reede, mai 25, 2007

A Scandinavian Playground?

When Estonia undertook its rebranding campaign at the end of the '90s to change its image from the tired "former Soviet republic" to a positively-transforming Nordic country, all of its neighbors chuckled.

The Finns that paid attention perhaps suffered their own identity crisis, pondering the distinction between Scandinavian and Nordic, and if the Swedes thought that Estonians weren't Nordic enough, could it be that Finland was really Baltic!?!?

The Swedes that paid attention perhaps were irked that some poor country full of Finnic bog people that only figured out what to call themselves in the middle of the 19th century could aspire to be as cultured, wealthy, and perpetually morose and neurotic as they are.

Meanwhile to the Latvians, Lithuanians, and Russians, Estonia's attempt at inserting the word 'Nordic" into every promotional booklet printed about the country reinforced their image of Estonia as a land of pompous asses, who dared to think that they were as good as Sweden, the greatest country on Earth (TM).

One can imagine many boots kicking fervently downward as Estonians tried to crawl out of the muck of post-Soviet identity in the international marketplace. It was only American and British guidebook authors, like travel guru Rick Steves, that realized that, 'yeah, Tallinn is only 80 km from Helsinki, I better put it in my Scandinavian travel book', or Lonely Planet that realized that 'yeah, Tallinn is part of the Scandinavian experience, we should include a small segment in Scandinavian Europe' that gave Estonia's rebranding strategy legs.

But the real testament to what has happened in Estonia is the prevalence of Swedish and Finnish capital, which total 70 percent of direct foreign investments in this land of barn swallows and corn flowers. This doesn't seem to be changing. Despite European Union membership, German and British and French capital is not drifting to these quarters.

Estonia is too small and too far for serious investment when dollars and pounds can flow into larger, closer markets like Poland, Hungary, or the Czech Republic. For the Finns, Swedes, and to a lesser extent the Danes and Norwegians, Estonia is attractive because it's a market they can dominate with relative ease.

Used to managing multinational corporations, Finnish and Swedish businessmen probably find the Estonian market to be a breeze. They can take a quick ferry there or fly there in an hour or two. And since the people are as wired and as ... Lutheran ... as they are, they make easy business partners.

Not to mention that so much of the money flowing here is spent by Scandinavians and Finns. It's spent on summer houses, or on food and beverage businesses that are actually owned by Nordic capital. It's spent on the tourist industry. Swedes build spas for other Swedes in Estonia. I mean there are people in Estonia that are handling telephone inquiries for confused Swedes. It's not that easy to get Indians to do the same job, so Estonia is an attractive choice for this brand of outsourcing.

Also, in the Nordic market, 1.3 million is a lot of people. That's more than 1/9 of Sweden, 1/5 of Denmark and Finland. If they could own everything in this market too, and make it eventually as wealthy as they are, then that would be a legitimate longterm investment.

What I am getting at here is that the Estonian market is less foreign than it is an active player in the northern European economy. With that comes the financial security of being connected to a comparatively stable system, but the other questions about what markets lie beyond Stockholm and Helsinki and Oslo and Copenhagen? How can Estonia become not just a regional player but attract capital investments from elsewhere in Europe and, indeed, the world?

And, again, why would anyone else want to come play in the Scandinavians' backyard? It's "their" market. It's within "their" sphere of influence (ha ha). These are questions that should be answered as Estonia moves forward. Without trying too hard, Estonia has become -- or regained -- a position in the Nordic community. What will be the next steps, and how will this relationship develop?

37 kommentaari:

Andres ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Andres ütles ...

Damn those Scandinavians :p Stealing all our companies. I hope someday some Estonian will buy Swedbank and rebrand it all to Hansapank (btw, pank actually means 'broke' or 'bankrupt' in Swedish) :P

In other news, the media is apparently loving Evelin now. I just read your post about how they dissed her after the Queen's visit. Now it seems like the Japanese visit has raised her to the elite of Estonia's fashionable people ;)

Giustino ütles ...

Some Estonian women are nasty. They said some not nice things about Evelin last time (she's fat, a bad dresser, etc).

Now that she dyed her hair blonde (or is it naturally that color? who knows?) and lost a little weight, I am sure she is in the good graces of all superficial Estonian females.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

It comes to mind that today a fresh europoll announced with unprecendent support to the EU.

Vilhelm Konnander ütles ...

Dear Giustino,

I commend you on shedding more light on Scandinavian-Estonian relations. I would not be able to do so myself, but keep digging. There is much interesting to discover.

Yours,

Vilhelm

somebody ütles ...

Again a really interesting post. I read once in a book about the Baltics that Sweden was one of the few countries that immediately recognized the Estonian Soviet Republic. So in the 90s they tried to wash that taint through some kind of financial assistance (direct aid?) and investment.

Perhaps regional organizations in the Baltic sea may have played a role in easing contacts and investment in Estonia (Nordic Council, Council of Baltic Sea States, Baltic Parlamentary Assembly).

Perhaps Finnland (also relatively small in terms of inhabitants) was like a gateway for the new Estonian market. Sweedish companies that had established themselves in Finnland where tempted by Laar's tax policies. And products manufactured in Estonia could very easily be transported to their consumers by sea.

Scott ütles ...

Totally off-topic: My visit to see the British flagship on Saturday:
HMS Illustrious

Back on topic: I know T. Ilves and E. Ilves personally, and E is one of the most gracious humans I have ever met. If Hil. Clinton and her where to ever have contact, there would be a matter-antimatter explosion of some kind.
She has no taste for politics, and joked that if she had seen T. Ilves' Borat mustache (photos in Eesti Express back in November) before they got married, she wouldn't have given him the time of day.

All she wants to do is go back to her home and work on her rose garden. I think she's the bomb.

Okay, looking at the original post, I wasn't on topic at all. I will ... look for the side door.

Giustino ütles ...

Perhaps regional organizations in the Baltic sea may have played a role in easing contacts and investment in Estonia (Nordic Council, Council of Baltic Sea States, Baltic Parlamentary Assembly).

The Nordic Council has two offices as far as I know -- in Tartu and in Tallinn. They established a presence here even before the restoration of independence.

The idea of actually joining the council has been floated, but it raises institutional issues (how do Latvia and Lithuania fit into that?) and, anyway, I don't think the council is in expansionist mode.

Also, Estonia benefits from not being part of it because of the enormous resources (scholarships etc) that are available to non-Nordic Council members.

The Scandinavians and Finns don't make a big splash about their "soft power" contributions but they exist. The Swedish Chamber of Commerce is quite active, as far as I know.

Those countries have their own post-WWII issues to deal with. Finlandization, etc. It's only with the new governments -- Reinfeldt, Vanhanen -- that you may see more assertive policies in the Baltic region. That might be tied to psychological guilt over what happened in the 1940s. I know it's a theme in Swedish post-war culture.

Then there's the Baltic Development Forum, chaired by former Danish foreign minister Uffe Ellemann- Jensen. His party, Venstre, has been in power in Denmark for five years now.

I am sure when NATO was deliberating on admitting the Baltics, it paid a bit to have Rasmussen in power in Denmark.

Of course the Icelanders, though small, are great supporters of Estonia. I think they want the Faroes and Greenland to achieve independence too. The more winter olympic teams, the merrier.

But the *real* issue is that Estonia is a less-equal part of that community. It is not giving back as much as it receives. And if Estonia wants to be a big boy, that is going to have to change eventually.

plasma-jack ütles ...

I read once in a book about the Baltics that Sweden was one of the few countries that immediately recognized the Estonian Soviet Republic.

not exactly. first was Iceland, 22 August, second was Russia, 24 August, the EU came in as a whole on 27 August, US as late as 2 September. But Sweden did open its embassy here already on 29 August.

Andres ütles ...

plasma-jack: the Estonian Soviet Republic, not the Republic of Estonia (tm).

Giustino ütles ...

not exactly. first was Iceland, 22 August, second was Russia, 24 August, the EU came in as a whole on 27 August, US as late as 2 September. But Sweden did open its embassy here already on 29 August.

He's talking about in 1940, I guess. Norway did not recognize the new Western borders of the USSR, I am unsure of Denmark. Sweden may have been one of the few that did.

somebody ütles ...

Sorry for the confusion, obviously I was meaning the puppet republic set up by Stalin that applied for membership to the USSR and became the ESSR. Most countries never recognized the legitimacy of that annexation.

Changing subject: one day you should write about Estonia's nordic identity through its architecture. I arrived to Estonia by sea from Helsinki and the seaport (a Stalinist construction, I believe) gave me a very bad impression. My first thought was "Back in the USSR". At that time I did not know you could pay your bus trip with an sms.

Later I tried to find out what places or landscapes seemed to look nordic to me. For instance, the trees in front of the Baltic Defense College in Tartu gave the building a nordic touch.

I don't know directly how nordic countries look, but the old wooden houses in Tartu remind me of a provincial town in the old, multi-ethnic Russian empire. I saw similar neighborhoods in small Russian towns. I would say the same thing about Haapsalu with its train station. It looks to me like a "kurort" where one of Chehov's plays could take place.

This being said, I obviously did not mean that Estonia is Russian or part of Russia. For many geographical, ethnic, cultural, economic and historic reasons Estonia evolved differently that, say, Novgorod Veliki, that was flattened to the ground many hundred years ago.

Andres ütles ...

The Tallinn seaport is a modern box of glass and cardboard AFAIK. Or are you talking about some previous building?

Heli ütles ...

One more thing came to my mind cons. Sweden´s behaviour in the 40´s - in the estonian history lesson in highschool was mentioned that they also extradited a lot of estonian refugees to USSR. One can only guess what happened to these people, I guess they were even too much of the "traitors of sov. rep of Est" to be "just" sent to Siberia. Therefore I personnaly don´t think much of swedes at all and I´m pretty sure that they have same feelings for us.

Andres ütles ...

Finland also gave out refugees in my opinion. They were so terrified of the USSR, so it seemed like the sensible thing to do.

soundwhiz ütles ...

"Therefore I personally don´t think much of swedes at all and I´m pretty sure that they have same feelings for us"

A ridiculous statement to which I strongly disagree. Swedes very much like Estonia and its people. Of course, I have nothing to back up this claim with, but I'll bet you don't either with yours. Unless you were seriously considering the extradition debacle 60 years ago perpetrated by a small group of people who are probably dead or getting there. Let it go.

I hate nazis, but I love Kraftwerk, Mercedes, Kinder eggs, Lufthansa and I think Angela Merkel would be a fine shag if it was just her and myself on a deserted island. Sins of the fathers are just that. Don't perpetuate them.

Kristofer

Oh... I'm Swedish :D

Giustino ütles ...

Changing subject: one day you should write about Estonia's nordic identity through its architecture.

***

I don't know directly how nordic countries look, but the old wooden houses in Tartu remind me of a provincial town in the old, multi-ethnic Russian empire. I saw similar neighborhoods in small Russian towns. I would say the same thing about Haapsalu with its train station. It looks to me like a "kurort" where one of Chehov's plays could take place.


What you've hit upon, somebody, is that the buildings resemble the era in which they were built.

Most of the wooden dwellings here in Tartu were built in the 1900s. The last phases of the Russian empire. So I guess they would resemble that time period.

Meanwhile, Tallinn's old town resembles a northern German city during the 1500s.

Meanwhile, the glassy, modern architecture of today, found in Tartu and in Tallinn and basically everywhere, wouldn't be out of place in the suburbs of Reykjavik.

Each power in Estonia left behind architectural curiosities. In most cases, those northern German medieval buildings in Tallinn really were for medieval German traders.

Those ornate train stations, like the one in Haapsalu, really were built for Russian travelers.

I mean, what kind of Estonians in 1907 -- when the station was built -- traveled by train to Haapsalu and for what purposes? It was built for imperial visitors from St. Petersburg. Haapsalu was a summer retreat for them.

Now, I should say that when I was in Helsinki the first time, I definitely did not feel that I was in Scandinavia. It did not feel like Stockholm or Copenhagen.

The avenues and large grey post-war buildings looked alot like what parts of Tallinn look like now. The 1960s apartment buildings were in better shape, but not unlike the Soviet apartment blocks in Tallinn.

So, like Finland, Estonia is not east or west, but "somewhere in between." There is nothing "Scandinavian" about the Langinkoski fishing lodge of Tsar Alexander III near Kotka, that's for sure.

Rather than view the world as a serious of boxes (as Scandinavians and Finns (and Estonians)) might be prone to do, I think the world is comprised more of colors and shades. So if Russia were a flaming red, and Sweden a navy blue, then Finland and Estonia would be a striking purple ;)

somebody ütles ...

Andres: I don't know, I came out of the Tallink ship and what I saw was a huge symetric beton block. It seemed some kind of totalitarian architecture to me. This was in 2002, they may have removed it ever since.

Giustino ütles ...

This was in 2002, they may have removed it ever since.

Tallinn has changed a lot since then. That was the first year I came too, and I had a similar experience.

The port area was one of the last pockets of nastiness in central Tallinn.

But ruined factory by ruined factory they've cleaned it up so that you leave the glass buildings of Helsinki and meet them again in Tallinn.

