kolmapäev, oktoober 24, 2007

Unless, of course, the horse, the horse ...

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.


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* 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.

21 kommentaari:

stockholm slender ütles ...

Yeah, one wonders to what extent these fights are fully useful (to some extent they surely are, we all live in the short term). But in the liberal West we are accustomed to see the truth to prevail in the long run. Even in Russia this has been known to happen... So, this primitive onslaught, these primitive handlings in and by the Kremlin will sow the seeds of their own defeat. At least that's what we have been accustomed to. So, perhaps a more relaxed attitude should be taken: let them replay Stalinism as a farce and let us look forward instead. Though of course the truth should be stated when these matters are raised - but with the awareness that it really is already beyond all reasonable, good faith debate.

Blogaddict ütles ...

Yeah, life is funny in post-communist wasteland: http://www.exile.ru/articles/detail.php?ARTICLE_ID=13126&IBLOCK_ID=35

margus ütles ...

Why do you say Russia is run by morons? Haven't you looked into Putin's cold and thoughtful eyes? He is just hurt because of how Estonians treated his father and he feels fragile. We have to understand that.

Have a heart, G!

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Salvation through consumerism, that is the unthinkable in Germany, for the majority. But they do practise it too.

Jim Hass ütles ...

It seems that the long run is more than 70 years.

gaborien ütles ...

Part of dealing with such kind of problem is downsizing it and start to get over it. I have a not-nice analogy for the Russian occupation period. You may or may not agree with me.

Imagine the Estonian republic during that time as a woman raped and abused. (Readjust the notion of time to this).

After this long and hurtful experience, she's eager to change and move on with her life.
First changes came physically. She started to dress better and work on her image. She wants to feel more beautiful, independent and self-confident. As a result "people" around sees her more attractive. Emotionally the healing takes time and positive attitude, moreover having a child a as reult of that experience.

She has to learn how to live with what happened. Past cannot be erased and the child is now part of her life. Nobody chooses what life can bring.

I leave to your empathy the dozens of small details this analogy could bring.

Giustino ütles ...

Why do you say Russia is run by morons?

Because Russia's policy towards Estonia has failed, partially because they refuse to understand Estonia and fully accept its statehood.

With Finland, somewhere around 1945, they understood the premise of a relationship with a western, northern European neighbor: "I don't touch you, you don't touch me."

It's served Finnish-Russian relations well. Finland has its parades for Continuation War vets, and Russia doesn't say a word. Russia has its Stalinist youth camps, and Tarja Halonen jets over to take part in a Finno-Ugric festival.

Finland is still not in NATO. Estonia is. If Russia wanted to have positive relations with Estonia, if they wanted to increase their economic power here, they'd defer to the pragmatic capitalists and rely less on guys like Modest Kolerov: ie. Russian expansionist nationalists, or Russian nazis.

Instead of wasting their time trying to reestablish some kind of Soviet loyalty in Estonia, they'd play all the cards. They'd be chummy with the Social Democrats and chummy with the Reform Party. They'd lay wreaths for the victims of the deportations. And they'd increase in influence, because right-wing parties would have a harder time playing the Russian "fear card" prior to elections.

Basically they'd do what Germany has done. And look at Germany, it's the engine of EU foreign policy.

But the Russians choose to take it the sermonizing, Russian imperial route. They seem to forget how frequently that empire was opposed, violently, during the years of its grip in eastern Europe, and that Estland was under German administration during most of that time anyway. So I don't know what they're drinking, but it's not making them any smarter.

If they exercised the "I don't touch you, you don't touch me" principle with regard to Estonia, relations would be much better, and perhaps the government would have said 'jah' to the Gazprom survey request.

Indrek ütles ...

And I was so sure that Margus's post was sarcastic...

But then again I have heard that sarcasm doesn't work in the internet.

Blogaddict ütles ...

Yea, I was surprised too to see G take Margus literally. Although G is from America, he is from New York, for chirssakes!

G, what happened?!

(Do you ever watch Stephen Colbert's "Today's Word"?)

I've noticed that sarcasm is generally a strange eurofag thing to most Americans. They prefer it safe and stay clear of it.

Et tu, Brutus?

Giustino ütles ...

Margus question was sarcastic, but it was a good excuse to address the 'Putin is Peter I reincarnated' meme.
Some people actually think him in possession of acute genius. But his 'near abroad' policies ... stink. Peter I gave the Baltic Germans unlimited autonomy when he took them over in 1710. Putin's Russia is incapable of such confident generosity.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

On kaubamaja
To anyone accustomed to traveling the nations of the former Soviet Union and watching their messy transitions to market economies, the Tallinn Department Store is drop-dead riveting, simply because it is normal.

There are no guards in camouflage uniforms at the entrances, no dirt, not even a faint whiff of urine.


The New York Times

Frank ütles ...

