teisipäev, jaanuar 30, 2007

I'm off to ... Scandinavia!

As an Estonia enthusiast, I voraciously read travel guidebooks to see what kind of base information John and Jane Tourist are given before they decide to hightail it over to Europe to take in its resplendent medieval ambience. One guidebook that covers Estonia that has consistently impressed me as been Rick Steves' Scandinavia, which guides one on a journey through the "core" Scandinavian cities -- Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm -- and then onto two "Nordic capitals" -- Helsinki and Tallinn. Rick was smart to put Tallinn in the Scandinavia book because, let's face it, most people don't get there after a whirwind trip of East Europe that includes Krakow and Bratislava. They get there by going to Stockholm or Helsinki. See, Rick's glasses aren't just for show. In the words of our president, he's "plenty smart."

This is also funny because today some guy in the elevator asked me where I was relocating to after I told him why I was so exhausted. I wondered if I should even bother stressing him out by mentioning "Estonia," which for most New Yorkers is a town in upstate New York. Instead I just said "Scandinavia" and he understood basically where that was, and it captured some basic features of Estonia - lots of solitude, lots of pine trees, lots of snow, lots of indulgence in alcohol, and, of course, lots of sauna. I didn't need to explain to him that it was this little, teeny, tiny country south of Finland, and he didn't have to waste his time trying to remember where Finland was.

And so, maybe Rick Steves has been on to something all along ...

laupäev, jaanuar 27, 2007

A Little Bit About Estonia's Jews

I just came across this really interesting link which gives you a history of Jews in Estonia and answers many questions, such as, How did a historically Mediterranean people wind up freezing their munad off on the Gulf of Finland?

As for that question, "The process of Jewish settlement in Estonia began in the nineteenth century, when an 1865 statute by Tsar Alexander II granted them the right to enter the region... The Tallinn congregation, the largest in Estonia, was founded in 1830. The Tartu congregation was established in 1866 when the first fifty families settled there."

When Estonia became an independent country in 1920, Estonia's Jewish population had something of a cultural renaissance. According to this source, "approximately 200 Estonian Jews fought in combat for the creation of the Republic of Estonia, and 70 of these men were volunteers."

On 12 February 1925, the Estonian government passed a law pertaining to the cultural autonomy of minority peoples. "In June 1926 the Jewish Cultural Council was elected and Jewish cultural autonomy was declared. The administrative organ of this autonomy was the Board of Jewish Culture, headed by Hirsch Aisenstadt until it was disbanded in 1940."

Why 1940? The Soviet occupation of course. "Cultural autonomy in addition to all of its institutions was liquidated in July 1940. In July and August of the same year all organizations, associations, societies and corporations were closed. A large group of Jews (about 400) were deported on 14 June 1941. After the German occupation later in 1941, all Jews who had failed to flee were murdered. According to data from Israel, 1,000 Estonian Jews were executed in 1941."

Furthermore, "from 1940 until 1988 the Estonian Jewish community, as elsewhere in the Soviet Union, had no organizations, associations nor even clubs."

I want you to keep in mind that fact when Russian Federation diplomats try to pawn themselves off as great heroes for the Jewish people. Someone should remind Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, that there were two governments involved in destroying Estonia's Jewish community in the 1940s, and the Republic of Estonia wasn't one of them.

Unfortunately, some people prefer fabricated Soviet fiction to reality.

neljapäev, jaanuar 25, 2007

“Estonia never had its own heroes.”

The Bronze Soldier controversy has just spilled over to the New York Times. And remember my take on this, how Russia is too keen to tell Estonian men that they are nothing and that they have no heroes? Well, the chairman of the Constitution Party just proved my point:

But Estonia remains a divided country, despite a free and thriving economy. Of its 1.4 million people, about 25 percent are ethnic Russians, who according to Andrei A. Zarenkov, an ethnic Russian and chairman of the Constitution Party, live as “untouchables” in a political caste system.

He said Estonia’s government was fighting to remove the monument because “Estonia never had its own heroes.”

