esmaspäev, juuli 02, 2007

Relationships

Reading the English-language news on Estonia is often reading the Russian news on Estonia, or reading the Estonian news' response to the Russian news on Estonia. Like the neverending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Estonian-Russian relations are like a Rubik's Cube that can never be 'solved.'

But why waste so much energy on that relationship with diminishing returns? Toomas Hendrik Ilves speech at CSIS last week was refreshing in that it did not delve into hot, sexy Estonian-Russian relations. Rather it focused on European integration issues, less sexy, but ultimately more important for Estonia. He didn't give the crowd what it 'wanted', but rather what it 'needed.' He served them meat and potatoes, not junk food.

I think that ultimately this is the correct stance towards Russia, because beyond historical memories there is not a particularly strong need to think about Russia or engage with Russia in Estonia. When it comes to economics, the environment, labor issues, cultural participation, defense -- most great issues confronting Estonia today call for greater cooperation with the West, not the East.

At this juncture one has to wonder what Estonia's relationships are like with other key countries in Europe and abroad. How are things going in the UK, Germany, and France? How is the Estonian relationship with the Scandinavians developing? And finally, what about Estonia's role in its neighboring countries: Finland and Latvia?

First the UK. The UK is a pivotal voice on the world stage. They count, especially in Europe. Estonian-British relations are good, but they could be better. The visit of the Queen last autumn was a great sign of bilateral relations. To the shame of Slovenians, preeminent journalist Edward Lucas writes about Estonia on a regular basis, going so far as to call Ilves and Putin the two most distinguishable leaders in former communist Europe. Yet at the same time, the British press was out of the loop during the Bronze Soldier mess in April.

What Estonia needs in the UK is an NGO that can represent Estonia's viewpoint through non-political channels. An organization that can draw on local talent to get Estonia's viewpoint across to the paid wild animals of the British media. In that light, what Estonia needs is a more aggressive, wheeling and dealing Estonian Institute in London. Estonia has similar institutes in Hungary, France, Finland, and Sweden. This can also operate as a cultural organ that can keep British-Estonians connected, which in turn will strengthen the ability of the communicate their interests.

The next country is France. France is a great country for Estonia to cuddle up to because a) they desire to be powerful, especially in a unified Europe; b) they are another jilted world power passed over by the Anglophones, they have a historically cozy relationship with Moscow; c) they have a new president of Hungarian descent who will feel your pain.

Rather relying on the US as a "big power" to 'protect' them from Russian insanity, it might make sense to build a multipolar collection of big friends. France must be one of them. The key here is language. France already hosts an Estonian Institute, but to what extent does it facilitate generated coverage in French language media about Estonia? Furthermore, I think the French leadership would appreciate a good wooing. We all saw how Ilves' visit to Tbilisi progressed; it was all wine, more wine, sunsets, hand holding, and more wine. Why not give Sarkozy a moment like that in Kuressaare?

Then there's Germany. German-Estonian relations are good, but as Jens-Olaf points out, the media representation of Estonia in Germany is dominated by lazy journalists who read Russian-generated press releases and translate them.

The Estonian treatment of World War II: we were a small, neutral country, victimized by large rapist powers, might turn some heads in Germany, where the Red Army is still remembered for its ability to organize mass sexual abuse of local women as well as its skill in defeating the Nazi government. But this is a country where if you say, 'hey, that bombing of Dresden was a little intense' you are labeled a rightwing Nazi sympathizer; so don't try to tickle the Germans here.

Where Germans might react favorably to Estonia is if Estonia is able to accomplish what the historically closer-to-Moscow parties (Social Democrats, Greens) have been unable to accomplish in their countries. The 'small progressive northern country' meme might have extra impact here. I am thinking in terms of alternative energy -- biofuel usage, wind farms: stuff the German left has been clamoring for and hopes everyone will adopt. If Estonia is able to win friends on that side of the equation, while continuing to court the rightwing with its taxation policies, Estonia will be seen as "good" in both eyes of Germany.

To do that, there needs to be, as I have said, a greater NGO-like presence in Berlin that can coordinate stories and engage local media. Remember to throw in the Teutonic knights and Baltic Germans for some measure. People thrive on memories of their glorious past.

The Scandinavians. When dealing with the Scandies remember two conflicting things: 1) they think that their society is the greatest in the world and they are the smartest, hottest, greatest people in the world 2) they are restrained and value modesty, even while drunk.

