reede, september 15, 2006

The peculiar predicament of Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Imagine you were a foreigner not in one country, but in two countries, and maybe then you can begin to understand the peculiar predicament of presidential aspirant Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

One of the chief criticisms of Ilves is that he is a foreigner. He is not 'really' Estonian - ie. he did not spend his entire life there. That much is true. He was born in Sweden to Estonian refugees. There are thousands of these *Estonians around the world, from Australia to Canada. Most of them left, raised families in their adopted homes, and never looked back except for a vacation. In this way they are no different than any immigrant community.

But on the other side of the equation, many, like Ilves have returned. And those on the outside did work extremely hard to maintain Estonian visibility during the Soviet period. And when the wall came down, they came back. He came back. And he now lives in Viljandimaa. He renounced his American citizenship in the early 90s, and went onto serve the Estonian state.

Yet when he speaks English he speaks as an American. And his mannerisms and demeanor seem out of whack compared to the less-animated posture of the young person that is a product of the Estonian school system. He is Estonian, yes, this much is true. But when he looks into the camera, he smiles. When was the last time you saw Edgar Savisaar muster a big grin? Even Rüütel is incapable of the full-figured expression of joy. Rüütel is capable of looking happy or bemused, but that big dopey smile Ilves let slip every now and then? That's pure America.

But as American as Ilves is, he really isn't an American. Could Ilves pass as an American with his eurocratic style in any town in the USA? How many real Americans are fluent in a tongue other than English? How many of them would be willing to give up their citizenship to return to the lands of their ancestors? How many have served as the foreign ministers of a small European country thousands of miles across the ocean? How many of them have a foreign wife and foreign child and sit in Brussels and worry about Estonia all the time? Not many. There may be some in Washington, DC or Boston or elsewhere. But are these people genuinely American, or are they of that strange international breed of humanity which knows no true nationality? My money is on the latter.

And so Ilves sit on the way station of nationalities. His parents were Estonians. His wife is an Estonian and his child is an Estonian. But he, he in the eyes of *some*, is not an Estonian. He is not American. He is something else.

28 kommentaari:

radical sasquatch ütles ...

How widespread is this attitude--overseas Estonians, even those who've returned, are not "real" Estonians?

And how's this for an American question: have any polls been done on Estonians' attitude toward their exile community?

Giustino ütles ...

The most important community for them, I think, is the Swedish-Estonian community. That's where the Estonian government was in exile from '44 to '91.

Outside of that though, I am unsure. This is a question for the *real* Estonians out there.

cbr ütles ...

As long as they come back (and bring something valuable back with them), I don't have anything against foreign Estonians. The fact that they bother to come back here shows, that deep inside they really ARE Estonians and maybe have been abroad just to prove something to themselves (that they can succeed in the career ladder etc). But ofcourse I don't represent the opinion of all Estonians, I hope the younger generation atleast thinks so though.

Arrow Header ütles ...

"But he, he in the eyes of many (a picky one million) is not an Estonian."

Bold words, man! Bold words!
I, for one, as an Estonian, DO consider him an Estonian. An Estonian who has seen the world. But still, an Estonian. Nothing else.

So, I would think twice before talking on behalf of the whole Estonian community.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Had it that Ilves embraced Savisaar and cried on his shoulder, he would immediadly be proclaimed by him history's most Eestonian Estonian. Had he come from the swamps of Lääbemaa, never set foot abroad, but opposing the left he would perhaps get him to be accused of being too much Estonian.

Martasmimi ütles ...

This is a curious discussion because in the USA when someone asks you what nationality you are (a common question) most will respond "oh, half Italian - half Irish". They, like me would never think to say that they were "American" even if it has been hundreds of years since anyone from their family lived in their county of origin.
Yes I am an American but like most others I always go back to my family roots when I answer this question.
My granddaughter is 1/2 Estonian.
She will always be that even if she lives in this country, marries and has a family of her own.
When asked the question she will always answer "I am 1/2 Estonian" I think thats a nice thing!

Giustino ütles ...

So, I would think twice before talking on behalf of the whole Estonian community.

I should have said 'some' - I'll go back and change my post. Ma olin kanapea!

Kruvi. ütles ...

Ta on siiski parem, kui Arnold Rüütel, kes räägib palju, kuid ütleb vähe.

He's still better than Arnold Rüütel, who is the other canditate, who speaks a lot but tells so less.

Anonüümne ütles ...

I consider him as Estonian. I think that 'real' Estonians are those who come here, and they know about history and they are concerned about Estonia and they know our language etc. I don't consider a person who doesn't know anything about his/hers native country, don't speak the language, and really doesn't care - now that is not an Estonian.

KRISTIN ütles ...

Of course he's Estonian! I concider everyone Estonian who has Esstonian genes in them. It's just a fact, why mess with facts???

