordered to kill Boris Berezovsky. Hardly the kind of guy you'd cry for when compared to Anna Politkovskaja, whose books can be found in any quality public library across the US. Yet it is Litvinenko's death that just won't die, not Politkovskaja's. It perhaps is because he died on British soil, or because the polonium fall out from his death has been traced back to Russia, or perhaps because another 150 dead in Baghdad warrants a shrug of the shoulders in America these days.

Whatever the reason, the total lack of transparency of the Russian Federation leads Western media to speculate that a malevolent Putin ordered the hit with a Judo chop of his hand. While that explanation may have merit, it is also the easiest. Less attractive is the "rogue elements" hypothesis. That murky ex-FSB officers did it - and even if they are caught, it will be so much LESS fun than the "Putin did it" hypothesis. And so we continue to indulge in adding mystique to our newly discovered opponent, Vladimir Putin.

What does this mean for the world's only post-communist nordic country? According to Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, Estonians are "immoral" and "blasphemous" for equating Nazis and Communists. Most of the Russian media will have you believe that Andrus Ansip gives himself the old fascist salute in the mirror every morning. And, more realstically, relations are still shaky, as The Economist pointed out this week. Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians are secretly afraid that .. um, Putinists will come again and ruin everything ... again.

While that option is still relegated to "What if?" Internet discussion, I think a genuine foreign policy question for those who live in what Russia considers Pribaltika should consider is, "What can be done to ensure Russia doesn't see US as the enemy next time around?" As they stated through the SVR disclosure two weeks ago, they occupied the Baltics because they were "pro-German." If the Anglo and Russian relations continue to deteriorate, will Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians once again find themselves stuck between the devil and the Baltic Sea, with grinning Finns saying "tsk! tsk! you should have made Russian a second-official language, we told you so!"?

Anyway, things are not swell right now. The American government is weak, we are not accomplishing what we have set out to accomplish, and Putin has an 87 percent approval rating. Let's hope things stay balanced, if uneasy, through 2008 when we'll have a much better look at the lay of the land.

reede, detsember 01, 2006

What Freedom Is and Isn't

In the United States, we have an organization called the Ku Klux Klan. Its origins go back to the end of the Civil War, and an effort by the European-descended citizens of the American republic to reinforce their once superior position over non-Europeans, and often non-Protestants through fear and intimidation.

As much as I find the Klan reprehensible, I would gladly defend them in a court of law for their right to march and to be heard in a public place. Because I feel that, as bad as their message of hate is, I would prefer it be expressed with signs or flags with swastikas on them in a public place, than expressed with violence under the shade of night -- the only recourse for forbidden organizations.

Therefore, I disagree with the Estonian parliament's recent law banning the use of Nazi and Soviet symbols in public places. The Russians have decried the law, calling it "immoral". "I see the recent decision of the Estonian government as blasphemous from the moral standpoint," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Amman today. I'll tell you what's more insulting that the Estonian ban, Sergei -- telling the Estonian people that your generous "Soviet people" liberated them while they were busy putting bullets in Jaan Tõnisson's head. Telling Estonia that it is ungrateful for the way you carted Konstantin Päts off to Siberia to die in a psychiatric hospital, then dragging your feet on giving his personal effects back to the Estonian people. That is really insulting.

But as much of a jerk as Lavrov is, I still don't think symbols should be banned. SS veterans should be able to march just as Red Army vets should be able to march. The police should protect them, and the authorities must do their best to protect both, as "immoral" as individual police may find the citizens they protect. Because that is what freedom is. Let the jokers stand with their swastikas and their hammers and sickles - it is the people themselves that should let them know they are irrelevant, not the Riigikogu.

The banning of symbols is a false step for a democracy. In the US there are similar efforts to prohibit the burning of flags. But I oppose all measures that are taken by a government to inhibit speech, and this is one of them. It is not the government's business what symbols people choose to display. It is solely their duty to ensure that the people's speech is protected and is expressed peacefully. By banning symbols, Estonia becomes just as unreasonable as Russia, where they ban movies because they are afraid they will stir up ethnic tension.

I will have no influence on the decisions the Estonian government makes, but I hope that future governments will not take greater measures to destroy freedom of speech.

neljapäev, november 30, 2006

Estonia's Second Line

Does it ever seem to you like Estonia's politics are controlled by a handful of powerful individuals, yet at the same time there is an impressive "back bench" of political players that never seem to rise to the top?

