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.

It's Official: The Dems Run Both Houses

Looks like the $30 bucks I contributed to Jim Webb's senatorial campaign in Virginia put him over the top. At 3 pm today Virginia Senator George Allen, who had been name-dropped by Republicans on every TV show through late 2005 and early 2006 as a successor to George W. Bush, conceded the race, losing to Webb by about 8,000 votes.

The choice of supporting Webb's campaign was an interesting one for me. While I flirted with Reaganism as a kid (embracing materialism and big stick foreign policy ideas) I come from a Democratic family and so I never thought that I'd wind up doing a victory dance for a guy who used to be Secretary of the Navy for Ronald Reagan. But as I have matured, and due greatly to the events of the last five years from September 11, to the Iraq Invasion and subsequent bumbling and bloody occupation, to the total lack of ability for our government (at all levels) to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina, led me to realize that it was time to grow up and put the pet Democratic issues aside and vote for one thing -- responsive government.

Many people have wondered what exactly a Democratic victory will mean for America. Some criticize American politics as being one big party of Republicrats where both sides act to maintain the status quo. The common line heard today is that the Republicans deserve to lose, but what makes the Democrats more worthy of office.

But rather than implementing a step-by-step agenda - like a Socialist party might do in a European country - I think what this means is that the debate on our future is now open. That's important. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's departure is important. People have been calling for his resignation for years. Ex-military leaders, retired and free to talk, openly questioned his decision making. And yet he stayed put. There was zero accountability. There was no response. There were mistakes, criticism, and no response. Americans began to wonder - are we really the masters of our own country?

Meanwhile, Bush's congresses have been "rubber stamp" congresses - policy is formulated in the inner Bush circles, talking points are distributed to 'trustworthy' media (and from 2002 to 2006 this included outlets like CNN and MSNBC), and the Republican party worked from the top down. Think of the Center Party in Estonia. The Republicans ran things like Keskerakond. They were organized and uncompromising, which sounds great in political advertisements but did not allow them to start coming up with their own solutions for the Iraq War.

But what will Democrats do? They'll most likely articulate what I am calling 'organic policy.' The current leadership is weak. Democratic party leaders don't have the kind of control that people like former House Majority leader Tom DeLay once had. They'll have to talk to one another. They'll have to create policy by debating the ideas amongst themselves. Americans will finally get an opportunity to allow their talented citizens represent them in Congress. There will be a greater need for consensus building and actual debate. That is a good thing.

The Republican Party has been controlled by a handful of figures leftover from the Nixon and Reagan-Bush administrations for years. Bush named Reagan-era official Bob Gates to be the new Sec of Defense yesterday. Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush have known each other for decades. And most of all they tended to agree on the same things. As you can imagine it's very hard to have a flexible, response policy in a time of war with that set up.

The Democrats don't have a backbench of officials leftover from the Carter years or Clinton years to run things. Therefore you will see more a 'organic' policy than before. They'll be forced to make things up as they go along, both out of necessity and by the knowledge that they have been trusted with power by the American people for the first time in 12 years.

Now, many criticize the Democrats for not "having a plan" - ie. "we will get out of Iraq by this date and this way." But their victory means a few important things:

1) Long awaited and "no brainer" reforms will be carried out. The 9/11 commission recommendations will be enacted. The minimum wage will be raised. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy will not be renewed.

2) The culture wars are in remission. The Democrats that came into congress this year have no plans to enact federally-recognized gay marriage. Instead you see each one in his or her state running to meet the special needs of their state. You'll have real liberals like Shel Whitehouse in Rhode Island serving alongside conservative Democrats like Bob Casey in Pennsylvania. So you can stop worrying about the federal government trying to legislate culture. As we have seen through state marriage amendments and civil union rulings, the states are managing to work out their own cultural issues. The idea of using the federal government to do something as short-sighted as ban gay marriage has failed.

3) There will be a real debate on Iraq. Many of these candidates ran on the war. Getting us out successfully is their main objective. The solution may not have manifested itself yet, but I expect many of the new senators, for example, to start coming up with solutions. I don't expect Jim Webb, for example, to sit on his hands.

