reede, juuni 15, 2007

Latvianization

It is becoming more and more apparent that Latvia is taking advantage of the recent fray between Estonia and Russia to make itself look like a good boy in the eyes of the eastern, more often genocidal neighbor.

First came the ratification of the border treaty where -- in Russia's eyes -- Latvia abandoned its land claims to the Pytalovo district or its uninterupted legal continuity during the Cold War period.

That's not to say that Latvia had any land claims or that it gave up its legal continuity when it did so, but from the perspective of the Russian media, which is like FOX News on steroids for Russia, it did. And what did Latvia gain? Well, it already had a border and it already is in the EU and NATO. So I guess it gained the image of being a good boy in Moscow.

This was confirmed by the recent invitation of President-elect Valdis Zatlers to visit his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, sometime in autumn. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov himself will also visit Latvia, after the border treaty is ratified, of course. One can only dream of the day when such Russian dignitaries offer the same access to Estonia's elite.

Finally, there's this tidbit. Latvia will restore an inscription on a monument in Riga that reads: 'to the soldier liberator of Soviet Latvia and Riga from German Nazi troops.' It was removed in the 1990s during a period of ideological fervor, but now, since Latvia is a good boy, it's time to address the needs of 'dozens of thousands of Riga residents who treasure the monument,' Latvian politician Janis Urbanovics said in a report.

In Latvia's recent posturing one sees signs of the kind of self-censorship that marked Finland's position during the Cold War. But does that mean that the new Cold War is upon us, or is this something else. It could be the pragmatic thinking of Latvia's political elite to accept reality -- that ethnic Latvians lack critical mass in Riga to ever attempt what the authorities did in Tallinn, and moreover, they are terrified of provoking a similar response among their residents.

Or maybe they just see a window to escape the hostility of Russia. I recall that in 2003 and 2004 the news reports similarly smacked of the hysteria towards Latvia that now has been shown towards Estonia. Who could blame them for making superficial sacrifices to maintain stability with its increasingly rich and powerful neighbor? Afterall, the school reforms will go on, won't they?

Well, that's another question. Is there a slippery slope to this behavior. Will we soon see the elimination of the citizenship policy? Will the unilingual policy fall after that? And sovereignty after that? One hopes not, but I am sure that rightwing Latvians are already saying it's the case.

At the bottom of comparison with Estonia is that the two countries are different states. I know that Estonia sees itself as part of the Nordic community if not a Nordic country per se. Although the Russian relationship is often the most discussed and emotional, it is the Swedish and Finnish and Danish relationships that are as, if not more important.

That's not to say that Estonians are more like Danes, or have nothing in common with Russians. But in terms of the state, its perspective is guided by its place as a state among states in that community. For example, the national coat of arms in Estonia is a derivative of the Danish coat of arms. In Võru, there are photos of Gustavus Adolphus up to commorate the 375th birthday of Tartu University. This is in Võru, not even in Tartu.

At most junctures in Estonia -- the name of the capital, the seafaring nature of the islanders, the main university that has served a cultural and political engine for Estonian life, the national epic -- there is a Scandinavian or Nordic root. So, Estonia sees itself as part of this family of northern European nation states. Relations with Russia are important, but not essential to the identity of the state, if only as an antagonist to help prop the state up and reinforce its vision of itself.

In Latvia I have read that there is a history of viewing the country as an interface between Germany and Russia. Then again, perhaps that history was authored by Artis Pabriks, the current foreign minister of Latvia. But Latvia's recent actions are more in tune to this concept of Latvia -- as a mildly nationalist civilizational conductor between Germany and Russia, neither of which give a crap about inscriptions on monuments, uninterupted legal continuity, or most of Latvia's policies if they aggrevate or complicate the German-Russian (Nord Stream) agenda.

On the flipside, when the anti-Estonian Putin is gone from office, perhaps Estonia will see similar efforts from Russia to have a 'normal' relationship -- the kind it has with Norway or Finland as Russia comes to accept the Baltics' EU status. This is the kind of relationship that the EU and the US have both been urging Russia to take towards the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians. Maybe the softening in Latvian-Russian relations will have even positive implications for other countries too.

67 kommentaari:

Flasher T ütles ...

There won't be goodwill towards Russia in Estonia until there is a significant change in attitude in Russia. Unequivocal condemnation of Soviet actions and policies is a non-negotiable prerequisite to this.

Not holding my breath, in other words.

Giustino ütles ...

I wonder what this all means for Baltic solidarity or lack thereof.

I get the impression that Lithuania and Estonia are driven by different narratives, but narratives that are similar in their mutual view towards Russia -- we're European nation states, leave us the hell alone.

Latvian nationalism has different undertones. There is a closeness to Russia that is driven by economic reasons, demographic reasons, and familial reasons -- there's a lot of intermarriage in Latvia between Russian and Latvian speakers, whereas in Estonia this is a relatively rare occurrence.

It would be a mistake, in my opinion, to see the Estonian and Latvian 'questions' as the same.

Aleks ütles ...

I personally think we're losing whatever independence we've gained in 1991. Latvian PM hopes to sell Latvia as a transit point between the Wild East and the Lukewarm West. We've signed on the border treaty that may be ruled unconstitutional because a loss of Abrene must be put to a referendum. We're becoming more and more dependent on Russia, which is not stable.

On the other hand, the days of the Baltic unity appear to be long gone. Since we've gained our independence we went into our separate ways. Some here in Latvia still complain about Estonia's reinventing itself as a Scandinavian country. That excuse was used by some to explain why Latvian parliament delayed to adopt a resolution condemning the events in Estonia. At another point, we've blamed Lithuanian farmers for taking a share of the Latvian market. And so on and so forth. Although we may seem like we're united, we have our different goals, different mentality, and different partners.

Infidel753 ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Infidel753 ütles ...

It seems a little unfair to accuse Latvia of appeasing Russia, given that Latvia has offered to participate in the US anti-missile defense system which has Putin in such a snit.

Giustino ütles ...

I guess appeasement could be seen as giving a threatening actor what he wants to escape any fall out.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

It would be a mistake to oversimplify this. Our histories and our nations are extremely different. In the 19th C, our nationalists studied at Dorpat, Giustino. The center of Latvian nationalism in Rīga, what we call Mommy (Māmuļa), was an outgrowth of an organization providing aid to Estonian famine victims. Culturally and linguistically, we are a lot closer to Lithuania, obviously. Historically and politically, we've always been closer to you.

Most people I know hate our current Government and were horrified by the delay in supporting Estonia. The most decent media outlets would agree. As far as escaping hostility and critical mass -- look, the Lithuanians stuck to principles, which they could afford... Latvia straddled, and Estonians fled into their vaunted pragmatism, no? Latvia and Estonia remain closer politically -- Lithuania handed out passports; we didn't.

This is a slippery slope, yes, but it is taking place at the behest of of a very unpopular government. One can draw all sorts of parallels between us on many a level -- but then look more closely; this newfangled "friendship" towards Russia is based upon specific interests run by oligarchs and numerous politicians being bought off.

Personally, as I've suggested before, I think Ilves still needs to apologize for his Yuleland crap. It came up again and again in the last couple of months. Anyway, Estonia will be a Baltic state until it dies, sorry, no matter how delightfully Nordic you get...

Aleks ütles ...

What will happen with the change in government, Peteris? I highly doubt that a new government would revoke the border treaty, or any agreements signed between the current government and the Russian Federation. I also doubt that oligarchs will cease to put economic pressure on a ruling coalition whatever that coalition may be.

Will this friendship cease to be once a new government comes in? I don't think so.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

You weren't and aren't going to convince me that Estonia is somehow closer to Latvia than it is to Finland...

As I recall, shortly after Ilves made his remarks, a survey asking such things was done in Estonia. Most Estonians felt the way you don't.

Giustino ütles ...

Personally, as I've suggested before, I think Ilves still needs to apologize for his Yuleland crap. It came up again and again in the last couple of months.

That was speech given to Swedes as an attempt to touch Swedes on a level that they would understand and promote cultural closeness between the two countries where already economic closeness exists. And if there is such a thing as Yuleland, within the realm of Ilvesland, then Estonia is certainly a part of it.

Ilves was raised in America. He'd rather explain his country for himself rather than accept one defined by Baltic Germans and Russian imperial tourists.

Anyway, Estonia will be a Baltic state until it dies, sorry, no matter how delightfully Nordic you get...