It does to me. For some time now Estonia has been dominated by three men, Mart Laar, who recently assumed the helm of the union of Res Publica and Isamaaliit, Edgar Savisaar, the focal point of Keskerakond, and Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, who stepped into the vaccuum left by Siim Kallas when he moved to Brussels. With the exception of Ansip, both Laar and Savisaar go back at least 15 years in Estonian politics, and it is highly likely that both could regain control of the country several times before the retire.

But what of the other politicians with promise? Are they destined to play a game of musical ministerial chairs ad infinitum? I have to say I was a bit disappointed that Jaak Aaviksoo, the former rector of Tartu University, did not assume the helm of the IRL, when the parties merged earlier this year. I fully understand that Laar - who has had plenty of experience in politics - may have been the more pragmatic choice, but at the same time I was hungry for new blood as I am sure most people are.

And I wonder if a change in party leadership, if Rein Lang, for example, became head of the Reform Party, or if Siiri Oviir ran Keskerakond, would make a difference. Perhaps we would have a better idea about what exactly these parties stand for, beyond who leads them. It is my personal hope that the elections of 2007 will shake the Estonian political process up a bit. I welcome the Rohelised and whatever defections they might bring from parties as diverse as IRL and Eestimaa Rahvaliit. Hopefully a new balance can be achieved that moves beyond the current electoral see-saw.

Seething Bitterness

It's hard to get a sense of the Russian point of view on Estonia, but quite a few media sources publish Russian news in English, among them Regnum.Ru, which dedicated a lengthy editorial not about the NATO summit in Riga, but about Estonia's "ethnocracy":

"One could argue that Estonia has definitely earned the visit: by continuous criticism of Russia in all respects and its active support of the so-called “new democracies” of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldavia," writes the author, Sergey Artemenko.

"All this is to outline the essential: the easily imaginable joy with which Estonian politicians waited for the proof that, “if anything happens,” the US will not betray Estonia and will not let the events of 1940, when Washington without emotion gave up the Estonian republic to Stalin, be repeated," he writes.

In recent weeks, the Russian media has had a subtle change of heart over the occupation issue. Prior to Bush's visit, they almost uniformly mocked the history of the Baltics as recognized by every country in the world except Russia by hiding it in scare quotes. It was "the occupation" or "the so-called occupation." But since the release of once classified documents by the SVR, the media have invariably recognized that Estonian sovereignty was removed by Stalin. It hasn't become official yet, but it's quite a change.

In an echo of what has been to date Baltic history, Russia's media now freely writes: "In June 1940, Russia accused Estonia of forming a conspiracy together with Latvia and Lithuania against it, and issued an ultimatum, demanding among other concessions that more Soviet troops be allowed to enter the three countries.

In the following month, local communists loyal to the Soviet Union won parliamentary "elections" in all three countries, and in August these parliaments asked the Soviet government for accession to the Soviet Union. As a result, the three states were formally annexed."

With this final tidbit of history now being processed by Russia's media, if not its political elite, Regnum's Artemenko reacts to President Toomas Hendrik Ilves' statement that Russia is "not a priority" for Estonia with jealous hyperbole.

"For the president made it clear that there is no such country as Russia, and problems in relationship with it should not concern the great Estonian democracy, “whose task is to support countries who have chosen the way of independence and democracy and who do not give in to the pressure from some of their neighbors,” Artemenko writes.

Moreover, he is not only displeased, or at least ironic, about Estonia's changing status and relationship with Russia, but with his fellow citizens' views on Estonia as well. For Russia's politicians, he mocks the idea that relations can be normalized with Estonia. "Something else is surprising – the devout striving of a number of Russian politicians and diplomats to pretend that relationship with this country can be normalized. How many more “Bush visits” are necessary to convince some “doves” in the State Duma and foreign ministry that Estonia is not going to fix good neighborly relations with Russia and, especially, respect our national interests?" he writes.

I'd like to interject and ask Mr. Artemenko what exactly Russia's interests are in Estonia. Russia's Baltic fleet is based in Kaliningrad, and it has to sail between two old NATO partners - Denmark and Norway - to get out of the Baltic Sea. Russia is building a gas pipeline to Germany. Russia has its own large Baltic ports. So, why, except to satisfy some kind of 19th century geopolitical greed, would Estonia (pop. 1,3 million) be of any "national interest" to Russia? The fact remains that Russia has NO NATIONAL INTEREST in Estonia. But that's beside the point. Mr. Artemenko goes on not only to point fingers at pragmatic "doves" in the State Duma but to shame Russian businessmen in Estonia, who are becoming "Estonianized."

"Whatever tales the Russian businessmen say of their influence in Estonia, they will remain fairytales for naïve audience," Artemenko writes. "All the “influence” and the work of Russian business in the country end with gaining profit and an Estonian citizenship or residence permit, and, consequently, with the Russian businessmen turning into law-abiding Estonian citizens who will not dare to resist this state."

How one is able to sustain such quiet rage for 15 years is beyond me. Especially over a country like Estonia. It's just silly. Why waste all your type on something like this?

teisipäev, november 28, 2006

Bush in Tallinn

I have been alive for 27 years and, of the five presidents I have known first-hand, George W. Bush has not been my favorite. Historically, also, I have to say he would rank near the bottom of my list, somewhere between James Buchanan, who wrung his hands while the Civil War erupted, and James K. Polk, who presided over the "Manifest Destiny" mania that added the northern part of Mexico to the US.

But the presidents I do like have been loathed by many for public and personal reasons. Thomas Jefferson, who imagined a nation of intellectual farmers engrossed in direct democracy at the state level, was staunchly opposed by Alexander Hamilton. Woodrow Wilson, who was the first to imagine "peace without victors" was denied his League of Nations by Henry Cabot Lodge. And Bill Clinton, who I felt did a fair job of representing America, warts and all, was embroiled in controversies related to his personal life.

So it must be said that, while Bush is unpopular at home and abroad, he is still the president of the United States. It would have been swell if Warren G Harding or Calvin Coolidge had managed a trip to independent Eesti in the 1920s. But neither of them - both of whom were also greatly criticized - never made it. It's a pity too, because the visit of an American president is a great opportunity for a country to introduce itself to America, much like the visit of a British monarch was a great opportunity for Estonia to be seen and heard in the UK. That kind of exposure could have worked wonders in the past.

Tomorrow, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Bush will hold a press conference. Bush will most likely make statements that are cryptic and short [during his recent visit to Vietnam he said: "We’ll succeed unless we quit"] but Ilves, who is among the better orators in Europe, will also hold the podium. He will be seen - and heard - on the news worldwide. I don't know what he will say, but I do know that it will be unprecedented exposure for an Estonian president.

So the bottom line must be seen as this. Whatever your thoughts on Mr. Bush, any supporter of Estonia can only see this visit as a success for a country that gave Condaleeza Rice anxiety just 16 years ago. In the first Bush White House, such a visit would be seen as a pipe dream. Today, it's no big deal. And even the Finns are jealous. And please, somebody give W. some Vanilla Ninja kohuke!

neljapäev, november 23, 2006

Russia Fesses Up Ahead of NATO Summit

That's Harry Hopkins there, with Winston Churchill - the man who loved Ireland so much. According to the Russian SVR, they occupied the Baltics, but only with the approval from Britain and the US.

The SVR statement says a secret memorandum from the British Foreign Minister in 1942 describes the Soviet presence in the Baltics as "exactly in our interests from a purely strategic point of view."

It also quotes an agent's report from the United States in 1942, referring to a presidential aide identified only as Hopkins — apparently Harry Hopkins, a close foreign-policy adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"If the Russians want to have the Baltics after the war, then they will get them, but he does not think the Americans will say this publicly," the report says, summarizing Hopkins' position.

This is supposed to take the wind out of the sails of the Riga summit, but at the same time it confirms the truth - that the USSR occupied the Baltics because it saw them as a threat. Willingly joined? See ya later Soviet history :)

Today, I applaud the Russians. Open your archives more! Inquiring minds want to know!


Elagu eesti!

For those of you that are interested in this interesting term "occupation":

Hague Conventions of 1907. Specifically "Laws and Customs of War on Land" (Hague IV); October 18, 1907: "Section III Military Authority over the territory of the hostile State"[1]. The first two articles of that section state:

Art. 42.

Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.

The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.

Art. 43.

The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.

teisipäev, november 21, 2006

Nordic Council Contemplates "Re-branding" Estonia

When I first changed the tag line of Itching for Eestimaa to: "a blog about the world's only post-communist nordic country" many anonymous posters came out of the woodwork to verbally cap me in the knees for suggesting that Estonia, neighbor of Latvia and Russia, would have any business selling itself as Nordic rather than Baltic.

Yet, it appears that the Nordic Council is open to such ideas. Tomorrow the council will meet at Tallinn University to discuss how the Baltic Sea region can best be marketed to outside investors during a talk called "Regional Branding - An Asset in Times of Globalisation."

Estonia’s Minister for Regional Policy, Jaan Õunapuu, and Per Unckel, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, are keynote speakers. Other speakers will be Director Ole Frijs-Madsen, Baltic Development Forum and Director Liisa Hakamies-Blomqvist, from NordForsk.

