teisipäev, veebruar 27, 2007

Amnesty Int'l: Scrap the Language Inspectorate

UPDATE: I have decided that what sort of stinks, for lack of better words, about these Amnesty Reports is the use of anecdotal evidence to make a point. I personally feel that it's easy for AI to pick and choose its argument based on what responses fall in line with its bias.

To that end, I offer the following solution: Tell Amnesty your stories. Give them anecdotal evidence from your perspective. Write to them and tell them about the language environment you have dealt with in Estonia. Here's the link to write to their International Secretariat. And if you are feeling really ballsy, write them in Estonian.


Recently, Amnesty International, an international human rights watchdog, took an interest in Estonia, mainly via a scathing report released at the end of 2006 that criticized Estonia's language laws.

Today, Amnesty took aim again at Estonia's language laws, sending Prime Minister Andrus Ansip a letter deploring the recent strengthening of the language inspectorate's ability to penalize Estonian residents that fail to meet language requirements.

Amnesty International urges the Estonian government to re-consider the latest amendments to the Law on Language and consider more constructive approaches to linguistic integration, such as free or fully reimbursable Estonian language classes for all, rather than the repressive, punitive, and ultimately alienating measures used by the Language Inspectorate.
There are some flipsides to Amnesty International's argument that the government should not interfere at the level it does via the language inspectorate. For example, if I, as a person capable of conversing in Estonian, am unable to receive service from a company in Estonian, the language of the majority of the population, then haven't I been denied some fundamental right?

In some cases, you have the option of choosing another service -- going to a different grocery, for example. But in other cases, say taking public transport, there really are no other options for an Estonian speaker. If I ask the bus driver something, and I cannot get a reply in Estonian, what do I do? Walk?

But still, I don't think this is the job of the state. This is the job of the individual employers. It's up to consumers to complain to employers about poor service, such as the inability to converse in the majority language in basic service situations. Also, can anyone point out how the language inspectorate is worthy of its funding?

Scrapping the language inspectorate in favor of more funding for education in Estonian might actually be a good idea. Because of all of Estonia's language laws, this is really the only one that international organizations like Amnesty International can take issue with without opening up a whole can of worms.

For example, is Estonian unilingual language policy so controversial when weighed against language policy in France, where public schools in Breton-speaking regions are denied funding for teaching in Breton? Like Estonia, France's constitution states that the "language of France is French."

Can Estonian language tests for citizenship really be contested by Amnesty when Finland has the same provision for acquiring citizenship - that the applicants know Finnish or Swedish? Germany requires adequate knowledge of German language as well. It's the norm.

Amnesty knows that it cannot criticize Estonian language policy outside the language inspectorate because if it did, it would have to open up investigations on many states in Europe. But it has made a point of rallying against the language inspectorate because it, in all honesty, must show some return on its investment in monitoring Estonia. As much as its determinations can be questioned, I have to wonder if the language inspectorate is really worth it.

Will Savisaar be Estonia's next prime minister?

TNS Emor finally dropped another poll on us, less than a week before votes are to be tallied in the world's first-ever parliamentary election where citizens can cast their votes via Internet.

The Estonian polling outfit also predicted that Keskerakond will win 35 seats in the next Riigikogu, four more seats than Reformierakond. Emor predicts that Isamaa-Res Publica Liit will earn 15 seats, Eestimaa Rahvaliit 8 seats, Rohelised 7 seats, and the Sotsid 6 seats.

This polling data tells us a few things. The first is that Res Publica has failed to hang onto the voters it earned during the last parliamentary elections in 2003. Those voters have likely gone elsewhere, probably to the Greens and to Reform.

The second thing this polling shows us is that Reform has built its electoral base over the last few years. They currently have 19 seats. If they win 31 seats they will have increased their representation in the Riigikogu by over 60 percent. This shows us that Reform is gathering strength, even if Savisaar wins the most votes on Sunday.

Several factors that I believe this poll fails to take into account are the solidity of IRL's support, the solidity of the Green's support, and the extent to which Internet voting will favor certain portions of the electorate -- younger, educated, urban -- over others -- less well off, rural, no laptop.

In the first case, since I am surrounded by Isamaa voters, even here in Tartu, I have to say that their base is loyal and will vote. When I see teenage girls wearing IRL sallid and nearly every person I ask is voting IRL, then I'd have to say that, using my own compass, their base will turn out. I expect them to get more seats than TNS Emor has pegged using its numbers.

The second case is that these polls -- and the spectre of Savisaar's victory and appointment as prime minister -- may discourage some of those leaning Rohelised to bite the bullet and vote for Reform or IRL, parties that have certainly lost support to Mr. Strandberg's party. I expect that Rohelised will get five or six seats in the end, not seven.

Finally, what kind of people are favored by Internet elections? Those with access to the Internet. That means that Kesk's older, rural supporters will have a harder time voting than, say, Reform's supporters. All of this doesn't mean that Savisaar won't still come out on top on Sunday, but it doesn't make me believe that his appointment as prime minister is inevitable.

Who, by the way, will form a coalition with Keskerakond?

pühapäev, veebruar 25, 2007

Eesti Vabaks

On Saturday, I enjoyed my first real Estonian Independence Day. I have been here twice before for Feb. 24, but this time it was the real deal. Although it was so cold that the military parade in Tallinn was cancelled, the flag raising ceremony at Tähe Torn in Tartu went on.