The concessions granted to the rüütelkond (the self-governing body of the land-holding nobility in Estonia) and the former Hanseatic cities by Peter I were more or less identical with those granted by the Crown of Sweden when Estonia became part of the then Swedish Empire - the Crown of Sweden later violated these treaties under pressure of war-efforts and to strengthen the position of the crown, so did the Tsars in the last decades of the 19th century when pan-slavism and nationalism were on the rise and late medieval constitutions like those in the "German Baltic Sea Provinces of the Russian Empire" were considered obsolete as well as an insult to the grandeur of mother Russia.

Both empires wanted to secure the loyalty of their Baltic "subjects" (70 % of the young men with Baltic German background in the province of Estonia sought service in the Tsar´s army and administration, often holding key positions, the majority of Gustavus Adolphus officers is said to have had ties to Estonia and Livonia), so the privileges were not born or granted out of generosity but had the character of a deal between partners, a contract.

The Baltic ("German") elites in 1570 and 1710 (who were constitutionally representing everybody else on Estonian soil, and continued to do so principally even at the Voelkerbund in Geneva in the early 20ieth century) could put a certain amount of trust in the decency and the sovereign´s will to fulfil the contract.

Even when the Russian elites of today were smart enough to cooperate with their Estonian counterparts, using Estonia again as a bridge or window to Western Europe, I doubt that anybody would be well advised to consider them trustworthy.

They don´t trust themselves, do they?!

margus ütles ...

With Finland, somewhere around 1945, they understood the premise of a relationship with a western, northern European neighbor: "I don't touch you, you don't touch me."

It was Finlandization then and still is up until now. 1945 they didn't lose sovereignty but made huge concessions. Besides losing territory they paid all the reparations and remained dependent on SU economy.

From all the 'near-abroad' Finland is the 'sensible one'. Some time ago Halonen stated that Russia is just as important to Finland as Estonia. That sums it up pretty well.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, well, after all Finland was left for dead by the West in 1944-45, so there was not much to be done. Except not to die. During the Friendship Treaty time Finland remained a liberal democracy, integrated economically with the West and developed extensive connections with Scandinavia (including a passport free zone). Yes, there was unpleasant rhetorical pandering to be done, various excesses (our so called intelligentsija started believing our friendship propaganda by the 1970's - nevertheless I borrowed Solzhenitzyn's Gulag Archipelago from our municipal library in the late 70's and stood freezing in the school yard singing "Oath to the Flag" in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Winter War. While the main street of Helsinki was named after Mannerheim - not Otto-Ville Kuusinen.

The more unpleasant face of Finlandization was almost completely an elite phenomenon, and it bought us so much time that in the end it was the Soviet Union that collapsed, not the Republic of Finland (as absurd as that would have seemed in September 1944). So, even with these said excesses and dangers it turned out to be a good bargain indeed.

Giustino ütles ...

While the main street of Helsinki was named after Mannerheim - not Otto-Ville Kuusinen.

That's sort of the point. Mannerheim allied with Hitler. There's an audio tape floating around of their conversation.

But no one in Moscow would dare say that the Finns were rehabilitating Nazism by having a statue of Mannerheim in downtown Helsinki.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, they could easily change their tune overnight, should it be deemed usuful by Moscow. Just as they might declare Estonia to be the greatest friend of Russia that ever existed, should that be some day thought necessary. The thing is that facts are quite post-modern for the Kremlin, they exist only in a relation to their current Macchiavellian utility.

In Kekkonen times we had the Friendship Treaty, so there was no reason to rock the boat with the uncomfortable fact the Finland had quite a different interpretation of its history. Or rather it wasn't a fact then. These days we haven't still joined the NATO, so we are not "fascist" or sympathizing or commemorating "fascists". Once the circumstances change then the "facts" as the Kremlin sees them will change too. So, I don't know how reasonable it is to pay too much historical attention to this primitivism from the East.

Colm ütles ...

Great blog-post you have here. I liked it alot.

Puu ütles ...

Mick Jagger is so sexy even though he is ancient and lecherous.

Puu ütles ...

Chelsea Girls is really an amazing album. I am also totally loving his cover of "You better move on" by Alexander:

Everyone sing it:

I don't blame you for loving non -existant nationalistic conflicts that gives politicians money
But can't you understand man we just want to eat kohupiim
And I ain't never ever ever ever going stop eating kohupiim
Cause I oh well I love it sooo...

I think you better go now I'm getting mighty mad.
Because you've been asking me to give up
The best Kohupiim I've ever had
Maybe be I would of but I love it so
I'm never going to let it go...
You better move on...

Andres ütles ...

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 hope their parents don't need to be alarmed <.<

plasma-jack ütles ...

in the end it was the Soviet Union that collapsed, not the Republic of Finland (as absurd as that would have seemed in September 1944)

facts of that kind need to be reminded every once in a while, thanks.
no, seriously. thinking like that makes you feel that the Light Side alway prevails in the end (: