kolmapäev, oktoober 31, 2007

No more twisting in the wind ...

Geopolitically, Estonia is an odd duck. It's officially one of the Baltic trio, but it also finds itself coordinating with its glazed-over Northern neighbors while continuing to talk about Belarus with the Lithuanians.

That's because its national interests also intersect with Sweden and Finland and a prime example of this common interest is in the plan of Germany and Russia to lay the Nord Stream pipeline connecting the vast gas reserves of "Russia" (also known as Turkmenistan) with "Europe" (also known as Germany).

This project generated a sense of inevitability when it was first announced and an even greater sense of inevitability when Gerhard Schroeder officially became involved in the project. But Schroeder's decision to join up with Gazprom raised questions about the legitimacy of the project itself which is saying that it will be built by 2010, no matter what, even if they have to buy the Baltic Sea.

Estonia recently rejected Gazprom's request to survey its sea bottom, seeing the request as tantamount to giving the Schroeder bunch the green light to lay pipe in Estonia's territorial waters. Estonia was originally portrayed as a stubborn little pimple on the backside of Europe, but it stuck to its guns and began lobbying other Baltic Sea countries to ask Gazprom to evaluate a continental pipe, similar to Yamal, which runs through Poland.

But it seems that others have decided that Estonia has a point. Or maybe Estonia was just the first part of a broader Baltic Sea strategy for dealing with Nord Stream. Either way, Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren (above) said this week that Sweden is now taking a similar approach to Estonia's towards Nord Stream.

'In the information the company provided, it appears as if a more eastern laying would better avoid environmental problems and risks. It is now up to the company to show which other routes are possible from an environmental and risk point of view, and why it has chosen this particular route,' he added.

It is a good question as to why they would want to lay the pipe on the bottom of a sea rather than over land. Supposedly, it's those nasty Polish transit fees they are trying to avoid. Or maybe it's the threat from Polish environmentalists who could try to blow up the Nord Stream pipe should it go through the heart of the land of Kościuszko. Or maybe because they agreed to lay the pipe in the sea and ... it's just inevitable that they will do it, because Gerhard Schroeder is involved and he's a wealthy and powerful German guy.

Who knows? All we know is that Estonia is no longer standing alone in this debate and that Germany and Russia can no longer wave their fingers at the troublesome New Europeans for stalling their project. Sweden is now on board too. Everyone wants to know why they have to build it in the sea for more money and more possible damage to the environment, when they can just lay it over land for less.

esmaspäev, oktoober 29, 2007

Hartelius! Hartelius?

So I voted for Dag Hartelius last night during Tantsud Tähtedega. Actually, I voted for him three times. My vote(s), perhaps, led to the elimination of Kristiina Ojuland and her partner Aleksandr Makarov, who were pretty good, one of the better pairs in my opinion.

Should I be ashamed of my votes? Maybe, maybe not. I mean people voted for Luisa Vark and Andrus Varnik -- neither of whom I found interesting. I think I'd rather have Katrin Karisma back. Her Mrs. Robinson pairing with Veiko Ratas was somewhat more intriguing.

But what about Dag? Is he really a good dancer? Technically no, but he does have charisma. He smiles and looks like he's having a good time. Doesn't that count in our books even if it doesn't count for conservative judges like Jüri Nael? And what's up with the host Mart Sander? If he makes any more ironic facial expressions I might start to believe he's actually being serious.

Today though I feel confused.

Päeva komm

Things have wound down here on the political front since the days of Rene van der Linden's bungled trip from Tallinn to Vilnius. There's the usual hysteria in Tallinn over the BS, but what else is new?

The only thing really scandal worthy is the continuing back and forth between Robert Närska, a Tartu city official affiliated with Eestimaa Rahvaliit, and Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, the former mayor of Tartu and the leader of Tartu (and Estonia's) most popular party, Reformierakond.

The scandal got a full airing in the last issue of the weekly Eesti Ekspress. The issue is related to Ansip's days as a thirty-ish Soviet local government official in February 1988, when police dogs were used to disperse a pro-independence student rally in Tartu.

Närska, then also a local official, says that he met Ansip on the day of the demonstration, and that Ansip said the police should have used the dogs more aggressively to scare off the students. Ansip says he had nothing to do with that decision and that he wasn't even around Tartu on that day, nearly 20 years ago. Närska says that Ansip is lying.

What's this all about? It's about trying to weaken popular support for Andrus Ansip. But I think the timing of the scandal has been poorly judged. Ansip right now is the leader of the status quo, and the status quo for most Estonians is pretty good. So unless some bumpier economic forces intervene, this kind of back and forth is mostly useless.

Everybody knows Ansip is a politician. So that "you're lying, no I'm not" back and forth between Närska and Ansip is starting to take on flavors of the Vanhanen-Korhonen affair up in Helsinki. It's a distracting political soap opera, with little real impact on current national politics. It could only get worse if more people come forward and accuse Ansip of lying. By then I am sure Russia will have done something obnoxious again to make us forget all about Robert Närska and 1988.