Right, so this guy is mad because he doesn't have any power. Boo hoo. Note to Zarenkov -- if you want to get elected in Estonia, say nice things about Estonia. Saying that Estonia doesn't have any heroes isn't going to get you elected. In fact, if you are so dumb that you would say something like that to the New York Times, then you should find another job. At least a third of Russian residents in Estonia could vote in the 2003 parliamentary elections, yet they didn't vote for you. Why is that?

Also, I seem to recall a ragtag army of 75,000 defeating the army of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. The loss forced the Russians to renounce their claim to Estonia in perpetuity. That victory stands. Estonia today is a free republic. To add up the equation for you: Estonia fought for and won its independence in 1920 from the largest country in the world, and it's now 2007, 87 years later, and Estonia is an independent country, based on that victory. Who were your heroes again?

*Sigh* If Estonia wants to talk about wars with Russia, it should be talking about that one. They should also remind them that 3,000 Russian volunteers fought with the Estonian army and helped achieve Estonian independence. I wonder why nobody in Nashi dressed up in one of their uniforms this week. And are they honored by the Estonian state? Perhaps a monument to the Russian soldiers that helped free Estonia, attended by Putin himself is in order?

I guess some dead Russian soldiers are worth more to the Russian state than others. I've tried quizzing Russian acquaintances about how they feel about other actors in their history, ie: "How do you feel about Trotsky? How do you feel about Kerensky? How do you feel about Nicholas II?" But I usually just get shrugs. All the while, I keep wondering what Putin is trying to create here with fascist youth groups that dress up in Red Army uniforms like they actually had any balls. What do they want to do? Overun Tallinn, waving flags in grandfather's clothes and singing songs while people pause from shopping at Kaubamaja and then continue with their business.

See, in 1940, Russia still had an idea: communism. It had an ideological export. Today, it has no ideological export. They could march on Estonia, but they wouldn't win anything and their entire ideology boils down to worshipping idols. Smart historical costumes may make you feel good inside, boys, but they don't feed your family and they don't heat your home.

In the 1960s in San Francisco, they had "weekend hippies" -- young urban professionals who put on beads and went to clubs on the weekend. They weren't "genuine hippies" who actually lived communally on the bare minimum. I think it would be fair to say that "Nashi" are essentially the "weekend hippies" of communism.

The last time I moved across an ocean

Will somebody please remind me of how I wound up in this place to begin with? Somehow I got from Iceland to Denmark to Finland to Estonia. And now I'm in the process of going back. I'm exhausted and the plane doesn't take off until Tuesday.

The last time we did this it was March 2004 and I was similarly nauseous and exhausted and fragrant. Kristiina Ojuland was on our flight to Prague. Everybody was sort of like, "Well well, Proua Välisminister has to sit in the back of the bus with the rest of the alcoholics," when they saw Kristiina get on the plane. I thought it was cool though to sit near the foreign minister on the flight out from this very intriguing land.

Anyway, whenever I am in sleepless situations I tend to get loops of songs stuck in my head, and when I am in Europe the songs tend to be bad electronic/dance/pop songs. I remember I had a really bad one in my head that day, and it just kept replaying itself over and over and over again. I tried to keep it away, but it kept happening over and over and over again in the ether of my brain. For those of you that are aware that I moonlight as a musician, this is the same ether where songs appear. It's the creative hinterlands. If consciousness were a mountain, it would be right over the peak on the other side - you know, where nobody skies.

I tried everything to get that goddamn song loop out of my head. I drank water. I went into the toilet and looked in the mirror and tried to resurrect some other, less annoying song. It didn't work. The song stalked me from Prague to the USA where it dissipated in the dirty air of Newark.

See, I'm rambling. I must be exhausted. Anyway, these days are sapping my strength and mental clarity. So I turn to mini "moments of zen" where all is beautiful. Sort of like the interior of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory except kid-friendly. For example, I have decided that I will listen to The Sugarcubes three albums over and over again until I get out of this joint. Björk is telling me to "eat eat eat the menu" and there are "Delicious Demons" and "Tidal Wave"s. What a great band. Just as I wouldn't mind living in the film Austin Powers, I wouldn't mind getting sucked into some special vortex where Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week was everything.