My experience is that Estonians are the same on no. 1, but diverge at no. 2. Some things that would turn Scandinavian heads would be: a gay pride parade that goes of peacefully with the ok of local government. We've already seen Ansip with a yamaka on his head, could Ansip in drag be far behind? This would assure Scandies that their values are indeed the best and in turn separate Estonia from those louts in Moscow and Riga. And I actually agree with it, which makes it even more compelling.

Hyping both the progressive energy policies and Internet everything (government, commerce, social life) would also do favors for the image of Estonia among reformed Vikings because they also think the idea of downloading softcore pornography in a sauna while doing your taxes is a splendid way to live. The message should be: 'we have so much in common, Sven' and 'please, send us our own Ikea.' -- another one I agree with, by the way.

Now for those reindeer. I think that Estonian-Finnish relations are great. Other than the fact that every other new story about Estonians in Finland is related to doing something illegal.

What I suggest is, rather than feeding the Finnish press stories about good things Estonians are doing (which nobody will ever publish), it is time to feed them stories about bad things Finns are doing in Estonia, and the good things Estonia's boyscout-like bureaucracy is doing to stop them.

Finns are the kind of people who pay taxes even when they don't have to out of collective social guilt. This kind of approach towards relationship building will strengthen bureaucratic ties -- between Tallinn-Helsinki police forces, for example. This relationship exists, but perhaps does not receive that much attention, as both sides are known to utter just a few words per day.

As a sidenote, more could be done to facilitate Tallinn-Helsinki business interaction. I am thinking about more regional seminars (it's not that hard to take businesspeople on a day trip to Tallinn for part of a business conference), and, interestingly, funding more opportunities for people to learn Finnish in Estonia and Estonian in Finland so that the many people that do switch jobs have an easier time doing so. An IT guy that wants to move south should find the move encouraging and vice versa.

Another country that deserves to learn a little Estonian is Latvia. The Latvian relationship is so mired in history, especially historical suffering, that it is hard to know how to go forward without crying and patting each other on the back.

I think one way to do that would be to facilitate learning of Latvian and Estonian in both countries. Estonia's Latvian knowledge boils down to the word for ice cream. Couldn't they learn a few phrases as well? Would it be helpful in school if, rather than learning one language for several years, you could take a class where they taught you some regional languages -- a few weeks of Finnish, a few weeks of Latvian, etc. The problem, as I see it, is that interaction is slowed by the language issue. It would raise awareness for each others' existence.

Latvia also has a new president that few know anything about. People are worried that he is just a place holder while Latvia's real leaders pull strings behind the scenes. Latvian politics are too ... Latvian for Estonians to figure them out. They need not to. Rather, Estonians should continuously hold out their hand, especially to President Zatlers as he learns his office. Ilves is a more experienced politician. There are many opportunities here to earn Latvian gratitude.

27 kommentaari:

Kristopher ütles ...

Incidentally, a neighbour of mine from Tallinn is starting Estonia's first (?) grape winery on Saaremaa, so the plan to wine Sarkozy could gel. There is still the matter of the tamada. I'm not sure Mart Sander's French is up to par to be toastmaster all night long.

Andres ütles ...

Lauri Leesi would probably be up for the task.

Puu ütles ...

Estonians know the Latvian word for icecream because it is the greatest word on the planet. Saldejumps. (sic?) Just saying it makes me smile.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, one quite telling thing about the Finnish-Estonian relationship is that one of our foremost historians (and Baltic experts) Seppo Zetterberg just published an 800 pages long new general history of Estonia. I wonder in how many other countries of the world this would occur. The ties are incredibly numerous on all levels of society. Of course we have the hangups, the traumas, the big brother vs. little brother thing, the tabloids on both sides enjoy printing negative stories about the other country (sometimes I find the Estonian media mad in its absolute insistence of finding negative things and contexts about Finland when that is such a partial and misleading picture), but underneath all that surface froth a very stable and strong connection is being formed.

Blogaddict ütles ...

Maybe this is not the best time to mention it, but if Russia shuts down the oil and gas export into Estonia while we are busy giggling over sladejums and deer jokes then ... we'd be kinda forced to, ahem ... recognize the existence of our big smelly bedfellow.

In other words, does Estonia have a viable alternative to Russia's energy? Does Europe?