Overall I don't think this is some magic fix for our problems, but one party government wasn't obviously working.

Politically I am open to new solutions. I welcome Bernie Sanders, our first socialist senator, as much as I'd welcome a libertarian candidate to the senate, perhaps from New Hampshire in the future?

Let's be honest, I do have social democratic values. I believe in all the good stuff - a clean environment, quality health care, education, tolerance - but I don't believe that one size fits all or that the state has all the solutions. That's why, when it comes to Estonian politics I can safely say, that yes, the Reform Party is right to support Estonia's economic policy, while at the same time, yes, the Center party is right to remind voters that vanaema and vanaisa out in the country are still living in poverty. In other words, I'm flexible.

For example, I think the new conservative government in Sweden is a good thing. The same in Germany with the rise of Merkel. Change is good. New blood is needed for a healthy democracy.

Over these years I have become more patriotic, not in your traditional idea of American nationalism, but in that I 1) recognize that my country is both large and important and 2) strongly want to see it make the right decisions.

For those reasons, I contributed to a campaign that seven years ago I would have seen as "too conservative" because Jim Webb is a truck driving, gun-toting Virginian who is strongly affiliated with the military. But those kind of cultural trappings don't matter anymore because he won my respect by 1) acknowledging that our Iraq policy is a mess; 2) switching his party membership to challenge a man who has enabled that mess; and 3) Ran a take no prisoners campaign where he showed that he wasn't going to take sucker punches from the Allen campaign lying down.

Webb is a Jacksonian Democrat if there ever was one. I'm not too fond of our 7th president who signed the Indian Removal Act. But I have come to believe that he and his fellow incoming class of Democrats will be a healthy dose of reality for a government that has been unable to govern well.

neljapäev, november 09, 2006

A little bit about Borat

I haven't seen it yet, but I am looking forward to seeing Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Sacha Baron Cohen's portrayal of the racist, sexist, and backward Kazakh reporter has won impressive movie reviews, and also, in its own way, boosted Kazakhstan's international profile in good and bad ways.

While I find Borat pretty funny - especially when he is 'disco dancing' - some, especially Kazakhs, aren't laughing. However, as Gauhar Abdygaliyeva writes this week in the Washington Post, any publicity is often good publicity:

The "moviefilm" by Sacha Baron Cohen, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," is playing well in American theaters. One can only applaud the humorist's talent, but the movie is entertaining only because the world is so unfamiliar with reality.

Perhaps that will change. The movie has already created unprecedented interest in Kazakhstan. Not only has Borat promoted our name and flag, he has also indirectly fueled a great wave of patriotism among my fellow citizens.

I think Estonians are breathing a sigh of relief that Cohen didn't decide to make his character from Estonia. But for all his pokes at post-Communist stereotypes a few things can be said.

1) Borat is funny because he's accurate.

I had a Russian cab driver in San Francisco this year that resembled Cohen's Borat character. And he spoke like him. And he listened to bad 1980s-style pop music. And his whole outfit was made of denim. I also have seen plenty of European men who prefer the lime green speedo to American-style swimming shorts. In other words, the
Borat character is an exaggeration, but he's grounded in reality. If he wasn't grounded in reality, he wouldn't be as funny.

2. Borat is funny because we're ignorant.

I am not sure why, but few have raised the idea that Borat is funny because we are laughing at our own ignorant vision of what the world is like. Borat not only makes fun of Kazakhs and post-communist countries, but he makes fun of our ideas about what Kazakhstan is like. He indulges us in our own perverted version of the world, where there are prostitution contests and women are forced to ride on the outside of buses. Of course we know that's not true, and by exaggerating our ideas about this country, we are quietly making fun of our own ignorance.

I think the latter is the most important. Our country - the US - is the kind of place where people will go see a film like Terminator 3 just to see Arnold Schwarzeneger blow something up. They don't care about plots or acting ability. They just want to be entertained. And that's my final point.