Bengt Streijffert will talk about the Øresund Science Region between Denmark and southern Sweden, while Katri Liis Lepik will talk about Helsinki-Tallinn Euregio, as examples of the development of smaller regions. The day will conclude with two speakers from Estonia. Jaak Aaviksoo, Rector of Tartu Universitet, will look whether Estonia has an Estonian, Nordic or Baltic identity. The last Estonian parliamentarian, Mark Soosaar, will discuss whether Estonia belongs to today’s global world - with a look to the future.

In my experience as a member of the media that is routinely dealing with regional commercial initiatives, I think it is best to brand your markets from both a large regional-level and then a smaller, local level. So in the case of Estonia, acknowledgement of its membership in the Nordic market would be key for attracting investments - and I think it has been so some regards. But at the same time, promoting specific regions, like Helsinki-Tallinn is also key. For example, I have noticed that Scotland has been able to attract investment and interest by focusing in on its local competencies (which in the case of some industries means Edinburgh and its academic resources) rather than trying to compete solely as a UK market.

However, I think this "local branding" approach tends to favor more unexplored markets. Therefore, in Estonia I would like to see less focus just on Tallinn and more on growing other areas. Increasing investment in Tartu would benefit not just Tartumaa, but also neighboring counties. I also wonder if regional branding has to, in fact, be regional. For example the University of Tartu has many strong ties to the University of Turku and the University of Tampere. Could a "Tampere-Tartu" meme - for example, in pharmeceutical discovery - also work within the context of Nordic regional development?

These are all good questions for the Nordic Council, which apparently is begining to examine ways to sell the post-1991 Nordic market to the world. That will not only benefit Estonia - because the "Nordic" brand means both safe and competitive, but it will benefit the traditional Nordics, which are not growing as fast as Estonia and are reevaluating some of their taxation policies to create new opportunity.

pühapäev, november 19, 2006

Alternative Routes to Citizenship

There's a great story about Russian speakers in Latvia in this week's St. Petersburg Times, and I think it illustrates some ways in which Baltic naturalization policies have failed, particularly in Latvia. It has also got me thinking about solutions to the problems that come with statelessness. But first, an excerpt.

The last Russian tank rolled out of Latvia more than a decade ago. But Inesa Kuznetsova, 75, a resident here for more than 50 years, has little doubt where she calls home."My address isn't a city. My address isn't a town. My address isn't a street," says the dressmaker, who arrived from Leningrad during World War II. "My address is the Soviet Union."

Kuznetsova's address is, in fact, Bolderaja, a largely Russian-speaking neighborhood on the outskirts of Riga, where a former Russian naval barracks sits empty and signs in the supermarket are in both Russian and Latvian. Here, she inhabits a parallel universe that has little to do with Latvia. She watches a Kremlin-funded television station, eats Russian food, and has no intention of learning the Latvian language — "Why the hell would I want to do that?" — though she says her grandchildren are being forced to do so.

Kuznetsova calls it an "insult" that residents who arrived after 1940, when the Soviet Union occupied Latvia, must now take a naturalization exam to become Latvian citizens. She has not done so, instead pinning her hopes on a new "Russian occupation" of Latvia.

Obviously Kuznetsova's dream of a reoccupation of Latvia, which I guess would force Vaira Vike-Freiberga to flee one more time while Einars Repse finds himself escorted to a Siberian psychiatric hospital, is scary. And it's not just scary to Latvians. It's scary to Swedes, who are haunted by memories of Baltic refugees, and scary to NATO commanders who have sworn to defend the boggy meat in the Baltic sandwich, as City Paper puts it.

But beyond the shock factor, by reading this article I have come to this conclusion. One reason that people like Inesa Kuznetsova still think they belong to the Soviet Union is because they have not yet been invited into Latvia. If Inesa had the right to vote, would she pay more attention to who her president was and what parties were in the Latvian Saema? Maybe she would, maybe she wouldn't. But she would be forced to accept that she had a genuine relationship with a new state. Latvia. Today she is still stuck in the gray, and will most likely die that way. But for those who would look to prevent the kinds of attitudes that would welcome the destruction of their own homeland, perhaps citizenship could ease the mental transition.

Now Latvia is in a different situation from Estonia because Estonia has naturalized more than half of its non-citizens. There's still about 9 percent left of the total population to go. Therefore, you could call Estonia's citizenship policies successful, though they are controversial. But I am considering the idea that granting long-time residents of Estonia - perhaps only people that have been born there, and this INCLUDES those born after 1992 as the current law dictates - citizenship may in the long-term prove beneficial to the survival of the state. By eliminating a subcaste of discontents and by virtue of citizenship forcing them to join in the Estonian dialog, you can basically end that debate.