I have also been reading a self-indulgent book by Alan Light of SPIN magazine about the Beastie Boys called Skills to Pay the Bills, or something of that nature. I have been aware of the Beastie Boys' music since License to Ill came out billions of years ago back in 1986. And as horrible as 1986 sucked (day-glo t-shirts? c'mon dude) I wouldn't mind escaping to that neverneverland where there were no blogs, and no Internets, and no motherfucking cellphones (did I mention I hate cellphones? well, anyway, I hate them) and "hi-tech" meant compact disc.

Anyway, I am tired and I should go to sleep. Tomorrow is a brand new day. And you can bet that I will be exhausted at the end of that one too.

esmaspäev, jaanuar 22, 2007

Get a life!

I am not that young anymore. In just a few years I will attain the dreaded age of 30. So when I see that Russia's de facto state party has a "youth group" that likes to spend its time throwing darts at a portrait of Toomas Hendrik Ilves, I take notice.

United Russia's youth group demonstrated Friday against Estonia's decision to remove a monument to Soviet soldiers who fought the Germans in World War II, saying it showed disrespect for those who died fighting Nazism.

About 100 protesters stood outside the Estonian Embassy, throwing darts at a photograph of Estonia's president.

I guess every country needs its enemies. But the idea of tiny Estonia being enemy enough to evoke ire among Russian teenagers is cause for concern. Haven't they got better things to do? Discoteques to attend? Ladies to romance? Careers to pursue? Guys, take it from me. Get a life. Do something more useful with your time then fight proxy battles for Putin's state party. Getting into a dick-waving contest with Estonia is a waste of your time. You only get one life to live. Don't waste yours.

pühapäev, jaanuar 21, 2007

Real Estate

So we've been looking for a place to live in the city of Tartu, you know that unappealing hellhole in southeast Estonia where there are no good indie rock bands and the best thing is the road leading to Tallinn? Yeah, that one.

Anyway, I know the Estonian real estate market quite well, having searched for and found an apartment in Tallinn back in the year of our Lord, 2003. I recall there were several kinds of apartments available in Tallinn. For starters, there were the off-limits apartments - either ones in the Old Town or those new futuristic ones out in Pirita that look like Captain Kirk's love shack from Star Trek.

Those are off limits as my wife and I are but meager artists of the written word. We do not aspire to such eurocratic heights. After the off limits places come the wooden, pre-1940 dwellings. Many of these have been remodeled and are gorgeous. We wound up buying one in Kalamaja. But, on the flipside, the older ones have some extreme elements, such as 1) large communities of feral cats nearby; 2) wood heating, accompanied by neighbor's house with roof burned off; 3) did I mention wood heating?

That's right, many Estonians use puu to keep themselves warm at night, and if you look at them like they are stuck in some kind of 1920s time-warp where going to toilet means going to the outhouse and using the Montgomery Sears catalog to wipe your ass, they'll look back at you and tell you that you are crazy and that wood heating is the best thing since fire was invented.

Of course, the ladies don't mind wood heating because they get their husbands to freeze their munad off and go outside in the dark of winter to collect more firewood to survive, eating a bowl of gruel that has boiled over the fire as their reward for manliness.

Along with the culture shock of living in a land where using cash is quaint, but using wood to heat your room is the thing to do, most real estate agencies like to provide photos of the toilet in the apartment, just so you can inspect it online to make sure it's safe to squat over when duty calls.

This is a very Estonian thing to do. Estonian real estate agents like to get to the point. There's no bullshit. They show you the dirtiest place in the house and let you judge whether or not you'd consider parking your butt there and leafing through a fresh edition of City Paper.

Estonia is currently stuck in this weird limboland between post-Soviet and normal, where lots of it is starting to look fresh and new, but behind every new Selver, there is a filthy toilet waiting to remind you of the bad old days when Gorbachev was the "charismatic" leader of the USSR. Speaking of USSR, there are other apartments available, many of which were built during the 1945 - 1985 time period.

