School time is almost here and with it the long delayed and highly controversial Estonian 2007 school reform, whereby all incoming tenth graders in Russian-language high schools will have one course in Estonian language. This year's course is, appropriately, Estonian literature.
If you ask any eestlane with a pulse these days who the Estonian national writer is, they are likely to respond that it is Andrus Kivirähk, the 37-year-old author of the infamous novel Rehepapp where Estonian serfs are portrayed as the greedy masterminds behind naive landowners.
Estonians enjoy the image of themselves as the backstabbing, crafty, downright evil people portrayed in Kivirähk's book, but the truth is that his scheme borrows from characters in the master work of Estonian literature, whom every 16-year-old Maksim and Darja in Ida-Virumaa will come to know intimately this autumn, Tõde ja Õigus by Anton Hansen Tammsaare.
As an Estonian who lives through the 1905 revolution as a young man, the establishment of the Estonian state in near middle age, and managed to check out just two months shy of the June 1940 Soviet takeover (lucky fellow), Tammsaare painted in this national epic a vision of his young country coming into being. It is still an important work, important enough that Tammsaare is still regularly name dropped -- though ironically -- by those in the arts.
However, he is less famous for his sweeping tale of Estonia's birth than for his portrayal of regular country Estonians, the maarahvas, who are the same swindling, double-dealing bastards depicted in Rehepapp. This is how Estonians see themselves. National self-deprecation is part of being an Estonian. It's all there in the literature.
Anyway, as part of the Haridus ja Teadus Ministerium's evil plan to make all Russian-speaking teens in Estonia miserable, other subjects in Estonian language will be added so that by 2011, the 20 percent of Estonian pupils who attend Russian-language schools in Estonia will have 60 percent of their upper education in Estonian, condemning them to a life of alcoholism, mulgipuder consumption, and ironic references to Tammsaare.
It is hoped that other than the difference between the words 'puder' and 'põder', the school reform might teach them a bit more about what exactly it means to be part of this tribe called Estonians.