As a side note, I just finished reading Northern Shores by Alan Palmer (2005). It's a historical overview of the Baltic sea region from the Viking era to present day. Some of the parts of the book are more interesting than others, especially his discussion of Swedish and Russian royal politics. I had no idea, for example, that Catherine the Great of Russia was a Baltic German.

What struck me though is that Palmer's description of World War II is pretty much the same as the official Estonian version. He singles out the fact that Estonians were not sympathetic to the Nazi German cause and that efforts to recruit Estonians to join the German army in 1943 were a failure. He describes how the Germans evacuated their leadership from Tallinn before the Soviets arrived in 1944, and the context in which the Otto Tief government was formed.

He is not overly sympathetic to the Baltic cause though. He details in quite chilling language how ethnic tensions in Latvia and especially Lithuania, where Jews formed larger proportions of the population during the independence period and first Soviet occupation years, contributed to the mass killings that occurred during the Nazi German occupation. So, it's no rosy, pro-Baltic detour down the avenues of 20th century regional history.

Nevertheless, it reaffirms that the Estonian interpretation of their role in World War II is mostly accurate. This raises a question for all of us in the West who love good historical non-fiction. When people like President Vladimir Putin call the Estonian historical interpretation 'revisionism', aren't they really calling Alan Palmer, let alone Winston Churchill -- whose six volume The Second World War (1948-1953) similarly describes events in the Baltic -- revisionists?

And if Putin is to call Churchill a revisionist, why are we so hesitant to tell him he is wrong and that he needs a refresher course in European history? Or do we just think that he is too dense to benefit from such 'fresh' information? My rubles are on the latter.

pühapäev, oktoober 28, 2007

Kaplinski Mesi

The skies over Tartu the past few days have been a milky gray, sort of the way your tea looks right after the billows of milk fill up the glass after hitting bottom. Tea is on the mind, for besides being under this gray weather, we are under other kinds of weather -- each of us a bit low.

I could tell the naine was a bit ill this morning as I descended the staircase because the odor of freshly chopped garlic was in the air. This creates an odd kinship between her and I. She isn't fond of tomato-base sauces, but we both appreciate küüslauk. And when she gets sick she has it around her at all times, as if sickness were a vampire come to drain her energy.

When we visited Laulasmaa spa earlier in the year we were similarly ill. Epp actually had a small plate of chopped garlic positioned near our pillows so that the cleansing fumes could fight the disease through the night while she got her rest. When I was cleaning out the room, I had to scan the sheets for individual slices of garlic that had fallen from the plate. It's just an Estonian thing, I am told.

Another companion is the aforementioned teas. In the United States, the local apteek is not stocked with medicinal teas with such exotic names as Icelandic tea, which brings to mind images of lichens scraped from the continental divide. Usually we reach for over the counter bottles of yummy fluorescent goo with names like Robitussin and Triaminic. We use that stuff sometimes here too, but with plenty of teas and, of course, mesi or honey.

The honey we have is in a huge jar and was made at the farm of prominent Estonian author Jaan Kaplinski. How did we get such honey without actually knowing the author?

Two reasons. First, Estland is a small country, and Southern Estland is especially small. Everyone knows everyone. Second, Kaplinski makes a lot of honey and is desperately trying to get rid of it so that his cellar isn't filled with jars. I wouldn't be surprised if Kaplinski stood on the side of the road where he lives handing the stuff out to motorists on their way to Võrumaa.

So I am eating Kaplinski mesi right now to stay healthy. Memm memm.

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.

* 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.

If one twin loses an election, does the other one feel it?

Where were you on the day you found out that Poland would be led by two men, the twin co-stars of the 1962 film The Two Who Stole the Moon, also known as Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski?

I don't recall where I was, but I knew that it was something totally awesome, something I just had to tell every human being in New York whose last name ended with '-ski.'

"Do you know that the president and prime minister of Poland are twin brothers?," I would ask.

"No, I did not know that," so and so Blahblahski would reply, usually giving me a weird look.

Well, friends, the era of the Polish Mary-Kate and Ashley has come to a close. Their 'Truth and Justice' party was trounced in the elections by the feel-good Civic Platform led by Donald Tusk, who does not have a twin.

Europe, meanwhile, has been breathing a sigh of relief. Unlike some countries, Poland is actually a country in the European Union that matters. When the Poles say nie, the Germans are known to make uncomfortable facial expressions in response, and I mean uncomfortable facial expressions that are different from their regular uncomfortable facial expressions.

But is it true what they say about twins? That they have some kind of deep psychic connection? I recall from watching GI Joe as a kid, that when Cobra's Tomax got hit, his evil twin brother Xamot often felt it.

We'll leave such metaphysical questions to the quacks and experts, but I have a feeling that when PM Jaroslaw's party lost the election, President Lech -- who will be in office until 2010 -- definitely felt it, psychic connection or not.

teisipäev, oktoober 23, 2007

Quote of the Day

"First there's Sweden, and then there's nobody, and then there's nobody, and then there's Finland" --

Swedish businessman commenting about level of his country's investment in Estonia during a conversation with me last night.

esmaspäev, oktoober 22, 2007

Curtains for Kalvītis?