The Stalin-era buildings were mostly built by slave labor from German POWs and real estate agents might mention this to you as if you'd feel better knowing a bunch of 20-year-old guys named Friedrich sweated their balls off to build your flat, only to continue to build flats until their lives were terminated. Well, "German-built" actually means it's less likely to fall apart, while just plain "Soviet-built" is supposed to mean that you should watch out that the place doesn't fall down when you slam the door. I am not into these big apartment buildings. There's something about gray apartment blocks, pelmeenid, and limited daylight that makes me want to drown my sorrows in vodka. That life just isn't for me.

One way Estonians have sought to liberate themselves from the gray is to cover the buildings with colorful metallic paneling, which makes them look more Copenhagen and less Gorky Park. I welcome all attempts to resuscitate wounded dwellings and to bring them up to speed for our new and progressive century.

Anyway, apartment hunting is hard work, and I am actually not doing any of the heavy mental lifting. But when it comes to actually moving the stuff into the apartment, you can expect to see me there, huffing and puffing, and utilizing all those muscles I rarely get to use.

reede, jaanuar 19, 2007

There is Hope for Estonian-Russian Relations

The way the Americans and Brits cooperate these days, you'd think they were all brothers. You'd be wrong, they are more like distant cousins. But it is important to remember that as cozy as the Brits and the Americans are today, there was a time when they hated one another with frenzied passion.

Just as Estonians today talk with some familiarity of Russian occupation, Americans too withstood a British occupation of their soil during the American War of Independence. For me, growing up as a kid on Long Island in New York, I routinely passed a cemetery that my father told me had been used as a fort by the British during their occupation of New York which began in August 1776, after the colonies declared their independence.

From September 1, 1776 until March 1783, Huntington endured six and one-half years of occupation by British troops. Although this period was marked by many hardships and indignities suffered by the local population, the most notable is widely acknowledged to be the construction of Fort Golgotha literally on top of the Town’s Old Burying Ground using timbers taken from the Old First Presbyterian Church.

British Colonel Benjamin Thompson (1763-1814) (later known as Count Rumford) ordered the Church dismantled on November 26, 1782 and the timbers used to construct the new fort. The dual desecration of the Town’s place of worship and its ancestral cemetery was further compounded by Col. Thompson’s forced enlistment of Town residents to provide the required labor. Local carpenters were put to work tearing down the church and the sides of other buildings in the vicinity, while other inhabitants were ordered to bring their spades and axes to prepare the burial ground for the new construction. As a further insult, Col. Thompson ordered the local militia, who had been forced into British service, to deliver these orders to the local populace

Now here's that bit about the British respect for the dead:

Over 100 tombstones were removed and the burial ground was leveled in preparation for the new fort. The dug up tombstones were used in construction of fireplaces, ovens, and floors within the fort. Tradition tells us that people employed around the fort saw the loaves of bread baked in these ovens with the reverse inscription of the tombstones of their friends on the bottom crust. The bread became known as “tombstone bread.” Construction of Fort Golgotha was completed in fifteen days.

Rev. Ebenezer Prime, the Old First Church’s third minister from 1723 to 1779 and an enthusiastic supporter of the American Revolution, had been buried in the Old Burying Ground in 1779. It is reported that when building the fort, Col. Thompson made sure that its exit was placed in front of the Rev. Prime’s grave so that he might have the pleasure of “treading on the old Rebel” whenever he departed or entered the fort.

In March 1783, just four months after disassembly of the Old First Church and construction of Fort Golgotha, the British troops evacuated Huntington. As his last act to aggravate Huntington’s townspeople, Col. Thompson burned all the wood in the area so that the inhabitants would have less to heat their homes during the remaining months of winter. The hated Fort Golgotha was subsequently torn down and the Old First Church reconstructed (in 1784) on the site where it still stands today.

Growing up, I may have been one of the few kids to know that the burial ground in town had once been torn apart to build a fort. Instead, I think most children knew the UK as the land of Mary Poppins and James Bond. It just goes to show you that even the most bitter of rivals are capable of putting things back together again.

neljapäev, jaanuar 18, 2007

Looking for a way out ...