This is part of a larger discourse where Latvia sees Riga as the 'capital' of the 'Baltic states'.

I noticed once when I wrote a business story for BT about Finns locating businesses in Estonia, that it was followed the next week by a Latvian-informed one promoting Riga to foreign businessmen.

It started off by discounting the previous week's article: 'no matter what you hear about Finns locating businesses in Estonia, most foreign businesses prefer Riga, the capital of the Baltic states' it appeared to say.

That story was assigned to me, and yet I had stumbled upon the odd discourse of Baltic identity. This is also funny because it reveals some discomfort with Finnish-Estonian cultural awareness.

The funny part is that most people in the world know little if anything about Finnish culture. Yet once Estonia stands up and says, 'yes, we are Finnic too' it is somehow a challenge to foreign-designed Baltic identity.

It is interpreted as Estonians 'thinking they are better' than Latvians and Lithuanians, as if Finland, with its burly alcoholics, was somehow superior to those countries.

I think Estonians see Latvians as neighbors, and empathize greatly with Latvians and Lithuanians due to a shared past. There is a solidarity and awareness. But this is a reactive solidarity and political awareness.

As daily life proceeds, there is a cultural gulf, to the point that when I nearly took a job to cover 'the Baltic states' I was at a loss of what to do, because I couldn't cover Helsinki -- 80 km away, and instead had to cover Riga and Vilnius.

At that moment, the Baltics as an entity seemed counter intuitive. The mental idea to split Finland from Estonia in some kind of geopolitical grouping seemed badly uninformed and just wrong. The mental idea to separate Estonia from Sweden or Iceland again seemed counterintuitive and wrong.

Latvia would draw me into currents that led to Germany or Russia. Lithuania would lead me into currents that led to Poland and the Visegrad countries.

So at that moment, I didn't care about what delightful term they used to describe Estonia. You weren't and aren't going to convince me that Estonia is somehow closer to Latvia than it is to Finland, or that Vilnius is more important for Estonia than Copenhagen or Stockholm.

In this sense, the concept of the 'Baltic States' seems like total crap. That doesn't mean that I don;t want to cry when I watch footage of the Baltic chain, or that I am not jazzed when I see people in Riga holding Estonian flags.

It just means that the word Nordic comes in handy when describing Estonian poetry, Estonian folklore, Estonian demeanor, and just because some guys that write foreign policy books don't accept that, and just because some Russians and Germans and Latvians don't accept that, doesn't mean it's not true.

If the Kalevala is nordic, then Kalevipoeg is nordic as well. It's not a security thing, an economic thing, or a status thing. It's a reality thing.

Andres ütles ...

The Baltic cooperation is a very pragmatic one. We are three small countries packed together, we share a common close history. Hell, why not stick together. Also, most people still get a tear in their eye watching videos about the Baltic Way and I felt extremely warm inside when I saw protests in Riga and Vilnius that were arranged to support us after the notorious April events. But I also felt warm inside when I saw how much the Finnish media paid attention to it and that they still cherish our common culture and heritage etc. Why do these things have to be counter-productive? I don't think Lithuania is less 'Baltic' because they have a special relationship with Poland.

Maybe the problem is that Latvia hasn't got such a relationship outside of the Baltics and feels left alone with Russia? Although lately I've been reading about Latvia trying to create something with Sweden, I still think the Swedes are way too uptight to get really warm and fuzzy with a Baltic republic.

Giustino ütles ...

As I recall, shortly after Ilves made his remarks, a survey asking such things was done in Estonia. Most Estonians felt the way you don't.

My opinion is based on anecdotal evidence. It rears its head whenever I have to write a "Baltic states' themed story. The subject will stop me and explain that Estonia isn't really a Baltic state. Maybe that's Ilves or maybe that's something deeper, but that's what happens.

Incidentally, Russia won the most votes from Estonia in Eurovision this year. I wonder what that means. :)

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

Oh, c'mon, Giustino -- that's just cheap. If Latvia leads you to Germany and Russia, I could say that Estonia is a suburb of Finland. Same tawdry logic.

stockholm slender ütles ...

In many ways Finland's status was also ambiguous in the interwar era, many saw us a Baltic state - some of our rightwingers didn't even want to identify with increasingly progressive and socialdemocratic Scandinavia. I have seen a British book from 1920's about the "new" Baltic nations Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania... In Molotov-Ribbentrop Finland was referred to as a Baltic nation. It was only after the war that Finland unanimously (apart from the Communists) turned singlemindedly towards a Nordic identity and got it accepted (of course with many very natural and organic historical building blocks as the foundation). So, to a degree you can rebrand yourself, and perhaps it would be useful for Estonia to have a Nordic instead of a Baltic image and identity.

Giustino ütles ...

Oh, c'mon, Giustino -- that's just cheap. If Latvia leads you to Germany and Russia, I could say that Estonia is a suburb of Finland. Same tawdry logic.

It's not up to me to tell you who you are or for me to tell Estonians what they are. You are certainly a greater expert on Latvia. When I was in Riga I felt like I was in a Central European country. As Robert Amsterdam wrote:

Having just come from Latvia the day before, I found a significant contrast between the two Baltic nations. In my limited subjective experience, there was a far greater amount of optimism in Estonia, and Tallinn exhibited a distinct Nordic feel as opposed to Riga's "Mitteleuropa" elegance. In terms of these countries' relations with Russia, they are moving in opposite directions.

But there again lies my dilemma.

Because the history of Finland is so intertwined with Estonia, and because the cultural spillover with Sweden is what it is, I know a lot more about these Swedish and Finnish characters than I know about Latvian and Lithuanian characters.

My opinion is informed by experience living in Estonia. I can describe the scene in Võru last week, where Inkeri Finns held a celebration and photos celebrating the history of Tartu University, along with a portrait of Gustavus Adolphus were displayed, because I was there. I was happy though to see that Latvians and Lithuanians were at that march, although Ingrians don't live there. It was nice to see them and their flags. It was positive and neighborly. I have liked most people I met from there, and I of course love your blog, and must note that your English may be better than mine.

But anyway, identity debates can never be resolved, let alone on a blog.

Estonia is part of the Baltic Assembly. But it's also a member of the EU's Nordic Battalion.

What else can I say?

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

The esteemed Robert Amsterdam also wrote that he thought Latvia's conclusion of the Border Agreement was a great triumph for Latvia, no?

My point is really simple -- to that less than 5% of the world that knows anything at all about us, we're the Baltic states.

Maybe 1% knows enough to realize that we're not kin (I'm trying to be optimistic).

Trying to separate your Vabariik from the concept works very badly, and it works even worse now that them pragmatic, Nordic, hyper-democratic Estonians had them unimaginably awful riots, eh?

plasma-jack ütles ...

Btw, do they teach Estonian and Lithuanian in Latvian schools and/or universities? Here in Estonia I have met only one person able to speak Latvian - an ethnic Latvian, I must admit.

Giustino ütles ...

Trying to separate your Vabariik from the concept works very badly, and it works even worse now that them pragmatic, Nordic, hyper-democratic Estonians had them unimaginably awful riots, eh?

Why should I continue the counterintuitive process of splitting Estonia and Finland? It's stupid and wrong.

Secondly, as an American, the Tallinn riots and the news caused by them were a joke. I haven't really written that much about them since, because there actually is little to say. It reminds me of Chicago, every time Jordan's Bulls won in the 90s.

Not to mention in orderly Germany last week, 146 police officers were injured at the G8 summit. They were, of course, nothing compared to what happened in France.

Am I in denial? Maybe, but not by that much.

People are sometimes telling me what to write. The Russophobe was distressed that I don't write about Anna Politkovskaja every day. You apparently take umbrage that I separate Estonia from Latvia in some fashion.

I write what I feel like writing using the words I feel are best. The rest is a great big whatever.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

No, Giustino, no such umbrage -- it has nothing to do with "wrong" or "right." It has to do with centuries of a common history and a common experience. Baltic Germans, the Russian Empire, the liberalism of the interbellum, the Soviet occupation.

Giustino ütles ...

Yes, nobody disputes that. I think what I said -- or what I intended to say -- is that Estonian and Latvian ideas of how their nations fit into the jigsaw puzzle of Europe have been different, and that Latvia's more friendly posturing towards Russia *could* be interpreted as being in line with the concept of Latvia as an interface between Germany and Russia.