3. Borat is funny ... because he's funny.

How often do you get to see a guy bring a chicken on the subway in a suitcase?!

kolmapäev, november 08, 2006

Democrats win House, Senate

The media is being very careful in calling the senate races in Virginia and Montana, but as of now, the apparent winner in the Virginia Senate Race is Democrat Jim Webb, and the apparent winner in the Montana Senate Race is Democrat Jon Tester.

I was up until 2 am last night watching the results roll in, and it was a nail biter. At first things looked really bad in the senate for the Democrats - Claire McCaskill was down in Missouri, Webb was down by as much as 30,000 votes in Virginia, and only Tester had a commanding lead over Conrad Burns in Montana. But I stayed up late enough to see that Webb had eked out a tiny victory in Virginia over Allen, and that Tester was holding the lead over Burns. McGaskill really surprised me by trouncing Jim Talent in Missouri - I was sure that that one was over.

But what does this all mean? It means that we will have some new ideas in Washington. People talk about Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi as being the faces of the Democratic party - both of them in their mid60s and not exactly the most charismatic people. But they have shown - and even younger senators like my senator Chuck Schumer have shown, that they are more than willing to put junior senators out there if they think it will help them improve the image of the Democratic Party. And so guys like Barack Obama - a freshman senator from Illinois - is the guy they prefer to put forward compared to John Kerry, who is so 2004.

I think that the newer senators like Jon Tester and Jim Webb (and Bob Casey and Shel Whitehouse and ...) will have greater clout than is usually assigned to Democratic freshman senators because they will be seen as the face of the expanding party. Tester and Webb represent the strong desire among the Democratic base to have "no BS" candidates representing them.

Many people think that Howard Dean was elected chairman because he's so liberal, but it wasn't his politics, it was his attitude. Hopefully we'll see a little more attitude from the incoming Senate and House that will enable this country to have a real debate on an Iraq exit strategy. Republicans and Democrats alike should be glad that Conrad Burns and George Allen - who haven't really distinguished themselves nationally - are being replaced by energetic, individualist representatives.

teisipäev, november 07, 2006

Suur Suomi

This came to us via our resident West Virginian Estonia enthusiast Jerry, who in turn found it over at Strange Maps - a very cool blog. I have been reading a book recently called Scandinavia by Tony Griffiths which has been my first real introduction to the nationalist Fennoman movement in Finland, which has, perhaps, ideological descendents in the philosophy of current parties in Finland and Estonia like the True Finns and the Isamaa half of the Isamaa-ResPublica Union.

And, so once upon a time in Finland, there were Suur Suomi advocates - nationalists who imagined a super Finnish state, perhaps both inspired by pan-Slavicism and pan-Scandinavianism. In the Suur Suomi ideal, Finnic speaking bog dwellers would rule an area from Norway's Finnmark to the Kola penninsula and then all through Karelia, Ingria, and finally Estonia.

Of course that never happened. Although one could argue these days that economically, Suur Suomi is very much a reality.

laupäev, november 04, 2006

Interesting Politics

Estonia has an interested way of electing its candidates in parliamentary elections. Parties recruit well-known names to run on the party list, poster their faces all over town, and pray to Taara for help that people who like Erki Nool will vote for Isamaaliit - the reality being that Erki will probably never see the inside of the Riigikogu to discuss such things as bilateral trade policies with Moldova. Instead, somebody else from the party that is known to be reliable and/or easily persuaded will take his place in government. I am not sure if it is done this way in other parliamentary democracies -- I have never, for example, heard of David Beckham campaigning for Labour in the UK. It will be interesting to see who manages to "run" this year.

Today the news is that Maimu Berg, a former member of Eestimaa Rahvaliit, will campaign as a Social Democrat in the March elections. Her defection to the Social Dems could be seen with in the meme of Rahvaliit's decline following its failure to reelect Rüütel in the electoral college in September, along with the resignation of party leader Villu Reiljan from his position as Minister of the Environment the following month.

Current opinion polls show the leading parties to still be Keskerakond and the Reform Party - with Reform having a slight lead. The Isamaa-Res Publica Union, despite naming Mart Laar as a common prime ministerial candidate, is the third most popular party in Estonia, with support hovering around 13 percent. The Social Democrats and ERL can count on support from around six percent of the electorate each.