When I lived in Tallinn in 2003-2004, the Ülemiste shopping center was this "holy shit" kind of newfangled Scandinavian shopping experience in central Tallinn. This was before they did Kaubamaja.

And the road the airport was littered with scarred and decaying buildings. But one by one they took them down and surrounded Ülemiste with so much crap that it now looks quite ordinary.

Now it's the road out of Ülemiste beyond the airport that is being carved up by different kinds of companies that build in the Scandinavian tradition.

Christ, even the train station in Tallinn is fairly well-kept these days. In 2003, it was a craphole plagued by wandering drunks with cuts on their faces.

Is that what EU accession does? Is that what 10 percent economic growth means?

If so, I hope it spreads to Jõgeva. Fast.

Andres ütles ...

I wonder what will be done with all the old Soviet blocks of flats. How long will they endure? Will they be blown up and new ones built or something? Because, well, there's a shitload of them all over Estonia (especially in Tallinn's suburbs). Will I live to see the day Lasnamäe's 9-storey concrete monsters will crumble down like card houses one by one? That would truly be a nice day :P

somebody ütles ...

It is amazing to hear that Estonia has changed so much. These Estonians are really impressive. I can't wait to go and see it myself!

Is that what EU accession does? Is that what 10 percent economic growth means?

At least it means that there is a lot of capital being poured into Estonia. The real estate sector seems to be booming. Estonians are able to convince investors that their small country is the right place to put their money. And they are getting richer in the process.

So if Russia were a flaming red, and Sweden a navy blue, then Finland and Estonia would be a striking purple ;)

Absolutely. Estonia's architecture is like a history book. You have different periods of its history standing side by side, and some of these periods can be traced back to some of the old foreign powers.

As to the regional institutions, I thought the three Baltic republics had already been granted membership of such clubs like the Nordic Council. Good to know that there is still that divide.

space_maze ütles ...

I wonder what will be done with all the old Soviet blocks of flats. How long will they endure? Will they be blown up and new ones built or something?

You don't need to tear them down and rebuild them. With some minor re-doing of the fassades, you can make Soviet apartment blocks turn into plain old apartment blocks. I took a picture a few years ago of a redone apartment block right beside a "traditional" one. The difference was quite stunning. The indsides of these blocks aren't actually too horrid, depending on how well the respective owner has taken care of it, of course.

There are a few in Lasnamäe, which look just like plain old apartment blocks, like they exist all across Europe. I hope that with a few more years, all of Lasnamäe will be like this. I have no idea what the status is in other parts of the country.

Also, I was last in Estonia in February 2006. As has been mentioned here, Estonia being Estonia, I should't count on recognizing much in July when I return :p

Heli ütles ...

Andres, now that you mentioned Finland who also gave out our refugees it indeed reminded me that also that was mentioned in history class- my memory is fading obviosly, but since I graduated highschool in 1994 already then no wonder LOL :D.
Soundwhiz, I didn´t mean to offend any swedes and of course I´m not holding any grudge because of our history, but I talked from my personnal experience with them cause that is the feeling they have left me, but could be that I´m not objective and even bitter cause I have myself swedish and danish roots which I found out only in 90´s (my parents, grandparents and grand-grandparents are from Saaremaa (Ösel) and Hiiumaa (Dagö)) and after that our families started to commune familywise but it has been really weird and gave me these biased views.

Giustino ütles ...

Some Swedes are notoriously self-absorbed. Going there you feel as if you have stepped into a parallel universe where everyone is swallowing their vowels. I am sure that Finnish politics barely register, let alone Estonian politics. Think about it. Ilves' election was the frontpage in Helsingi Sanomat, but perhaps warranted a brief in Dagens Nyheter.

I mean, I like Sweden and I like that parallel universe, but in the Swedish mindset Estonia seems "far" even though it's right across the Baltic Sea. This happens all the time. I say that I live in 'Estland' and I am automatically viewed with some suspicion.

They have a provincial perspective on their own neighborhood. I mean, some are perhaps even scared of visiting Estonia! Yet they fly all the way to Thailand to vacation.

Figure that one out.

I think it's more isolated northerners, Icelanders and Finns, that "get" Estonia. They are used to staring at world maps and thinking about these things.

It's ok though. I think the Norwegians, Finns, and Danes pretty much feel the same way about the Swedes.

Heli ütles ...

I mean, I like Sweden and I like that parallel universe, but in the Swedish mindset Estonia seems "far" even though it's right across the Baltic Sea. This happens all the time. I say that I live in 'Estland' and I am automatically viewed with some suspicion.