People in Estonia, and more understandably in Latvia, are worried that by granting citizenship to people that arrived illegally in the period between 1945 and 1991 and their descendants that they will be appeasing the Soviet Russification policies of the 1960s and 70s that led the nationalist backlash that resulted in the reinstatement of independence.

But I think that, at least in Estonia, without the support of Soviet or imperial Russian bureaucracy, this is something that is not to be feared. The false dichotomy of the 1960-90 period, where Estonians rapidly declined as part of the population and Russification policies were enacted at the federal level, is over. The Estonian language is the language of the majority, and in a state that is split 70/30 does it make more sense economically to teach the language of 30 percent to the 70 percent or vice versa?

Politically, those who would suffer the greatest would be right-wing politicians from Estonian people's parties like IRL. The knee-jerk reaction is that KESK would be able to rely on its ethnic Russian supporters, but I don't think that's true either. Surely, the non-citizens of Ida Virumaa would, if granted citizenship, also be inspired to vote for a party like Reformierakond, that wants to make Estonia one of the five richest countries in Europe. Or maybe they would prefer to vote for the Social Democrats or the Greens. Just because KESK has a better ground operation, doesn't mean it owns the ethnic Russian minority, because beyond being of Russian descent, they are also Estonians. They live there and have a future there, and perhaps they have more to worry about than a dead country their fathers belonged to.

I honestly don't think that the government will change its policy. It doesn't have to because the current one is moderately successful. But in light of information like the article about Latvia, I thought I would take the time to discuss other options. What are your thoughts?

reede, november 17, 2006

Eire and Eestimaa

For those of you who are "new" to Estonia and are English-language speakers looking for a good reference point, I suggest that you view Estonian-Russian relations the way that you may be apt to understand Irish-British relations. Like the Irish state, the Estonian state is founded on an ancient folk culture as opposed to your typical "Treaty of Westphalia"-inspired nation state, which usually had a king or queen presiding over an empire. And like the Irish state, the Estonian state's drive for independence was initiated by terrible administration by imperial rulers and historic grudges that go back centuries.

In regards to the Second World War, therefore, it is important to remember that just as some Estonians welcomed the German troops following the destruction of their government, annexation of their land, and mass deportations, the Irish people remained neutral, and were not exactly saddened when London was bombed during the blitz. Some Irish privately saw it as just rewards, just like some Estonians may be sympathetic to the Chechnyan cause. And just as the Germans looked to exploit Estonia's fear of Russia, the Germans similarly looked for partnership with Ireland. German occupation and British occupation were discussed as equally loathsome in the Irish Dail. And Ireland's neutral posturing went to the point that Eamonn de Valera, the Irish president (pictured), sent his condolences to Germany upon Hitler's death.

Winston Churchill attacked Irish neutrality during the war, which led de Valera to make the following comments in response:

Mr. Churchill is proud of Britain's stand alone, after France had fallen and before America entered the War.

Could he not find in his heart the generosity to acknowledge that there is a small nation that stood alone not for one year or two, but for several hundred years against aggression; that endured spoliations, famines, massacres in endless succession; that was clubbed many times into insensibility, but that each time on returning [to] consciousness took up the fight anew; a small nation that could never be got to accept defeat and has never surrendered her soul?

Mr. Churchill is justly proud of his nation's perseverance against heavy odds. But we in this island are still prouder of our people's perseverance for freedom through all the centuries. We, of our time, have played our part in the perseverance, and we have pledged ourselves to the dead generations who have preserved intact for us this glorious heritage, that we, too, will strive to be faithful to the end, and pass on this tradition unblemished.

By looking at the way Churchill and de Valera both interpreted history, and therefore the way both leaders saw their countries and neighbors at the same exact moment in time, you can begin to understand why Estonian lawmakers have such a hard time explaining themselves to Russian law makers and vice versa.

Like the Irish under de Valera, Estonians see their history within spans of thousands of years, while England as we know it is not even 1,000 years old yet. What may be the most important moment in one country's life - perhaps the Russian victory over Germany - is only a wrinkle in time for another culture. I think that anybody that is an outsider to Estonia and is trying to understand the country and its history, can find a worthy metaphor in Irish-British relations. Most metaphors are imperfect, but if you are looking for a baseline, this one could work well.

neljapäev, november 16, 2006

Party at the SAS Radisson!

Not only is George W. Bush coming to Tallinn on November 27, he's bringing 1,000 of his best buds with him, many of whom will stay at the SAS Radisson hotel where there is enough space. The Baltic Times reports:

US President George W. Bush, who is scheduled to arrive an a state visit to Estonia on Nov. 27, will be accompanied by nearly 1,000 employees of the US government, newspaper Eesti Paevaleht reported.