Well, things aren't that great between Estonia and its eastern neighbor these days. They are almost not "stable" as the Estonian Foreign Ministry purports them to be. Then again, that webpage was last updated on Nov. 21.

Taking a long hard look at this situation, I have to wonder -- why is it 2007 and Estonia and Russia's greatest argument is still what happened over 60 years ago? I don't wish to trivialize history, but a simple perusing of news items gives one this thought: is the Estonia of Skype, and voting online, and the flat tax the same Estonia as the one that's locked in a bitter row over fascism and other deceased 20th century ideologies?

There is no doubt that the rightwing parties - the Isamaa-Res Publica Union and the Reform Party, as well as the Social Democrats - benefit from heightened tension with Russia. And what is the alternative? Edgar Savisaar and the Center Party that has an agreement with United Russia? Yeah, right.

There is one party in Estonia that is actually new and doesn't boast a Savisaar or a Reiljan or a Mart Laar or an Andrus Ansip. Their guy is Marek Standberg and he likes to be photographed riding his bike. The Green Party's central issue - the environment - is a welcome addition to a debate which is about history and graves and tallying who killed who. On the flipside, I have heard that the Greens are also trying to posture as yet another "center-right" party. And that leaves again with the same old situation - there is no left wing party in Estonia.

The Center Party? Well, they're always at the center, you see. The Reform Party? They aren't done reforming. Isamaa? They love the fatherland. The Social Democrats? They have catchy slogans. For whom can a voter that happens to care about other things more than debating history with the nasty neighbor vote? I don't know. But I am getting really tired of discussing the 20th century. Thank God we're in a new one.

The War on Estonian Manhood

One of the central tenets of Estonian restoration policies since 1991 has been to create a state where citizens are willing to actively resist subordination to foreign powers. The ghost of the Soviet war on the Republic of Estonia that was waged from 1940 until the amnesty of 1957, that sought a total purge of that republic's leaders and patriots looms large in the minds of the children of refugees like President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, or the men who were born to replace dead Estonian statesmen like Mart Laar and Andrus Ansip. Their mantra has been simple: "Never again."

"Never again" will Estonia allow itself to be humiliated as it was by its neighboring country, which arrested, deported, and shot its most promising citizens and waged a war not only on the Estonian republic, but everything that held it together -- its families, which were separated and destroyed, its intellectual accomplishments, derided as "fascist" for having anything to do with something un-Soviet, its young men who were hunted in the woods and killed like game, its language, which stood side by side with a foreign one as an official language in the post-war republic, even before the tides of Soviet settlers began finding their way to Estonia in the late 1950s and 1960s.

That effort to restore the republic has come to a point over a memorial for Red Army soldiers, who chased the Nazi occupation army out, and then kept the spoils from their conquest -- a boggy nation with good harbors, nice beaches, arable land, and hardworking residents. To justify the imposition of foreign power on a country where the locals spoke their own language, had their own intellectual history, and had built their own system of government to protect their way of life, the warlords in Moscow knew that they had to silence those who would be strongest to resist their power -- the men of the Estonian nation.

Part of their effort to emasculate Estonian manhood has been to criminalize the accomplishments of their forefathers as being evil collaborators in the greatest crime of the 20th century -- the Nazi German war on Europe and its efforts to destroy populations it deemed unfit for its Third Reich -- Jews, Roma, intellectuals, homosexuals, and anyone that stood in the way of accomplishing that goal. Estonian men have had to live with the knowledge that their forefathers had taking rifles and uniforms from the Germans to fight alongside them to fend off the advancing communist Red Army.

The shame, handed down in big, rhetorical helpings from the Russian intelligentsia, is that Estonian men are nothing and they have nothing of which to be proud. Their leaders that did not enable the Nazi occupation, like Jaan Tõnisson (see photo), who was most likely shot by the Soviets BEFORE the Germans invaded in 1941, are still fascists because they are Estonian men. And by the way, the war of 1918 was also a victory for fascism, and the Estonian republic that existed until Päts became an effective dictator? Also fascist. Metsavennad that fought in the woods for their lives and families' lives? Fascists. Unable to divorce itself from the potent mix of Russian nationalism and communist ideology, Estonian nationalism becomes "fascist" under all circumstances.

