teisipäev, mai 30, 2006

Nordic? Defense? Mwahahahahahah.

Remember the Winter War where Finns young and old bound skiis to their feet and defeated Stalin's invasion of Finland? Ok, so maybe you don't, but that was the highlight of Nordic military prowess in the 20th century.

Other Nordic countries, like Sweden, just decided to let Hitler do as he pleased. Denmark surrendered, Norway had to endure Quisling's Vichy-like regime, Iceland went fishing, and Estonia? Well, Estonia didn't listen to Laidoner.

But now, the Nordic defense ministers are cooperating, and the EU's Nordic battalion, which includes troops from Estonia, Finland, Norway, and Sweden this week opened its headquarters in the Swedish city of Enköping.

Meanwhile Jürgen Ligi, Estonia's defense minister is also in Enköping to dream up scenarios where they could possible use the Nordic Battalion Group - perhaps defending Lake Peipsus from drunken Russian fishermen, or defending the Faroe Islands from drunken Faroese fishermen or...

Defence Ministers from Sweden, Norway, Estonia, and Finland are taking part in a workshop Tuesday here on coordinating activities.

The four countries are members of the Nordic Battle Group, a rapid reaction force, which is to be ready to work with the European Union during the first half of 2008.

Tuesday’s workshop, at the home of the Uppland regiment in Enköping, includes a series of fictitious scenarios where the defence ministers will discuss cooperation and decision-making on the national, joint, and EU level.

Eesti Mayor of Mälmo to be Tried for Junket

From The Local, Sweden's News in English:

A senior Social Democrat politician in Malmö will go on trial this August charged with taking bribes.

Municipal commissioner Ilmar Reepalu is accused of accepting a free trip to Africa from businessman Dan Olofsson. He is being charged together with former governor of Skåne Bengt Holgersson. Olofsson is being charged with bribery.

"I think that this will be over with before the election," Reepalu told Swedish Radio.

Sweden goes to the polls on September 17th

According to Swedish Wikipedia, Reepalu was born in Estland in 1943 but found some very important reason to relocate to Sweden as a youngster.

Las õpime jälle!

OK, I have a limited amount of time so here are my five new words -

Lahkuma - see tähendab "to depart" inglise keeles. Mu lause on -

"Järgmine Silja laev lahkub kell 17:00."

Teine sõna on kuumutama. See tähendab "to simmer." Ma proovin -

"Las riisi kuumutab pottis pool tunneks."

Ja järgmine on äädikas. Äädikas tähendab "vinegar" inglise keeles. Proovime -

"Inglismaal söövad nad kala ja krõpsud äädikasiga."

Tegilukult mina olen lugenud menuud eesti keeles, sest et mu järgmine sõna on purustama. See tähendab "to crush" inglise keeles. Nii -

"Kui te tahaks teha veini, siis te peaks purustama viinamarjad."

Viimane sõna on libu. Libu tähendab "harlot" inglise keeles. Nii -

"Kui sa tahaks leida üks odav naine, siis mine Molly Malone'sse laupäeval õhtul, sest et palju libusid hangivad seal."

Ja see on kõik (ja tore)!

pühapäev, mai 28, 2006

The Politics of Pronks

First, dear readers, I would like to apologize for writing another post about the most controversial monument in Tallinn. However, I was thinking, and thinking, and then thinking some more about how this will play politically, and I came up with a few basic thoughts. Being an American and an Atlanticist who believes that World War II was more about power and geography and less about ideology, I am perhaps biased in the eyes of some readers. Well - whatever - here are a few main political observations on this controversy.

1. This is bad for Tallinn mayor Jüri Ratas. Ratas, as mayor of Tallinn and a member of what appears to be the most popular party in Estonia, Keskerakond, should have been front and center in this debate. Instead he's been invisible, wondering what all the fuss is about. His nonchalant attitude about the memorial shows him catering to his "nostalgic for Communism" base - funny considering that the USSR died when he was a spotty 13 year-old. He might preserve KESK's hold on the "nostalgic for Soviet times" crowd, but his lukewarm defense of the controversial soldier will cost him big in the "character" category.

2. This is also bad for Isamaaliit AND the future Isamaaliit-Res Publica Union. With its smart ties and Eurospectacles, Res Publica seemed like Isamaaliit for the 2000s. Isamaaliit - it's name translates as "fatherland union" was the more old fashioned, genuinely patriotic party, with roots going back to 1987. Most of its members probably are nothing but Estonian patriots. But the high profile media attention given to certain Isamaaliit members like Kalev Rebane, and other skin heads, leaves a bad taste in anybody's mouth.

3. This is actually a win for the Reform Party. Andrus Ansip's commitment to moving the soldier to a cemetery - where most war monuments are located - and out of central Tallinn speaks less about what the monument stands for, than the fact that there is a Soviet memorial in central Tallinn that is a lighting rod for conflict. The Soviet nostalgia parties every May 9 don't help. With Isamaaliit and Res Publica voters pondering their future following the merger of the two parties, many could jump ship and move to Reformierakond.