Never before have Latvian politics seemed so interesting. Last week Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks resigned over the government's dismissal of Aleksejs Loskutovs, Latvia's anti-corruption chief. Regional Affairs Minister Aigars Stokenbergs was also dismissed related to that case.

But it seems a bit odd that the dismissal of one person could lead to the resignation of Pabriks, who is fairly well known outside of Latvia, as well as the throngs of protesters who called for Prime Minister Kalvītis to step down.

The Kalvītis government has been the most stable of Latvia's post-1991 governments. In the past five years, Latvia has had four prime ministers. Kalvītis has been the most successful. Come this December he will have been in office for three years.

A central plank of his government has been devoted to improving ties with Russia, casting Estonia as the more obstinate of the two in the border treaty issue, and making sure to smile for the camera in meetings like the one above. In fact, Kalvītis this week attempted to play the Moscow card in his attempt to stay in office despite calls for his resignation.

Underlying that improvement in relations with Russia has been allegations of corruption -- related to the Loskutovs affair -- as well as frustration with the government over dealing with Latvia's high level of inflation (11 percent). The selection of President Valdis Zatlers, an orthopedic surgeon, over the popular favorite Aivars Endziņš, also didn't help endear the Kalvītis government to its constituents.

It's odd that Latvia, though as close to Tartu as Tallinn, seems to figure minimally in Estonian domestic politics. I mean Latvia has been going through this period of rapprochement with Moscow at the same time that Estonian-Russian relations have sunk to a new low. I also don't see internal political changes in Latvia affecting Estonian politics.

Estonia is basically stuck with the coalition it has. The only room for maneuver would be for the Reform Party to dump its problematic partners in Isamaa-Res Publica Liit and re-ally with the Center Party. In this set up, Ansip would remain prime minister. Or Keskerakond could somehow attract SDE to form a left-wing coalition with the Greens and the People's Union. But that coalition would only have 51 seats -- not doable. Or Keskerakond could manipulate the rules of logic and ally with Isamaa and SDE.

Anyway you slice it, you come away understanding that Ansip's victory in March was pretty solid and he, or at least the Reform Party, isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Meaning that the Kalvītis show will be a purely Latvian matter for the time being.

laupäev, oktoober 20, 2007

Ode to Estlanders

I was reading Elu24 where model Beatrice and Eduard Korotin (above) argued that the reason people didn't vote for them in last week's "Tantsud Tähtega"(Dancing with the Stars) program was because they aren't Estonians.

This came as a bit of a shock to me because up until that moment, I had always thought that Beatrice was as Estonian as Ester Tuiksoo. She seemed to turn up at so many Kroonika events that I assumed that she was on staff. She at least seemed as Estonian as Stella K. Wadowsky.

I was then informed by others that Beatrice is actually a venelane. She apparently has a slight accent which is hard to detect because she is a model and is usually made available to others visually, not via audio. For example, I saw a photo of Beatrice on a billboard advertising Playboy at the Maxima supermarket today. She didn't say a word.

I don't know how else to say it, and I hate to be rude, but if you are born in Estonia and you speak Estonian, even with an accent, then you're tied to this country. You might have spoken Tagalog at home and be very active in your Filipino youth group, but something sets you apart from the other Filipinos ... you live in Estonia and speak the national language. You are one of the few, the brave, the sinine, must, ja valge.

For example, my friend in college grew up speaking Persian. His mother was from Iran. Except he spoke Persian in New York and had dreadlocks, smoked the ganj, and listened to Bob Marley. That is my friend was a New Yorker, not an Iranian, even if English was spoken in school rather than at home.

The problem with Estonia though is that these interesting mitte-eestlased have no names for themselves. The Ministry of Population Affairs is desperately seeking a term for them that is unique. I offer up Estlanders -- eestimaalased. Some people don't like this term because it is what the Baltic German nobility of the province of Estonia called themselves.

But I think that it is because of this history that it makes the most sense. Estlanders were not so much German -- there were also landowners of Swedish, Danish, Polish, and Russian origin. Instead they were people whose lives were tied to Estonia who were not indigenous to that territory. Estlanders. The name says it all.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that Beatrice lost not because she is an eestimaalane, but because she didn't look like she was having a good time. Dag Hartelius and Katrin Karisma both looked like they were ready to suck down a few martinis and dance the night away. And nobody cared that Peep Vain's dancing partner is named Olga Kosmina because they kicked so much ass. But Beatrice looked a bit spooked, and in the end they were eliminated from the competition. The 272 comments on the website seem to agree with this interpretation.

Maxima ei ole minu sõber

Today I went shopping for food. I had just visited Aura Keskus to go for a swim, and so the most logical place to buy food was Maxima, right across the parking lot in the Zeppelin shopping center -- which is named after the German luftballoon, not the British rock group.

I have shopped at Maxima numerous times and somehow did not feel at ease. This is odd because it's layout and offerings are not too different from other large Estonian supermarkets, like Selver or Kaubamaja.

But what was it about Maxima that rubbed me the wrong way? I decided to look a bit closer and figure out why Maxima was putting me off. I realized after compiling my list of critiques that the main reason I did not like Maxima is because it is run by foreigners. And that was problem number one.