While polls show a continuation of the political status quo, it's worth mentioning that this year's elections will feature two new players - the rightwing union (Isamaa and Res Publica) and possible a new party, the Rohelised (Greens), who are busy collecting signatures to run in the '07 elections.

In the case of Isamaa-Res Publica (who really need to get one name), it shows that the bickerng right-wing parties managed to at least conclude the formation of their union. Still, Laar showed himself to be a talented businessman by essentially co-opting a larger party and turning it into his own. I've seen this done numerous times in business where small, unprofitable companies swallow larger ones and become suddenly successful and profitable, but I am unfamiliar with it being done in the political world with such finesse.

In regards to the newcomer Rohelised, while the Greens lack an obvious "Big Interest" base (international business tends to favor Reform and its partners, the Center Party can similarly count on some strong support from the business community), they do have the opportunity to put a fresh spin on Estonian politics, similar to the wave Res Publica created back in 2003. But this is a new kind of party in Estonia. While it won't be openly left-wing , it obviously has connections to European movements that caucus with the left, like Heidi Hautala's Greens in Finland, or Germany's very successful Die Grünen. The Green movement in general came out of the left in the 1960s and 70s.

In Estonia, being called "left-wing" is the equivalent of political death. Even the Social Democrats are "center-right" in philosophy. But, if successful in running an election, the Greens will bring an air of European parliamentary normalcy to a political system that is dominated by the nationalist right, the euroliberal right, and the center right. Plus it will nice to see a little leafy green symbol next to Kesk's giant K and the Social Dems' red rose.

It's too early in the game to speculate on how any party will perform. But it is obvious that there is life in Estonian democracy, and that the current stagnant polls may shift in coming months as new parties and platforms are made public.

reede, november 03, 2006

Stuck in 1987

We went to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn yesterday to stock up on Russian foods that have been adopted by Estonians en masse. I am not sure at what point Estonians started eating sibeeri pelmeenid, but they do, or at least my wife does. My favorite kinds are the ones from Georgia. They have a hint of the mediterranean in them. But Slavic food - to me - seems intolerably composed of three ingredients - fried dough, meat, and cheese.

I remember we ate cheap when we went to Slovenia, and the food was the same style there. In neighboring Italy you would have pasta malfalda with big yummy slices of potent garlic cloves, lightly soaked in fine olive oil. But in Slovenia it was Tseburekk - fried dough with some cheese in it. I was told by our Slovenian friend that this was really Albanian food - imported from that mystery country with the scary red flag. But I think he was lying. Because when I was in the Czech Republic I was greeted by similar fare - smazeny sir (fried cheese). This has led me to believe that the early Slavs didn't like vegetables - unless, of course, they are mashed up and stuck inside a blintz.

In Brighton Beach though I saw a gentleman wearing a sweatshirt that looked sort of like the one up there. C C C P. Those are the cyrillic letters that represent the long-dead country called the Soviet Union. Of course today we have other ways of referring to that country. They call it the "former Soviet Union," like "the artist formerly known as Prince" - the only thing is that Prince was still Prince, and the Soviet Union broke up. The Soviet Union is as much a couple as Tom and Nicole. It's over. Yesteryear's news. Benifer. Reese and Ryan. Madonna and Sean Penn. Compleat!

Still, the NATO summit in Riga is supposed to be a big deal because it's on territory in the "former Soviet Union." But I'm sorry to say that once you get there, you'll be let down. There'll be no hot Soviet spies with killer thighs waiting to strangle you. Brezhnev won't be there either because he's dead. Memorial rallies and sweatshirts aside, the "FSU" as it's called by people that call most of the eastern half of Europe the "CEE" is about as relevant as a sweatshirt. It's a living memory, but just a memory. And it's one memory that will die with my generation.

Sad to say, when I saw that guys sweatshirt, I was taken back to 1987 when I saw the Living Daylights starring Timothy Dalton as Bond. There were real nefarious Cold War Russians in that film and others of the genre with names like Kostov and Rostov and Bostov and Sostav. They were usually fat and had beards, but you still felt they had the mental will to break the arm of whomever pissed them off. And so you really wanted them to lose, just as much as you wanted Rocky Balboa to kick Dolph Kundgren's ass in Rocky IV.