4. This hurts Edgar Savisaar's presidential ambitions. Savisaar's belief that the monument should stay there reinforces the attitudes of his opponents that he is nothing but a Soviet-style yes man, an Estonian slave with a Russian master. Just read the comments on Postimees and you can see how deeply in hate some people are with the guy.

5. This helps the presidential ambitions of Toomas-Hendrik Ilves. Because where is Ilves these days? He's in Brussels. Far away from skin heads, spray paint, red flowers, and the bronze soldier in central Tallinn. He has said little if nothing on the matter, and he shouldn't have to - he's in the European parliament, it is wholly out of his jurisdiction. So as the mud flies, none of it lands on him.

laupäev, mai 27, 2006

An interview with Aili Jõgi

We were discussing the two girls that destroyed the first monument to Red Army soldiers in Tallinn - a wooden one - before the occupation authorities decided bronze would be more fitting, and less easy to destroy. Well if you ever wondered what happened to the two girls that blew up the first Soviet memorial in downtown Tallinn 60 years ago, now's your chance.

Aili Jõgi was less than 15 years old when she, and her neighber Ageeda got rid of the first memorial there. She spent her 15th birthday in an NKVD prison. She was allowed to leave Siberia in 1970.

A key moment in her interview:

"Ja mis tehti meie presidendiga? Ma mõtlen siis, kui Lennart Meri kirst toodi Kaarli kirikust välja ja kirstuga auto läks sellesama punasõduri eest läbi. Kas nad tõesti ei saanud teiselt poolt minna?! Kas matuse korraldajail üldse aru peas ei ole?!"

"And what did they do with our president? I think that, when Lennart Meri's coffin came out of Kaarki Kirik, the car coffin went right in front of and past the Bronze Soldier. Couldn't they really have gone the other way? Didn't the organizers have any common sense?"

Jõgi says she took up the discussion of the memorial with Tallinn mayor Jüri Ratas, but he decided, after a lot of thought, that it didn't bother him.

Uskumatult loll avaldus... Poisslinnapead ei häiri, kui tema linnas on pisuke maalapp, kus Eesti riigi lipp ei tohi lehvida, aga punalipp tohib.

"This was an incredibly stupid statement...it doesn't disturb the boy mayor [she refers to him as poisslinnapea throughout the piece, Ratas is 28 years old.] that his city used to be a little chunk of land where it was prohibited to wave the Estonian Republic's flag, but it was permitted to wave the Red flag."

reede, mai 26, 2006

Laanet Bans Pronkssõdur Protests

Estonian Interior Minister Kalle Laanets is your typical Estonian public servant - young and faced with difficult decisions. At age 41, he is of the same generation of post-Soviet leadership as Finance Minister Aivar Sõerd and Education Minister Mailis Reps - people born long after WWII yet somehow caught up in the historical melee.

Can you believe that? Fighting over history? So angry that you are willing to become agitated and violent for something that has actually little bearing over your life here and now, in the present? It happens everywhere. It's some kind of human disease.

Well anyway, as of today rallies for and against the bronze soldier in central Tallinn have been banned. That means that neither Tiit Madisson from Isamaalit nor Vladimir Lebedov - a founder of Intermovement and an opponent of independence from the 80s - can hold rallies and argue about who killed who in World War II in front of the controversial memorial and May 9 party zone.

While the move seems undemocratic, banning sounds scary, it's actually not. It's fairly common to not allow protests in certain municipal areas in this zion of democracy known as the United States of America. And it is a safety issue.

But it has attracted the attention of international media.

Karvased Päevasõnad

Ok, several of today's words come from Mõmmi Aabits, a song to which my daughter knows all of the words.

Täna esimene päevasõna on sarnane. See tahendab "alike" inglise keeles. Siin on minu lause -

Tõnis Kasemets on Markko Märtini sarnane.

Nümber 2. Küpsetama. See tahendab "to bake" inglise keeles. Minu lause -

Kaur praegu küpsetab küpsid köögis.

Kolmaks sõnaks meil on arendama. See tahendab "to develop." -

Anstile meeldib oma auto arendama.

Järgmine päevasõna on abiratas. See tahendab "training wheel" inglise keeles.

Mõned blogijad oli kirjatanud, et Tallinna linnapea on Jüri Abiratas, mitte Jüri Ratas.

Ja me lõpetame sellega, Karvane. See tahendab "furry" või "hairy" inglise keeles.

Ruhnu karu on kindlasti karvane!

neljapäev, mai 25, 2006

...Ja Veel

OK, I think I have found some more words to learn for today. Täna hommikul ma sõitsin rongiga tööle. Need on minu päevasõnad.

Lurr - ma õppisin seda sõnat eile õhtul Epuga. Me lugasime 'Laps ja Toit' - üks ajakiri Eestist. Siis, see on minu lause lurrile.

Liisu isa ütles et Linnaleht on mingi lurr.

Järgime sõnad on 'meeles pidama,' mis tahendab 'to remember.' Ma tõesti ei tea kuidas õelda seda veel. Tavaliselt ma ütlen 'maletama.' Aga las ma leiutan midagi -

Sina pead meeles oma telefoni numbrit!

Okei. Järgine asi on Uskuma. Lihtne,jah? Ei.See on minu vale lause. Palun api!

Uku usub maausk.