They have a provincial perspective on their own neighborhood. I mean, some are perhaps even scared of visiting Estonia! Yet they fly all the way to Thailand to vacation.
-----------------------------------
Giustino, perfectly said, that´s exactly what I meant to say but failed in my english :).
And the fact that they are indeed "scared" and cancel their trips to Estonia after bronze-night like has been written in newspapers lately has made me even more biased towards them and came to realize that they are just very distant from us and probably just like that way the best.

karLos ütles ...

if only russia would take that attitude...? :) kidding..

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, I think that Swedes tend to be bit dramatic when it comes to international politics and crisis situations - it can make you a nervous wreck when all the time scary things are happening around you and often almost spill over to your pleasant, perfect, superior kingdom. Two hundred years of uninterrupted peace can make any mindset peculiar. This said, they also can take much more courageous moral attitudes than for example us cynical, pessimistic Finns that don't believe that right often has many chances against might...

Giustino ütles ...

Hey, did you see that that Russian businessman decided to end his interests in Estonia?

I couldn't help but think that decisions like these play into the hands of those that will likely take over -- be them Estonians, or Finns, or Swedes.

It benefits the companies that probably support Reformierakond. One might have seen the possibility of sanctions as a Russian capital 'house cleaning' that would invite another round of Scandinavian investment.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Yep, it seems that Russia is stubbornly playing oldfashioned geopolitical games with economy and investment, in the long run that's a gigantic own goal - something that the Kremlin seems to specialize these days. It is a strange, even alarming spectacle, one wonders what kind of a political system Russia will end up with...

Wahur ütles ...

By the way, advice for all you architecture freaks :)
If you want to see really stylish Stalinist town, Sillamäe is an absolute must-see. Anything like that has not survived even anywhere in Russia, I guess. I personally think it should be protected like Tallinn Old Town, and fast.

Andres ütles ...

Yeah, Sillamäe is beautiful. Some rumours say the best of the USSR were chosen to plan it and Stalin personally looked after the construction. The houses are a bit worn and would welcome a new layer of paint but the architecture is way more pleasing than anything else from the Soviet era.

Heli ütles ...

Sillamäe- beatiful, hm? I´ve been there only once in the end of 80´s but I can recall only 5-store Mustamäe-like houses everywhere I pointed my eyes there and couldn´t find anything beatiful..Though I was only passing through the town then and it was a couple of hours stop so probably I didn´t make to see whole town. But the impression was depressing what it left me.

Giustino ütles ...

What I find interesting about Estonian discourse is the lack of attention paid to places like Kärdla or Kuressaare when it comes to architecture.

Is it just that Kärdla's old time Scandinavian architecture is boring and Sillamäe is more interesting because the style is named after a dictator that was responsible for millions of deaths?

What gives?

Andres ütles ...

heli,
http://www.sillamae.ee/index.php?page=151&&PHPSESSID=54b06aabd07187b88b22fd875b216584

There isn't much beautiful about Sillamäe other than the promenade that leads to the sea and the main street, where there are nice 2-3 storey buildings. I don't know about Kärdla, since I've never been to Hiiumaa in my life. Shame on me :P The only things I remember from Kuressaare are small wooden dwellings and the castle.

Wahur ütles ...

Giustino, why do you say Kuressaare lacks attention. The effort to clean and restore Kuressaare old town has been going on since early 90ies, has been well-planned, unusually systematical, extremely successful and years ago when it was still news it also got lots of attention in the media.
Kärdla. Andres is not the only one who has not been there. You see, while all of the Estonia wants to become "slightly boring Nordic country", then Kärdla is already there (in fact it's gone way beyond that). It is safest place to live in Estonia and the only news it ever generated was that 100 years ago, when there were only 2 cars in Kärdla, these managed to crash into each other. So if Hiiumaa decides to move to another dimension one day, like Valinor, then nobody would notice before election period starts.

stockholm slender ütles ...

I must say that Haapsalu is my absolute favourite: such Astrid Lindgren land. There are so many places yet to see, Kuressaare absolutely one of them, but also Ida-Virumaa is certainly on the list (Hmm, of course wrote it first with a "t", Estonian is such a confusing language...) Much of the Soviet architecture looks most dismal to me - I have to confess that when visiting first time one of the old student dormitories in Tartu, I was totally shocked, would have done old Sweden proud with my reaction!

Architectse ütles ...

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