That was a long time ago. In 1985, I played Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA on my record player in my room. We may have still had a rotary phone. Bill Clinton was just a young punk governor in Arkansas. Schwarzenegger was an actor. Ronald Reagan was president. Paris Hilton was playing with My Little Ponies. Corey Feldman had an acting career. Do you see what I am getting at?

But I am still reacting to symbols and people are still using terminology like the last 20 years never happened. What was it about that time that has allowed us all to continue on in this Groundhog Day-like stupor where people still talk about the Soviet Union like it means something? Where I still react to clothing bearing the insignia of a dead country? There is something strange in all this, as if we have not truly accepted the New World Order in our hearts and we cannot really believe that the old Cold War is really over.

And imagine, if I still get the 1987 shakes when I see a CCCP sweatshirt, how do our foreign policy elite, most of them deep in middle age, see the world? How do they react to goosestepping Soviet war parades in Russia or the sight of Putin standing beside a hammer and sickle? If I am this far gone in backward thinking, at what year did their minds stop registering change?

kolmapäev, november 01, 2006

A European counterbalance to the US?

Let's talk honestly here - the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has not only brought sunshine and lollipops to the countries of the old Warsaw Pact. It has also brought with it submission to a rejuvenated bi-polar interpretation of European security issues and enough anxiety for Russia to create the gas shut off to Ukraine last year, as well as the recent overreaction to the Georgian spying crisis.

Lacking significant power in numbers and euros, NATO countries are ultimately consigned to the will of the Anglo-American alliance. And so the debate over expansion of membership to Georgia and possibly Ukraine strikes analysts as a showdown between Washington and Moscow, and nothing more. It's a test of Russian and American political will, played out through the US' proxy organization NATO, which many in Russia see as "anti-Russian."

This week, however, the German defense ministry published a position paper that outlines its transition from a post-war army to one that will undertake a greater role in global security. Specifically, Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung is calling for raising troop levels by 5,000.

Germany is currently engulfed in a debate over the misadventures of some of its troops in Afghanistan, but the idea of Germany contributing more, especially within the context of NATO, was welcomed by The New York Times.

Military ties to the United States will remain at the heart of Berlin's defense policy. But larger and more robust troop contributions from the most populous European NATO country can help restore a measure of political balance to an alliance increasingly distorted by Washington's military role.

If Germany really does retool its army, it will be a positive for Estonia, because it will be easier for Estonia to cooperate in international missions - and have a say in critical decisions - if Berlin's thoughts count at least half of much as Washington's.

But I am sure our resident blog pundits have some ideas of their own.

Mr. Nice Guy

Interfax, my favorite news source, has a warm and cuddly interview with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, where he tells the Russian interviewer that the people who say "dah" instead of "jah" in Estonia ain't their compatriots - they're his.

Ilves voiced hope that people of all ethnic backgrounds in his country regard Estonia as their home.

"Therefore I cannot agree with Russia calling not only Russians but Ukrainians, Belarussians, Kazakhs and members of other ethnic groups living in Estonia its countrymen. They are our countrymen, of course," he said.

"Estonia is a homeland for everyone who lives here. It cannot be otherwise or people would leave Estonia. It would be bad for Estonia," he said.

Ilves said he is determined "to work during the next five years for all people in Estonia to feel at home, for everyone to have work, health and love."

Awwwww. He said 'love.' Sometimes it is the most obvious things that need to be said and I think this is one of those things that perhaps, should be expressed more to the Russian side, to whatever number of them are listening. You should read the whole interview - he sounds off on the Bronze Soldier monument, the Border Treaty, and even analyzes comparing Estonian-Russian relations to being ice cold.

Commenting on a remark by an Estonian official calling his country's relations with Russia "ice-cold," Ilves said, "If you look at an ice cube, you will see that everything inside it appears to be stiff and lifeless. But if you look at Estonian-Russian relations, you can't see stiffness and lifelessness in them."

See, you can take the ambassador out of the embassy, but you can't take the ...