Järgmine sõna on stereotüpiline imelik Eesti sõna. See sõna on 'Iialgi,' ja ma mõtlen et see tahendab 'never.' Proovime -

Inno ütles et ta on iialgi käinud Kärdlas.

Viimane päevasõna on 'Valdama,' ja see tahendab 'to be fluent.' Minu viimane lause on see -

Vambola valdab vabalt Võru keeles.

kolmapäev, mai 24, 2006

Õpime Sõbrad!

OK, so I have two main missions in life - Mission 1 - make music. Mission 2 - õppida eesti keelt. The missions are not exactly in that order.

In order to increase my Estonian skills I have decided to put together vocabulary lists. Today's words/phrases to be learned are the following -
Lasema Õhku
Plehku Panema

Knowing the basic meanings is the easy part. 'Lasema õhku' means to 'blast away.' I learned this from Jüri Liim in Postimees. The phrase can be used like so, I believe:

"Jüri Liim tana hommikul ütles et ta tahaks laseda pronkssõduri õhku."

'Plehku panema' I learned from E Nagu Eesti. I think you can use this one like so:

"Epp proovis püüdma Martat, aga Marta panes plehku."

'Suurepärane' is an adjective. I think it should be easy to incorporate. It seems like a synonym of 'täiuslik' and 'imehea.' So it can be used like this:

"Oi oi oi, vanaema. Sinu klimpisüpp on tõesti suurpärane!"

'Lööma/Lüüa' looks less promising. Let's try this one in the past tense.

Eesti löös Taani üleeile jälgpallis.

Bear with me. I know this is frustrating to watch...Ok, here's our final term, 'kunagi.' Oh, it would be nice to know how 'mitte kunagi' and 'nähagi' are different. But let's try 'kunagi.'

Mart söi pitsat ühest restoranist Tallinnas, aga ta oli häige sellel õhtul. Ta ütles mulle et ta ei viitsi süüa seal samal kohal mitte kunagi.

I await your many corrections...

teisipäev, mai 23, 2006

At Postimees, It's All Pronkssõdur, All the Time!

What do you see when you look into the eyes of the Pronkssõdur ('bronze soldier') near the Estonian National Library in Tallinn?

Do you see the defiant look of the Red Army soldiers that drove Hitler's troops out of Pribaltika? Or do you see the manical laugh of the men who loaded your grandmother into a cattle car bound for Siberia? Or do you just see an ugly, bronze dude in a cape (how many soldiers back then wore capes? Come on!)

I regularly read Postimees, one of Estonia's daily national newspapers, and today has been Pronkssõdur day - the day where every leading news story is about what different important - and not so important - people in Estonia think about this guy.

One really important person who made his opinion clear today was Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, who told Eesti Radio that:

Kõige enam sümboliseerib see pronkssõdur seal okupatsiooni ja sellist ausammast okupatsioonile me Tallinna südalinnas Kaarli kiriku kõrval taluma ei peaks.

Basically, "the bronze soldier is a symbol of occupation that doesn't belong next to the Kaarli Church in the heart of Tallinn."

Ever the cautious public servant, Villu Reiljan told the newspaper that it wouldn't solve the problem to move the Bronze Soldier, which Ansip has recommended relocating to a cemetery.

Not one to miss an opportunity to get a few more votes from his base, Edgar Savisaar chimed in saying that the bronze soldier should stay where it is. But I had a hard time translating him without using a dictionary so we'll leave it at that.

Finally, President Arnold Rüütel decided that the best way to scuttle the controversy would be to bury it in red, or blue, black, and white tape. He believes that a commission should be set up to address the matter.

Other than Savisaar, Postimees found two organizations to disagree with Ansip - Vene Erakond Eestis and the Anti-Fascism Committee. VEE said that the Bronze Soldier memorial is a great place to come and put down flowers and honor ones grandfathers who won the war against fascism in World War II.

Sadly, in 2003, VEE only got 0.20 percent of the vote, or 990 votes in total. However, a spokesperson for the group said on ETV that removing the statue would not bode well for Ansip. One can only guess that VEE hopes to double its turn out in the 2007 election.

I think this debate will go on for a long time and never really cease in Estonian society. I mean look at the US. It's 2006 and we are still arguing about the Civil War!

esmaspäev, mai 22, 2006

Mu Lemmik Eesti Laul

When we lived in Estonia, one of my favorite television programs was 'Laulukarussel' - a program where Estonian children get up on a platform in the middle of groves of lollipops and and other Willy Wonka-esque stage decorations, and sing children's songs.

At home in Estonia, those that are moved by the vocal prowess of young Estonia can anonymously call in and vote for their favorite 10-year-old. In Estonian living rooms heated discussions take place between men and women who work at Eesti Ühispank by day and succumb to Laulukarussel by night. Instead of arguing over finances or politics, they debate whether or not to place a vote for Kristjan and his passionate rendition of 'Jõulu Ingel' or Sandra and her stirring delivery of 'Tule Metsa.'

'Tule Metsa' is, above all others, my favorite children's song. To me it is the unofficial Estonian national anthem. While 'Mu isamaa' is melancholic and just makes you want to burst into tears when it is performed right, 'Tule Metsa' is a boisterous and childish anthem.