To support the historic visit by President Bush to Estonia, up to 1,000 officials of the US government will be working in Estonia to help their Estonian colleagues, spokesman for the US embassy Eric A. Johnson told the newspaper.
He said the US government opted for the Radisson SAS hotel in Tallinn primarily because of the capacity it offers.

“Radisson SAS was one of the hotels of Tallinn that met our requirements in terms of space,” the spokesman said.

Usually when you get 50 Americans in Tallinn, it's a recipe for trouble. But 1,000?! Estonians will be lucky if nobody dies bungy jumping off the top of the SAS. And giving Bush's recent electoral troubles, I'm sure he'll take advantage of a nice hot sauna and the abundance of low-price (non-alcoholic, of course) vodka during his stay.

To make sure nobody drives a Tere! Piim truck accidentally into the lobby of the Radisson, security precautions are being taken.

News agency BNS, reporting on the preparations, says that approaches to hotel Radisson SAS in the centre of Tallinn where the US President and persons accompanying him will be accommodated, will be blocked by concrete blocks and heavy lorries.

Already in August concrete blocks were ordered at several construction materials firms. It is supposed that a protective concrete belt around of hotel will pass a number of streets and sidewalks will be blocked by metal protections. For the period of the US President’s visit to Tallinn two large parking spaces will be closed in the city centre. Residents living in the vicinities of the hotel will be allowed to pass the security posts after they will show there IDs to security guards.

Great Moral Dilemmas of the 21st Century

I know all of you are sick of reading about World War II memorials. It's sort of played out, but it seems like the Bronze Soldier disease has spread from Tallinn to Moscow, where officials and analysts are now weighing in on the issue like it would make a big difference in their life whether the Bronze Soldier was there or not.

As Interfax reports today, Moscow Theological Academy professor and deacon Andrey Kurayev thinks the Estonian authorities should ‘go all the way and pull down not only monuments, but everything that the ‘occupant’ empires built in their country.’

He thinks they should start with the buildings of the Teutonic Order dominion time, proceed to the time of the Swedish rule, then to that of the Russian Empire, and finish with the Soviet period buildings.

‘As a result, Estonia will get rid of everything the foreign ‘occupant’ powers befouled its holy soil, thus setting up a unique European landscape reserve. The separate Estonian state would be able to develop its absolutely new life on this open field,’ Kurayev remarked.

Let's be clear here - Andrey Kurayev is a jerk. He's inferring that there is no organic Estonian civilization, which I think is a buried chauvanistic psychological complex of some in Russia today - that the "Baltics aren't real countries, anyway." Although Russian "culture" seems to be perpetually stuck in the 19th century - ballet, thousand-page novels, the Russian Orthodox church - there is still some belief that it is superior to the nordic pagan culture of the Estonians. They've got Swan Lake, and Estonia has Runo songs - that's the crux of this attitude.

But that aside, Kurayev has a point. The "occupation" argument holds no water in the debate over the monument. You might as well pull down the huge "Stalin house" across from Stockmann. That building scares the crap out of me - it looks like a fossilized dump from a Soviet dinosaur - but people preferred to tear down the older house across the street for the sake of traffic. They think, despite Stalin's indulgence in genocidal mania, that the house looks pretty cool and there's a nice furniture shop and casino in the first floor anyway.

One argument that does stand up is that there are soldiers buried at the site. While one could argue that that impedes any attempt for removal, it can be rationally argued the opposite way. That if "radical nationalists" like Jüri Liim and Tiit Madisson really do managed to tunnel under Tõnismägi through the basement of the national library and blow up the memorial, sending Red Army femurs and skulls blasting through the windows of the Kaarli Church, who will be to blame then? Will the same "glorifiers of fascism" then have "failed in their civic duty" to protect the graves of the dead?

See, that's why I like this topic so much. There is no right answer to any question. However, I do have some words of hope. I've been reading a pretty good book by Robert McNamara, the former secretary of defense under Kennedy and Johnson, and he notes that one of the key steps to ending interethnic conflict between warring peoples is common mourning for all dead - no matter what "side" they fought on. This is a shift in an outlook of revenge - ie. "your grandfather did this to my grandfather" - to one of common mourning for tragedy.

I think that if we apply this principle to the monument controversy, that the wisest course of action would be for both sides to jointly mourn the dead. What that means is that, if the statue is torn down, it is done so in a dignified manner with only the protection of the site in its interest. If it is left standing, then it should be used as a memorial to mourn the dead, instead of a victory celebration of one side over another side. The same should be applied to all war graves in Estonia, be they of German Nazis, Russian Soviets, or Estonian partisans. The term for this common honoring is "reconciliation" and it is a key step in securing a lasting piece between ethnicities.