1. It's Owned by Lithuanians

In Maxima, my favorite Estonian brands were placed side by side with ones containing strange letters such as Ų and Č, text that looked like the author had his morning Maxima kool-aid spiked with acid. Who wanted to buy such things with names like vyšnia or obuolys? I wanted kirss ja õun.

2. Lack of Local Necessities

Because Maxima is owned by Baltic tribesmen, it is stocked aplenty with foodstuffs that they prefer, such as large blocks of generic "Maxima" cheese and all different varieties of pelmeenid. But when it comes to local products, they cannot be found. The Lithuanians think that if they only put a few different kinds of Wõro or Rakvere sausages out, they will meet the demand of provincial Estonians. But I wanted Wõro Grillsibula, not Metsavenna. The Metsavenna variety are too oily, the Grillsibula are just right. Moreover, important products, such as küüslaugu leivad (garlic bread, a must with beer) are hidden along side the Lithuanian products with the strange names. This faux pas leaves the Estonian shopper running for the nearest Selver.

3. Bad Disco

This is really the clincher. Every time I am in Maxima I am assaulted by loud techno music. The combination of my kid screaming for ice cream, a bunch of old ladies gathering in the center of the aisle to determine where they can find the nearest küüslaugu leiva, and the bad techno music is extremely deleterious to my shopping experience.

In a store based on Estonian capital, like Selver, I can expect to be serenaded by an orchestral version of Apelsin's 1981 hit "Aeg Ei Peatu". I can disappear into the frozen foods section and ponder whether I should buy Regatt ice cream or something else. I can weigh the difference between buying muretaigen and liivataigen(different kinds of dough). In Maxima they don't even sell muretaignas or Regatt! And they play bad disco.

Now I don't just want to insult Maxima. Their bakery is very good, they have excellent donuts, and they do carry a large variety of beer, wine, and hard liquor that is displayed in a very handy way -- right next to the checkout counters. Today I bought some more Staropramen. I think I am going to go crack one open right now ...

reede, oktoober 19, 2007

Haunted Tartu

I am working on a piece about ghosts in Tartu. I have a few tales up my sleeves, but if anybody is aware of anything spooky to recount, please drop me a line. I am supposed to submit my story this Monday, so time is of the essence.

neljapäev, oktoober 18, 2007

From the lips of Herbert Hoover

This is the second installment of material from the Kerten Commission's investigation into the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States in 1953. Earlier I quoted Johannes Klesment who was present during the seizure of power in Estonia in 1939 and 1940 and present at the high-level meetings where it was decided on how to respond to Soviet demands.

This time we turn our attention to Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States, who held office from 1929 to 1933. Hoover is popularly remembered as a failed president because of his inability to effectively react to the stock market crash of 1929.

Hoover has been redeemed by more recent discussions of this history, but last year, for example, my cousin's husband called a neighborhood in Queens a "Hooverville" in reference to its shoddy condition, and to the economic conditions during Hoover's presidency. Let's just say that Hoover tops the 'best presidents' lists of very few American historians.

But Hoover was not a failed president in the sense of the corrupt Warren G. Harding or the useless James Buchanan. Instead he lived a life more similar to the first President Bush or President Carter. That is he was extensively qualified, he was involved in humanitarian missions, he perfected the job of civil servant, but he ran into trouble when it was time for him to lead.

It was in his role as director of the American Relief Association that Hoover was involved in delivering food and supplies to the Baltic countries during the First World War. In 1938, after he had been ousted from office, Hoover found time to visit Estonia and Latvia who had both invited him to thank him for the ARA Relief. It was these visits that Hoover gave an account of while under oath in front of the Kersten Commission in December 1953.

Hoover: During the years afterward I had many invitations to come to the Baltic States, Poland, and other countries. They wanted to express some appreciation for our services, but I was busy with other things, as you know, and it was not until 1938 that I responded to those invitations, 19 years after my previous experiences.

I then visited Latvia and Estonia. I did not go to Lithuania, although I made considerable inquiries as to how they were getting on. I was also interested in knowing what was going on in Russia because there was a constant migration back and forth, chiefly of skilled mechanics from the Baltic States going into Russia, for employment in Russian industry. These people were coming back and they knew all about details of life in Russia. I interviewed a great number of them and could give you something of the picture and contrast.

Mr. Kersten: We would like that picture.

Mr. Hoover: The problem you are working on bears directly in that direction. Russia at that time was drastically rationing all food and clothing. They had an entirely unstable currency, if you could call it a currency at all. You know the nature of the Russian government and the characteristics.

The Baltic States, in contrast, had a free economy. Their currency was stable, their currencies were convertible into gold, they were accepted all over the world. Their fiscal policies were completely successful,; their budgets were all balanced, their industries were thriving, their agriculture was making an astonishing progress.

The result was that the standard of living in the Baltic States was about as high as any standard of living in Europe, possibly outside of Switzerland and Norway.

Mr. Madden: Mr. President, what year was this?