And it was cold, so cold my legs were numb and my face hurt when I tried to adjust my grimmace to a smile. Eventually, after the ceremony, I had to go take refuge in a kohvik near raekoja plats just so my nose wouldn't fall off. But there we were, old ladies, little kids, and lots of students, celebrating the 89th anniversary of the founding of the Estonian republic.

I know as well as you do that there was a 50-year-long interlude, but the way it felt all day, you wouldn't have known it happened. Instead, the young people of Estonia wore their society hats and unfurled their Estonian flags, and the feeling created was forward-thinking and good. This is something of which to be proud. 1918 was indeed a long time ago. To put it in context, when Estonian independence was proclaimed, my 88-year-old grandmother wasn't even conceived. My grandfather, who would be 91 this year, was just starting to put his sentences together. And here we are, writing in our blogs, nearly a century later in Eesti Vabariik. Impressive.

In the evening I watched Toomas Hendrik Ilves' first big speech. I remember Arnold Rüütel's speeches, and I have to say that Ilves' was slightly more coherent, even though I understood about 20 percent of what he said. The parts that stuck out to me concerned some fairly controversial issues of the day. I like that he referenced Estonia's kindred Finno-Ugric peoples, like the Inkari Finns, Veps, Votes, and Karelians, whose fate might have been shared by Estonia if it wasn't for the foundation of the republic.

But most of all, I was happy to see Ilves take on the monument controversy, by pointing out that the Soviets had been more than happy to dismantle the monuments Estonians had raised to the victory of 1918. Instead of doing as the Soviets did and dismantling the Red Army memorial in Tallinn, I think Ilves challenged us to let it remain, but to think about it in a historical perspective. My opinion on this matter has changed back and forth, which is why I should never be in politics and will stay in media world. But today, I'd have to say that I agree. Which is to say that it is perhaps more important to confront the sufferings of the past and to digest them and learn from them, then to try and erase all memory of a painful national experience.

After browsing YouTube looking for nifty footage of Estonian past events, I found that someone had posted footage of the Estonian 20th Waffen SS in action and another world battle had erupted between the grandchildren of Legionnaires and the grandchildren of Red Armymen. It was pathetic to see teenagers fight back and forth over who was worse, Hitler or Stalin.

I wish I could tell both the Estonian and Russian nationalist groups something.

For the Russian nationalists, I would have to explain that, while World War II started for Russia in 1941 when the "German invaders" attacked the USSR, for Estonia it started in 1940, when the Soviet army occupied Estonia. While World War II ended for Russia in 1945, on that very special day in May, for Estonia, it didn't really end until Stalin died in 1953. From what I read, that was a day that signalled the end of the Red Terror in Estonia. Within a few years, those deported in 1948 started coming home, and people began to put their lives back together again.

They should know that Estonia is unique. The Estonian people are unique. Estonian history is unique. The Russian nationalists must understand that Estonia is and was a state, just as its sister Ireland is, just as Iceland is, just as Finland is. I am not sure if they'll ever listen, but for their own sake, they should.

For the Estonian rightwing nationalists, I'd have to say this: Look around on Independence Day. Estonia is a success. The 18-year-olds of today feel it just as much as those born in 1900 did. There's no need to proclaim new national holidays or to legislate heroism or to tear down old war monuments. Estonia knows who its heroes are, and it already has the perfect day to celebrate them: Feb. 24.

That's what the restoration of independence was about, it was about taking the hidden flags out of the attic, and singing the national anthem in public, and putting together again that which was so cruelly destroyed. Looking around on Saturday, it felt like the business of restoring the republic was finished some time ago.

Söörimöö - Minu Mõtled Malev-ist

Nii, eile õhtul ma vaatasin esimest korda filmi Malev, mis on eesti film eesti elust kolmeteistkumnendal sajandil saksa ordu jooksul. See film on mõlemad naljakas ja tõsine, ja palju palju verd loomalikult oli filmis. Mina olen kuulnud et Malev oli tehtnud Monty Pythoni moodi. Aga Malev on tegelikult teist moodi.

Kõige tähtsam inimene Malev-is on Uru, tavaline eesti poiss kes kardab saksa ordu rüütlid, ja kes tahab kaitsta oma kodumaa. Ainult probleem on see, et eestlased ei ole tõelised võitlejad. Nad ainult tahavad laulda ja töötada kogu aeg. Näiteks, et kui Uru kohtub eesti kangelase Lembituga, ja ta räägib kõik saksa ordust, siis Lembitu vastus:

"Ma hakkan ... ma hakkan ... ma hakkan ... ma hakkan laulma!" Ja siis kõik Lembitu külas hakkavad tantisma ja laulma. Ongi päris naljakas. Ja kindlasti mu lemmik asi Malev-is on, et saarlased ja hiidlased räägivad liialdatud murrediga. On niimoodi, et kõige saarlastel kõige lemmik vokaal on "ö". Siis, saarlased Malev-is räägivad nagu see: "Me ei söö röögidö normöölselt, me ölömö pörit söörimöölt."

Hööd Isösöösepöövöks!

reede, veebruar 23, 2007

For the Pronks Crowd

Stop the presses! Some nationalistic-feeling Estonians tried to lay a wreath in rememberance at the foot of the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn, and someone pushed someone, and, even though no arrests were made, it still made the International Herald Tribune the same day it happened.

Postimees also promised that there would be footage of the scuffle on TV tonight, because real violence is preferable to the fake violence they usually show on television.

The big question is, of course, who will this benefit in the election? The answer is no one. Supporters of Ansip will say, "See, I told you we should moce the monument" and supporters of Savisaar will say, "See, we should let sleeping dogs lie."

