In my parents' garage, there sits a LIFE magazine issue from 1953. On the cover is a photo of Richard Milhous Nixon, the man who would become our 37th president and whose name would become synonymous with untrustworthiness, the way the name "Clinton" has epitomized the oversexed male and "Bush" seems destined to become a metaphor for "aloofness" or "incompetance" [which is kind of funny considering that the first President Bush was also considered aloof from the reality of American life.] But in 1953, Nixon was one of the good guys. In fact, the title of the magazine article was, "Nixon, a Vice President Who is Making Good."
This was at the height of the Cold War, and before he resigned in 1974, the feather in Nixon's cap was that he was a staunch anti-Communist, who came from a generation of men who had perhaps tinkered with left-wing ideas in the 1930s when the nation's economic system crumbled and many were intrigued by the promises of socialist ideology in response to that problem. Nixon, in other words, was clean when the Cold War started. And therefore the statement "Only Nixon Could Go to China" was circulated to mean that only a staunch anti-Communist could visit the heart of Asian communism. Only Nixon could shake hands with Mao Tse Tung and not have to aggressively scrub his hands clean later. Meeting Mao in 1972 was not a great political liability for Nixon. You can imagine that if Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern had done the same, Nixon's peers would have been the first to criticize them as being "cozy with communism." Nixon's critics did not successfully mount that kind of campaign.
With that in mind, I propose the following successor statement - only Ilves can go to Moscow. Ilves has a communism-free biography. Not only that, his life story reads like a history of post-war Estonia in brief. He was born in exile in Sweden and returned with the restoration of the republic. He is the anti-Communist embodied, because in the Soviet mindset those who left their country supposedly betrayed it. But here he is serving in its highest post. In Soviet history, the thousands of Baltic refugees were scantly mentioned, because they were living evidence that the USSR did not liberate the Baltic countries. Ilves existence, especially now that he is president-elect, does much to undermine the perspective that is cherished in the east.
There are a number of issues that are affecting Estonian-Russian relations right now that need to be dealt with promptly. One is the border treaty issue. While the Estonian-Russian border has functioned as a regular border for 15 years, the lack of an actual agreement is symbolic as the incapability of Estonia to normalize relations with the Russian Federation. It also gives the RF one remaining tool in its diplomatic arsenal to use against Estonia.
The second, and greatest issue, is the undefined citizenship of the Russian-speaking minority. Without seeking to minimize the importance of the ethnic Russian minority, Estonia also has a number of other minority groups of significant size - namely Ukrainians (2 percent), Belarussians (1 percent), and Finns (1 percent). However, none of the states that represent those ethnic groups seem concerned about their status in Estonia. The Russian government is concerned with the legal status of the 26 percent of Estonian residents that are ethnic Russians. But still, non-citizenship doesn't affect all of them, it affects about 9 percent of them.
Something tells me that this remaining 9 percent of the population is going to be exceedingly difficult to "digest" into the Estonian citizenship. But Estonia's program to naturalize these 120,000 - 130,000 people is not happening in a vacuum. The Russian government has also recently authorized a program to aid foreign compatriots in repatriating to Russia. Would it be too much of a stretch to think that these programs could work symbiotically? That there could be a joint Estonian-Russian "citizenship campaign" that will work to end the citizenship issue by presenting non-citizens with three funded options - 1) naturalize in Estonia, 2) naturalize in Russia, and 3) repatriate to Russia. The last option may be appealing to both young persons looking for opportunities where they don't have to learn Estonian and old pensioners who simply do not have the capacity to relocate without state assistance.
While working with Russia could have a negative connotation for many Estonian politicians - Savisaar comes to mind - having an Estonian president like Ilves, who cannot even speak Russian take interest in solving the problems with Russia might be acceptable to all parties and safe for Estonia politically. Though Ilves himself doesn't have the power to launch such a campaign, he does have the ability to influence policy and public opinion.
On the other hand, recent Russian foreign policy has been characterized as "sowing instability." Russia perhaps would ignore such a move by Estonia because solving these problems might not be seen as being in its interest. However, by showing an effort to improve ties, Estonia might win more confidence in the international arena. And that kind of confidence is valuable when the shit hits the fan.
What do you think?