You see, Estonian men, to Russia, should be grateful eunuchs, kneeling before the "Soldier Liberator" of Tallinn with his tough expression, flowing cape, and leather boots. Any attempt by Estonian manhood to assess their fathers' actions by themselves, without dictation by Moscow, is akin to "glamorization of Nazism" or "glorification of fascism." Russia is angered by the empowerment of Estonian manhood, after decades of conscription from the country and forcing Estonians to make it through a difficult training program in Russian with other Soviet nationalities.

They are deeply wounded because they know that the actions of their fathers and grandfathers in Europe were not altogether honorable. Nobody accepts their account of what happened in Tallinn in 1940, nobody still alive can corrobrate it, because their account is false. And so their heroes are also villains. Would that fact be enough to provoke overemotional tirades against Estonia, like those you have seen from Lavrov and Margelov? You bet.

Remember when Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet met with Sergei Lavrov in happier times, before France and The Netherlands rejected the European Constitution, and the 7-7 bombers attacked London? Just look at the body language. Here you have Russia - tall, proud, standing with assertiveness, standing beside Estonia, smaller, less confident, and still a bit scared shitless of Russia. The posturing in these photos tells a lot about how Estonian men feel about Russian men.

They don't entirely trust them. They remember what happened to their fathers. They recall how the Russians signed a mutual assistance pact with them, how they had normal relations, and then, with one order, they were rounded up like stray cats and euthanized by the Soviet state. And what's worse? Russia tells the Estonians that they were the criminals and that their actions were just. What's a guy named Juku to do?

In this scenario some Estonian men do choose to think favorably of the Eesti Leegi - the 20th Estnisch Waffen SS that fought alongside Hitler's troops on the Narva front.
Because in their world if the Red Army are heroes how can the SS be villains? How can men like them that thought they were trying to defend their country be the enemy? It's a crisis in Estonian masculinity that is boiling over to this day. And it comes down to this - you can't ignore who you are. You cannot change yourself. Estonian men are Estonian men, and their forefathers acted in what they saw was the national interest, just as Estonian leaders today attempt to act in the national interest.

This realization is a triumph for Estonian manhood, which was kept under the sole of a Soviet Red Army boot for decades. It's a coming out party if you will. Estonian men not be able to do those exotic Kossack dances after they blow up another village like the Red Army has been caricatured as doing, but they are proud of what their fathers and grandfathers accomplished and they are not willing to put it aside to please diplomats or to make Russia feel their own private crises less.

For those who are scratching their heads over Estonia's latest row with Russia, I would suggest to remember that Russians are not used to being told off by a bunch of roly-poly guys with names like Mart, Andrus, and Urmas. They liked the days when the words that came out of Arnold Rüütel's mouth were filled with praise for the accomplishments of the USSR and cute Estonian schoolchildren sang songs in Russian for Lenin, that Russian intellectual juggernaut. Remember this when tensions flare up. It is very heavy shit we are dealing with here.

esmaspäev, jaanuar 15, 2007

Freudian Slip?

I am sure this would make the Cardigans happy. I have decided to insert "so-called" into my story, like Itar-Tass does in every story about Estonia, so as to call into question the validity of comments following my "so-called." Let me know if it works:

Swedish flag accidentally hoisted above Estonian castle

Jan 15, 2007
TBT staff

TALLINN - Caretakers of a medieval citadel in Rakvere, northeast Estonia, were left embarrassed after the Swedish flag was hoisted above the castle tower instead of Estonia’s national strip on Jan. 12.

The [so-called] mistake was noticed by outside observers, who quickly called the operators of the Rakvere castle museum to alert them of the apparent invasion.

The [so-called] error came about due to an apparent similarity between the Swedish flag and the flag of Rakvere city, which has a similar design.

To mark the anniversary of Rakvere’s liberation in the 1918-1920 War of Independence, the city’s flag was to be hoisted above the castle.

