My assignment at the Konsum was to find moosisuhkur -- literally 'jam sugar' -- but none of the paper bags of sweet white stuff said that. One however glared out from the top saying something that I recognized instantly -- syltsocker. In Estonia 'sült' is jellied meat. But, being a geenius, I put everything together and, after some inspection on the top of the bag (see photo), discovered that this was indeed the moosisuhkur I was after. This particular product was manufactured for sale in Sweden and its two sentries on the Gulf of Finland -- Suomi and Eesti.
Kom Loss På Svenska
Unknown perhaps to many Scandinavians, for whom the 'near abroad' of Tallinn brings to mind uncouth pickpockets ready to pounce at any sign of S E K, Estonia has something of an underlying Swedish influence. It's hard to put ones finger on it, but in most places it is there, a Scandinavian bedrock upon which other things -- German manorhouses, Soviet tenement blocks -- were built.
The way it hits you is not through viewing the churches on Toompea, but rather, by shopping for things like moosisuhkur. It's by looking at the back of a coin and seeing three familiar lions, lions that oddly resemble the coat of arms of Denmark. It's by seeing the ubiquitous signs for firms like Ragn Sells or Falck -- things that are so part of the Estonian landscape you would never notice them until you are told they are owned -- like everything else -- by some guy in Sweden or Denmark.
History tells us that the Swedes and Danes were most active in Estonia from the Viking era until the defeat of Sweden in the Great Northern War in 1721. Their activity though, is often boiled down to land possession. Denmark kept Ösel, while Sweden got Dagö. The language of commerce was German, the language of the Teutonic Knights and their land-owning descendants. When the Russians took over, they made a deal with the Baltic German upper class that meant that the German identity of Estonia would remain intact, although loyalty would now be to the east, rather than to the west.
But strangely, the German influence in Estonia is largely historical. There are German-styled buildings, German household loan words for things, German-influenced Lutheran churches, and German names on headstones to long dead Estonians named Johannes. But the Baltic German minority left Estonia during the prelude to World War II. So their influence feels more like the one you get while digging out moldy items in your parents attic, rather than the 'here, today, tomorrow, next week' feeling you get when you realize that something you are holding binds you to something more essential to the foundation of your society.
One hint of where the Scandinavian influence in Estonia first took root can be found on the west coast, where a few hundred Swedish-speaking descendants of the Estlandsvenskar that first inhabited Estonia's many islands -- called Aiboland -- in the 13th century live on (see photo of famous rannarootslane Maria Murman (1911-2004), right).
In 1934, Swedes were the third most populous minority in Estonia after Germans and Russians, but their numbers dropped rapidly in 1944 when young Estonian Swedes packed into boats to flee the 'Soviet liberation of Estonia'.
For the Swedish part, Den Andra Stranden is an excellent website that compiles interviews, essays, and various forms of media to preserve Estlandsvensk culture
One interesting factoid is that there is a significant musical dialogue between Sweden and Estonia going back to the 1970s when Jaan Manitski -- now a former foreign minister of Estonia -- managed the Swedish pop group ABBA.
In recent years, two Swedes, Sahlene (pictured) (2002) and Sandra Oxenryd (2006) have represented Estonia in the Eurovision Song Contest. For whatever reason, Estonians have been ok with Swedes representing them, even if they don't speak Estonian.
Finally, who could forget Swedish 80s rock band Charizma, who in 1990 penned the classic song, "Join Hands" with the following deep lyrics, "the time has come to build a bridge of friendship Estonia and Sweden. Join hands, join hands together. We're friends forever." Charizma also tried to represent Estonia in the Eurovision song contest in 2004, but they lost. :(
One of the sticking points in the Estonian-Swedish relationship however has been Swedish acquiescence to Soviet demands during the occupation period, such as returning Estonian soldiers to Soviet-occupied Estonia and recognizing Soviet power in Estonia.
Swedish acquiescence to Soviet demands did not occur only towards Estonia, though. Sweden similarly made concessions to the Soviets and Nazis alike when it came to closer allies like Finland or Norway. Nevertheless, some Estonians have a gut reaction to not trust Sweden as a reliable partner in the international arena, especially when dealing with Russia.
Despite this, Sweden has remained one of the most important partners for Estonia in Europe, with its huge investment in the country guiding its business class into supporting inclusion in the European Union. The government of Prime Minister Carl Bildt proved especially receptive to the restoration of Estonian independence in the early 1990s, and now that Sweden's most prominent blogger is back in government, you can be sure to see more of his face around Kadriorg, sharing coffee with Estonia's Swedish-born president. Bildt and Ilves have both been among the most prominent of including Estonia in a space that Ilves called, partially in gest, 'the former Swedish empire'.