But reconciliation doesn't just call on Estonians to mourn the Red Army dead - the brothers, fathers, uncles, and grandfathers of many Estonians. It also calls on newcomers to Estonia to mourn the Estonian dead, including its political leaders who were murdered by the Soviet state. Sadly, it usually resorts to name calling. People use the words fascist and communist as if they still had some meaning in an era where
Russia is as drunk on capitalism as Estonia is. Obviously, both sides have to make some concessions to reconcile their differences. But the supreme question is - "Are those concessions worth it?" I think they are.

teisipäev, november 14, 2006

estonia: the newest nordic entrepreneur

Honestly, I get a little tired of reading about Estonia, the post-communist success story. At the same time, I have to admit that this year, 2006 has been an important year for a country that had a very rough 20th century.

The point was driven home last week with the announcement that Eest Energia had bought a 76 percent share in a Jordanian oil shale company and will carry out a feasibility study into processing oil shale there. Granted, it was a $250,000 investment. But it also happened at the same time that the Estonian founders of Skype invested $2 million in Clifton, a Tartu-based semiconductor start-up.

For many years it has seemed that Estonia has functioned as something of a Nordic colony. Swedish and Finnish direct investments have made up 76 percent of the total direct investments in the economy. Now it looks like Estonians are taking that capital and are becoming themselves entrepreneurs. So for the first time ever, citizens of foreign countries could be calling Estonians "boss".

esmaspäev, november 13, 2006

The Ghost of Woodrow Wilson

At the end of World War I, US President Woodrow Wilson, a man who had known the terrors off war first-hand as a child growing up in Georgia in the 1860s, went with his top hat and a head full of ideas to France to attempt to sell the Great Powers the idea of future of collective security enforced multilaterally through a League of Nations.

While France, Britain, and Italy were busy dividing up the spoils of war at the expense of Germany, Wilson ominously forecasted that the "spoils system" would only create friction that would lead to future conflicts. World War II proved him right. Still, today most would see the submission of any country's right to act unilaterally to a supranational body as an extreme violation of national self-interest, the flipside being that conflict becomes again inevitable when a security consensus cannot be agreed upon.

In a current context, much of Russia's ruling elite sees the dismantling of a statue to the Red Army in downtown Tallinn as a humiliating affront to Russian power, even in a country where 25 percent of the population share its language and religion. They may see it as a punitive action aimed only at rubbing in the failure of the 1991 consensus between the US and Russia - that NATO would not expand beyond Germany, that Russia was no longer a threat, that the Cold War was over.

At the same time, Russia's unwillingness to truly recognize that countries can prosper without expansion or control over its "near abroad" (as former imperial Japan and Germany have learned to do quite well) has left its international pride vulnerable to the outbursts from people like Georgia's foreign minister who mocks the former hegemon's inability to control the free will of its neighboring peoples. The idea is that if Russia did have general goodwill towards Georgia, NATO membership would be useless.

However, it's 1991 anymore. It's not even 2004. And officials in Tallinn should carefully consider how much the dismantling of a Soviet monument in Tallinn is worth compared to the fallout it could create not just next year, but in an uncertain future. Does it really want to rub another Treaty of Versailles in the face of a Great Power, however diminished that power is? Is the humiliation to Estonians every May 9 exchangeable with the humiliation to Russians when their monuments are moved to cemeteries, their falled soldiers dug up in the center of a city and buried someplace less conspicuous?

Does the bulk of Estonia-centered "news" flowing forth from state-owned media outlets like RIA Novosti and ITAR-TASS really need to be about the resurrection of "Nazism" in Estonia? I personally do not think so. For some people, honoring the 20th Estonian SS Division is very important. For others, scrubbing the country clean of anything Soviet is another pasttime.

But the Tallinn I have come to know and love over the years has nothing to do with Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union -- it is a place where shabby buildings are torn down or dressed up to symbolize a country headed somewhere. That is what draws so many Americans to post-communist Europe - the ability to witness people working hard to rebuild countries destroyed by totalitarian power and a backwards economic system.

The glory of Estonia and its people is not to be found in an old Bronze Monument on Tõnismägi. It's to be found in the orderly suburb of Kalamaja where old wooden houses are quietly renovated and made new and new babies are born and young, optimistic families settle down to eat some Tere! Vanilla Pudding and watch Laulukarussel and all is magus and mõnus.

