pühapäev, aprill 01, 2007

Lennart Meri Memorial Conference: Part I

I was fortunate enough to attend the first annual Lennart Meri Memorial Conference at the SAS Radisson Hotel in Tallinn over the weekend.

In coming posts I'd like to describe for you not the content of the event -- which is too ginormous to adequately represent in a blog -- but impressions of the scene in which people of various affiliations, presidents, generals, journalists, and "sirs" (for how else can they be described?) mingle to talk about energy, security, and Meri himself.

I was educated in Washington, DC, and so meeting the well known is not new to me. I once encountered former attorney general Janet Reno outside a liquor store in Chinatown at 11 pm during my studies. Yet at the same time, there is a certain rush that accompanies one when being in the presence of people like Tarja Halonen, the president of Finland.

The rush stems from the knowledge that if you trip and fall, splattering red wine on the president, you will not only feel like a total fool, you will have caused an 'international incident' that may be reported on the Conan O'Brien show. So, I recommend drinking white wine instead to lessen the potential for such diplomatic intrigue.

Anyway, it was humbling from the viewpoint of someone that cares very much about Estonia that such dignitaries and generally interesting people could be lured to Tallinn at the end of March to honor their former president, now one year passed. Most states have presidents, but few are worthy of such conferences it seems.

As I crawled into bed on the first night, I turned on ETV and found myself engrossed in a documentary about all sorts of things --Finno-Ugric tribespeople, Estonian and Finnish nationalism, and there, hosting this particularly interesting film was the main attraction -- Meri himself -- looking middle-aged, yet cool.

He was speaking Estonian in a way that lured you in -- not the muddiness of an Estonian guy in the pub, or the hurried intonation of the politician. The words swirled in my ears as I tried to make sense of them. And I thought, "How cool is this? Here we have a documentary film maker that went on to become president of his country and to be revered as a thinker, so much so that his memory could gather others from around the globe to gather and do just that -- think!"

It's a sweet legacy. As an American, I was jealous.

25 kommentaari:

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

When I got to know Meri's biography I was astonished. He was not living the boring soviet life, he was on adventures. Climbing Kljutschewskaja on Kamtshatka, one of the highest mountains, not in total meter but from the bottom to the pic, or riding a camel. He is the man!

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

I would like to read more about the conference. Damn I am missing this guy, this president.

Giustino ütles ...

Jens,

I have a busy workload in the days ahead. I'll add more mid week.

Thanks for reading!

Justin

Kristopher ütles ...

As a politician-thinker he was of course light years ahead of Bush or even Gore, and I liked him as a personality more than I did Havel. I was proud to have him as president, though my sentiments on the subject of following leaders coincide with famous American non-leader Jerry Garcia’s: "Who's that cool?"

Before the beatification -- I caught the end of the segment on Euronews and understand they are proceeding quickly -- it should be recalled that Meri was also the guy who turned a cold shoulder when over 60 of his countrymen died of methanol poisoning in Pärnu, many of whom weren't just bums as Meri claimed. That was an outrageously insensitive gesture, and it remained the only statement from Kadriorg on the matter.

Meri is an interesting person to intellectuals and journalists who are justifiably tired of Realpolitik dominating anywhere, maybe even a surrogate king for monarchists -- but he also cut an elitist and inaccessible image.

Many times he wore no clothes. It was nothing like Rüütel's marvels of rhetoric -- the never-ending sentences. But many a Meri non sequitur went hailed as some sort of insight rather than the verbal whiplash it was.

That is my contrarian view. Certainly he was a foreign policy genius – even if you take the view that it was all quirky method acting like some geopolitical Nicolas Cage, he got the job done. He never pandered to his people (since the 2001 elections were not a popular vote, perhaps there was less of a temptation) and he didn't patronize them or dumb things down for them. Hõbevalge was an interesting book and captured my imagination. There should have been an effort made to get quality English language translations of Meri’s works into bookstores during his term of office, just like copies of Letters to Olga were stocked right next to the Prague travel guides in that city during Havel's tenure. And these things should be considered for what they are worth.

Kristopher ütles ...