Mr: Hoover: This was 1938. The contrast with Russia was so great that it became one of the menaces of the Baltic States. The Russian people were constantly attempting to escape from Russia into the Baltic States. The Russians had established a barbed wire fence over some portion of that border, I don't know how many miles, but in any event, they maintained a rigid picket line in order to repel their own people from escaping into the more prosperous Baltic States to live.

The contrast was enormous and I should say that those three states had made more progress from the very low beginnings they had had 19 years before, than probably had ever been made by any series of states on record.

The testimony later goes on to discuss how during the Sept. 1939 discussions between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Germany was originally slated to get Lithuania, while the USSR would grab Finland, Estonia, and Latvia. Part of Lithuania was later purchased by the USSR from Germany, in cash. That is they had the cash to buy a strip of Lithuania from the Nazis, but not the cash to invest in their own people.

Towards the end of his testimony Hoover is asked if he has any hopes for the Baltic States regaining their independence.

His reply:

Hoover: When these three states came out from under the Russians in 1919, they had a flowering literature, they had great vitality in all of their racial qualities. Now, I have the belief that you cannot stamp that out of a people; you can't stamp it out of the Czechs, you can't stamp it out of the Poles, nor the Baltic peoples.

The only hope I can see is that some day, in some world cataclysm, those people can rise again as they did in 1919. That is the only solution I can see at the moment and it is the main hope.

He died in New York in 1964. His funeral was the third in three state funerals in a year, following the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and Douglas MacArthur.

teisipäev, oktoober 16, 2007

Putin farted: what does it all mean?

I know it's a crude way of putting it, but perhaps it sums up the international perspective best. Every news article I read about Russia tells me that its 'resurgent'.

Four examples, from today:

Time Magazine: "an economically resurgent Russia views the Iran standoff as another opportunity to reclaim some of the strategic ground it lost after the Soviet collapse."

Newsday: "She said the next president must juggle challenges posed by a resurgent Russia, an ascendant China, global terrorism and an unpredictable Middle East that threatens Israel and the world's oil-based economy."

Boston Globe: "He was insinuating that the US scheme for installing a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, far from responding to an eventual threat from Iran, was really a disguised element of a plan to encircle and humiliate a resurgent Russia."

BBC: "Scotland's tourism authorities have seized on the increasing wealth of a resurgent Russia as a source of affluent visitors in recent years."

Whoever chose that word out of Dr. Roget's Thesaurus at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow should be promoted. Talk about stellar marketing. But beyond that there is something in the Western media that wants to build a Tsar out of Vladimir Vladimirovich. They like taking pictures of him walking strongly into meetings. Guys like us on the Internet think he's a clown. Russian teenagers parade to celebrate his birthday.

It's not just him though. Nearly every European leader, save Romano Prodi and Gordon Brown, has taken office in recent years amidst a PR blitz of sycophancy. Angela Merkel was similarly going to put Germany back to work and solve all of its problems. Nicolas Sarkozy is going to put France back into an Atlantic orbit. If Sauli Niinistö wins up north in the next presidential election, I am sure he'll revolutionize Nordic identity and look good while doing it.

But are these cults of personalities all they are made out to be? Am I glad Sarkozy was elected? You bet I am, considering Chirac had been in politics since before I was conceived, nay, before my parents even knew each other. Do I like Merkel? She seems pleasant enough, but having been in Germany during the 2001 campaign season, I don't even want to get immersed in German politics.

So what lip service should we give resurgent Putin and his Judo chop? Should we really believe that Russia is resurgent because it deported Georgians last year to "teach them a lesson" as a snarky commenter put it on Ed Lucas' blog. Why, didn't Russia back bloody separatist movements in Georgia in the early '90s when it was not "resurgent"?

Should we really believe that Russia is resurgent because it is complaining about Estonian citizenship policies or NATO membership, or trying to make Estonia look bad in the court of European public opinion? Hasn't it always been trying to do that, since the day after it signed the Treaty of Tartu in 1920? In the 1920s and 30s too the wealthy nations of Finland and Estonia were brutalized as 'fascists' in the Russian press. What's changed?

And that's sort of the ultimate point. What has changed? Russia has a leader who refuses to voluntarily surrender power to a democratically elected successor. Instead he'll find away to keep it himself.

Same as it ever was.

esmaspäev, oktoober 15, 2007

Jasmine ja Sass

We were strolling through Tartu one day when we happened upon a cat that had escaped its fenced-in yard and made it to another person's property. When we returned the cat we met his owner, Bruno, a Latvian man, perhaps in his 60s or 70s, who spoke fluent Estonian and was funny and good natured.

The only problem with our Bruno was that he insisted on calling me 'Jasmine'. At first I thought he was calling me 'Rasmus', which isn't a bad name considering someone just sent an e-mail to me addressed to 'Julian' -- whoever that is.

But no, when I listened carefully, I heard it again and again. 'Jasmine this' and 'Jasmine that'. Finally Epp stepped in on my behalf and politely told Bruno that my name was not 'Jasmine.' Fortunately, Bruno did not mistake me for a former NSync heartthrob. No, he turned to his wife and asked, 'But what was that princess' name?' 'Jasmine' came back her response. 'Jasmine,' he muttered to himself, and then we left it at that.