The [so-called]error was "corrected" in a matter of hours.

reede, jaanuar 12, 2007

Ai ai ai

Looks like the Estonian government is moving ahead with plans to relocate the monument to Soviet soldiers in central Tallinn. The riigikogu approved the measure and President Ilves signed the bill into law. Now all is left is for Andrus Ansip's Reform Party to ride the common dislike for the buffoons at left to another term in office. I wonder how they will magically get rid of Härra Pronkssõdur without turning Tõnismägi into Lihula on steroids. The prospect of such a removal is giving me more anxiety than the Elian Gonzalez case.

Who's responsible for this crap? Everybody. You can lay the blame at just about anyone's feet. First of all, if Josef Stalin's Red Army marched into Tallinn, recognized Uluots government, and marched out after the Germans surrendered in 1945, then we wouldn't be talking about this. Every Russian person that finds themselves the victim of Russophobia and Western mistrust today owes a great deal of their position to Mr. Djugashvili. His government killed millions, and yet very few of the war criminals in it were ever held accountable for their crimes. And so, 60 years after it was erected, some Estonians find accountability in an old bronze statue.

Secondly, the Russian Federation's inability to take accountability for what happened in 1940 and 1944 and to continue to attempt to represent its "compatriots" abroad while at the same time demanding blanket foreign citizenship for them, only fuels the Estonian-Russian crisis in relations. When you constantly deny acts of hostility against a neighbor, and then attempt to include yourself in your neighbor's domestic policies on behalf of a local minority, you only sew fear and mistrust in your neighbor's country. Hence, an old war memorial still means something. Also, how can Estonians be expected to respect the dead of the Soviet Army, when the Russian government won't even hand back its morbid souvenir from Päts' death - his presidential regalia?

From a third perspective, this is also the fault of the ethnic Russian residents of Tallinn. How naive could you be to think you could annually gather and wave the flag of a country that killed so many of your neighbors' family members and think that something like this wasn't bound to happen? If you unveil the Red flag of the Red Army in Tallinn it's just going to piss people off. That's a fact for all Eastern European countries. And if young people gather with candles to defend a monument to a soldier that many in the capital see as an occupying soldier, then they too are mistrusted, and the rationale behind removing the statue becomes stronger, NOT weaker. By arguing that the removal of the statue would spark "a cold civil war," as activist Maxim Reva put it, you only reinforce the majority's lack of respect for your views and mistrust of your motives.

But there's plenty of fault on the Estonian side. For Andrus Ansip, I must ask, why do a few summer clashes between small groups of people merit the attention of the Estonian parliament, its president, as well as the Russian Federation and now PACE? Haven't you also contributed in blowing this matter out of proportion? Is Estonia really a country that can't tolerate disagreements like this? Hasn't democracy failed just a little here? Many posters have suggested that the current government's "do nothing" policies have helped the economy. Could not the same brilliant strategy work in these "culture war" issues as well?

And finally, I'll have to throw some responsibility at former President Arnold Rüütel, who could have stepped in at some opportune moment last June and pulled the whole country out of this situation with some grandfatherly advice and the moderate resolve that any man learns as he ages. I honestly believe that most Estonians, while feeling negative about the memorial, are not 100 percent behind Ansip's decision. Perhaps he could have come up with a heartfelt statement that set people back at ease. But he didn't. Instead Rüütel hid and passed the buck to his successor. And where is meie Toomas Hendrik Ilves? He was the one who told us he believed that the memorial should be imbued with more meaning, to represent everything the Red Army stood for, including the March 1944 bombing raids on Tallinn that killed hundreds of civilians. That seemed like the moderate solution. Sergei Ivanov from the Reform Party got his butt behind that position mighty quick. And Edgar Savisaar supported it too. So what happened? Who dropped the ball?