Correction to my comment: Meri was re-elected in 1996. 2001 was the year Rüütel was elected.

kari ütles ...

he was a GREAT estonian, a GREAT european and a GREAT president but he was still human. the cult spawned by his death is something i find somewhat disturbing. everything he said is not pure gold. neither is everything he did. despite that the man deserves the respect, the cult does not.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

kristopher, I know the critics on him. But face it. What is Estonia? It is nothing, we all have to explain what it means always (in Germany, second by size after Russia). This is my personal view about how the Germans were and are treating your politicians, your country and I am very critical about it. Once I was in Berlin to cover Meri's state visit there. He visited his old school and the old Estonian Embassy and when I took a photo of him the Regierende Bürgermeister of Berlin Eberhard Diepgen seemd to be the one who was the target. But he was not. There were no other photographers. The Berlin dailies are village papers. This visit underlines the difference between big countries and small countries. And Estonia is small, for Germans. Or should I be cynical: it is irrelevant. And Meri left his marks. Should I explain what happened after 2001?
On one event Meri was in Hamburg, the city mayor was there , and what did he say? Oh I have to leave now cause some Russian delegates are here. He left the Estonian President for some business talks!

Martin ütles ...

And I thought, "How cool is this? Here we have a documentary film maker that went on to become president of his country and to be revered as a thinker, so much so that his memory could gather others from around the globe to gather and do just that -- think!"

Well, Justin, that's one of the advantages of living in a small country compared with living in a big country like the USA. In Estonia there are more opportunities to forfil your potential. Sure, they say the USA is that land of opportunity, but what they didn't say was that you also have to compete with 350 million others for a piece of the dream.

In the USA, what's the odds of being in a position of stressing about spilling red wine over a president, let alone bumping into a Janet Reno at a liquor store. What opportunity would you have had in the USA to be interviewed on TV? But in Estonia, all this, and more, is possible.

As an American, I was jealous

No need to be jealous, why not become an Estonian citizen, or atleast a permanent resident? I am sure you would be a welcomed addition to the nation.

Anonüümne ütles ...

yep, being more Esto-patriotic than most Estonians, and everything

Anonüümne ütles ...

yep, being more Esto-patriotic than most Estonians, and everything

Vova ütles ...

Justin,
With all respect, Meri wasn't cool. Ilves is cool--neither he nor members of his family ever compromised themselves under the tibla occupation. There are still a lot of questions left unansered. Yes, Meri was a great man but he was a soviet man to the bone. Unless you came from the West or survived tibla death camps you ain't cool. Sorry to say that

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

A soviet man? Vova, I give you an example what Meri was not. The next Estonian president was visiting Berlin too. The conversation seemed to be very inspiring. This you can find on a site that is published by the Berlin mayor office:
'Als Ort der Begegnung und als Stadt mit Ost- und Westkompetenz ist Berlin ein idealer Kooperationspartner. Ich freue mich darauf, im September gemeinsam mit einer Wirtschaftsdelegation Tallin besuchen zu können, um diese Berliner Kompetenzen in der Hauptstadt Ihres Landes vorzustellen.'
It means Berlin is a place where they have a lot of "Kompetenz" dealing with East and West. So they are happy to visit Tallin [!] Did you ever read Berlinn somewhere?
This is plain small talk without content. But it was not Meri who was the address.
The difference, Edward Lucasdescribed it, I did not find until yesterday.

Vova ütles ...

Jens-Olaf, you could say a lot of right things at the right time--but not until the end of the tibla union. Unfortunately the whole generation of people who lived under tibla occupation is tainted. This is why people like Ilves or Karins next door or Adamkus further south are so invaluable. Meeri was an accommodationist, he lived and survived under the nazi tibla regime, and I don't trust him or any other Estonian patriot, like the commie thief Kallas and others

Anonüümne ütles ...

Vova, though you didn't trust him, the majority of the expats, as well as former prisoners of Gulag did. So your point is noted and appreciated, it is just happens to be a minority opinion.

AS ütles ...

Well, Vova. Me, my parents and grandparents and oh-so-many other Estonians also lived during the soviet (or as you like to call it - tibla) regime here in Estonia. My grandfather spent more than ten years in Gulag, my mother was born in a Gulag-camp. And I wouldn't say that my parents or grandparents compromised themselves under the soviet regime. Those were the times and these are the people who lived here. Lived not survived. So don't you dare to spit on them (and us) like this.
Meri was a great man with or without his faults. He still is.
Let's just hope that Ilves can fill his shoes.
By the way, where do you and your ancestors come from?

space_maze ütles ...

Unless you came from the West or survived tibla death camps you ain't cool.

But he did.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

I guess that here are people visiting this blog who are not familiar with Meri's biography. He was in a cattle wagon together wit his mother deported towards direction Ural. The train was running eastwards when the Germans started the war with the Soviet Union.

Aivar ütles ...