And btw, i don't think those that came up with his foreign "smell" would take it too seriously. It's just a lobby-thing.

GO ILVES!

Tuuli ütles ...

I consider Ilves an Estonian; however, this doesn’t make him acceptable for me. These elections are so miserable and depressing, as there are no good choices. I will not even talk about Rüütel’s weak points. As for Ilves, his only advantage is fluent English. And probably his smile, as you mentioned. We don’t really know his political views; I mean, he’s a SD formally, but it seems to me, not de facto. From what I’ve heard from Riigikogu, he hasn’t been very smart there…He’s not wise enough, it seems; I mean real deep wisdom and understanding, not knowledge of facts. Most people who support him don’t even bother to find out what he thinks – it’s enough that he’s not Rüütel.

I don’t think Ilves would be a good choice in our current society, as he DOES seem foreign and remote to maarahvas and elder people. Their feelings should be respected as well, just as the feelings of those who don’t want any former, “red” leaders.

The political parties should have picked someone less controversial, why not Aaviksoo, for example.

But all reasonable candidates were dropped on purpose. All the parties make me so angry now:(

Giustino ütles ...

But all reasonable candidates were dropped on purpose. All the parties make me so angry now:(

That's politics. In 2004 we had to choose between John Kerry and George Bush. Out of 300 million people that's the best that we could do.

Giustino ütles ...

I don’t think Ilves would be a good choice in our current society, as he DOES seem foreign and remote to maarahvas and elder people.

Eh, I remember back in March when it seemed like Rüütel wouldn't even have a challenger. When Ilves announced that he would do it, I was pleased.

Making the jump from post-1991 to entrenched democracy is going to be a bit of a painful one for Estonia. In 1990, 91, 92 - an established cast of characters emerged - Lennart Meri, Edgar Savisaar, Arnold Rüütel, Mart Laar.

All of these people played a role in regaining independence. But does that mean Estonia owes them in perpetuity for their actions. Does the 2006 version of Rüütel get to be president for what the 1989 version of Rüütel did?

Sooner or later the power will be handed off to someone less known. Now things will seem uncertain. That is the nature of democracy - neverending anxiety.

I do think Ilves did a good job as a foreign minister, although I wasn't paying attention when he was in that position.

His speeches and articles still get quoted when people write stories about Estonia, because he was able to 'frame' Estonia in a way that made sense for foreigners.

Here's a good Q&A with him from the City Paper. The guy does have a brain, despite his 'Russian jewish' heritage and his 'fondness for drink' -

http://www.balticsww.com/news/features/selling_estonia2.htm

Kaur ütles ...

I saw Ilves on TV today, for a first time in years (I don't watch much TV but I was at my parents-in-law and they do). And I immediately thought "my god, he is not Estonian. His language, his manners, his expresson - it is foreign. But not too foreign for a president who, in some way, should be different and detached from the ordinary man."

Giustino ütles ...

His language, his manners, his expresson - it is foreign.

He probably moved his hands and raised his voice at certain times. A dead give away.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Again: Tiny Estonia will not be heard if she gets some trouble again. Nobody will take notice with a president who ist not familiar with outlandish. Estonia is still to be explained to the foreign world. Why do they exist after all. Too small!

tuuli ütles ...

Jens-Olaf, maybe tiny Estonia exists for itself:) I don't think anyone needs to be known or noticed for a meaningful existence. You don't think you are "too small" if certain (amount of) people do not know you, do you?
Our lives here are just as real as people's lives in any other country, big or small:)

KRISTIN ütles ...

GOD I want to get outta here!!!!!
It really is too small and the people here is small and it thinks small :(

I wonder why Ilves came back after all, I wouldn't.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

as I said previously, the Russians are to play a role in the game

http://www.regnum.ru/english/polit/708005.html

cbr ütles ...

Indeed, the Russians have a role to play. In my opinion the rightist parties should be lobbying more amongst the Russian community. It's basically all Keskerakond's backyard at the moment. Although the Russian minority wouldn't be exactly crazy about Isamaaliit's pro-Estonian propaganda because they kind of feel left out etc.
That communist guy in Pealtnägija today made me feel sorry for him. Poor bloke, still living in the past. Narva is like a "lost city" to Estonia because it will take hundreds of years to make it "Estonian" again. The Russians are just such a large majority there. And the closeness of "mother Russia" doesn't force them to become more of an Estonian either, they can even have the luxury of living in Estonia but having a Russian citizenship for travelling etc.

Ida-Virumaa is a big problem area concerning demographics. Or as we jokingly thought one day (considering the events in Transnistria, or whatever it's called in English, the province of Moldova), that if Ida-Virumaa would want to join Russia then we'd let them, if there only wouldn't be those damn power plants and oil shale mines :P

Giustino ütles ...