That is, it could be seen as a branch off of that school of Latvian nationalism. I believe I read about that branch of Latvian nationalism in part of a book authored by FM Pabriks. Therefore perhaps the interpretation carries a bit more weight, considering he's the one supposedly running the foreign ministry.

Sgt. Pepper ütles ...

I totally get Giustino's drift about the bronze riots. After the dust settled there was just one car that was turned upside down!

They do "better" than that every time the University of Maryland basketball team plays at College Park, MD.

So in a way Giustino is putting down the Estonian meglomania a bit by suggesting that whatever happens in Estonia is NOT neccessarily the world's biggest-bestest-coolest-most-awfulnest-craziest kind of stuff. And the fact is it is a bummer a bit. I personally also expected a much, much bigger splash out of the bronze fires ...

There was hope for a second that Russia will start something historic like start massing troops or something and unleash the dogs of war, armageddon, repirsals, unimaginable scale of human suffering and, and .... and then it fizzled out into pathetic news about people not being able to find estonskaya kolbasa in Moscow.

Duh.

Giustino ütles ...

The esteemed Robert Amsterdam also wrote that he thought Latvia's conclusion of the Border Agreement was a great triumph for Latvia, no?

Another great example. Aigars Kalvitis told the Saeima that Latvia should ratify the border treaty because the 'German chancellor expects this news from us today.'

Ilves says that Estonia doesn't need the treaty because Norway doesn't have one either:

"At the moment we are essentially in the same situation as Norway, which for 60 years has not had an official border treaty with the USSR or with Russia and there are no arguments about where the border should be. The absence of a border treaty is not a particular problem for Estonia."

http://politicom.moldova.org/stiri/eng/21193/

Walter ütles ...

Giustino:

It is increasingly difficult to have a rational, or even incisive, discussion/debate about politics and policy if one lapses into national character ideal-types. It might be fun to talk about national characters, but it's ultimately more the mushy stuff of caricature than serious analysis.

To shed light on the motives and calculations of politicians in Riga, the subject header "Latvianization" seems like a predetermined place to start - you have already made up your mind.

Instead of sliding back into mushy talk about history and national epic poems and historical references, I would have preferred to hear more brass nails discussion about the ethnopolitical and institutional differences between Latvia and Estonia, and how those factors guided Latvian politicians in their policy choices.

To be sure, there are undeniable cultural differences between Latvians and Estonians, not least linguistically. Yet, I somehow doubt that these are the factors that determine Riga's Ostpolitik.

It would have been more fruitful for discourse to look at other key factors in Latvia:

- significantly larger Russian-speaking minority, comprising more Soviet-era migrants (Latvians are actually a minority in Riga); this would make Latvian politicians very nervous about restive minority leaders

- Latvians have already had experience with low-level terrorism of a Moscow-orchestrated variety in the National Bolsheviks; perhaps they decided they could not afford another dust-up

- back in the 1990's, Latvian politicians were almost too hawkish on citizenship and language issues, and they kept getting slapped or spanked by Western diplomats and organisations

- remember March 1998? Latvia experienced quite a crisis after some Russian-speaking demonstrators scuffled with Latvian police; dire threats from Moscow followed; it set back Latvia's drive for EU membership, and Latvia was left diplomatically stranded for a period; Estonian politicians were quiet and standoffish, if sympathetically so

- Latvia's banking, finance and transit sectors are heavily Russian-owned, and have been from the outset, when local Russian mafia organizations waged low-level wars in the early 1990's; this is bound to give Latvian politicians pause and caution, for they have been conscious of a potentially powerful fifth column for some time

- Finally: To my knowledge, none of we participants are inside Latvian policy-making circles, so we don't what they are thinking or perceiving in Riga; but there is also every possibility that some Latvian politicians viewed the Ansip government's decision to move the Bronze Soldier, at that time and in that manner, as ill-considered; after all, Western governments were caught completely unawares by the move, and that left Estonia dangling alone for a few tense moments; since Latvia remembers being in that predicament, and since Western governments are still prone to looking for appeasement strategies with Russia, there is a chance that Riga is merely picking its battles more carefully

giustino says...
If the Kalevala is nordic, then Kalevipoeg is nordic as well. It's not a security thing, an economic thing, or a status thing. It's a reality thing.

This "Nordic identity" notion is interesting and ticklish. Yet, it's always struck me as a self-fulfilling, self-indulgent effort to socially construct a new Estonia identity, despite a half-century of Sovietization. It was a clever and cute diplomatic tool when Ilves started batting it about as foreign minister back in the late 1990's; but there's a big difference between style and actual substance.

Let's face it: the Soviet elements are still there, even if they are fading and dying. And a good deal of what's replaced it in the meantime is not necessarily Nordic or Scandinavian in essence, but more like Western consumerism, and sometimes a parody version of what one sees in Western societies. Have a serious talk with some serious-minded Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, and even Finns - along the lines of this national identity theme - and I think you might hear a few say that Estonia has more in common with Latvia than its Nordic neighbours. One cannot undo a half-century of history with clever marketing or diplomatic turns-of-phrase.

Lastly, Giustino, I do hope you were being funny with that "reality thing" bit. It sounded quite tautological, and also like quite a far fling from your seemingly serious post about Latvian policy choices. Besides, how can an epic poem - a nineteenth-century fiction - possibly be a "reality thing"?

Twenty-first century Balts are not living their daily lives in the imaginations and nationalistic motives of Lonnrott, Kreutzwald or Pumpurs. Although it makes for colorful copy and cultured table talk, serious analysts and curbside pundits should not be referencing their analyses of state policies with nineteenth-century poems and national stereotypes. If that's the case, then the discourse won't be going too far. For the end result will be an online nodding contest, in which everyone generally agrees with everyone else, and everyone gets to drop clever footnotes that preempt disputation.

Now, seriously: Any thoughts on Latvian policy motives and policy choices? Or have we all basically arrived at a consensus based on self-comforting national stereotypes?

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

Walter -- nice post. Any thoughts on Latvian policy motives and policy choices? Latvian policy is created by a coalition consisting of three oligarchs and the paid-off far right. That's pretty simple. Warm ports, nice people, good money.

Giustino ütles ...

To shed light on the motives and calculations of politicians in Riga, the subject header "Latvianization" seems like a predetermined place to start - you have already made up your mind.

The subject header is a reference to Finlandization. There is a notion that Russia is buying the goodwill of some countries -- Hungary, Austria, Latvia -- and continuously putting pressure on others -- Poland, Lithuania, Estonia.

Quite honestly, it would seem that in the EU, Russia would prefer that states like Latvia simply comply with its requests. Hence the term Latvianization -- an EU member that complies with the expressed needs of Russia out of fear of reprisal.

Why else would Latvia take the actions it has taken this spring?

To be sure, there are undeniable cultural differences between Latvians and Estonians, not least linguistically. Yet, I somehow doubt that these are the factors that determine Riga's Ostpolitik.

I disagree. I think that Estonians' manner of say, removing a statue, is wholly in line with their mostly tactless national character. Ansip is an Estonian man before he is a politician, and for all his reasons for doing what he did, he did it with all the pigheadedness of a man from Lõuna Eesti.

I live among these guys every day. They think they are right, the other guy is wrong. End of story. For all the mushy, cute political analysis, one neglects to understand that Ansip made up his mind and he made up his mind and he made up his mind. That's it.

- significantly larger Russian-speaking minority, comprising more Soviet-era migrants (Latvians are actually a minority in Riga); this would make Latvian politicians very nervous about restive minority leaders

I thought I addressed this:

It could be the pragmatic thinking of Latvia's political elite to accept reality -- that ethnic Latvians lack critical mass in Riga to ever attempt what the authorities did in Tallinn, and moreover, they are terrified of provoking a similar response among their residents.

- Latvians have already had experience with low-level terrorism of a Moscow-orchestrated variety in the National Bolsheviks; perhaps they decided they could not afford another dust-up

I also addressed this:

Or maybe they just see a window to escape the hostility of Russia. I recall that in 2003 and 2004 the news reports similarly smacked of the hysteria towards Latvia that now has been shown towards Estonia.

- back in the 1990's, Latvian politicians were almost too hawkish on citizenship and language issues, and they kept getting slapped or spanked by Western diplomats and organisations

I didn't say that. Thanks for bringing it up.