Everything else is limpwristed decadence that will end in tears one day.

Giustino ütles ...

In other words, does Estonia have a viable alternative to Russia's energy? Does Europe?

Everything else is limpwristed decadence that will end in tears one day.


Russia exists, but as you have seen, most dialogs fail. Russia wants to give orders. When others do not follow them it goes apeshit.

So what can really be done to 'pacify' their uncanny ability to turn all into a circus, and what can Estonia do to make Russia 'normal'? Estonia can do very little. That's a job for Brussels and Washington and Beijing -- not for Tallinn.

What Europe can do is 1) enforce its antitrust legislation; 2) scrutinize all business transactions with international companies, including Russian ones, and make them as transparent as possible; and 3) explore alternative energy supples including Caspian and nuclear.

Why doesn't the EU have an energy chief that is responsible for looking at or negotiationg these deals for the EU? Europe is so contiguous, it is hard to have an energy deal for Hungary that doesn't effect Austria.

As for neighbors, yes, Estonia needs to integrate more into Europe. Europeans are provincially minded. The English think Norway is far away, and Estonia is on the otherside of the planet. Estonians can work to change that.

All nationalities that have never known a monarchy in recent centuries (the Irish, the Finns, the Estonians) have to fight extra hard for their place in the world. What I am saying is that Estonia should fight harder.

margus ütles ...

reformed Vikings ... downloading softcore pornography in a sauna while doing your taxes

haha

Germans might react favorably ... if Estonia is able to accomplish what ... Social Democrats, Greens ... have been unable to accomplish in their countries.

We're going to build a nuclear plant. We have flat low income tax and we're still 'torturing' them Russkies. None of those going to change in a while, so I'm a bit puzzled - what exactly are we able to do to make the red/green like us? Or is it even a profitable goal?

But I think the Scandinavians liking us is much more realistic. As we get more tax revenue we can have a moderate size government that is actually effective and beneficial. Also, environmentalist ideas make more sense when taken with a bit of salt. (Hardcore socialists will never like us.)

...interaction is slowed by the language issue. It would raise awareness for each others' existence...

I like your idea of those cultural embassies. Why not have them give free Estonian language classes to anyone willing and able, Latvians or whoever? A foreigner who has an understanding of Estonian usually has a strong liking for Estonia. I only wonder if it might be too costly.

Martasmimi ütles ...

margus said...
I like your idea of those cultural embassies. Why not have them give free Estonian language classes to anyone willing and able, Latvians or whoever? I only wonder if it might be too costly.

Does the concept of volunteering
apply in Estonia?
Then it wouldn't be too costly.
Students might get extra school credit for doing this..
It works in the USA...

margus ütles ...

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/07/02/news/russia.php

So Russians are already doing it.

Giustino ütles ...

A foreigner who has an understanding of Estonian usually has a strong liking for Estonia. I only wonder if it might be too costly.

In every big city on Earth there is an Estonian looking for a second job.

margus ütles ...

martasmimi: what I had in mind was the government subsidizing classes for intelligent open-minded foreigners . So they wouldn't be volunteers. That's where my doubt about the cost comes from.

Although, cooperation with volunteer organizations always tends to be beneficial in different ways.

Giustino: can you put 'Estonia should fight harder' into monetary terms?

Giustino ütles ...

Giustino: can you put 'Estonia should fight harder' into monetary terms?

You are sending EEK to Gruusia and Moldova. What about sending some EEK to gay Paris for a little "limpwristed decadence" that will, no doubt, end in happy tears?

Giustino ütles ...

We're going to build a nuclear plant. We have flat low income tax and we're still 'torturing' them Russkies. None of those going to change in a while, so I'm a bit puzzled - what exactly are we able to do to make the red/green like us? Or is it even a profitable goal?

Take windfarmsand then reroute that through American ideas of merchandising. Think of the Beastie Boys. They had a concert, then they released a DVD of the concert, and THEN they released a DVD about the making of the DVD of the concert.

You could just hammer it home. Get your people in the Social Democrats to keep engaging the Saxons over their windfarms, and how great they are, and, oh, did I mention we have wind farms and also love the environment?

With Estonia, the marketing should be simple. Do you think Die Grünen will really pay attention long enough to ask follow on questions?

margus ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
margus ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
margus ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Juan Manuel ütles ...