Here are the lyrics - and here is my favorite verse...

Metsa läksid sa,
mühisevasse metsa,
läksid tuulutama,
närve puhkama.
Metsa läksin ma,
metsast tulid välja sa.
Teadsin, metsast pead sa
välja tulema!

Tule metsa, mine metsa!
Hoia metsa, metsa, metsa!
Et me mets ei saaks otsa!
Et me mets ei läheks metsa!

Five points to anyone who can translate that!

reede, mai 19, 2006

Swedes Come for the Low-Taxes; Finns for the Cheap Girls

Estonia's northern neighbors sure have their minds set on Eestimaa. For Swedes it's a low-tax haven where the alcohol and tv commercials come cheap.

As The Local reports:

When the Swedish tax authority wanted to produce a television advertisement to encourage taxpayers to pay up on time, they chose to make it in low-cost Estonia, partly in a bid to escape high Swedish taxes.

The ads, featuring popular comic Johan Wahlström, would have cost 50 to 100 percent more to make in high-tax Sweden than they did in Estonia, Björn Tennholt at the Swedish Tax Authority (Skatteverket), told Expressen.

Asked why the ads cost so much less to make on the other side of the Baltic, Tennholt said it was due to the wages. When pressed by Expressen's reporter as to whether the taxes were partly to blame he admitted, "of course, Sweden is a high-tax society."

The Swedish tax authority also printed their brochures in Finland to cut down on cost, but Swedish tax brochures are not what Finnish guys are after. No, Finnish guys crave Virolainen vittu. As the Helsingin Sanomat reports:

One in four buyers of sex services in Estonia are Finns, according to an extensive survey released on Thursday.

About 400 prostitutes in different parts of Estonia responded to the questionnaire arranged by the European Union equality project Equal last autumn.

Finns were overwhelmingly the largest group of foreign customers, coming right after local men.

That's right, the Estonia of 2006 boasts an economy so healthy, local men can now take advantage of the sex trade:

According to sex service providers, more than half of buyers were middle-aged married Estonian men ... The most typical customers were Estonian married men and local Russians.

It's nice to see Estonians moving on up in the world.

neljapäev, mai 18, 2006

A Picture is Worth Several Hundred Words...

In the highly-controversial post about Estonian names, I mentioned how, having lived in Denmark, I found many similarities between the Danes and the Estonians. I also mentioned a place called Skagen, at the northern tip of Denmark, which reminded me a lot of Saaremaa and the Estonian west coast in general. I went to Skagen in 2001 - it was just a few days after September 11, and my body was filled with these conflicting, raw emotions.

The most profound images to me of September 11 were not of the planes crashing into buildings and murdering my fellow New Yorkers, but of the women and men who knew they were done for, and held hands and jumped from the tops of those buildings. I imagined the air was cold and that they got to look at the city as they fell downwards. It was this idea - I hadn't actually seen photos, just read news reports - that replayed over and over again in my head when I was there in Skagen.

After that event happened, we were all waiting for the next shoe to drop - for another attack. I telephoned home from the booth in Skagen to make sure that my relatives and friends were all accounted for.

But Skagen was nice. It used to be - perhaps still is - a summer colony for artists. While we were there we went to some art museums and met up with German students, who were, like all Europeans, better dressed and more 'hip' than we ragged Americans were, although our hair was cleaner.

The hills surrounding the village - which stunk of dried fish - invited one to visit the coast, where the chimneys from tile- and thatch- roofed cottages puffed smoke into the air. I should comment here a bit more about the fish. The smell hung like a fog in the air. I remember eating ice cream and feeling that I was eating fish-flavored ice cream. Yum!

Anyway, on those placid hills I looked out at the Baltic and thought about life and death. My friend who took this above photo looked at me and said "I'm scared about what's going to happen." It was an extremely humble expression of fear. I will never forget the look on his face.

I took a lot of photos that evening - like the one above - but I lost that roll of film. This is how. I took my camera with me shortly afterwards to Prague to visit my friend Patrick. In Prague I stayed a few floors above him in a rented suite - which was cheap. They actually checked me into my hotel room as "George Washington" because that was the name of my university and they screwed up. So I stayed as "George Washington" in Prague for a few nights and drank a lot of pivo. On the morning I was supposed to leave, a strange Czech woman woke me up. She was the person in charge of cleaning rooms and I had overslept passed my check out time. I was mostly naked and scrambled to get my belongings together while this woman yelled at me in Czech. I pulled all my films together and stuffed them in my bag, but, sadly, I lost the roll with the films of Skagen.

Fortunately, years later, Jarrod - the friend who was with me in Skagen - posted some of his photos on his website. And I was able to steal one for this post. If you look you can see it looks like your typical city on the Baltic coast, and wouldn't be out of place as an Estonian village on the Baltic Sea.

kolmapäev, mai 17, 2006

Vanilla Ninja Pics!

Jens-Olaf has some great photos of Estonia's ambassadors of ... pop music ... at their finest in Osnabruck or some such town in Deutscheland.

