teisipäev, august 07, 2007
Let's Change the Topic, Shall We?
As a denizen of the Interweb, I have spent more time than I would like to admit battling Russian nationalists, Kommisars of the Net if you will, who are ready to spring into action at the drop of the name 'Estonia', or to deflect all criticism of Russia by pointing to Estonia in order to fight over Baltic citizenship policies, rather whether or not next year's presidential election in Russia will be free and fair (it won't).
After talking to these gentlemen and ladies at length, I thought I would provide you all with a tutorial on how to flip their arguments on their head, and move the discussion into territory so foreign to them, they will find themselves actually agreeing with you because they have no idea what you are talking about.
I have decided to divide the lessons I have learned into three handy points that may help anyone who cares about the future of this country engage publicly and confidently parry any thrusts from Stalinist apologists in the electronic public space.
Talking Point A: 1918 is the Year One
Estonians have tried so many times to get Russian nationalists to 'see their perspective' on World War II. This only encourages them to commence with a smear campaign linking Estonia to Nazism. In fact, this is a major effort of the Russian Foreign Ministry as part of its effort to weaken Estonia's attempt to undue the Soviet criminalization of resistance to Bolshevist power. They call it rewriting history. We all know that if Estonia really rewrote its history, the 'revision' would be much less depressing.
The answer is not to attempt to fight back, but rather to draw all arguments back to the Treaty of Tartu, and Estonia's declaration of independence in 1918.All arguments -- about citizenship, about legal continuity, about Russia's policies towards Estonia should continuously reference 1918.
Why is this helpful? For one, Russian nationalists are World War II buffs, but I have found that they know very little about the founding of the communist state in 1917-1920. They know the Great Patriotic War like the back of their hand, but they are sketchy on the power struggles of the teens and 20s. This was a time when Lenin sent Adolph Joffe to sign Bolshevist Russia's first foreign treaty with Estonia. It was a time when Leon Trotsky was managing red forces.
All of these characters -- Trotsky, Lenin, Joffe -- were communist intellectuals. The nuances of Soviet politics at that time are totally lost on the black and white version of the Great Patriotic War dished out every year by Putin. The idea of these political characters passionately debating the future of Russia is anathema to the Russian Federation of today. I mean when was the last time Putin name-dropped Leon Trotsky?
1918 also works because it stresses, above all, Estonian independence. There are no Estonians in Finnish uniforms, or Estonians in German uniforms -- just Estonians in Estonian uniforms. It also underscores Estonia's connections to Finland and Britain. The fact that Estonians fought Germans too, decreases the 'anti-Russian' tone of the debate. It's all about Estonian independence in 1918. There's no way they can argue with that because, quite honestly, it's too boring for them. Finally, the constant referencing of 1918 also makes Estonia look unique. When is the last time a foreign minister got up and babbled on about the war, no, not that war, the one before that war? Who can get worked up over 1918 in 2007? No one.
Talking Point B: Go on the Offensive on Minority Issues.
No matter what the discussion is about it will always touch on the fact that some Estonian residents don't have citizenship. Here it is important to know your facts, above all, that only 8.5 percent lack citizenship and decreasing. But I find the best to shut up this criticism is to agree.
Yes, it is unfortunate that there are stateless people in Estonia. Yes, Estonia is working hard to decrease the number of stateless people in Estonia. Yes, you would be very happy if there were more ethnic Russians involved in the political process. Yes, you would be ecstatic if tomorrow all the stateless people in Estonia magically naturalized
They'll reference the Amnesty Report. Point out that no report has criticized Estonia's unilingual state policy. None. Say that Amnesty has a right to make a report, and that Estonia is a democracy where such reports will be discussed and, if warranted, their decisions will be implemented.
The rightwing Estonian approach is to attack Amnesty or Rene Van der Linden or whomever. This doesn't work. The best approach is to reassert that Estonia is a democracy and that it welcomes international reports like those of Amnesty International. And Estonia very well can choose not to do anything Amnesty says. It's just the polite, PR way, of dealing with criticism.
Talking Point C: Estonia as part of the Nordic Space
As with discussions about 1918, Russian nationalists don't know jack about Nordic politics. They perhaps have no clue who Carl Bildt or Tarja Halonen or Anders Fogh Rasmussen are. As far as they know, Estonia is just some random, little Eastern European country where they hate Russians and love fascism.
One rhetorical trick I like to use is to constantly draw Estonia into the Nordic space and Russia's relations with those countries. Constantly link Estonia to Sweden and Finland. As discussed in an earlier post, Estonia really does have strong links to these countries. I mean -- other than one portly Aruban -- Swedes have been the only foreigners to represent Estonia in Eurovision -- twice.
Oh whatever, convincing you all doesn't matter. What matters is that the constant linkage to the Nordic economy -- which conveys a sense of stability from Tierra del Fuego to the Bering Straights -- changes the dynamic of the discussion. Estonia is no longer small and vulnerable and backwards. It's a player of one of the most elite economies in the world. And it's no longer a question over one country they know little about, it's a question about a lot of countries they know little about.
The more Russian nationalists are forced to think of Estonia as an extension of Sweden and Finland, the less apparent their route of attack will be. Because Estonia is 'near abroad' (meaning they can do with it whatever they damn well please) and Finland is just 'abroad' (meaning they know little of it). Constantly drawing Estonia into a paradigm where it is part of the 'abroad' and no longer the 'near abroad' will confuse your opponent. Talk about "we here in the nordic countries" and they won't have anything to say.
The point is to get them to shut up. By talking about 1918, stunning them by appearing to agree on the minority issues debate, and talking about Finland all the time, you just might achieve this very desirable result.