As Estonia braces itself for another full-frontal PR assault from its eastern neighbor, it might be worth a moment of reflection to ponder whether or not it is worth it.

reede, november 10, 2006

Honoring Estonia's Founding Fathers

This week Estonian right-wing parties, with the backing of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, introduced a bill in the Estonian parliament that calls for the removal of a controversial monument to the Red Army in central Tallinn. At the same time, the Russian Federation is moving forward with a United Nations resolution that will condemn xenophobia and racism.

Russia's professional flamboyant nationalist Vladimir Zhiranovsky is interested enough in the Bronze Soldier controversy that he has called for an economic blockade of Estonia, which I assume means gas and transport. Meanwhile Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves believes that the monument should remain and that Estonians should treat it as a memorial to those who died at the hands of the Red Army.

What I think is that this debate isn't over a monument. It's over the identity crisis of those who show up each year and wave the Soviet flags and lay red roses in the heart of their capital city -- a city that was bombed by men wearing that uniform. The monument has stood there for 15 years without a plan to relocate it, but the moment it became a source of conflict in Estonian society was when Estonians waving the flag of the Republic of Estonia were taunted and scuffled with those holding the flag of the Soviet Union.

Why anyone in Estonia would wave the flag of the USSR is beyond me. For beginners, those who came to Estonia after 1945 chose of their own accord to remain in Estonia after 1991. Russia is the biggest country in the world. What's more, it wants its compatriots back. Russian-speakers without citizenship also have always had the right to pursue Russian citizenship. So the fact is that, language laws and school reform aside, the Russians of Estonia have chosen Estonia over Russia.

Why? Why don't people want to leave Estonia, even if their human rights are violated, even if they are forced to speak that godawful Estonian language? Because the economic opportunities are better. As the Baltic Times recently noted:

For Baltic Russians, the program is too little too late. Sergei Sergeyev, who heads an association of Russian organizations in Estonia, summed up the situation perfectly. “The Estonian standard of living is higher, and life itself more peaceful,” he was quoted as saying earlier this year. “People here are used to amenities that cannot yet be found in Russia. If Russian youth in Estonia want to pursue a career outside Estonia, it’s the West – rather than Russia – they’ll head for.”

For almost two centuries, Estonia was a part of the Russian empire. During most of that time its people lived as peasants. When that outdated economic system was abolished in the first half of the 19th century, Estonians became educated, and generally came to the conclusion that they should run their own affairs. The revolution of 1918 gave them that opportunity and they took it. During the period of independence from 1920 to 1940, Estonia successfully reoriented its economy from East to West. The architects of this successful transition were men like Jaan Tõnisson, Aadu Birk, Ants Piip, and Jaan Teemant -- all of whom died at the hands of the Soviets.

Let me repeat to make myself clearly understood -- the Soviet Union murdered Estonia's founding fathers. Its Hamiltons, Madisons, Adams, and Washingtons. All died at the request of Moscow. The Soviet Union murdered the men that created the blueprint for the very country that is now successful enough that even those who disagree with its minorities policies begrudgingly admire its economic position.

All of this bodes well for Estonia. Though those who wave the flag of the USSR at memorial rallies may not get it, they themselves have endorsed the vision of Tõnisson, Piip, Birk, and others by simply staying in Estonia. They have voted with their feet on the issue of whether or not Estonian independence is paramount. They may have shouted "fascists" and lighted candles for the long dead Red Army - but the next day they woke up and went to school or went to work and continued to contribute by their very actions to the success that the USSR tried to keep at bay for 50 years.

In the late 1980s, Estonians once again sought independence for the benefit of their country. They looked at the standard of living in Sweden and Finland, and they knew once again that their country could do better going it alone than as a Soviet province. And despite the best wishes of Vladimir Lebedev's Intermovement, Estonia went in its own direction, and those ethnic Russian who have stayed have voted with their presence that it was the best decision.

So the final reality is this. Estonia's right wing parties need not trouble themselves with monument wars. Their economic policies have convinced enough of Estonia's newcomers that living and working in a second language is worth the price of admission. They might dislike Mart Laar's "history" but they sure like his economic policies. So what's the difference?

Second, those who commemorate the Red Army should ask themselves this: "Why are we celebrating the same guys who murdered our land's founding fathers?" Each resident of Estonia that stays in Estonia reaps the reward of the blueprints set by the men who achieved Estonian independence. If they like Estonia so much, maybe they should spend more time honoring the people who came up with the idea in the first place.

Of all the solutions, my guess is that Ilves has it right. Tearing down a statue won't solve anything. It will just take more time for some people to realize that 1918 has ultimately had more of an affect on their lives than 1944.