Go there to enjoy more.

teisipäev, mai 16, 2006

There's Something About 'Titad'

Once in awhile when I launch into a story about my 2-year-old daughter, somebody, usually a person over the age of 25 years that has yet to procreate, begins to tell me about their childhood. And I immediately glaze over and lose interest. Why is that? I think it is because the 25-year-old person was a baby when Dallas was a hot show, most people had rotary phones, and cable TV was a luxury. So, they are neither cute nor babies anymore, and thus not interesting to me - Mr. My Daughter Was Up AT 5:30 AM This Morning.

And the thing is that, in America, having babies isn't really a thing 25-year-olds do. In fact, it's not often a thing 35-year-olds do. It's more for the 35-menopausal age group. Babies are viewed as lifestyle accesories, not as biological results. Americans really think that they can choose when and how to have a baby, like "when they're ready." I've got news for you - you'll never be ready. Child is father of the man.

Of these Americans, some, like me, did not plan on having one yet became accustomed to the result. Others put it off for so long that their eggs are crusty and difficult to penetrate by even the most ambitious, viral sperm. They then get fertility treatments and have triplets. So either way, you never know what life has in store for you!

In reality, babies are not a 'lifestyle choice.' I know there are things like condoms and birth control pills and the rhythm method and abortion, but individuals must actively work at and often fail in their efforts NOT to have children. Children, it seems, just want to be born.

I have to say that becoming a father was a bit of an easier process in Europe. I recall walking down Stroget in Copenhagen in 2001 and seeing groups of young mothers parking their babies outside of cafes in August to have a drink with some friends and then roll their way home. Or seeing babies tucked into "Baby Bjorn" carrying pouches in Finland. It seemed like children were just treated as a normal thing like - "Oh, look, I had sex and a baby came out. Better give it a name and feed it something."
It looked like something that wasn't scary, but that could be done.

When we found out about the impending birth of our child I was a little worried about telling my colleagues. I think I didn't tell them until my wife was eight months pregnant. Part of me was worried about any complications, but the other part of me was the socially conscious American who just "wasn't ready" to announce to a room full of Estonians that his family tree would grow another branch in just nine months.
Or did they even care? Pssh. Who knows with these Estonians. They all look like they are engrossed in a game of poker. When I finally did tell them, I think they were disappointed I didn't tell them sooner. But I had my own issues to face.

Seeing other Estonian dads my age really helped me get used to the idea of being a dad. Sometimes you need a little demonstration. And sure, Estonians get divorced a lot and drink alot and all that stuff most people do - but I have yet to witness a major family breakdown - broken dishes, flying fists, angry words - on an Estonian street.

And then there is the word for 'Dad' - Isa or Issi. I liked this word when I was going through the fatherhood acclimation role. 'Dad' to me sounded like Dennis the Menace's father. I wasn't sure I was ready to become an authoritative 'Dad' who knew best, but I thought I could manage being an 'Issi.' In fact, I am not sure I have much to teach even now. What will I tell my child about the Presidency of George W. Bush, for example? If somebody asked me about it, I think I could manage a sort of sombre dance of shrugging my shoulders and rolling my eyes. And I am just now starting to understand the intricacies of the stock market. And I am somebody's Dad? Yep. And I am an Issi too. But 'Dad' sounds like I know something. And 'issi' just sounds like I am a big clown.

Anyway, if you are feeling 'ready' to have an Estonian baby, here are some of my favorite names that I will unfortunately never be able to give a child with a straight face.


For boys, Teet - which is cool in both Estonian and English. In Estonia "Teet teeb teed" literally means - "Teet is making tea." In English, the name "Teet" reminds one of the thing on the cow you squeeze until the milk comes out. Valvo, not the car, is also a favorite, and Silver (like the color). In fact, you could name your son, Silver Valvo, if you like sturdy Swedish cars

For girls, you can't go wrong with Õie, which offers three vowels in a row, Sibülla (the Estonian word for onion is 'sibul'), and my personal favorite, Asse. You can imagine how Americans would pronounce that one.

War in the Woods

My wife got me this book to feed my Estonia/World War II jones. It is inevitable that, as a man, I will become more and more interested in war and conflict as I age, and hunker down as my father before me in excitement as a World War II special premieres on the History Channel.

The book is called War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival. It is by Mart Laar, the once and again prime minister of Estonia. To American eyes, Mart Laar is kind of like one of us. He's large, ballsy, a blowhard. He's a loud, shining, argumentative diamond in the rough from a region where 'dynamic'is epitomized by ... well no one. The north isn't exactly known for is charismatic leaders.

But the book is different from the man. It is told from an Estonian perspective - that is it it doesn't boil the Estonian resistance down to "former Hitlerists" as some media outlets might be told to do. But it doesn't suffer from any kind of bombastic flair. The two main sources of information are interviews with actual Forest Brother guerillas - those who fought the Soviets in the woods for the ten years after 1945 - and the archives of the Communist Party in Estonia.

The effect is strong, particularly due to Laar's attention to detail. He goes into long paragraphs about which rifles they were using, and how communications networsk were set up and destroyed by the Soviets and set up again. In fact, all I dreamt about last night was cutting Soviet communications cables. It's a good read.