'Jasmine' is far closer to my name than what my wife's grandparents, Karl and Laine, call me. I am pretty sure that Karl knows my name is that of the saint. But to Laine I am 'Sass', which allegedly sounds close to my name, though I am not hearing it. 'Sass' is a nickname for Aleksander -- another one of Estonia's peculiar diminutives.

When forming nicknames in Estonia, usually they chop the front half of your name off and at 's' to the end. 'Peeter' becomes 'Pets', 'Toivo' becomes 'Toits', even 'Epp' can become 'Eps'. Then there are those more outrageous derivations. 'Andres' gets shortened to 'Ats', and, somehow, they make 'Sass' out of Aleksander.

This doesn't happen with all names though. Fellows named 'Hannes' are apparently stuck with 'just Hannes'. There will be no wild nicknames for them. But if Hannes Võrno is ever feeling sorry for himself, he can thank Taara that his name isn't Jasmine.

[The picture is 'Kaik Kerdub' by Annely Vassar (2001)]

reede, oktoober 12, 2007

An encounter with Johan Skytte

It was a brisk evening in the Danish village of Skagen in the fall of 2001 and my fellow students and I, as well as some teachers from my study program, were sitting around drinking alcoholic beverages in one of the few cafes in town that were open past 10 pm.

One of the 'teachers' was actually a librarian named Peter who was 60 years old and wore leather pants to work. In other words, Peter may have been old, but he was still 'cool'. And so I asked Peter a question that had been burning on my mind during the weeks I had spent in Copenhagen.

"Peter, why is that everytime I have a bit too much to drink, people ask me if I am Swedish?"

"Well," he replied. "The short answer is that Swedes like to come to Denmark to get drunk because the beer is cheaper here. But the truth is that Danes actually feel a bit inferior to Swedes. I mean they have Volvo and Ikea. What does Denmark have? The Little Mermaid?"

This was about as soul-searching as the Danish-Swedish dialog got during my time there. Most other times it was "damn drunk Swedes", "drunk as a Swede", "you have a beer in your hand, you must be Swedish" and, "Looks like a Swede threw up in the street again."

It got to the point that one time while walking home from a party in Norrebro I encountered a man staggering to the street after peeing on the wall of an apartment block. "Are you Swedish?" I asked him, quite convinced he must be. "No mate," he replied. "I'm Australian."


Fast forward six years and here I am in Tartu in the midst of sügis, the Estonian season that roughly corresponds to the American fall and the British autumn. But unlike visions of crisp October days and Indian Summers, sügis is damp, wet, soaking ... märg. They put the 'ü' in 'sügis' just to capture the feeling of wading through slops of wet leaves. It was like this last week when I climbed up Toomemäe in Tartu to see a new monument -- the Johan Skytte memorial, recently opened with the help of Queen Silvia of Sweden (see above). It was the Swede Skytte who founded the university, 375 years ago this month.

While checking out the Skytte monument, I began to wonder why is it that here in Estland, the Swedish cultural influence is respected and memorialized in national historiography, but in places like Denmark, Norway, and Finland, Swedes are looked upon as Carlsberg-chugging, self-absorbed primadonnas who are too busy thinking about their perfect society to notice anyone else around them? The Danes and Finns and Norwegians say their jokes are all in good fun, but are they really?

The answer to this question is rooted in the geopolitical repositioning of the nascent Estonian state in the 1920s under the tutelage of respected political thinkers like Jaan Tõnisson, who was at the heart of the Baltoscandia idea -- linking the Scandinavian and Baltic states into a union that could counterbalance Russian and German influence.

Beyond that though there is the reality that the Estonian past feels truncated. There's the mythology -- 800 years of slavery -- but then the reality. How many Estonian stories have been passed down from the times of the Great Northern War? Some. Our tour guide through Tartu the other day basically took the side of Karl XII in the end. He was trying to be unbiased, but it was so hard for him to be.

But did the Estonians of the time feel that way? Remember, regardless of noblemen and armies, the Estonians were maarahvas -- people of the land. While the Swedish influence cannot be understated by academics or politicians or clergymen, it probably trickled down to the maarahvas in ways that they may have not noticed. There was probably not a rash of newborn babies named Johan in 1633, to put it simply. The Estonian mothers kept naming their kids Tõnu and Tiidrik.

Nagu Rootsi Kuningas

But one day in Tartu I met a man who had named his son Karl, Karl "nagu rootsi kuningas", he said as he smiled to me. It's kind of odd to think that people even today have warm feelings about the Swedish monarchy. Another friend, a Swede, told me that when he visited an old couple in Noarootsi, the walls were covered with photos of the Swedish royal family.

Now I admit the Swedes are nice looking people. That they are so ashamed of their own language that they insist on cranking out pop hits in English, rather than paa svenska, is ok with me also. But let's just say that if I named my future son Gustav, I'd be doing it for Gustav Suits, not for King Gustavus Adolphus.