I am begining to see these 'gangs of bandits' - the Estonian National Movement and Night Watch, as rival gangs, like the Bloods and the Crips. Which means that this isn't a state issue -- it's a law enforcement issue. It looks like the law did ok and nobody got hurt. If they want to keep things that way, they'll enforce a ban on demonstrations at the controversial grave site.

Fortunately, for those of us that know that time existed before 1940 -- which I guess excludes the Russian foreign ministry in some cases -- ETV will be treating us to two historical films centered around Estonia, and neither of them is Viimne Reliikvia.

The first, Malev, is one I have only seen clips of before. Malev (see above photo) is a comedic -- if you find Eesti humor funny -- take on the Northern crusades, and the subjugation of the Estonians by the Teutonic knights in the 12th and 13th centuries. I am looking very much forward to seeing it for the very first time.

The second film, Nimed Marmortahvlil, is the real gem. It should be shown every Feb. 24, the way they show The Sound of Music at Thanksgiving every year in the US. It concerns the removal of Russian and German troops from the Baltic province of Estonia by poorly trained Estonian school boys with meager weaponry, and the resulting foundation of the Republic of Estonia. Peter Franzen is also there to play the "older brother" Finland that helps hapless Estonia achieve its victory. It's a good film, and I'll be watching it, A. Le Coq in hand.

Tere Tulemast Soome!

See on väga huvitav asi, et elu siin eestis on päris normaalne. Ma käin kaubamajas. Ma käin postkontoris. Ma kirjutan blogi. Ma vaatan telekat. Kõik elu on tavaline lääne-moodi elu. Aga kui soomlased mõtlevad 'virost' nad ei mõtle Skype-st, või Riigikogu valimistest, või midagi muud head.

Juhtus, et kui Phil, Finland for Thought-i blogija, tegi intervuu minuga, palju küsimused oli soome negatiivne vaade eestist. Aga ma saan aru miks see oli juhtnud:

The number of foreign prisoners in Finnish prisons has quadrupled in ten years, according to the Friday edition of provincial daily Kaleva.

A total of 312 foreign nationals were held in Finnish prisons at the beginning of February, which meant that foreigners comprised 9 per cent of the total prison population. Most had been convicted for narcotics offences.

Kaleva reports that one in three foreign prisoners came from Estonia, with Russians constituting the second largest national group.

Nii, võibolla on õige öelda et kõik narkomüüjad eestist käib soomes tööl. Ja kui soomlased räägivad eestist, nad muidugi räägivad eestlastest kes on nende vanglades. See on ju väga kurb.

[ENG] It's pretty interesting that life in Estonia is very normal and Western, but even Estonia's closest neighbors, like Finland, can have a negative perspective of this country, which isn't that different from Finland. For example, when Phil from Finland for thought interviewed me, many questions revolved around this Finnish perspective of Estonia, which is pretty funny. However, when you see statistics, that one in every three persons in prison in Finland are Estonians, you can see why they have this outlook. It appears that all the drug dealers in Estonia go to Finland for work. This is a very sad thing.

kolmapäev, veebruar 21, 2007

Noh, hüva, teeme nii ...

Kui ma käisin Tallinna keeltekoolis kolm aastat tagasi, ma proovisin räägida eesti keeles nagu mu naine räägib kui ta helistab kellegile. Iga dialoog lõpetab sama moodi, "Noh, hüva, teeme nii."

Aga, kui ma ütlesin "hüva," nagu minu naine, siis meie keeleõpetaja vastas, "Mis on see 'hüva' jama?! - Hüva on tegelikult soome sõna, see ei ole tavaline eesti sõna."

Mina olin väga segaduses. Ma tahtsin teada miks mu naine ütles kogu aeg "hüva" aga minu õpetaja arvas et see oli mingi asi soome televisioonist. Siis, ma maletasin et minu naine on pärit mulgimaalt, aga õpetaja oli tallinnlane. Ja mu naine ütles minule, et "hüva" on tavaline lõuna eesti sõna mis põhja eestlased ei ütle.

Kas te teate veel sõnad mis on ainult põhja-eestist või lõuna eestist? Kas saarlastel on ka teised sõnad mis ei ole rahvakeeles? Mul on suur huvi.


Nii, nüüd ma hakkan kirjutama eesti keeles. Iga päev ma õpin veel, ja üks väga huvitav sõna mina olen õpinud on tegelikult "vunts" või "vuntsid." Inglise keeles, "vuntsid" on ainult ainsus, "mustache" mitte "mustaches."

Kui te tahaks vuntsi maha ajada Ameerikas, mõlemad vuntsid tulevad ikka ära. Aga sellepärast, et eestlased on targem kui ameeriklased, on võimalik ajada maha ühe vuntsi ja teise vuntsi. See on päris hea uudis meie sõber Pulleritsi-le!

teisipäev, veebruar 20, 2007

The Next Riigikogu

The Estonian parliamentary elections are in 12 days and I have no idea what the next Riigikogu is going to look like. Our only clue is a TNS Emor poll from Feb. 12 that shows Keskerakond leading Reformierakond by 2 percentage points. That poll was conducted in mid January, and no margin of error was provided.

Still, despite this virtual tie, I believe that many Estonians think that Edgar Savisaar's Keskid will triumph on March 4. I chalk this up to two things: 1) Estonian pessimism; 2) Savikas' performance in the 2005 municipal elections.