Two things strike me though. One is the age of the Forest Brothers. When we think of them, we think of them as time beaten men. But these were young gentlemen, most in their 20s, loaded up with rifles, grenades, and whatever else - trying to coordinate a guerilla war with limited communication channels and support. It's like you want to go back in time and give the guys laptops and cellphones. "Here Hirmus Ants (a famous forest brother) use my Nokia, it's much more effective than your primitive radio."

The other thing that is interesting is the ferocity of the NKVD. The Soviets spent millions of rubles and thousands upon thousands of lives destroying the Estonian republic. They wasted so much of their precious resources in a land that ultimately rejected their rule, anyway. Why would they do such a thing? Were they wholly irrational, evil, corrupt human beings? They look that way. Most of their official photos make them out to look like Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers series. But still, the effort undertaken to liquidate a whole system of government - to destroy a whole society - is just insane.

Fortunately they failed and the guerilla's efforts were not in vain. What the publicity of this book does though, is that it erases the notion that Estonia willingly submitted to Soviet rule. And according to the Forest Brothers cited in the book, after they realized that they were not going to regain independence, that is what they set out to achieve using guerilla tactics.

neljapäev, mai 11, 2006

Finnish and Estonian Trade Unions to 'Harmonize'

Back in the day when I was a whiny new new leftist (in the US the 1930s Left is known as the "Old Left," the 1960s Left is known as the "New Left," and like everything in this post-post-modern world, the 1990s Left was known as the "New New Left")we used to complain about globalization, and how come, if the world was just one, big, free market, the labor movement couldn't expand at the same rate that multinational corporations - many of which had no national face - did.

Leave it to the Estonians and Finns to answer that question many years after it was posed...

The top employee organisations in Estonia and Finland have agreed to harmonise the supervision of workers' rights between the two countries.

The chairmen of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), the Finnish Confederation of Salaried Employees (STTK), the Confederation of Unions for Academic Professionals in Finland (Akava), the Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (EAKL) and the Estonian Employees´ Unions´ Confederation (Talo) signed a deal in Tallinn on Thursday.

A transition period limiting the access of Estonians to the Finnish labour market expired on May Day.

The organisations said the unions should do everything in their power to ensure the smooth flow of information across the Gulf of Finland.

This is also further proof that the "Talsinki" meme - that Tallinn is just a suburb of Helsinki, that Estonian and Finnish are actually two dialects of one huge Finnic language group, that the future will be just one big, warm sauna, goes beyond the existence of the 'Talsinki' Rugby Team - which combines Helsinki's Rubgy Club with the Tallinn Tigers.

Sure there are the little differences. While 'hyvää' in Finland is 'good', 'hüva' in Estonia is just 'ok.'

kolmapäev, mai 10, 2006

Estonian word of the week - käli

No, not Kalli - something you say when you hug someone. Not Kali - a fermented bread beverage. But Käli. This is the Estonian word for sister-in-law, although I am not sure all Estonians know it.

The Käli creates an interesting new look at your relationship with your wife. After falling in love with your wife, you may come to think that all her family members may be in some way similar to her as they are born of the same blessed genetic union.

How untrue. What your in-laws teach you is that genetics do exist, but they aren't everything. Consider that my wife was born 16 months before her sister followed her onto planet Earth. Yet the two of them turned out significantly different.

For example, Elo, my käli, is a confectioner. She works in a bakery. She knows a lot about cakes and has a highly informed opinion of baked goods. I bet she can tell the difference between breads baked in different locations.

Elo also likes the Pet Shop Boys a lot. Maybe less in recent years, I don't know. But I do know that she doesn't have many CDs, but of the CDs she does have, a plurality of them are made by the Pet Shop Boys.

She's also taller than my wife. In fact, you may come to see Elo as the older sibling because she has the authority that comes with height. Elo moved to Tartu when she was a young woman and stayed. She has lived in the same apartment for most of that time. Her daughter, husband, and mother-in-law are all Tartlased. She seems like a fairly stable person.

Compare that with my wife who is a journalist and has the critical eye of a suppressed editor-in-chief. She is also addicted to real estate and planning trips. In fact, I believe that at some point in her life she may become a travel agent, not for the salary, but for the pleasure of searching websites across the Internet looking for the best last minute prices.

She is also the young woman who - in her mid 20s - felt an enormous urge to become a bum sweep over her. With pocket atlas in hand she found herself sleeping in less-than-savory conditions from the Canary Islands to Israel to India. She was trained as a journalist - but she sold beads in marketplaces across Europe. When we were in Brighton, England at about 2 am once, I had to convince her that it really wasn't a good idea to hangout on some stranger's roof. And I was the party pooper.

Finally, Epp - my wife - is shorter than Elo. And she looks a little different. They have some things in common. For example, they both are intrigued by Eurovision, Astrology, witchcraft, and soap operas. So, I wouldn't be surprised if both wound up being practioners of maausk in old age and spent their last days picking berries and worshipping rocks.

Why am I telling you this? Because the Estonian word of the week is käli. Maybe you can take a little time out today to think about your kälid as well.