Still I just can't put my finger on what it is about Skytte's people that still endears them to the locals here. I can only guess that if a drunk Estonian somewhere out there has to find an alleyway where he can relieve himself and finds himself beside a Swede engaged in the same activity, he feels a tinge of familiarity and camaraderie with his fellow traveler.

neljapäev, oktoober 11, 2007

Tour of Tartu

Today I was lucky enough to have a tour around Tartu guided by Heiki Valk, who had to cut short his tour because he was late for an archaeological dig. Despite our short time together, Heiki taught me many things about this city. I have lived here since February but I did not know that, for example.

1) The statue of Gustavus Adolphus behind the University of Tartu is not the original. The original was dismantled/blown up in 1950. When foreign human beings were allowed to visit Tartu without a KGB escort in the late 1980s again, academic contacts with Sweden were renewed.

It turns out that because the "Lion of the North" was such an imperialist pig, he was both beloved by Estonians (for granting extensive rights to the local peasantry) and disliked by Swedes, who prefer ABBA and Olaf Palme to conquering small nations. So it was not too difficult to find moulds of a contemporary statue of the old Gustavus Adolphus monument to part with, and they were very glad to loan one to Tallinn.

2) Kristjan Jaak Peterson only became famous after he died. It had really troubled me for some time that someone that lived to be only 21 years old could live on eternally as a national poet. Such is the tale of Kristjan Jaak Peterson (1801-1822), whose statue dominates Toomemäe.

Heiki recounted the tale of the ardent student Kristjan Jaak who made the journey from Riga to Tartu by foot just for the sake of learning, contracted TB and died. For workaholic Estonians, perhaps ignoring a cold to work some more, I am sure it is an endearing story. To regular joes, one has to wonder why he didn't just wait it out in Võnnu for a while.

Anyway, his diary and its soul-stirring poetry were discovered at a later date. Maybe one day your college poetry will make you a national hero too!

3) The Soviet time is still bad for real estate. On Jaani Street, past Tampere Maja, is a house where we once upon a time considered living. Epp warned me though that it used to be a jail and therefore it might contain disturbed souls given to mischief. We decided to look elsewhere in Tartu for a place to live.

In fact, as Valk pointed out, the building on Jaani Street used to be the site of the original university building. In 1941 though it was where some 193 people -- 170 men, 20 women -- were shot by NKVD and buried in the courtyard or thrown down the well. There used to be a memorial there to this act, but since the flats in the renovated apartment building were not selling well, it was taken down.

On the way home from the tour I met a woman who spoke to me in Estonian but seemed foreign. It turned out that she was a väliseestlane who had repatriated with her family. I asked her why she moved to Tartu instead of Tallinn. She said that part of her family was from Tartu, but that the real reason was because Tartu was so much better than Tallinn.

Sure Tartu was smaller and there were less big concerts headlined by aging rock stars, but Tartu still had a lot of restaurants, and Tallinn was simply 'vastik' -- not just because of the rampaging drunk teenage looters who went bananas over a statue, but also because of the rampaging drunk twenty- and thirty-something British stag party attendees who came to fight , funnel, and ... the other f word.

Standing there on Toomemäe with her looking out over the multicolored autumn foliage, I had to agree that I too liked Tartu better.

Palo's exam plan bites the dust

I am not sure if this was given much attention by the Estonian media, but Rahvastikuminister Urve Palo's plan to make the section of the Estonian citizenship exams that deal with the constitution available in Russian was scrapped after consultation with SDE's coalition partners, Isamaa-Res Publica Liit and Reformierakond.

The story was placed prominently in the Russian version of Postimees, but was overshadowed by articles about storms, railroads, and other important things in the Estonian version.

Sometimes I feel that the citizenship issue is the third rail of Estonian politics. There are policies that have been set in place and nobody wants to tinker with them. Presumably, a Center Party with nothing to lose could promise non-citizens easier exams or just go ahead any give everyone from Nordkapp to Johannesburg the right to vote in Estonian parliamentary elections and win big at the polls. But that would make them look like cynical opportunists beholden to Moscow's interests. And besides, they already have those districts locked up electorally.

On the other hand, Isamaa and Reform have built their electoral base on right-leaning voters, many of whom vote, perhaps, in opposition to Center Party voters. They don't want to see their country turn into "Savisaarestan". And it is possible that once naturalized, those former non-citizens might not find a home in IRL and would feel more comfortable voting for other parties, like Edgar Savisaar's. So there's no political incentive for them to liberalize citizenship law either.

That leaves the Social Democrats who have three very interesting ministries under their control. Jüri Pihl has the Ministry of the Interior. Ivari Padar is the Minister of Finance. And Urve Palo is the Population Affairs Minister. For all other parties in Estonia, liberalizing the citizenship exams would be bad politics. But for SDE it could be beneficial. They would look good in the eyes of supranational organizations like the Council of Europe, they would look 'more European' to to a St. Petersburg-dominated Russia, and they would look like they did the Russian minority a favor at home.

That too would be opportunistic, but it might also be good politics. The current coalition government has said 'ei', but a future one could say 'jah'.

kolmapäev, oktoober 10, 2007

Shagging in Rovaniemi

Have you ever wondered what people do for fun up at the top of the world? How is it that the people of Rovaniemi, Finland, pass their short summers and long dreary winters?

