With all the endless talk of minorities and minority rights in Estonia, smaller, less vocal minorities usually get lost in the shuffle. The Swedish minority, most of whom fled in 1944, is just now beginning to reassert itself in its section of Estonia, once called Aiboland. Beyond the Russians and Ukrainians of Tallinn and Narva, there are also Inkeri Finns spread like voi from Toila to Treimani. In fact, in a few counties, Finns are among the dominant minorities, especially during summertime.
Some say that Russians that arrived in the 1960s are a national minority because, hey, 2001: A Space Odyssey, came out a long time ago. But following that logic, history is in the eye of the propagandist, and an argument could just as soon be made that the 1990s were a long time ago -- so long ago that Estonia wasn't even in the European Union or NATO. We are talking ancient history here. We are talking about when Michael Jackson was still somewhat popular.
On that note, I present to you us: the English-speaking minority. Though unrecognized by the state, and wholly unworthy of an Amnesty International report, we do exist. We have our own culture, a culture of speaking English and hanging out in bars like Wilde's Pub in Tartu or Hell Hunt in Tallinn. We have contributed immensely to Estonian culture, hell, one of us helped you with the Eurovision Song Contest in 2001, without which you would have never received an invite to join the European Union. We write interesting stories about you for people to read in The Baltic Times or the City Paper. And what do we ask for in return? To shack up with your women. Just kidding, we ask for nothing in return.
In the spirit of English-speakers of the past, like Robin the Hood or Kevin Costner, we do right by Estonia just because ... we like it here. We heep shame upon the bloated, former Soviet windbags of the Russian Federation, even while giving pause to look incredulous that we owe any more loyalty to Washington or Sydney than we would to the merry men and merry women of Toompea. And English isn't even an official language yet. Instead, we make due with official government webpages that are in our language, and bank ATMs that gladly hand out cash without a question.
Estonia does give its minorities the right to form a cultural autonomy. Though rigid, vengeful legislation prohibits recently arrived minorities, like the English-speakers, to form such a collective, or even to have public education in our own language, we have alternative routes to preserving our language and customs.
The larger, more vocal Russian-speaking minority has its own Russian Cultural Center in Tallinn. I have often wondered what an English Language Cultural Center would look like? Would we sit around reading Shakespeare to appreciate better the art of our mother tongue?
Would we invite English-speaking music acts, like Aerosmith or James Brown, may he rest in peace, to perform in Tallinn? That gets to the root of the question: What is English-language culture. In relation to Estonia, we don't do nearly enough.
What English speaker raises a pints to the brave Brits that helped Estonia win its freedom from the human-gobbling bear of Bolshevist Russia? Who among us Americans gathers to drink to Sumner Welles, the kickass New York-born Under Secretary of State that articulated the non-recognition of the occupation in 1940? When Brits gather in Tallinn, its to watch the football game, fight, vomit, hit on local girls, and fight some more. When Americans gather it's to watch the football game, eat, vomit, hit on some local girls, and eat some more. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
Though we are overlooked and occasionally disparagingly called 'Yankee' or 'Limey' or just plain kurat, there are high-ranking Estonians that know how to cater to our needs and make us feel wanted here in Estonia. One such person is President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Though born in Sweden, and a mulk through and through, Ilves is fluent in the English language, and, it gets better, his third foreign language is Spanish! Ai Caramba. Ilves is well respected and liked among English-speakers though privately they are worried by his ultra-continental bowtie.
Although we tend to think of English-speakers as just Americans or Brits, the truth is that many nationalities make up the English-speaking population. There are Australians (see photo at left) and Canadians, and perhaps even New Zealanders. Many third nationalities, like Spaniards, Swiss, and Swedes have also been swallowed up by this English-speaking mass of Homo Anglicus. They work in a variety of fields like IT, teaching, and bar tending, each one carving out his own niche as an English-speaker in Estonian society.
So to all of you who ponder about Estonian minority issues, or minority issues in Europe or even the world, remember us English-speakers holding down the fort in Saaremaa and Pärnu and Tartu and Tallinn. We may be able to get by in eesti keeles, but ask us how we really feel, and we just might have to answer you in the King's English.