- remember March 1998? Latvia experienced quite a crisis after some Russian-speaking demonstrators scuffled with Latvian police; dire threats from Moscow followed; it set back Latvia's drive for EU membership, and Latvia was left diplomatically stranded for a period; Estonian politicians were quiet and standoffish, if sympathetically so

See above.

- Latvia's banking, finance and transit sectors are heavily Russian-owned, and have been from the outset, when local Russian mafia organizations waged low-level wars in the early 1990's; this is bound to give Latvian politicians pause and caution, for they have been conscious of a potentially powerful fifth column for some time

This gets into the currents that flow into Russia and into Germany.

- Finally: To my knowledge, none of we participants are inside Latvian policy-making circles, so we don't what they are thinking or perceiving in Riga; but there is also every possibility that some Latvian politicians viewed the Ansip government's decision to move the Bronze Soldier, at that time and in that manner, as ill-considered; after all, Western governments were caught completely unawares by the move, and that left Estonia dangling alone for a few tense moments; since Latvia remembers being in that predicament, and since Western governments are still prone to looking for appeasement strategies with Russia, there is a chance that Riga is merely picking its battles more carefully

Fine.

This "Nordic identity" notion is interesting and ticklish. Yet, it's always struck me as a self-fulfilling, self-indulgent effort to socially construct a new Estonia identity, despite a half-century of Sovietization.

You should be aware that in 1918, some Estonian politicians were imagining an Estonian state that was loyal to the Swedish monarchy. And when Konstantin Päts was on the way out he drew up a "two state solution" to be used at a future international conference that he did not attend.

The two states to be joined were not Estonia and Latvia. In fact, Päts used to live in the Finnish embassy in Tallinn.

So Estonia's idea of itself as a member of some pan-Scandinavian grouping is not new, but dates back to the founding of the republic.

It was a clever and cute diplomatic tool when Ilves started batting it about as foreign minister back in the late 1990's; but there's a big difference between style and actual substance.

Sure.

Let's face it: the Soviet elements are still there, even if they are fading and dying. And a good deal of what's replaced it in the meantime is not necessarily Nordic or Scandinavian in essence, but more like Western consumerism, and sometimes a parody version of what one sees in Western societies.

This is an odd discourse. What makes something 'Western' and not 'Western'? Even the line about 'a parody version' is hilarious. Corruption (I guess this is what you mean by Soviet) in Estonia does not often trickle down to the consumer, not at least to me.

In the past month I have dealt with real estate agency, insurance agents, the migration and citizenship office -- in all ways it was above the table, clean, and efficient.

In comparison the 'Western' ideal of the US has been largely bureaucratic, expensive, and inefficient when it comes to dealing with immigration issues in our family.

So much for parodying the West.

Have a serious talk with some serious-minded Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, and even Finns - along the lines of this national identity theme - and I think you might hear a few say that Estonia has more in common with Latvia than its Nordic neighbours.

Pssh. The Swedes think that Estonia is some kind of lawless backwater where prostitution reigns supreme. The Finns perhaps have a similar, insular vision of their uncouth neighbors.

Yet at the same time, the Estonians might think the same of Russia or even Latvia. It seems that shitting on ones neighbors is a European pasttime.

But that doesn't mean that the Finns and Estonians and Swedes aren't alike. Having been to the boondocks in all three countries, I have found them to be mostly similar. They like solitude. They like their summer houses. They like nature. They like order. And most of all, they like booze.

They are also described universally as cold, dry, boring, wet, or as the Russians might joke, 'hot-blooded.'

One cannot undo a half-century of history with clever marketing or diplomatic turns-of-phrase.

Right, and we are just supposed to play the same sad song over and over again. 'We are the Baltics, we were occupied, we are the Baltics, we were occupied.'

What about the next 50 years? Where is Estonia going? That's where the national ambition, and the examination of the state's reason to exist: it's purpose: it's narrative come into play.

Since the Singing Revolution, part of that narrative has been 'rejoining the Nordic community' along with 'rejoining Europe.'

There's a strong hint of BS there, but here in the US we are led to believe that we wanted to separate from Great Britain at the get go, and that Patrick Henry said 'give me liberty or give me death', and that Paul Revere warned everyone the British were coming. It's a total fabrication, but it still does the trick. ;)

Lastly, Giustino, I do hope you were being funny with that "reality thing" bit. It sounded quite tautological, and also like quite a far fling from your seemingly serious post about Latvian policy choices. Besides, how can an epic poem - a nineteenth-century fiction - possibly be a "reality thing"?

I am arguing that it is wrong to separate Estonia from Finland in some geopolitical compartmentalization of states. It's stupid. It's stupid and wrong that the American-Scandinavian Foundation will pay you money to translate 19th century Finnish poetry, but they won't pay you money to translate Estonian poetry because Estonia gets put in the box with Lithuania.

I mean most of Estonia's poets and writers from the Noor Eesti period died and are buried in Stockholm. The blood and cultural lines go back and forth and back and forth.

Again. Stupid.

Twenty-first century Balts are not living their daily lives in the imaginations and nationalistic motives of Lonnrott, Kreutzwald or Pumpurs. Although it makes for colorful copy and cultured table talk, serious analysts and curbside pundits should not be referencing their analyses of state policies with nineteenth-century poems and national stereotypes.

I didn't mention Kalevipoeg in my original post. My point was that it was counterintuitive to say that Kalevala was Nordic, but Kalevipoeg is not. A simple statement in the comments section after it was noted that Ilves owes everyone an apology for daring to say that Estonians have a lot in common with Swedes and even Brits! The nerve of that usurper, daring to threaten the concept of the Baltic states!

If that's the case, then the discourse won't be going too far. For the end result will be an online nodding contest, in which everyone generally agrees with everyone else, and everyone gets to drop clever footnotes that preempt disputation.

*nodding in agreement*

Now, seriously: Any thoughts on Latvian policy motives and policy choices? Or have we all basically arrived at a consensus based on self-comforting national stereotypes?

McMad ütles ...

One cannot undo a half-century of history with clever marketing or diplomatic turns-of-phrase.

Yes you can, if you hammer it long enough. :P

Tell a person hundred times that he is a pig. 99 times he will say "No", hundredth time he will say "Oink".

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

This is an odd discourse. What makes something 'Western' and not 'Western'?

Oh, sheesh. Even you can answer that. America isn't Western.

Giustino ütles ...

Oh, sheesh. Even you can answer that. America isn't Western.

Then I guess we shouldn't be in NATO. It would be shameful for us to promote our parody of Western society in places like Afghanistan, for instance.

Walter ütles ...

I got the Latvianization-Finlandization reference. Clever play.

Incidentally you’re not the only one in the room who’s decided to live in the Baltic as a välismaalane or ārzemnieks, nor the only one with a keenness to discover the history of the region.

Incidentally, didn't Finlandization take on a rather pejorative meaning? Regardless, your play on the term sounded presumptive. I suppose that is what I was partly responding to.

By “parody,” I was referring to the spaces where most people tend to live day-to-day – malls, TV shows, MTV, pop music. In other words, nouveau-riche bling-bling lifestyles. You must surely see some of that too?

You wrote earlier about it not being for another to say what he/she/they are.

It's not up to me to tell you who you are or for me to tell Estonians what they are.

Yet, you seem to have Ansip and and the Estonian character all figured out.

Ansip is an Estonian man before he is a politician, and for all his reasons for doing what he did, he did it with all the pigheadedness of a man from Lõuna Eesti.

I live among these guys every day. They think they are right, the other guy is wrong. End of story.



That’s the main thing I was trying to say. If you wish to have a serious – perhaps analytical – discussion about policy, these national characterizations are mushy places to start. The flitting back and forth through history - allusions to Päts, Gustav Adolphus, Noor Eesti - is fun and interesting. For I also enjoy the regional histories. But it’s not necessarily helpful in unpacking current politics, unless the view is teleological.

In Latvia, we could look to Kārlis Ulmanis, Čaks or even the Strēlnieki (Riflemen). But that won’t help us understand the politico-economic or ethnopolitical calculations of current Latvian politicians, whose ideational influences and context are very different, ranging from Soviet upbringing, Western exile, post-Soviet junkets and scholarships in the West, Washington consensus/Chicago school frameworks, and a decade of tutoring by the EU, OSCE, Council of Europe and even Washington DC.