One of the differences between open Estonia and closed, authoritarian Russia is that Estonians welcome foreign investment (and have sold all their banks to Swedes) while Russia sees its potato farms as an "strategic industry".

So why should we do the same and put obstacles to Russian capital? What is wrong with a Russian company building that nuclear power plant for the Balts? If they suddenly stop providing electricity we can kick them away and call for another bid.

Juan Manuel ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Juan Manuel ütles ...

By the way, one day you should write about the kind of "Relationships" we were all thinking about when reading the headline of this story.

Aren't there many marriages/ couples of Estonians and foreigners? And is that not changing the country? Could that be a foreign policy tool?

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

I think it very obvious that Russian investment is and will be regarded as suspicious: it has been made very clear that at the last analysis the Russian private economy is at the service of the Kremlin. What can you then expect as the concequence? Naturally all Russian investment will be regarded suspiciously unlike those countries which don't see their private companies as some sort of strategic weapons at the mercy of their governments.

karLos ütles ...

wasn't the very idea of a new shiny power plant to get away from russian controlled energy? allowing russian bids on such a project would completely defeat the purpose, and only further damage the ability of europe to help itself in energy independence.

also, on that iht link:

... significant breakthrough in the areas of nanotechnology, science and culture...

russia is weird. significant breakthroughs in culture? are they planning a cultural revolution, chinese style?

Nothing is Free ütles ...

russia is weird. significant breakthroughs in culture? are they planning a cultural revolution, chinese style?

Yes, with a Little Judo Book.

http://www.amazon.com/Judo-History-Practice-Vladamir-Putin/dp/1556434456

Martin-Éric ütles ...

I'll agree with whoever said in this thread that relationships between Estonia and Finland are a lot better than what the tabloids make it look like.

As for linguistic interest resulting in an interest for the country, yes indeed.

This being said, it's pointless to learn the language of a country with such an anti-immigration stance and only a really tiny window for temporary guest workers. Basically, for as long as Estonia (and Finland too, for that matter) don't have a policy of choosing future citizens, rather than disposable workforce, there's really no motivation for anyone to learn the local language.

I however agree with the overall principle of neighboring countries learning a bit of each other's language. It's good for business and for building a mutual understanding.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

"To do that, there needs to be, as I have said, a greater NGO-like presence in Berlin that can coordinate stories and engage local media."

More presence in Germany and France,might it be NGO or something else, would be a good step further.
During the desintegration period of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, new states were seen as threat to the Union idea. Too many were thinking: OMG, we Western Europeans are on the way to a closer Union (EU) and they, in the East, are starting to create new borders.
There was no much feeling about the single new states that were formed or reestablished. You could talk about nationalism in a general way. Slovenia and all the others were just tools in the discussion for the big theme: Nationalism, Kapitalism etc..
The reason why you can't talk about school and language politics in detail. Flasher_T did it recently. Cause that would mean talking about Estonia and not Russia and not human rights violation or discrimination.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

I think one way to do that would be to facilitate learning of Latvian and Estonian in both countries.

Concidentally, I'm off to the International Writers' and Translators' House in Ventspils to work with Uldis Bērziņš for a month. Uldis lectured in Estonia shortly after Ilves' "Yuleland" comments, and the Estonians he met at various fora agreed that we should focus on exactly what you're suggesting. So -- what are the opportunities for learning Latvian in Estonia... anyone know?

The Estonian School in Rīga , grades 1-12, is small but growing, with 155 students, ca. 80% of them ethnic Latvians.

Giustino ütles ...

Uldis lectured in Estonia shortly after Ilves' "Yuleland" comments, and the Estonians he met at various fora agreed that we should focus on exactly what you're suggesting.

Did Ilves mispronounce the Latvian word for Yule? ;) It is amazing how little Estonians know of Latvian. I hope that in the future you'll be able to drive across the border and yell 'sveiks' and 'tere' back and forth at each other.

As a total aside, I am actually a bit shocked by the Swedish linguistic influence on Estonia. Tons of random words have Swedish cousins. 'Lips' (tie in EST) is 'slips' paa svenska. 'Sinep' is 'senap' (mustard). Everytime I read the ingredients in my food and compare between languages, I see that what I thought was a weird Estonian word is Swedish too.

Like last night, I discovered that äädikas, which I presumed was a Finnic word, is ättika in Swedish.

Any explanations?