So it's been six months since the April riots, the "Bronze night", and what have we really learned about Estonia? What have we learned about the integration process? What have we learned from all those broken glass windows and images of uncouth youths burning flags and yelling 'fascisti' for the Russian TV cameras?
I'll tell you what I've learned. I like Kaubamaja, that's what I have learned.
A lot of people don't like the overly geometric building on the corner of Riia and Turu Streets in Tartu. But I like it there. There is something so refreshingly 1980s about the escalators and all the teenagers gathering around at the foot of them: as if it was still cool to hang out at the mall.
And you know what Estonian kids, I have been watching you at Kaubamaja. See you thought I was just standing at the cash machine getting a few Koidulas and Jakobsons to buy some Regatt and Muretaigen for the naine and lapsed. But I have been keeping tabs on you eestlased, and I can see that you like Kaubamaja too.
I can see that regardless of your ethnicity, regardless of where your grandparents came from, and regardless of the fact that 63 years ago men stood on opposite sides of the river Emajõgi blowing the buildings that formerly stood on the site of Kaubamaja to smithereens, it really doesn't matter that much when someone just sent you an urgent text message and you must, absolutely must, text them back, maybe with an emoticon to let them know your message contains sarcasm and/or humor.
Today I had to suffer through another op-ed about integration in Estonia. Apparently, if we make a movie and show it to all the kids with shaved heads and bad attitudes in Tallinn, it will magically make them understand the history of the small piece of Earth upon which they tread. But in reality, it won't.
Why not? Because they've been spoiled by the Kaubamajas of Estonia. They take for granted the fact that their capital city doesn't look as much like a post-Communist shithole as it used to, and that's why they were quite content to smash windows. Because the ultra-wealthy government would pay for it anyway. So who cares when you're having fun, right?
No, they didn't respect the Kaubamajas of Estonia that night. But they didn't go home that night and vow to vote Arnold Meri into office at the next opportunity possible. And they also didn't heed the call to join the Kolevan Army and establish a Russian-speaking republic in Estonia. Instead they went to Kaubamaja the next week to buy a new puffy jacket -- discount price in the off season -- and continued to live their blessed life of fun times and Hesburger consumption.
Indeed, what I have learned from all this rioting followed by shopping is that 1940s were a long time ago. Mick Jagger was a toddler; we are talking ancient history. Yeah, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, alright. But we don't have the push the envelope anymore. Every country on Earth knows that, except Russia, and their country is run by morons. But that doesn't concern us, because we don't live there and have about as much impact on their politics as their own people.
But there's more. Not only were the 1940s a long time ago, but so were the 1980s. Yes, there used to be a Soviet military installation on the outside of Tartu. These days though it's a used car market. I have been there. I almost bought a car there. Time moves forward. This year people will turn 30 that couldn't even shave in 1991, let alone get called up for duty in the Soviet Army.
Sometimes, mean people at the Guardian online say Estonia used to be part of the Russian empire. So did Alaska. What's it to you? Why aren't you defending your Alaskan compatriots? You want to know why? Because it's over. It's dead and it's not coming back no matter how many DoS attacks you launch against a bank. Why? Because their programmers really are smarter than you. Being part of the liberal West allows wealthy Swedish-owned banks to employ superior IT brain power. So there.
And that's sort of the beauty of the Estonian Republic, founded in 1918. Doesn't it all lead back to that moment? Beneath its ethnic overtones of a Finnic state, there is the reality that at every turn the Russian empire kept Estonia in the dark. Serfdom wasn't abolished here until 1816/1819! The Russian empire was a gigantic ball to which Estonia was chained for two hundred years. And look how far the country managed to run after it split the giant. The Kaubamajas, Selvers, Hell, even the Maximas speak for themselves. Mind numbing liberal democracy. Arguments over inflation and currency adoption. It's all so boring, and yet so beautiful.
Estonia is a boring Nordic country. I invite you, please, come to watch a youth concert in Suure-Jaani. How about sleigh riding in Tõrva? Bicycling in Kärdla? Sunbathing in Toila? Please come. Enjoy Estonia's dull rhythm of life and mouth watering Kalevi chocolate. Try one of the local beers -- Saaremaa, I think, is the most alcoholic of the bunch.
And don't ask me any more questions about statues or integration. Statues are made of metal or stone. Integration takes time and patience. But Kaubamaja? It's open daily from 9-21. The toidumailm stays open an hour later, in case you need to grab some meekook on the way home.
* The title is in response to Flasher T's post which likened discussion of Estonia's problems with Russia to beating a dead horse. The photo is of Mr. Ed playing chess with his owner, Wilbur Post. The horse, of course, died in 1970. Wilbur though is still very much alive.