The problem with history serving national narrative is that it gets awfully malleable. The whole matter of Baltic independence days makes that point. For example, on February 24, 1993 - not long after the U.S.S.R.’s demise - we heard the late Estonian President Lennart Meri celebrate Estonia’s 75th anniversary. Yes, we know why he and most Estonians chose to neglect the actual loss of sovereignty during the years of occupation. And, yes, we know about legal continuity and non-recognition. But let’s call it what it is - national myth-making. (Everyone else is doing it, so can’t we?)

Yet, if we want to actually understand what’s going on socially and politically under the surface, these national myths, histories and narratives get in the way.

The thoughts and actions of Gustav Suits or Krišjānis Barons, and the like, do not help us to analyse how and why the staffs of Paet and Pabriks make the decisions that they do. Not unless we are doing some academic historical study, which would be academic in the truest sense. Or not unless our premise is that something is in the blood of each eponymous national.

Fair enough point about defining “Western.” I suppose I was thinking in terms of the general institutional, historical and cultural factors that distinguish Europe and North America from other regions - variations of representative democracy, variations of market capitalism, Renaissance/Reformation, free inquiry, scientific inquiry, separation of church and state, nation-statehood. For lack of a more precise term, there is a general model Central Eastern Europeans have strived for over the past twenty years.

As for your quip about NATO, the West and Afghanistan - what do you mean Giustino? Despite pronouncements about democracy and human rights, I never took NATO to be a purveyor of societal values; it was always more about geopolitical demarcation, which is what seems to be today.

Giustino ütles ...

I got the Latvianization-Finlandization reference. Clever play.

Incidentally you’re not the only one in the room who’s decided to live in the Baltic as a välismaalane or ārzemnieks, nor the only one with a keenness to discover the history of the region.


I smell a Britisher. Please tell me I am wrong.

Incidentally, didn't Finlandization take on a rather pejorative meaning? Regardless, your play on the term sounded presumptive. I suppose that is what I was partly responding to.

OK.

By “parody,” I was referring to the spaces where most people tend to live day-to-day – malls, TV shows, MTV, pop music. In other words, nouveau-riche bling-bling lifestyles. You must surely see some of that too?

I am in New York right now. How could I not see it?

You wrote earlier about it not being for another to say what he/she/they are.

Yet, you seem to have Ansip and and the Estonian character all figured out.


So I guess I must be a hypocrite, which would then invalidate my whole discussion of anything Latvia.
R i g h t.

You mentioned before that I somehow did not reference certain points that you found valuable in the discussion. But as I pointed out in comment #27, I did reference many of those points. So why did you act as if I didn't mention them, when they were there all along?

That’s the main thing I was trying to say. If you wish to have a serious – perhaps analytical – discussion about policy, these national characterizations are mushy places to start.

The flitting back and forth through history - allusions to Päts, Gustav Adolphus, Noor Eesti - is fun and interesting. For I also enjoy the regional histories. But it’s not necessarily helpful in unpacking current politics, unless the view is teleological.


What are you talking about? I put an idea forward that the difference in Estonian and Latvian policies towards Russia might be due to their different ideals about the manifestation of their independence and how they fit into their idea of Europe.

All of this other crap came up -- Gustavus Adolphus, Noor Eesti -- because some people felt like questioning the idea that Estonia shares anything with Sweden or Finland. That happened in the free and easy comments section.

In Latvia, we could look to Kārlis Ulmanis, Čaks or even the Strēlnieki (Riflemen). But that won’t help us understand the politico-economic or ethnopolitical calculations of current Latvian politicians, whose ideational influences and context are very different, ranging from Soviet upbringing, Western exile, post-Soviet junkets and scholarships in the West, Washington consensus/Chicago school frameworks, and a decade of tutoring by the EU, OSCE, Council of Europe and even Washington DC.

See above.

The problem with history serving national narrative is that it gets awfully malleable. The whole matter of Baltic independence days makes that point. For example, on February 24, 1993 - not long after the U.S.S.R.’s demise - we heard the late Estonian President Lennart Meri celebrate Estonia’s 75th anniversary. Yes, we know why he and most Estonians chose to neglect the actual loss of sovereignty during the years of occupation. And, yes, we know about legal continuity and non-recognition. But let’s call it what it is - national myth-making. (Everyone else is doing it, so can’t we?)

It's not really. Estonia was founded in 1918, not 1991. Just because most of us weren't alive then doesn't mean it didn't happen.
Estonia's flag, coat of arms, constitution, national anthem -- these were not synthesized in 1991.

Again, what else was Estonia to do? It made decisions about its future, then had its future taken away. Looking forward, it decided it knew who it was and it was time to move forward.

If the Brits had succeeded in suffocating American independence in 1812, and in 1860 they restored it, relying on the constitution, the federalist papers, and celebrating July 4, I would have no qualms with that.

Yet, if we want to actually understand what’s going on socially and politically under the surface, these national myths, histories and narratives get in the way.

The thoughts and actions of Gustav Suits or Krišjānis Barons, and the like, do not help us to analyse how and why the staffs of Paet and Pabriks make the decisions that they do.


Again, what the hell are you talking about? In what way did I say that Gustav Suits influenced the decision of the Estonian Foreign Ministry? You're mad.

As for your quip about NATO, the West and Afghanistan - what do you mean Giustino? Despite pronouncements about democracy and human rights, I never took NATO to be a purveyor of societal values; it was always more about geopolitical demarcation, which is what seems to be today.

Well friends, we've traveled to the land of jabberwocky by now, where the US is not Western, and, always remember, don't use the words of Gustav Suits to make your foreign policu decisions, no matter how windy it gets in Estonia. I hope you've enjoyed Walter and Pēteris Cedriņš. If you are interested in writing to President Ilves to ask him to rescind his hurtful statements about how countries that have the word "yule" in their language have stuff in common, then he can be reached in person at Kadriorg or at yuleland@president.ee.

stockholm slender ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
stockholm slender ütles ...

Ok, a new attempt...

Excellent level of discussion in this thread! Even if slightly distempered at times... I would only comment that Finlandization is a bit of a complex concept - not one that we are very fond of here, especially when expressed ahistorically in the late Kekkonen era context when our "progressive" intelligentsija and youth radicals went collectively bonkers. Originally that was a very hardheaded deal negotiated with Stalin after being left for dead by the West and with the Red Army heavy artillery within reach of Helsinki centre from Porkkala. In that context to remain stubbornly Nordic, democratic and capitalist was actually quite an achievement even if we had to pay lip service to our great "friendship" with the great "peaceloving" neighbour in the East. Though what happened later wasn't very pretty this hard geopolitical achievement remained untouched and Finland integrated with the West in all other respects but rhetorical.

Btw, that early independence reference brought back to mind P. Mustapää's (one of our premier post-war poets and one of my absolute favourites) lovely, sad rememberances in the 1960's of his youthful trips to Estonia and his friendships there. Below lines from "Kansallislippu" that was published in 1969 in our Finlandized country:

"Tämä kielletty kansallislippu:
meri, hiekka ja kedot.
Punalakkiset poliisit
retuleilla ajoivat pihaan.
Ann Tamm on Siperiassa
ja Oskar Loorits makaa Tukholman haudassaan."

Nice stuff indeed.

tomia ütles ...

You, giustino, seem to think that Estonians see themselves as Scandinavians. I wonder if that's true. I remember seeing a poll a few years back in which a majority of the Estonians told that they identified themselves with central Europeans - which sounded a bit strange to me knowing about the strained relationship they used to have with the German elite.

It's also far fetched, in my opinion, to look for ties with Denmark. They are mostly ancient.

The Finnish-Estonian connection, on the other hand, used to be perhaps closer than many people nowadays understand. Until the age of icebreakers it was possible to walk (or ski or take a sledge ride) from one country to another - and many did. There are villages in northern Estonia where a majority of the inhabitants used to talk Finnish - as well as Swedish. Until quite recently it was not out of ordinary to hire Estonians to coastal farms in Finland. Quite a few stayed, no doubt.

And of course we were ruled most of the time by the same king/emperor.

From this view it's not peculiar that Finland and Estonia share things like a common national anthem - as far as the tune goes - and a national epic based on similar "runes". Not to mention the language, of course.

But this natural tie pretty much broke off during the Soviet occupation and I'm not sure if it's going to be renewed. I mean, where are the cooler prospects, in Prague, Berlin, Paris, London - or with the poros in Helsinki?

space_maze ütles ...

One thing worth noting is that prior to WWII, "the Baltic countries" generally included Finland.