(PS - those ladies aren't really my wife and her sister. They are two famous Estonian twins)

teisipäev, mai 09, 2006

Perfect Timing

Today Estonia became the 15th European Union member to ratify the dreaded 'EU Constitution' passing the baton north to Finland where the nation of Santa Claus and reindeer will decide by the end of the month whether or not to ratify the document as well.

To commemorate this historic day, a rally was held in Anton Tammsaare park, where girls shook their asses to Euro stars and foreign minister Urmas Paet preached to a willing choir. EU support remains steady at 67 percent in the country. Looking down on it all is the statue of Anton Hansen Tammsaare, the national writer who managed to capture Estonians hunger for hard work in his series Tõde ja õigus or Truth and Justice.

What would Anton say to the dancing Estonian ladies and the Noor Eesti Välisminister Paet? Would he pick up his stone arms and applaud? Or would he just say 'Noh' and go back to studying the grass? My kroons are on the latter.

Meanwhile up the hill, former Red Army soldiers who today can barely control their bladder let alone steady a Kalashnikov, are laying red roses and memorials in cyrillic script at the foot of the monument to the liberators of Estonia - they who pushed the German fascists out of Russia and then grabbed pastoral Estonia as a nice souvenir along the way.

Old men with smelly gums that look like they just wet their pants, their wives with conservative hairdos, and relatives gathered while stubborn Estonian guys with signs and foolish unemployed gentlemen who idiotically shave their heads in order to save money on hygienic costs (you know, all that EU inflation on shampoo products) turned their backs on them.

They come to honor the dead and reexamine old wounds, and they should be respected for that, regardless of history - just as Estonia's other WWII vets and metsavennad should be allowed to honor their dead relatives, friends, colleagues, and elected officials. And these wounds won't completely heal until the last of them are just memories. Everybody is entitled to the simple respect that comes with unbearable grief.

BUT I doubt anyone would disagree that if they had their choice - they'd rather be chilling with Anton Tammsaare than with the fearsome 'Soviet liberator/Land grabber' next to the National Library.

Anyway, I know the EU project is bureaucratic, elitist, and often just silly. But you have to say, Europe Day in Tammsaare Park, with some Saku Rock and some pizza from that place across from McCools sounds much better. And some fly girls.

esmaspäev, mai 08, 2006

When you need a little gloom and doom...

The Sixth Nordic Poetry Festival will be held in Estonia between May 11 and 13 (this coming week) and will feature depressing-yet-uplifting poetry about the somber-yet-soothing sea at locations in Tallinn, Tartu, and Kohtla-Järve.

The titles of the program topics? 'Harbor of Good Hope', 'High Tide & Low Tide', 'At the Edge of the Inside Sea', 'Here & There Beyond the Seas', 'Related by Sea', and, 'I Carry the Water of the Seas.' Poets from across the Northern Dimension will read, including the one and only Hando Runnel.

This year also marks the 15th year of Nordic activities in Estonia. Estonia has five Nordic Council offices on its soil, and according to Wikipedia has 'expressed interest in joining' the council. I recall one vote where it fell short of the votes necessary to join. But other than that - what is the status of Estonia's desire to join Norden? Have they accepted yet? Or is Eesti as always stubbornly persisting?


So I sent an e-mail to the Nordic Council asking when Estonia was becoming a member, and I got no response.

I checked some background and it looks like Triimu Velliste (Isamaaliit) requested to join in 2003, and he was pretty much met with the same answer.

But I am guessing that it will take a few more years before Estonia officially becomes a member. Estonia is already a de facto Nordic country at cultural events here in the US. For example, Estonians are represented at Scandinavian Fest in Pennsylvania and the Nordic Arts Festival in Wisconsin.

The reason Estonians get sucked into these events is probably two fold 1) they have a well-organized foreign community that is capable of supplying arts & crafts, lecturers, choruses to larger festivals like these and 2) they are a smaller country that cannot draw that much attendance to their own festivals. So it's a win-win situation.

Likewise, joining the Nordic Council could be a win-win for them. Because selling Estonian folk music or poetry abroad as just Estonian raises question marks, but selling it under the Nordic umbrella makes it more interesting and accessible to the global audience.

Anyway - I am still waiting for my e-mail back from the Nordic Council. I'll let you know when I get it...

reede, mai 05, 2006

Dear Tass

ITAR-TASS has once again revealed the thinking of the Russian political elite towards Estonia.

In a recent release, which highlights yet another attempt by Isamaaliit to get a monument to the Russian soldiers that died in Estonia fighting the Germans in World War II, TASS describes it as an effort by Estonian "nationalists."

Estonian nationalists demand demolition of Soviet monument

TALLINN, May 5 (Itar-Tass) - Another round of the war against the recent history and its monuments is beginning in Estonia. Several day before the Victory Day a draft resolution was submitted for the consideration of the Tallinn City Council, which suggested the pulling down of the Monument to Soviet Soldiers – liberators of the Estonian capital from the Nazi occupation. The initiative came from the Pro Patria Party, which has only seven seats out of 63 in the City Council.

After Estonia withdrew from the Soviet Union early in the 90s, it started a war against monuments dating back to the Soviet times, which is regarded by Tallinn as “occupation.”

