This Saturday Estonia and Russia will face off in a football match with significant political undertones. Some 900 Russian football fans are expected to travel to Tallinn to watch the match, and it's highly likely events could transpire that could be used by opportunistic political vultures in any number of ways.
It's a reminder of the fact that Estonia cannot escape geography, and that its neighbor to the East not only outnumbers it 140 to 1 but also has something of a total lack of empathy or understanding for Estonia that it ascribes to other countries with which it shares borders, like Norway and Finland.
As the year 2005 dawned, Russia was in a position where it had to face the reality that Estonia, as well as its other former Baltic republics, had successfully made the transition it started with the Singing Revolution by joining both the European Union and NATO. It decided that it would have to sign a border agreement, initialed in 1997, with Estonia, and indeed signed the treaty in June 2005.
Then everything went downhill. Russia insisted that Estonia ratify the treaty first, Estonia attached attached a preamble to the law ratifying the treaty, which is a document of the domestic legal system and has no bearing on the text of the treaty itself. Russia disagreed with that and went through the rare action of legally removing its signature from the agreement, and, well, ever since then Estonian-Russian relations have been barely worthy of the term. Estonia's preamble referenced documents that were too truthy for Russia, and they made the statement that somehow Estonia's internal preamble would entitle it to getting Petserimaa back at some future 19th century-style territorial roundtable.
Russia then commenced with systematic violations of Estonian airspace, which it denied, although it also violated Finnish airspace, which it apologized for. The propaganda war emanating from the Russian foreign ministry and its news services has been unrelenting ever since, and it gained new momentum when scuffles broke out at a monument in central Tallinn last year.
Estonian far right activists, such as Tiit Madisson, whose books on the Holocaust could get him in trouble in Austria to say the least, then launched their campaign against the monument, pledging to blow it up, or, in Madisson's words, move it brick by brick to the occupation museum.
Then there were the demonstrations. There were skinheads yelling "occupant" in Estonian at Russians yelling "fascist" in Russian. There were teenagers holding red roses for the army that killed or imprisoned nearly all of Estonia's pre-war leaders. The youth dimension was enough to make a sane person nauseous.
The Estonian government, threatened with the collossal PR disaster that would ensue should the Bronze Soldier nonsense take on new, more violent twists, decided that it should be moved out of the city center to a graveyard -- which are also routinely vandalized in Estonia, but that people don't seem to worry about as much.
The matter, however, was bilateral. Beneath the statue are the possible bones of dead Red Army soldiers you see, which belong to Russia, even though Russia claims that it doesn't have anything to do with the USSR, except when it comes to the good parts (glory and territory).
It also didn't help that Prime Minister Andrus Ansip chose to peddle the issue down the "symbol of occupation" route as opposed to the "these men should rest in a cemetery, not a tram stop" route -- which he has embraced more as The New York Times has stuck its nose in the issue.
But did that really matter? Probably not. The BS issue fit well within Russia's preexisting propaganda war against Estonia and they've run with it ever since. Estonia later banned both the swastika and hammer and sickle, which the Russian foreign ministry -- never ones for logic -- decried as a glorification of fascism.
President Ilves, who vetoed the most recent bill allowing the removal of the BS, said that the Estonian government was passing out ammunition to its critics and indeed, if there is some kind of flare-up at this weekend's game it may very well involve said metal war monument.
There is hope though. These gentlemen are no longer fighting with guns. They are likely to channel their energy into a sport that is played with one's feet. I have read that everytime the Germans defeat the Brits, some dumb newspaper calls it a 'Blitzkrieg'. Perhaps if Russia defeats Estonia this weekend, its newspapers can rightly plaster 'Red Terror' on the front cover the following day.