Although I would not stand to defend Vova's choice of words, I think I understand the sentiment that brings them forth. I trust that his intentions are good despit the poison he dishes out. TO me, he is simply pointing to the fact that so many of our countrymen did not behave nobly in the early years of independence and many do not to this day. Estonian politics is a tar pit and Vova, being a angry young man demanding change, just hopes that an outsider may have a better chance to stay afloat on the top of this foam of disgrace called estonian politics.

space_maze ütles ...

I can sort of understand the sentiment - people want to have "clean" people in charge, whose moral integrity won't, by default, be put in question.

On the other hand though, it's an attitude apparently quite common among foreign Estonians that really pisses me off.

Those Estonians, that were "compromised" by staying .. they're the people that made sure that there'd be an Estonia to return for for those that left. They're the ones that, under terrible costs, made sure that the place continued existing.

I find it quite arrogant of foreign Estonians - the people that *LEFT* - to come back 50 years later, and act all annoyed about the fact that some things had changed in Estonia during the Soviet Occupation, and that it wasn't the Estonia that they had left.

Yeah, great deal of help you guys were in keeping Estonia, as a nation, alive.

Mind you, I do have the highest respect for Ilves' activism in the west, and I do think that his background is quite good for an Estonian president. Much as it was good for Germany to have Willi Brandt as a chancellor after World War II, and much as it was good for Austria to have Bruno Kreisky as a chancellor - both guys that had spent the war years in Sweden, working as activits against the Nazis.

I just find it extremely silly to automatically disqualify anyone that was in Estonia during the Soviet days - you can't make history disappear by pretending that it never happened.

Giustino ütles ...

If you want to "hate" some Estonians from the past, you might as well start with Johannes Vares.

Could there be a better insulting image of Estonians than the goons that formed the 1940 communist government?

The only redeemable thing he did was that he killed himself after he realized what he had let happen in his country. Someone should make a Greek tragedy-inspired play about Barbarus. The material is just too good.

space_maze ütles ...

I don't know, Johannes Vares sounds more like a sensational fool to me than anything else. A guy actually stupid enough to believe that the Soviet Union was coming to liberate the workers from the claws of a class-society, and thus incredibly useful to the Soviet Union - till they noticed that he was just a communist, and not a stalinist.

I've heard theories that his suicide might quite possibly have been .. aided. It wouldn't surprise me.

Good riddance, in any case. There is a limit to how much stupidity I can tolerate in one person.

Martin ütles ...

space_maze wrote:
On the other hand though, it's an attitude apparently quite common among foreign Estonians that really pisses me off.

Those Estonians, that were "compromised" by staying .. they're the people that made sure that there'd be an Estonia to return for for those that left. They're the ones that, under terrible costs, made sure that the place continued existing.

I find it quite arrogant of foreign Estonians - the people that *LEFT* - to come back 50 years later, and act all annoyed about the fact that some things had changed in Estonia during the Soviet Occupation, and that it wasn't the Estonia that they had left.

Yeah, great deal of help you guys were in keeping Estonia, as a nation, alive.


Steady on there, Space_maze, I don't think most foreign Estonians carry this view as you describe. I doubt "Vovo" is one either.

As for help keeping Estonia as a nation alive, thanks to the lobbying efforts of these Westos, many western nations witheld recognition of the Soviet annexation, laying the foundation of Estonia's state continuity and re-independence.

Don't forget that most of those who did manage to flee to the West also had relatives who remained behind and suffered under the Stalinist yoke, and missed them terribly over the years.

plasma-jack ütles ...

Btw, Ilves was also branded a "communist" by some hard-core foreign Estonian circles in the US (guys who were excited about Vietnam war etc).

Australian foreign Estonians are the strangest - they condemn the moral decadence of the "metropol" (although they accept some parts of modern Estonian culture, like "Lotte"). Arguably, they removed all red threads from their ethnic Estonian clothing (is there a better word for rahvariided?)...

Also there's a story about an Australian guy who wanted to marry a daughter of a foreign Estonian. Unfortunately, man's name was.. Perse. The father, a true patriot, wouldn't give his daughter to a perse, of course..

plasma-jack ütles ...

(though I'm not sure whether Urmas Vadi made that one up or it really happened)

space_maze ütles ...

Steady on there, Space_maze, I don't think most foreign Estonians carry this view as you describe. I doubt "Vovo" is one either.

Yeah, I know about the first half :D .. it's just a view I have - indirectly - heard of before, and have never quite understood. I'm sorry if my reactions came off as stronger than they were supposed to.