However, there are some major changes afoot. One of them is that Eesti Rahvaliit is, by all accounts, not going to be in the next Riigikogu. The second is that the Rohelised are polling pretty high for a new party. We'll see how much their support erodes on election day. Personally, I don't think they're getting 11 percent of the vote.

I detect among acquaintances some disappointment with Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. Nobody is that enthused about him. But just because they don't like Andrus, it doesn't mean that they don't equally despise Edgar. That leads me to think that Reform's discontents will vote for other center-right parties, like Isamaa-Res Publica Liit or the Sotsid.

I also think that if Reform can tie the Keskid, the next coalition government will actually be Reformierakond, IRL, and Rohelised. I don't know if Ansip will survive as PM, but expect to see Strandberg as minister of the environment, and perhaps Mart Laar as foreign minister. That's my prediction for now, although it could change with further information. I have a hard time envisioning a Savisaar-led government, but it would probably include Reform as well, because they want to keep his hands tied, even if they're not running the show.

esmaspäev, veebruar 19, 2007

How to Hate Estonians (by Pravda)

Kudos to Pravda for allowing us this great insight into Estophobia as practiced by pundits in Moscow. Here are some basic ways that Pravda shows us how it's possible to hate Estonians:

Lesson #1: Mart Laar isn't an award-winning Estonian leader that put his country back on the map, he's the equivalent of Salman Rushdie, preaching divisiveness:
It is understood that the former Estonian prime minister Mart Laar, an author of scandalous history books, voted the bill into law.

Lesson #2: Estonians really just have issues with their fathers, that whole occupation thing is just cover for unresolved issues at home:
Mikhail Lotman, a son of the renowned philologist Yuri Lotman, voted for the bill too. Well, it stands to reason since Mikhail Lotman reportedly sold his father’s archives along with all the books of a library for $80,000 two years ago.

Incidentally, Yuri Lotman served as a gunner in the Soviet Army during the WWII. The media reported that Mikhail had literally cleared out the contents of his father’s study. He sold everything including diplomas and personal correspondence. He even took away an old draft board card of his father…

Lesson #3: Estonian politicians aren't real Estonians, anyway:
No wonder Trivimi Velliste was one the deputies who had supported the new law. Velliste has always been known for his extremely radical views. However, everyone in Estonia is aware of the deputy’s true name, which is Trofim Velichkin. The deputy strongly denies all allegations as to his real name (in fact, he prefers to use English while speaking with Russians – ed. note).

Lesson #4: Estonia's Russians that aren't on Moscow's side are pussies:
Deputy Tatyana Muravyeva was reportedly present in Parliament during the vote but never pressed the button to register her vote. Deputy Sergei Ivanov was missing during the vote. Rumor has it that Ivanov had gone to a cafeteria shortly before the vote took place.

Lesson #5: Estonians are unworthy of being properly referenced in Pravda:
Some time ago Estonian Prime Minister Abdrus Ansip slapped a ban on the erection of a monument to Peter the Great in the city of Narva.

Independence Day

In a couple of days it will be Feb. 24, the day when the nascent Estonian government declared independence from the Russian empire in 1918.

To me, the year 1918 is the year in Estonian history. It's simply amazing that a people whose centuries of legal enslavement had ended only five decades earlier could achieve such a feat, especially when pitted against two gigantic nations -- Germany and Russia.

What is more incredible is that Estonian national republicanism has outlived attempts from the most destabilizing forces to destroy it, including those acting on behalf of Nazi German and Soviet Russian ideologies. All of this leads me to think that this country has been built on solid footing.

What is lacking, though, is information on these historic events in English and other foreign languages. Not enough has been done, in my opinion, to remind people of the 1918 victory. If anyone has photos or facts to share, please put links in the
comments section.

Just reading about World War I, you see why they called it World War II. Here you have the Russians and Germans, both times fighting over land. What I like of Estonia's role in both conflicts is how little they seemed to care about the ideology or imperial goals of their historical foes. To Estonians, it always seemed to come down to hardboiled nationalism, an ideology that endures.

Ilves Picks Up Ethnic Russian Support

Hmm, do I smell a little Clintonian triangulation? It looks like Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves is gaining a lot of credit on the "Russian street" these days, due to his refusal to promulgate the recent law “Law on the Removal of an Unlawful Structure.” For the first time in a long while (since I have been reading the Russian government-informed newswires) somebody had something positive to say about Estonia:

LOS ANGELES, February 19 (Itar-Tass) -- The adoption by the Estonian parliament of the law entitled “On the liquidation of banned structures,” which makes it possible to dismantle the Monument to the Liberator Soldier in the central part of Tallinn, is “another episode in the attempts to revise the results of World War II,” Emil Vinogradsky, president of the San Francisco Association of Russian Veterans of World War II, California, told Itar-Tass. He believes the Estonian legislators should revise their resolution.

“The current situation with the revision of World War II in Estonia is outrageous,” Emil Vinogradsky continued. He welcomed the fact that Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves had refused to put the law into effect. “This shows that the Estonian leaders are skilled people anyway,” he said.

Meanwhile, over at the Russian version of Postimees, commentors were immersing the online newspaper in a sea of "sbasiba" after Ilves decided not to promulgate the bill.

This is the first big test in Ilves career (after getting selected for the presidency, of course). It's interesting to see how he's using it to his political advantage. Perhaps this will soften opposition to him in the ranks of Keskerakond should he run for a second term in 2011. The biggest criticisms of Ilves was that he was too American, too French, or too vain to be a president. With the Pronks capital in the bank, he can now present himself as Mr. Reasonable.

pühapäev, veebruar 18, 2007

Spooky Tartu

The other day I was walking the wrong way up Riia Tänav, eating a Mesikäpp chocolate bar when a mysterious black form swooped down before my eyes, perching itself on a nearby fence to stare longingly at my tasty afternoon treat.

It was a crow, or vares, and he was soon joined by two of his friends. "Caw caw," they said. "Give us some." But there would be no treats for our crow friends because if I fed every crow in Tartu, I'd have to empty the Tartu Kaubamaja Toidupood. There just seems to be thousands of the bastards.

Don't get me wrong, I like birds. But I am ambivalent about crows. They seem to be spooky creatures, perhaps second only to the bat, and in a town like Tartu, covered in old, creaky wooden houses spewing forth murky smoke, they add a certain Hitchcock flavor to the local ambience.

Why are there so many of them here? Do they just hang out in town or can they be found in the local kalmistu also? I know that Tartu is home to all sorts of local crazy people, including rappers, poets, and bird watchers too. Maybe one of you can explain for me miks Tartus on nii palju vareseid?

neljapäev, veebruar 15, 2007

Resolving the Controversial

Is it just me, or does Prime Minister Andrus Ansip often get something of a crazy twinkle in his eyes? Anyway, it now appears that we are in the final phases of the Pronks blues. It's almost over. President Ilves says the law to remove the monument is unconstitutional. Very shortly the pet issue of this blog will be resolved.

Meanwhile, some interesting new laws were passed in the Riigikogu with hardly any mention.

The amendments clarify the rights of minority groups to communicate with state and local institutions in their language in areas where the minority made up at least half of permanent residents. They also allow for the minority language to be used on public signs, in announcements and advertisements, provided Estonian text stands first.

We've been discussing, primarily with Narvalane, the incompatibility of Estonia's minority policies in places like Narva, where Estonians are about 5 percent of the population.

Under the new rules adopted, Russian will be a de facto second language in Ida Virumaa county and all its cities, and will affect the following rural municipalities in Estonia: Kallaste, Mustvee, Kasepää, Vaivara, Aseri, Alejõe, Vaselemma, and Keila rural municipality. Several districts in Tallinn, like Lasnamäe and Põhja-Tallinn will similarly be affected, although Tallinn City will not. Two other Harjumaa cities that this law will affect are Paldiski and Maardu. And that's about it.

Of the 345,000 ethnic Russians in Estonia today, approximately 60 percent live in four muncipalities - Lasnamäe, Põhja-Tallinn, Kõhtla-Jarve, and Narva. Hopefully these laws make the integration process a little easier and make their lives easier too.

kolmapäev, veebruar 14, 2007

Three Weeks Until Valimised 2007!

Poor, charismatic Edgar Savisaar. He's got his own blog. He paints his face with the Estonian flag. Most people like his wife. By all accounts, he could be a great prime minister. Except ... for so many things, most memorably, his efforts to install Arnold Rüütel through the backdoor during last year's presidential elections, despite overwhelming public support for Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

That blew up in his face, although everyone said he had it in the bag ahead of the electoral college vote. So the big question is, will the Keskid blow this year's valimised the same way?

Right now in the polls available, Keskerakond has a small lead over Reformierakond. Ansip has been hit both by the bribery scandal and the pronksmees mess. Third place is now occupied by the Rohelised, who are playing a similar role to Res Publica in 2003, the party you don't know much about but hope will change the tone in Tallinn.
IRL is headed by Laar, who is busy doing a hundred other things, the Sotsid lack charismatic, outspoken leaders to propel them to victory and Eestimaa Rahvaliit is nearly invisible.

Having achieved two major goals for the state in 2004 -- joining NATO and the European Union -- Estonia's political parties basically find themselves swimming in a sea of slime campaigns, using the ghost of the Soviet Union or rumors of corruption to "scare" voters into voting one way or the other. It's not pretty.

Right now, there seem to be two probably outcomes -- a right-wing government with Ansip at the helm, or a left-wing government with Savisaar running the show. Which means the elections are really in the hands of the Rohelised and with whom they choose to form a coalition. What do you think? Come April, who will be prime minister?

teisipäev, veebruar 13, 2007

Conservatives Argue Over Putin's Speech

One of the reasons that conservatives in America are failing at the ballot box is because their post-Goldwater coalition of cultural conservatives, paleoconservatives, libertarians, and neocons is coming apart. Emblematic of this split is the different ways in which two traditional conservative voices interpreted Putin's speech. Interesting to us is that Estonia was used in both articles today to underscore each author's point.

First, you have Patrick Buchanan, who you could call an "old school" or paleoconservative, and who usually has isolationist principles, linking him to Republicans of the 1930s, and interprets foreign policy from that viewpoint:

[Defense Secretary Robert]Gates says we have been through one Cold War and do not want another. But it is not Moscow moving a military alliance right up to our borders or building bases and planting anti-missile systems in our front and back yards.

Why are we doing this? This country is not going to go to war with Russia over Estonia. With our Army "breaking" from two insurgencies, how would we fight? By bombing Moscow and St. Petersburg?

I think Pat is misleading us here and he's spent too much time on television. NATO's commitment to Estonia is a cakewalk. Estonia won it's war of independence by virtue of two things, 1) keeping enemy warships out of Tallinn harbor; 2) keeping enemy troops out of Estonia which is a flat country about the size of Maine. It's really not that hard to defend Estonia, just like it wasn't that hard to admit a country of 1.3 million to the European Union. It all comes down to will, not strength. Any qualms about Estonian integration into Europe are grounded in a fear of intimidating Russian body language and temperamental shoe banging -- nothing else.

Well, that was Buchanan, here's Tod Lindberg of the Washington Times playing sweet post-Cold War triumphalist music, appropriate for a conservative newspaper founded in 1982. Again Estonia comes up:

The 43-year-old Wehrkunde conference had its origins at the height of the Cold War, when the main security challenge faced by those who came was Russia in its incarnation as the Soviet Union. Czech and Polish foreign ministers used to have to go to drab Warsaw Pact meetings in Minsk, or wherever, rather than the Wehrkunde conference in Munich. Estonia didn't have a president speaking thoughtfully from the dais, or a president at all, Estonia and its Baltic sisters having been occupied and turned against their will into constituent parts of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. We've come a long way since then, all to the good.

Obviously I agree more with the latter article. But Pat does have his points. I personally think it was the plans to create the anti-ballistic missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland that set Putin off. Absent of course from this debate is the Democrats. I have a feeling that most of the leading contenders for the presidential nomination - Obama, Clinton, Richardson, Edwards - will adopt positions closer to Lindberg's than Buchanan's.

We've only had two Democratic presidencies in the past 30 years, so it's kind of hard to gauge Democratic foreign policy. The only gentlemen that seem to be willing to stick their necks out and talk are guys like Wes Clark and Joe Biden, and they aren't very sympathetic to Mr. Putin. Still, I would have liked to see some comments from them as well.

esmaspäev, veebruar 12, 2007

And now some words from Urmas

The Estonian Foreign Ministry has finally broken its silence after weeks of relentless propaganda war by Russian government-informed news wires. I am not going to post all of Välisminister Paet's comments here but I recommend you read them. Here are some of my favorite parts:

No battles were held during the occupation of Tallinn in September 1944. By that time Estonia’s capital had been independent for four days and under the administration of the Government of the Republic of Estonia that had declared its independence in 1918. The soldiers of the Red Army tore down our state symbol, the Estonian blue-black-white tricolour, and not the Nazi flag, from the tower of Toompea Castle.


All peoples living in Estonia suffered - Estonians, Russians, Swedes, Finns and Jews. Here it must be emphasised that during periods where Estonia had de facto sovereignty over its territories, no ethnic persecutions or political repressions ever took place.


The goal of lies and defacing accusations, that carry the character of anti-Estonian propaganda, are to form a completely false image of Estonia. Estonia denotes negatively all totalitarian regimes equally! I am sure that all our friends already know this.

Tallinn in the Times

Check it out, it's cool to be a hardy Estonian from the European frontier:

Some months after my Singapore encounter, I visited the thriving code-writing communities in Tallinn, Estonia; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Helsinki, Finland, three Nordic cities that were being transformed by advances in cellphones, mobile computing and the Internet.

Their tight-knit network of engineers seemed poised to create the tools required to make good on a much-hyped prediction: the death of distance. After all, if necessity is the mother of invention, no one had more need than the hardy Estonians, Icelanders and Finns, living on the frozen edge of Europe, when it came to killing distance as a barrier.

pühapäev, veebruar 11, 2007

Üks, kaks, kolm, neli!

Well we just got back from Laulasmaa today. Laulasmaa is a swanky Nordic spa and resort about 35 kilometers west from Tallinn, and it seeks to combine modern convenience (wifi) with kitschy references. For example, the first song I heard when I walked in the door was Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love". Later, I was soothed by the sounds of Sade, and even an Andean pan flute rendition of Whitney Houston's 1992 hit, "I Will Always Love You."

As far as food goes, it was excellent Estonian fare -- fish, potatoes, more fish, more potatoes. Estonians are in love with root vegetables and dairy products in general. If the local kaubamaja only sold leib, potatoes, pork, yogurt, and beer, I think that Estonians wouldn't complain too much. The catering at Laulasmaa was in this tradition.

However, we didn't go to Laulasmaa to relax. We were there to eavesdrop on a meeting of select Estonian citizens discussing issues facing the European Union today. I'll save that reporting for a real news story, but at night I managed to drink (a lot) of wine with regular Estonians and practice my Estonian skills, which are getting better with each passing day.

Somehow during the evening meal we got sucked into a dance by a dance instructor from Viljandi who has that rare gift of being macho and a very expressive dancer at the same time. Suddenly I was face to face with many middle-aged ladies named Pille and Malle and Ruth and I was doing the Estonian tango forward and backwards while Härra Viljandi yelled out "üks, kaks, kolm, neli!" I was shocked to learn that as modest as Estonian ladies seem on the street, if you get a few glasses of wine in them, they have no reservations about dancing the tango with you.

On occasion, my dancing partners looked at my name tag and noticed that I wasn't Estonian. I had to do the whole song and dance about who I am and how I learned Estonian, to which I was told I am tubli, et cetera. And, as always in Europe, I am not really American, I am Italian, even though I can't really speak Italian and I've only been there once. I don't mind it though. I am very proud of my Italian blood and I can't honestly say that I am not Italian, especially while looking at my nose in the mirror.

Anyway, your countrymen insisted that I drink more and so I drank more and more and more. And by the time I crawled into bed (1:30 am) I was trying to figure out how some Estonian guys manage to do this every night and still reach that magic age of 66, when they promptly drop dead. And they were still going strong when I left. These are some talented drinkers we're talking about. Luckily I had a few glasses of water before I tucked myself in to sleep, so the hangover today was relatively mild.

reede, veebruar 09, 2007


My Estonian language skills have been growing each day I've been back in Estonia. I understand a great deal of what is said around me. But once in awhile, like some sort of free jazz, the Estonians slip into this mumbling language where I have absolutely no friggin' idea what they are saying.

For starters, Estonian conversations are usually barely above a whisper, and then there's the sucking in of the air once in awhile when you say "jah." The radio, the TV, the newspaper, this can all be understood. But the actual conversations often come down to:

Mart: Ja, ulla ulla ulla ulla
Andrus: Ei, ma sala sala sala sala
Mart: Vist küll

(sarcastic laughter)

Are there actual words and sentences in those mumbles? I guess. But it would help me if you could learn to enunciate like Anu Valba and Marko Reikop, who are still the best thing on Eesti Television. Noh, mis juhtus sõbrad? Miks teie telekat on nii jama? Ma arvan et soome TV on ikka parem. Nelonen-il on suusatamine kogu aeg. Aga Kanal 3? America's Funniest Home Videos, dubbed into mumbling Estonian.

Sometimes I wonder if it is possible to gain fluency in this language. But, in reality, it is my first võõrkeel. I'll let you know how it works out.

neljapäev, veebruar 08, 2007

Mu uus armastus

When we lived in Tallinn, I drank a lot of Saku Originaal Strong. I usually drank it because it really was strong and it got me semi blazed after two beers. But now that I am in Tartu, I am trying some new beers, especially those from the Tartu brewery A. Le Coq.

I used to stay clear of A. Le Coq because I thought it had a wussy French name, and what kind of straight-shooting beer drinker wants to put A. Le Coq in his mouth? But I have tried the Pilsner, and the Tõmmu, and friends, this beer is good.

Tonight I had three. How many will I have tomorrow night? Is the Tartu vaim really just a local expression for alcoholism? We'll see. Anyway, it's really cold in Eestimaa right now. My wife and daughter are fine because they have eesti veri, but I am pretty new to this stuff and I am worried certain parts of my body may fall off if I am not careful. Eps says that it is unlikely my nose will fall off though. She says it has to get much colder for that to happen.

kolmapäev, veebruar 07, 2007


I was just reading this interview with Dominic Klenski on Postimees, and I am surprised that I understood most of what he wrote. I guess my Estonian is getting better. One thing you have to admit about Klenksi is that it is nice when the greatest "shock factor" in Estonian politics is a guy who is capable of conversing in Estonian. Things have come a long way since 1991. And why is that? I believe because parties like Isamaaliit set the tone for the restored Estonian state. And so the Klenski animal was born of the will of the Estonian nationalists. Who would have guessed?

Anyway, one part that struck me was Klenski's belief that Estonia was somehow NOT occupied by the Soviet Union (not Russia, of course, Russia was vacationing in the Crimea at the time) in 1940. His example, the fact that Estonian communists collaborated in the overthrow of the Estonian state.

Ja peale selle eitama fakti, et sm.Lauristin käis 1940.a. Moskvas, kus 6.augustil kirjutas alla lepingule, mis nägi ette Eesti astumise NSVL koosseisu.

Estonian communists were complicit in the takeover of the Estonian state in 1940, this much is true. But from the perspective of the state, shared by the Tief government in 1944, the exile government in the years 1945 - 1991, and the restored government, all who have spoken for and have been recognized as the voice of the Estonian state, the NSV government was an illegitimate government on the same footing as the Terijoki government in Finland, led by Otto Kuusinen (pictured).

In 1939, the Soviet government was telling the world that the Kuusinen government was the only legitimate government in Finland. Obviously, Mannerheim had the last say there, and Kuusinen died a traitor's death in Moscow in 1964. So there you have it, the victors write the history books, and in Estonia, the Estonian state, as established in 1918, is the victor here. They really are. And they wrote the history as they saw fit. Moscow calls it historical revisionism. Estonia doesn't care.

As for Klenksi, he sees himself as some kind of Martin Luther King Jr. for the quarter of the Estonian population that allegedly doesn't have it as good as the rest. His examples why? Greater unemployment, along with the accompanying ills of AIDS and drug use. He blames Estonia's lack of love for its minorities. I personally might blame Soviet-era population transfer for creating communities (Paldiski, for example) that were never meant to be.

It is interesting that he, whose Constitution Party probably won't win one seat in March, gets so much press attention. Yet there are opportunities here for mainstream Estonian parties in the issues Klenski raises. Minority issues aren't only game for the Keskid. The thing is that Estonia's major parties have their home bases in parts of Estonia where minority issues don't matter so much. Isamaaliit is a Viljandi party, while Reform has a hold in Tartumaa and Eestimaa Rahvaliit has strong support in Võru and Lääne-Virumaa. The Keskid are promising you a larger salary this year. What could the other parties be offering this often ignored section of the electorate?

teisipäev, veebruar 06, 2007

Ilves: Cut the Bronze Soldier BS

I have a feeling that somebody with international connections has been hearing it from his friends. Ilves was probably not pleased that Härra Pronks wound up in the front half of the New York Times a few weeks ago. So, in his Tartu Rahu speech, he took a few swipes at PM Andrus Ansip and the move to dump the monument in a cemetery somewhere on the outskirts of town.

President Ilves emphasized that investigating history and understanding the past is much more important and painstaking work than fighting with monuments and he said it is iniquitous, when Estonia’s politicians give into to the temptation to garner additional votes and use history as a club rather than a textbook.

“Unfortunately, we have seen this happening since last spring. Now we are arriving at a situation where Estonia itself is distributing the bullets for our critics to fire at us,” said the Head of State. “In a situation, where many of the young people living in Estonia do no consider the Soviet Union to be an occupier but a liberator, our society is faced with a serious problem. The problem will not be solved simply by removing the Bronze Soldier, or leaving it in place.”

In Ilves' opinion, what Estonia needs is a really accurate history book and a Freedom Monument. You can read more of his thoughts here, and add yours below.

esmaspäev, veebruar 05, 2007

Veel Vatlused Eestist

So it's six degrees out and snowing on and off. Some people hate this kind of weather, but I love it. When I was a child I went on many ski vacations and so, forever, I associate snow with joy. I've been walking a lot and thinking about things and observing things and here are some more observations about tavaline eesti elu (regular Estonian life).

1. Animals are Gods in Estonia

Most people have last names that are related to animals, hence you meet people named Reet Rebane (fox) or Olavi Orav (squirrel). Animal totems also adorn food products. Ice cream, meats, it doesn't matter. If it has a squirrel on it, it is suddenly more attractive. So many cultures favor patronymic naming systems. But when Estonians took family names, I guess they decided that they felt they had more in common with the local fox, than dear old dad.

2. Estonians like to listen to their own music, all the time.

Remember, there's only about 1.3 million Estonians in the world. Period. But from those 1.3 million many synthesizer-infused pop songs can be made. It seems almost every place I go, from the pood to the takso, out of the takso, into a new pood, wherever I am, I hear Eesti music.

3. Estonian Russians are Estonians that speak Russian at home.

Their grandmothers may be *real* Russians with fur hats, but the twentysomething Estonian Russians I meet are often as discreet as those Estonians whose ancestors have lived here since the days of the pharoahs. What's more, many of them speak fluent and unaccented Estonian. I used to take the A train in New York with Russian ladies who were loud, those who you could hear all the way across the train with their "da"s and "privet"s, but here, the trams and buses are often as silent as Trondheim in wintertime, whether those transported say "da" or "jah" at home.

4. The parliamentary elections are all about the Rohelised.

Just what we all need, right? A parliamentary election pitting Edgar Savisaar against Andrus Ansip and Mart Laar and whoever those guys are in SDE and ERL. I can sense the malaise everywhere. Having come fresh from the US, where the 2006 elections felt exciting, like, gosh, democracy could work again, I am already getting sick here of Savisaar promising me a larger palk. C'mon Edgar, you can do better than that. Throw in a free kohuke! And Ansip and his pronksmees love affair aren't stirring me either. So the only guy I am keeping my eye on is Strandberg, not because I want him especially to win, but because I like that there's at least a new party in the race to keep it slightly ... yawn ... interesting. If only a party would choose an animal as their symbol. They'd be sure to win.

5. Estonian girls like to part their hair on the side.

I am not sure if its retro or new, or a mix, but the Estonian teenage girls all dress the same. See them congregating like flamingos, hair parted and layered with bangs in front, mobile on their ear, jeans tucked into boots, and you'll know what I mean. It's funny too, because when I was in Soome, I was sure that the Finns took the top prize for most homogenous teenage dress code here Up North. But now, I'm not so sure.

reede, veebruar 02, 2007

Five Observations About Tartu (and Estonia)

So we are finally here in our new home of Tartu, Estonia. I've been here many times before, but never to live. In the past my "home" in Estonia was in Tallinn. Now I will get used to living in Tartu, which is a university town, and largely devoid of the large crowds of wandering Brits in search of their next drink. Here are a few things that have stood out after my first 24 hours here:

1. Tartlased are really proud of their town.
I kept seeing this red and white flag everywhere and wondering why people here are so fond of Poland (having been just laid over in Warsaw for a day, I know what the Polish flag looks like). However, I discovered that Tartu has its own flag, which is prominently displayed alongside the Estonian flag. There are also lots of commemorative plaques and signs telling you that this year is, for example, the 375 anniversary of Tartu University.

2. Tartu is fairly homogenous.
Unlike Tallinn, where you hear lots of Russian, and Finnish, and English, and German, you usually only hear Estonian on the streets. Today we walked around for several hours and I heard Russian and English only one time apiece.

3. Estonians like to listen to the radio.
I think this is true everywhere. I remember waking up in Tallinn every morning to the news on the radio, and, like clockwork, I spent this morning waking up to the news. And not only here, but everywhere I go someone has the radio on in the background. It's almost like there aren't many different radios but one BIG RADIO broadcasting everywhere.

4. Pronksmees ei tähenda mitte midagi siin.
It's funny, if you read the Russian newswires you'd think that Estonia is locked in deep crisis over that bronze monument in Tallinn. But down here, that issue just seems like ... jama. I would not like to overgeneralize, but I can imagine that Juku Tamm, your typical Tartlane, is probably tired of reading about the Tallinnlased and their monumental problems.

5. Tartu is the place for second hand clothes.
Like neighborhoods in Tallinn, many neighborhoods in Tartu (Karlova, Supilinn) are mostly made up of wooden dwellings. And many of these dwellings are home to second hand clothing shops. It seemed like every neighborhood we went to had at least one. But my question is, I know there is supply, but is there really such a great demand for this stuff? I saw some other second hand shops are opening up. I guess competition must be fierce.