Today, I doubt anyone would say that. Finland has had a vastly different history, while the southern three have gone through similar crap and as such, of course, created a bloc.

This bloc - including Estonia and excluding Finland - is based purely on this part of the shared history being the dominant part.

Once this part of history stops being "dominant" though .. what then? Why does it then still make sense to put Estonia and Finland into separate cupboards?

The similarities between Estonian and Finnish culture are quite obvious to me - also if Estonians might hate to hear this ;-) (the assumption that Estonia seeing itself as Nordic means that they actually *like* the Swedes and the Finns is a faux pas) The same pig-headedness. The same allergy against speaking. The same obsession with what others think of them. Not to even mention shared mythology, shared lingual history, shared music, and whatnot. It just doesn't make any sense to but Finland and Estonia into two different "blocs", based on half a century, when you have several millenia of history in common.

Wahur ütles ...

About whether Estonia is closer to Finland or Latvia... Putting aside all the myth-making (which is also needed, if we want to get rid of this victim self-image for good), there is a good real-life example.
Since early 90ies there has been strong influx of Finnish and Swedish money and business to Estonia. It worked, these guys are still here and mostly successful.
In late 90ies, when Estonians had their first business successes and gathered first fortunes, there was also significant flow of money and investment from Estonia to Latvia and Lithuania. Every serious businessman had some pet project somewhere in South. It did not work. Most of these early attempts failed miserably. Sure, there were other reasons, but one very remarkable was communication problem - cultural differences. Having worked for Latvian boss for two years, I can confirm that this is an issue.
Or go to some international conference. What you see? Latvians, Lithuanians and the rest of CEE bunch gather together, ten years ago they also almost always used Russian for communication. Estonians rarely went to that group, either sitting with Finns and Swedes or Western Europeans. In fact, it was more visible 10 years ago than now, cause CEE bunch has learned more English.

Giustino ütles ...

You, giustino, seem to think that Estonians see themselves as Scandinavians.

I think Estonia is part of a Nordic cultural area that is far larger than the concept of the Baltic states. But Scandinavians -- to me -- speak Scandinavian languages. So the Faroese are Scandinavians, but the Estonians are not.

The similarities between Estonian and Finnish culture are quite obvious to me

The Internet fetish is odd in this part of the world, right up there with the sauna fetish, the vodka, fetish, and the coffee fetish.

I remember I visited an Icelandic homepage once. There was a button for "orgasm". You clicked it, and your whole screen looked like it was shaking for a minute or two. Only a person from this part of the world would invest the time into creating something like that. In Finland, they were proud to show us that they have invented the ultimate combination of fetishes -- the Internet sauna!

Walter ütles ...

Giustino:

I'll drop this line of discussion with you, as it is evidently one of diminishing returns and circular logic.

On the subject of Baltic independence days, the point was plain. To count eighty-nine years of independent statehood is plainly the product of myth-making, which, as I said, is common in most nation-states. Yes, we all know the state was founded in 1918; but for a half-century, despite non-recognition of occupation, it was not in any essence a sovereign state. If we wish to analyse current policies, we would do well to separate myth from fact.

Well friends, we've traveled to the land of jabberwocky by now, where the US is not Western, and, always remember, don't use the words of Gustav Suits to make your foreign policu decisions, no matter how windy it gets in Estonia. I hope you've enjoyed Walter and Pēteris Cedriņš. If you are interested in writing to President Ilves to ask him to rescind his hurtful statements about how countries that have the word "yule" in their language have stuff in common, then he can be reached in person at Kadriorg or at yuleland@president.ee.

In threads like this, I fail to see why you have a comment section. I believed it to be an interesting and promising discussion. Yet, when you read posts that challenge or confuse you, your responses and tone turned petulant and condescending."Land of jabberwocky" and "I hope you enjoyed" and "Again. Stupid."

Since I highly doubt any one of us has the Baltic region figured out, I maintain that there's always room for discussion and disputation. An ideational challenge does not mean that you are giving up something of yourself, unless you have things all figured out already. Giustino: I hope we can have frontal discussions without you becoming condescending and petulant and basically dismissing points you do not like.

Giustino ütles ...

Walter,

I re-read through your comments and this post. It was, as people have noted, an interesting experience.

Perhaps I have misunderstood your points, but I sensed condescension on your part as well.

I think the term 'Latvianization' could be used to describe the approaches some unpopular governments in Latvia and Hungary have taken towards Moscow.

We'll see how these relationships develop over time and then it will be easier to point out the distinguishing factors of this phenomenon.

The Estonian relationship with Latvia and Finland is an interesting one. You'll note that Ilves managed to visit both on the same day -- his first visit as president -- so as not to leave either Tarja or Vaira feeling second best.

For those of you interested in the whole Estonian-Baltic relationship, you should read this old roundtable from The City Paper

http://www.balticsworldwide.com/news/features/selling_estonia.htm

Giustino ütles ...

I should add that I had had many glasses of wine and had been reading America: The Book during some of my more recent comments. This may have led to unwarranted sarcasm and/or humour.

Walter ütles ...

Giustino:

No worries and no paggers. It is all in the name of a lively discussion. Enjoy the wine!

Giustino ütles ...

Is paggar some kind of Britishism? I had to look that one up in the Urban Dictionary.

Tanel ütles ...

Well, this is probably the longest discussion that I've seen in this blog so far. I could read trough all the posts nor really get into the discussions, so I will just say my point. Some personal experience and my view on the issue.
Despite the impact of soviet era on Estonian society and different developments in Estonia and Finland the ties between two countries will remain much less questionable than among "Baltic states". While the relations between Estonia and Latvia remain pragmatic, relations across the gulf stay based on emotional identification. E.g. how Tarjo Halonen gave her speech at Lennart Meri funereal in Estonian. We should not forget the importance of the language in Estonian national identity, I would say it is the central issue.

Of course an average Finn might sometimes see Estonians rather similar to Latvians and probably with good reason. For explaining that we should get into much bigger topic of how people from the former West see people from the former East. No doubt there is lot of mistrust. But it does not say anything about the developments that make our relations today or in the future. Rather it would be interesting to compare such identifications inside the Baltics and beyond. Is this otherness that a Finn might feel towards Estonia similar to the one that Estonian might feel towards Latvia and Russia. We should not forget that the line between what we think we are and who we want to be is quite thin.

Considering that the label of "Baltics" is rather negative it either integrates with the Nordic as a block, or in one point there will be only one Baltic state, just because Latvia hardly has anywhere to go. The term "Baltic states" has been shrinking in history and will continue so if it does not provide those included with something worth holding on. Right now the only reason seems to be the moral duty, or practical for relations with Latvia and Lithuania. We like it or not but the main things keeping to together the three Baltic states is as Ilves said the geographical location and common tragic history.

E.g. when I was studying in Turkey for a while when meeting a Finn we could automatically talk about bier back home, going to sauna, having "normal time" (in the Soutn also often known as boring silence and doing things slowly). When you meet a Balt in somewhere in the other corner of the world the conversation does not often differ so much from with people from Central Europe, common crap and the ways to deal with it. For a sometimes useful "secret language" if with Finn Estonian can always speak Finnish or mixture of two languages, then the Baltic alternative is Russian. Also not so popular thing to identify yourself by.

The thing that differentiates Estonia from Nordic countries, and therefore Finland, is the socio-economic policies. It is the main obstacle for further integration with the Nordic countries. But I am quite sure that this current trend on neo-liberalism practiced by Reform party in Estonia will ware of sooner than we might think. It just does not seem neither economically or socially sustainable in the long perspective. I am not trying to say how things are, but rather what direction they are taking in my view.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

I should add that I had had many glasses of wine and had been reading America: The Book

I'd had what you call viin, which word confused me terribly when I was first in Estonia ("vīns" in Latvian is wine)... likewise, my apologies for any attempts at humor or sarcasm.

What you see? Latvians, Lithuanians and the rest of CEE bunch gather together, ten years ago they also almost always used Russian for communication. Estonians rarely went to that group, either sitting with Finns and Swedes or Western Europeans.

But I've experienced some absurdities in that realm -- Estonians abroad refusing to use Russian with me (whose Russian is wretched) despite their poor English, even to find the washroom...

In the main, though, Estonia seems far friendlier towards the use of the Russian language than it was during the occupation; many of my friends remember being sent on wild goose chases simply because they used Russian to ask directions. This was envied as "backbone"...

I'll close by repeating what I've said in different ways in reaction to many a thing you've written, Giustino -- we're tiny countries next to the largest country in the world, with a lengthy common history and large Russian minorities. I'm not fond of the direction Latvia is currently taking, but neither do I believe it is possible or desirable to turn our backs upon Russia, Russians, or the Russian language.

Giustino ütles ...

I'm not fond of the direction Latvia is currently taking, but neither do I believe it is possible or desirable to turn our backs upon Russia, Russians, or the Russian language.

I think that some considerable 'back turning' has already taken place, to the extent that the current rising generation of Estonians view Russian as something quite foreign, even though they may live a few miles from thousands of them. This has its sad sides and its positive sides.

This is also facilitated by the general anonymity of Estonian public life, this 'I don't touch you/you don't touch me' thing. So even if your police uniform says your name is Maksim Ivanov, it makes no difference when I ask you 'mis kell on?'

One could interpret the riots in April as a 'call for help' but the reality is that most 20 year old Estonians didn't understand that call. Or as one policeman, obviously imported from outside of Tallinn, that I saw on the news told a protestor 'ma ei saa aru. ma ei oska vene keelt.'

It seems a bit surly to 'turn ones back' but at the same time there is little engine for Russian language acquisition. Estonians learned it in the army or in school I guess, but it is a hard language for Estonians to speak with difficult sounds and complicated grammer -- for a Finno-Ugrian.

To give you an example, Estonian students in Tartu are pretty interested in watching the Daily Show, which is in English. But what is being said in Russian that is so important that you have to switch alphabets? For political junkies and some businesses it's perhaps invaluable. But outside of that, where's the motivation?
This is the tyranny of American entertainment.

I mean I can watch Swedish TV because it's fun to pick out the Germanic roots from the gobbeldygook. If you listen enough and read some tabloids, you can start to put some sentences together.

I can watch Finnish TV to see how Estonian compares. If you are a little drunk, you can even try to speak Finnish :) But Russian TV? That's a whole other skill set. That would entail checking books out from the library and actually studying. And who wants to do that on a Sunday afternoon?

Andres ütles ...

I think the only reason why Estonians know so much Russian is that it was compulsory in the Soviet era. Because at the moment I see very little motivation to learn Russian. Almost nobody uses it in daily life or to get information (except for maybe me, because it's sometimes humorous to read Russians write about "nazists v Estonij", gives you a pretty good laugh at their intelligence every time ;)). All the crap coming from Russia doesn't do well for the reputation of Russian either. I mean, why should I want to learn the language of communists, drunks, schauvinists, the people who have conquered our people and refuse to accept it.. repeatedly. Also the alphabet was the biggest mistake Russians have ever made to be honest. In a whole there is just very limited useful information coming out of Russia at the moment. Why should I want understand it? I believe I could find more motivation to learn Swedish, German or French. Comes down to the fact that it wasn't us who alienated from Russia, Russia made us alienate from itself.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

For political junkies and some businesses it's perhaps invaluable. But outside of that, where's the motivation?

Drama, poetry, prose and films that are essential to each of those arts. Even Russian TV can be exceptional -- try to see the recent Master and Margarita miniseries, for example. A serious study of history in this part of the world requires at least a working knowledge of Russian (and German, of course).

Some business, yes -- but the "some" is a lot, even if trade with Russia has dropped precipitously. Take, for instance, tourism -- a study of tourists in Latvia last year showed that Russians tend to stay longer and spend more money, and they also tend to be more cultured than the stag party and vodka tourist crowds. Tourism has an important side benefit -- those who visit get to see "Baltic fascism" first-hand, helping to dispel the noxious myths.

But the whole motivation question strikes me as rather silly -- every language is worth learning and opens an entire world. Russian isn't just spoken in Russia, either -- the owl's tail will bloom, to use a Latvian expression, when it ceases to be an important tongue in Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.

As to the alphabet -- what, maybe Hebrew, Arabic, Georgian, Japanese, Armenian, Korean, Greek, etc., should all be written in the Latin alphabet?

I'm not suggesting that Russian be a required subject, and I've met young Latvians who haven't learned it -- mostly because they've learned other languages instead (and that sometimes includes even "less useful" tongues -- Estonian, Lithuanian, Hebrew, Swedish, etc.). No problem.

By the way, some here might be interested in this article on Livonian.

Giustino ütles ...

But the whole motivation question strikes me as rather silly -- every language is worth learning and opens an entire world. Russian isn't just spoken in Russia, either -- the owl's tail will bloom, to use a Latvian expression, when it ceases to be an important tongue in Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.

Maybe we are all in denial here, but I don't see it being that important in Estonia. It's an important, but not the most important foreign language. We'll see what happens when the post-1991 generation takes over and they don't use it. It's obviously important when it comes to reading the Russian news and in politics, but Swedish and German are also very important.

I am very interested in what the Swedes are reading about Estonia because certain things, like Estonian interest rates, are de facto set in Stockholm. I am more interested in what the Germans and French think about the EU than what Russia thinks, because they still are the motor.

As to the alphabet -- what, maybe Hebrew, Arabic, Georgian, Japanese, Armenian, Korean, Greek, etc., should all be written in the Latin alphabet?

How many people do you know that can read Japanese or Greek? It's for scholars or people who get trained in those tongues, not really for the man on the street. My roommate took Japanese in college, a *big mistake* if you ask me. Definitely not for the faint of heart. My other friend is a linguist and he can speak Chinese. He is more cut out for that kind of thing.

I'm not suggesting that Russian be a required subject, and I've met young Latvians who haven't learned it -- mostly because they've learned other languages instead (and that sometimes includes even "less useful" tongues -- Estonian, Lithuanian, Hebrew, Swedish, etc.). No problem.

I am here in New York right now. I hear Russian every day. But I also hear Spanish every day. Spanish is a HUGE language. Yet for whatever reason, it's not that important here. Sure it's important in customer service, and it helps to know some to help unilingual Spanish speakers out when they get lost, but I am not going to read the Spanish press to find out what's going on, I am going to read The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. That's sort of what I am referring to when I talk about "importance."

Sgt. Pepper ütles ...

Excellent post Walter.

This deserves better than to disappear into the archive of countless anonymous blog threads.

Indrek ütles ...

By the way, some here might be interested in this article on Livonian.

hmmm.. I checked Livonian from wikipedia

It is quite similar to estonian.

Mait ütles ...

1991 was the cutoff year or russian learning in Estonian schools. Before that, it was compulsory - from 2nd grade right to the end.

Post-1991 russian is just one of several languagues that are offered. The usual choice is between english, german & russian, with many schools offering more options like french, spanish, swedish. Kids have the chance to study 2 languagues at school and more often than not russian doesn't get picked as others are deemed more useful.

Russian is used in ex-USSR. Tourists expect to use russian in ex-USSR. Well, we don't want to be ex-USSR. As russians say - 'speak human'.

I myself often met the balts' tendency to employ russian as a base 'international' languague during the 90s. And I met the estonians' stance of feeling offended by it - USSR has fallen, one didn't 'have' to speak russian anymore - don't you know any other languagues?

With estonians as touchy about languagues as we are (and that's very damn touchy), I've often wondered if that reluctance of balts' part to say goodbye to russian wasn't the very reason why baltic solidarity never really got off the ground.

It's been mentioned above that estonians hang around with nordics when working abroad, and I can say that I've found it to be a rule, not an exception. I haven't participated in EU/EEA workgroups myself for some years, but my friends who do still talk about where they dined and what club they went to after work with 'denmark, sweden, finland, etc' - the usual crowd.

The focus on a Nordic identity isn't something that was thought up by someone - it just came to us naturally. One can't remain ex-USSR forever.

Mait ütles ...

hmmm.. I checked Livonian from wikipedia

It is quite similar to estonian.


Indeed, neither of the examples of Livonian in that article needed translation. Raandal(ists) - randlased, kalamied - kalamehed;)

Andres ütles ...

It even seems that the national anthem of Livonia has the same melody as the national anthems of Finland and Estonia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Min_iz%C4%81m%C5%8D

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

Uldis Balodis has nice Livonian pages here.

plasma-jack ütles ...