Dear Tass,

There is no party in Estonia that is not a 'nationalist' party. Edgar Savisaar - the head of Keskerakond - was independent Estonia's first prime minister. It was he who went to the US in the autumn of 1991 on behalf of his country seeking meetings with George H. W. Bush. Eesti Rahvaliit's Arnold Ruutel is Estonia's president. It was he who politely told Gorbachev in 1990 that Soviet law was no longer in effect in Estonia. I don't need to go over the nationalist bases for the formation of Isamaaliit - itself a continuation of the pre-war Estonian party, SDE, or the Reform Party. They're all nationalists. Estonia has been an independent country for 15 years. There is no non-nationalist party in government in Estonia today.

The distinction between 'rightwing' and 'nationalist' is one that should be made. Rightwing parties agree on certain economic and social principles. But every party in Estonia agrees on the principle of Estonian statehood. They are all nationalists. The terminology is archaic. We might as well call left-wing Americans "loyalists."

Learning from Savisaar

Former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar recently won the 2006 Milton Friedman prize from the Cato Institute - a thinktank in Washington, DC - for his commitment to "the values of liberty and free choice recognized by the prize, and his dedication to these ideals helped him to lead his country to economic prosperity through a radical free market program."

Laar is respected around the world for his commitment to liberal economic policies. Yet in his own country, Laar's party Isamaalit isn't even part of the ruling coalition. Instead power is shared by the Reform Party, Keskerakond, and Eesti Rahvaliit. Of the three, KESK has been climbing to power over the past few years as the public soured on the Res Publica-led coalition and bought KESK leader Edgar Savisaar's brand of populism.

The only problem with Savisaar is that he is seen as corrupt, unfriendly to international business (see this editorial about the Estonian Railways dispute), and too friendly with Russia (he regulary meets with United Russia - the Kremlin majority party - to, I don't know, scheme, drink vodka, drink some more vodka, take a sauna. You know - politician stuff.

But Savisaar is attractive to Estonians who don't have much because he - unlike Reform and Isamaalit and whomever else - acknowledges their concerns in a language they can understand.

Take Savisaar's latest comments, courtesy of Baltic Times:

“Tallinn looks good indeed, but there are areas in Estonia that are badly lagging in terms of development and where poverty rules,” Savisaar was quoted as saying during a meeting with Irish Ambassador Noel Kilkenny on April 28."

At home, Savisaar was attacked by Reform and Res Publica alike. But their railings against his "unpatriotic" words - which play well with their nationalist base - do not mitigate the effect he has on every aging pensioner and unemployed Ida-Virumaa resident that can vote in the next election. And the thing is that Savisaar is party right. North-Tallinn is still unflatteringly impoverished.

European liberals might point out that you have to grow the economic pie for the poor of Estonia to get a larger slice. But you don't win elections by telling Estonia's less fortunate to suck it up for the benefit of free enterprise.

Estonia's parties outside of KESK really need to pay attention to Savisaar's techniques. Building strong support in three overlapping communities - among Estonia's rural citiens, former manufacturing base (often unemployed), and, yes, large minorities, can greatly help those parties with solid ideas - like SDE or Reform or Eesti Eest, for example - perform better in the critical parliamentary elections next year.

If you can campaign among pensioners in rural Estonia who barely have running water, or go to Narva or Kohtla-Järve and speak to Russian-speakers in their own tongue about ideas, then you'll probably see KESK's impressive lead shrink by the time March 2007 rolls around.

Because Mart Laar can collect all the Milton Friedman prizes for the next five years, and it still won't change the fact that there are people in Estonia that are at least going to need some genuine-sounding lip service to vote for anyone other than Keskerakond in the next election.

neljapäev, mai 04, 2006

The Start of a Beautiful Eurovision Friendship?

Estonia's ambassador to Eurovision this year, Sandra Oxenryd, offered a glimpse at the developing symbiotic relationship between Swedish pop singers and Eurolaul in a recent interview. One wonders if Estonia has become something of a "farm team" for Swedish pop (in the US the minor league baseball teams where future professionals hone their skills are often referred to as farm teams.)

Some excerpts:

In 2002 Sahlene who was also Swedish, represented Estonia and achieved a good placing by coming 3rd, does this motivate you in any way?

Hmm, yes, and no, everyone´s achievement is a motivation, I think.

What is the opinion about your performance in Sweden? How did the Swedes react to you representing Estonia ? Will Sweden award Estonia 12 points?

I don´t know, you´ll have to ask the Swedish public, but I hope they will (smiles).

How did you get to enter the Estonian Eurovision final Eurolaul?

These song writers wrote the song for Sahlene in 2002, and they have a contact in Sweden,Peo Nyhlen on Scandinavian songs, who they work with, when they want to have a Swedish singer to their songs or so. They contacted him, and he gave them my name, and, well, here I am.

Talk about diplomatic responses! But beneath the smiles it looks like there's some kind of international pop singer trading going on. A modern day Hanseatic League if you will. Merchants in Malmö collaborating with merchants in Lyndanisse. I'll trade you one Swedish pop princess for three good pop songs. That kind of thing. I also wonder if Sweden will indeed scratch Estonia's back and vote for their own. Sort of like a little Greek-Cyprus action, except involving Sweden and Estonia.