In my opinion the rightist parties should be lobbying more amongst the Russian community. It's basically all Keskerakond's backyard at the moment.

I don't know if Isamaa is cut out for it, but Reformierakond definitely should be out there.

Reformierakond's big message is "prosperity" - and that surpasses nationality.

And why can't the Social Democrats cut through the Center Party's leftwing advantage?

If they were true social democrats, they wouldn't have much trouble promising the usual Keskerakond fair - higher pensions, higher average salaries, vote for me and you'll get a free new toilet, etc. ...

Giustino ütles ...

that if Ida-Virumaa would want to join Russia then we'd let them, if there only wouldn't be those damn power plants and oil shale mines

I think it's more of a defense issue. Not like it matters much, but there is an actual river separating Narva and Jaanilinn.

theorist ütles ...

What do you mean by his "'Russian jewish' heritage"? I didn't see that in the City Paper interview.

Anonüümne ütles ...

I am native estonian from Ida-Virumaa and I am really angry when somebody thinks that russian immigants from 1950-1980 have any rights to join Russia! (Oled ikka DOWN!) But they dont want that anyway!
And Toomas H. Ilves dont smile a lot!!! What about being small...from what huuuuuge empire are you from Jens-Olof?

Giustino ütles ...

What do you mean by his "'Russian jewish' heritage"? I didn't see that in the City Paper interview.

There were some reports in the Estonian press that Ilves' maternal grandfather may have been a Russian Jew, I believe. I am sure that Päevaleht and Ekpress covered it to some extent.

Giustino ütles ...

I am native estonian from Ida-Virumaa and I am really angry when somebody thinks that russian immigants from 1950-1980 have any rights to join Russia! (Oled ikka DOWN!) But they dont want that anyway!

They are an interesting bunch. I mean many have no citizenship and then there are the language laws. But the biggest protests don't come out of Narva - they come from Moscow. Interesting.

Anonüümne ütles ...

There isnt actually anything interesting in russians in Ida-Virumaa. Usual gostarbaiters.
I am so angry when somebody speak about things he have no idea. Its very beautiful nature in Ida-Virumaa, economy develope fast, we have lack of working power. Living standars are so much higher in Estonia that russians want to visite Russia, but not return. And these people are not russians, but more russian-speakers. Mix of ukrainians, russians, bielorussians, finnish so on.
CBR...Sa liiguta oma tagumikku Tallinnast ja vaata mis mujal
Eestis sünnib ära pasunda oma
lollust kogu maailmale!!! Pealtnägija pole tegelik elu!
Mis demografic crisis? Ida-Virumaal on mingi 4. sündivus Eestis! Oma totakad Transnestria naljad võid kah omale hoida! Ja f....g oli-shale toob Sulle f....g elektri tuppa! Kui Sa ei saa mu jutust éestikeelsest jutust aru võin inglise keeles üle korrata!

olaf ütles ...

I,as an Estonian refugee child, who has lived 12 years in Germany and thereafter 50 years in the U.S., disagree strongly with the assertion at the beginning of the article that Estonians "were no different than any immigrant community". Not true. Most Estonians who left Estonia in 1944 were not immigrants (or emigrants from an an Estonian perspective) but rather refugees who fled for their lives ,or at least their freedom, from the communist Russian terror. Their fervent hope was that Estonia's freedom and independence would be restored after the war and that they would return. Most, like my parents, did not want a new home but longed to return to Estonia. Of course, during the postwar years that hope faded and the refugees came to terms with their environments. But many continued to cultivate their identity as Estonians through language and activities. These were both cultural and political, aimed at keeping alive the undeniable right of Estonia to be free and independent again.
Personally, although I have been very successful both professionally and financially due in part to the great opportunities available in the U.S.,Estonia's regaining of its independence lifted a dark cloud that had hovered over me all these years. The sun shines more brightly now and there is more spring in my step. When asked for my passport on my first trip back to Estonia, I replied,"The blue-black-white passport is in my heart."
In Estonia, I do not feel as a foreigner at all. My relatives and others and I speak the same language, more than in the literal sense. Although our life experiences are quite different and our perspectives on some issues may sometimes diverge,the tie that binds us is so very strong. Happiness is to be in Estonia and watch the dawn meet dusk on a midsummer night.
I have also helped Estonia in my way, I think, and, without waxing morbid, plan to leave a good portion of my estate to an organization in Estonia that advances Estonian competiveness and well-being.
I suspect that the current President Ilves had also maintained his Estonian identity abroad during the long dark years of Russian occupation because of his love for Estonia. Most of the Estonians who did not flee and their offspring understand this and appreciate the refugees' efforts to keep reminding others of the right of Estonia and the other Baltic states to be free.
Elagu Eesti, mu isamaa!