Finally, this dilemma is my fault for not coming up with a solution so grand that all of the other options would appear frivolous. I have failed you as a blogger. I'm sorry.


kolmapäev, jaanuar 10, 2007

Tartu Linn

Dear friends, on January 30 my wife, my daughter, and I will board a plane that will take us to Tallinn via Warsaw. It is our intention to move to Tartu, and we should be settled in our new home by the first week of February. As you can imagine, our lives are quite hectic now.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Marta's passport, obtained when she was a month and a half old, is still valid, and will be valid until 2009. Another interesting matter is that my child must apply for citizenship in Estonia, as she is not technically an Estonian citizen until she does so even though she was born there and her mother is a citizen. So Marta will enter Estonia with an American passport, as an American, then she will obtain her identity card, and then I'll have to figure out how to leave Estonia with her.

Should I present the American passport, as she entered Estonia with that passport, or the Estonian one, so I don't get hassled about how my Estonian daughter doesn't have a resident's visa? Ai ai ai. Anyway, I am going to put this blog on hiatus for the next few weeks. If you get bored, I recommend Finland for Thought. That's always good for some controversy. See you in Tartu!

esmaspäev, jaanuar 08, 2007

The Trouble with 'East vs. West'

Occasionally the English-language press likes to visit the newer democracies of the 2004 EU expansion and critique the lack of reform they find in its governments. In this week's The Economist, a conversation about Brits in Bratislava veers into familiar territory:

"From the Baltics to the Balkans there is not one strong reformist government. Some are smug, do-nothing coalitions (Estonia and Slovenia), or prickly and ineffective (Poland) or powerless minority governments (Lithuania, Czech Republic), or sleazy and unscrupulous (Hungary, Latvia)," the news journal writes.

While it's cute to pretend that there still is a meaningful east-west division in the European Union, the problem with constructing a worldview that presents the good, reformist, stable West against the struggling, corrupt, unstable East, is that neither region of Europe can live up to its stereotype.

Eastern European democracies may be comparably newer, but not by that much. For example, the current Estonian constitution is *based on the 1938 constitution*, but the current French constitution is 20 years younger. Yes, I know that the Estonian constitution continued in the most legal of manners - in exile - from 1944 through 1991, but still, it's false to assume that all former communist countries started from scratch in 1991 and that they should be collectively mentored by their wiser Western neighbors.

Nor are newer EU countries any more corrupt than older EU members like Italy, and Greece. In the 2006 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Estonia ranked in at 24, ahead of "older" Western democracies like Portugal, Italy, and Greece.

And how long have those countries been democratic? In Spain, democracy returned in 1975 with the death of Francisco Franco. Portugal similarly was ruled by António de Oliveira Salazar's regime until the mid-1970s. Those were fascist governments replaced by democratic ones, in a manner similar to the way that communist governments were replaced by democratic ones in the late 1980s - by *mostly* bloodless revolution. Yet our trusty Economist reporter didn't head off to talk about the need for reform in Rome or Lisbon.

Therefore, my question is this: Why don't conferences about the need for reformist European governments include discussions on older members that could also benefit from reform? Why do people focus on the region "from the Baltics to the Balkans" when the European Union as a whole presents a far more inclusive category for lumping various countries together and discussing their shortcomings. Why do some people insist on carving Europe into East and West when it's clear that Europe as a whole suffers from similar problems that transcend Cold War geography?

kolmapäev, jaanuar 03, 2007

Calling All "Troppid" from Sweden, Estonia

This is it, dear friends. The end is nigh. Sweden is rearming, under the auspisces of an "emergency Nordic Battle Group" that will also include troops from Norway, Finland, and Estonia.

According to Sveriges Radio International, Sweden has already begun airing commercials, hoping to draw it's most violence-loving citizens out of the pubs and into uniform, presumably for peace keeping missions in such tropical getaways as Lebanon and Somalia.

"Sweden has started recruiting for an emergency Nordic Battle group with action and violence-filled television adds for troops to be sent to crisis areas around the globe," writes SR International.

"2,000 Swedes are to be enlisted in the Swedish-led group – which is also to include tropps from Norway, Finland and Estonia – and is to be ready this time next year."

Despite this risable spelling error, it looks like the Nordic Battle Group could see real action. "The aim is to receive a United Nations mandate for each operation in such places as Somalia and Lebanon – and that fighting back may be an option – not just peace-keeping operations," SR International notes.