The usual choice is between english, german & russian, with many schools offering more options like french, spanish, swedish.
This is a bit misleading.
Dunno what school you or your kids went to, but I surely didn't have much choice - all the three foreign languages were absolutely compulsory for language-class pupils and Russian was one of them. The math-physics class had two, English and Russian. Sure, before the start of the high-school we had the choice between two different language classes, but afterwards things were pretty determined.
The system hasn't changed in my old school, as far as I know.

plasma-jack ütles ...

(so we basically could to choose between three different packets - French, Russian and English; English, Swedish and Russian; or English and Russian and lots of mathematics and stuff like that)

Andres ütles ...

I could freely choose between English, Russian and German. There just aren't enough teachers for other languages in Estonia in my opinion.

Of course when I started school in 1995, English was the only thinkable first foreign language although some chose German as well. So I chose English in 3rd grade. You had to choose a second language in 6th grade. I chose Russian because well.. Russia is a big country right next door etc. In 10th grade I could choose a third language as well, but it was voluntary. So I chose German but only studied it for 2 years.

I think the popularity of Russian is going to fall in the near future. The Russian text books are just too unfriendly for children. Your average English or German textbook is a glossy new book with pictures and interesting exercises etc. Your average Russian text book is dull and difficult. Extremely hard to comprehend and not well done in my opinion. It feels like they think Russian is still the only universal language and it's natural that everybody's proficient at it. Well they aren't. And shitty material makes children even more hostile towards it to be honest. I wish I had chosen German. A much more pleasurable language and Germany and it's cousins are nice European countries where I would be willing to spend some time.

Mait ütles ...

Ach, my initial post was somewhat badly written.

Thing is, schools enjoy a relative freedom in choosing what they offer, as long as the basic required package is provided. This basic package includes 2 foreign languagues, usually chosen in 3rd and 6th grades - or pre-chosen by the school. Other than EN/DE/RU the languagues on offer depend largely on availability of teachers.

I had most of my schooling in pre-1991 times, therefore I had compulsory russian from 2nd grade, and could choose between english and german in 5th, then in post-1991 time 'had' to take up german in 10th as it was only choice left (well, there was swedish, but... no contest).

Of course that was when the holy quartet of PRO7/RTL/RTL2/SAT1 had been among the first western channels viewable over here for a couple of years, so most of my friends had fairly good command of the languague when we 'started' learning it.

Uldis Balodis has nice Livonian pages here.
Bloody hell... apart from the funny latvian transliteration, it appears that livonian is quite a bit closer to estonian than finnish. Didn't know it was so similar.

So, hmm... all those livonian-SMSing teenagers are in for a nice surprise when they visit Estonia;)

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

So, hmm... all those livonian-SMSing teenagers are in for a nice surprise when they visit Estonia;)

The young Livonian poet Valt Ernštreit studied in Tartu. Here are two articles about him, in Estonian.

Happy Võidupüha, by the way, if I don't get back here before then -- we celebrate the same event, though it's not a holiday and outside of the Cēsis (Võnnu, Wenden) area many have forgotten why the flag flies.

Interestingly, you began celebrating it (1934) when we ceased to do so -- General Balodis, who stayed neutral in those battles, was a co-conspirator with Ulmanis in the 1934 coup and didn't like to see himself overshadowed.

Also, we mark the 22nd (when the decisive battle took place) and not the 23rd, which perturbs certain elements because the 1919 date is the same as the 1941 date that many do remember...

I'm curious -- why did you wait until 1934 to create the holiday? Here it dates to the Constituent Assembly that first met in 1920. At the time, the holiday caused further friction with the Baltic Germans.

Giustino ütles ...

I'm curious -- why did you wait until 1934 to create the holiday? Here it dates to the Constituent Assembly that first met in 1920. At the time, the holiday caused further friction with the Baltic Germans.

Perhaps it was to appease the portion of the population sympathetic to the Vaps, especially after the coup in which their candidate, Andres Larka, was arrested??

I wonder if Larka would have sold out Estonia like Laidoner and Päts did. Ah, the great what ifs of history. Goes to show you that democracy is better than dictatorship.

That's why Putin scares me. It's not that he's going to do something really bad, it's that he is setting up the conditions for another one of those big crisis periods in Russian history.

Things are going fine now, but if the economy goes into the toilet, and you have two parties running things that do not tolerate organized dissent or challenges to policy, you are setting the conditions for undemocratic revolt.

There's no way those United Russia guys would give up or share power now. That means that if policy needs adjustment, it would have to be adjusted by undemocratic means.

Suhkrutükk ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Suhkrutükk ütles ...

PS:
By many social theoretics a national identity is a modern "thingy" and it started with the French Revolution. National awakening, movements and nation based states is a modern symptom. In the era of 12th, 13th or 17th century there was no NATIONAL awareness anywhere (in it's modern meaning). Also these theoretics say that national identity is being produced in each case, in is not something essential. Identity (especially modern identity) is flexible and influenced by the society, history, politics etc etc.
Identity is what you see yourself, not what others see you. So if Estonians feel they're more Nordic than Baltic, then it's THEIR identity.
I don't think it's because Estonians think they're better. It's with finns connected to language, literature and culture (even during Soviet era there was connection). So they were in a way "supporting". Now we held common singing and dancing fests, singing in both languages. And I've sang in a choir and it wouldn't work so easily if I would have to sing in Latvian. :(

Language, being rare, is a very strong part of the identity of Estonians. As we can understand the finns and not Latvians (sadly), it's shows our "common roots".
Myths (like "Kalevipoeg") are directly building every nation's identity. "Kalevipoeg" is pretty accurate still in Estonia, although it's not being taken as a truth. But it doesn't matter, as now Kreutzwald is myth.
It's not being better or more successful or something like that.
It's just how you feel yourself. I guess Estonians have double identity: solidaruty to other Baltic states and common history but in some points we're culturally very far away. From 12th till the 18th century, I don't think we ever really had much to deal with eachother, we didn't have solidarity. If we had, no German or Russian would have managed to turn us slaves.

Baltic solidarity is a very new thing. It's mainly with the roots going to 80-s.
During the first Republic Estonian elite was discussing either to look to Germany or Finland and WEST in general. Famous quote "Become Europeans but remain Estonians."

There was no discussions about being Baltic.
Swedish satellite option was discussed. All eyes were North and West. But obe thing was clear: very away from Russia.
For russians we were and are "judõ" (weirdos, different). We always speak with very bad accent while Latvians and Lithuanians are more talented learning at least this language...
Face it, Latvians make the same jokes about Estonians as the Russians do (being slow etc)
And I always laugh ;)

Many foreign and local theoretics say that the era of russifications and Soviet times didn't change the much longer "communication" with Danes, Finns, Swedish and Germans. Russia's power in this land compared to Germany's power is much smaller.

Reminder: none of this text is trying to make a point that we're more Scandinavian, therefore better.
We're poor relatives of Scandinavia! :)) We know it :))
But my Lithuanian friends somehow ask still every time: "So how's life in Scandinavia?"
What does this say?

Giustino ütles ...

Reminder: none of this text is trying to make a point that we're more Scandinavian, therefore better.
We're poor relatives of Scandinavia! :)) We know it :))
But my Lithuanian friends somehow ask still every time: "So how's life in Scandinavia?"
What does this say?


Ilves was asked about Baltic solidarity during a recent interview with Bloomberg, "ie. how are your fellow Baltic states taking the recent cyber attacks"

The first country he mentioned in his reply was Finland.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

You and your blog inspired me to post this, Justin. Long live Letto-Estonian solidarity!

Alex ütles ...

I have to say I find it hard to imagine how you can be Nordic without also being Baltic. After all, it's one of the parts of the world where the sea connects more than it divides, and everybody but the Norwegians shares the same one.

And you have to take a broad (but historically defensible) view of that to hack it enough to get Iceland in. But nobody would argue they shouldn't be.

If you rely on that, though, you'd have to include Scotland, Holland, and quite possibly Yorkshire and Ireland. And can anyone make a reasonable case to leave the Germans out? One of the biggest historical commonalities is German influence, and that even goes for Sweden (there's a great big German church in the middle of Gamla Stan, for god's sake).

In which case you end up with a sort of Politically Moderate Beer-Drinking Protestant Merchants' Club, which is ok, but a little vague..

karLos ütles ...

...Politically Moderate Beer-Drinking Protestant Merchants' Club, which is ok, but a little vague...

europe?

Alex ütles ...

Alternatively, make that a beer-drinking support group for mercantile Protestants getting over a really incredibly bloody history.

Architectse ütles ...

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