The answer seems to be that they like to go out to the bar, bring home another warm human body, and .. either before or after sauna ... shag like there's no tomorrow.

How else can one explain the appallingly high number of victims of 24-year-old Ari Hakkarainen who has been accused of intentionally spreading HIV to unknowing partners in the northern Finnish city.

Hakkarainen looks like your regular Finnish Depeche Mode fan. He's got blond hair, symmetrical features, and an earring to boot. But according to Finnish authorities, he managed to seduce an unknown number of women, 22 (!) of whom have filed charges against him. Five have sadly tested positive for the virus.

Now, some male readers out there might think nothing of this number. But most of you will probably never 'know' 22 women during the course of your entire life. So my questions are, a) Is this just the way things are in Rovaniemi? or b) Does Ari have a secret he hasn't let on about (other than carrying a deadly sexually-transmitted virus)?

Your thoughts?

teisipäev, oktoober 09, 2007

Õnne 13: The First Season

[Actually it's "Eestlased Poltsamaalt" by Carl Magnus von Lilienfeld]

The Point: Sometimes I wonder about the veracity of Estonian nationalist mythology. The grand sweep of history is reduced to various invading armies, enemy occupations, et cetera, et cetera. Life was difficult in Estonia during most of the past millennium, yet at the same time life was difficult across Europe, not just in Estonia.

So what was life really like for the illiterate Estonian peasants of the 17th and 18th centuries? I would venture a guess that it was sort of like the Estonian TV show Õnne 13 except set during Tsarist and Swedish times.

There were village comings and goings, local displays of wealth and authority, the requisite backstabbing, a lot of drinking, some infidelity, and ... of course ... gossip. And I am sure that every successive generation had at least one lovable old fellow named Johannes who bore a striking resemblance to Kaljo Kiisk, may he rest in peace.

esmaspäev, oktoober 08, 2007

Marko vs. Rene

I never thought I'd live to see the day where IRL's Marko Mihkelson would turn his patriotic aggression on anyone not from the 'neighbor to our East' -- they whose name we dare not speak.

Yet yesterday, today, and tomorrow, Marko's Estonian ire has been fixated on a sexagenarian Dutchman by the name of Rene van der Linden.

The epic backdrop to this never-ending soap opera is that van der Linden, as chairman of PACE, one of the many dull acronyms that make sure Europe is European enough, has gone to Moscow and participated in their ongoing efforts to convince the world that the Estonians are Finno-Ugric barbarians, and, by the way, the human rights abuses in Russia pale in comparison to not being able to vote in Estonian parliamentary elections and holding a humiliatingly colored gray passport.

To add insult to injury, van der Linden came to Tallinn in September to tell them that their naturalization process was going too damn slow and that maybe they should make it a bit easier to get citizenship by, say, letting people born in 1931 be exempt from the language part of the citizenship exam, not just people born in 1930 and up. He also reiterated the red herring that some residents of Estonia cannot vote in municipal elections. It is true there are some in that category, namely me -- a person who hasn't lived here the requisite five years to do it.

Well, Marko has hinted in a previous article that Van der Linden is so Russia friendly because he has business interests there, and so over the past few days he has been backing up his claims by publishing translated notices from Russian business websites covering van der Linden's visits to the Vladimir region of Russia where Noble House Holding -- which he is affiliated with -- has significant investments.

Mihkelson is a respected member of IRL, but he's also lower ranking than Mart Laar or Juhan Parts. I wonder if he could be the front man for a more widely coordinated exposure of van der Linden's conflicts of interest. Or maybe he just likes to stay up late at night in his pajamas, trawling through Russian regional and business websites. Either way, it's non-stop entertainment.

Today Vandy struck back on the PACE's website urging "Marko Mihkelson to stop this slandering". In his public retort, van der Linden stressed that he has not, and never has had, any financial involvement in any company in Russia", he "is not, and never has been, a member of any supervisory or other board of any company having economic interests in Russia", and he "has never received any financial advantage, compensation or payment of any sort in Russia in relation to activities involving Russia.

That claim however does not jive with Noble House Holding's website. Noble House Holding not only declares that it's "your bridge to the Russian market" but that van der Linden is indeed the head of Noble House's supervisory board.

The period of the project realization is 5 years, the volume of investments is about EU 500 million. PACE President Rene van der Linden volunteered to supervise the construction works. It is he who is the head of the supervisory board of Noble House Group.
I wonder how long it will be until they scrub that one clean.

pühapäev, oktoober 07, 2007

Politkovskaja and civilizational cleavage

It's been a year to the day since Anna Politkovskaja was gunned down in a Moscow stairwell, allegedly for her activities as a journalist in Putin's Russia. The authorities have stressed a Chechen connection to the hit, and Politkovskaja was best known for her coverage of that conflict.

But it is perhaps more interesting that Politkovskaja's death has resounded more greatly in Europe and North America than in Russia. Here in the Baltic Sea region, the anniversary did not go unnoticed by Postimees, Helsingin Sanomat, or Aftonbladet.

While the political implications here are heavy and handily used by opponents of Putin's 'sovereign democracy', I would argue that Politkovskaja's death is being used by the West to reinforce an image of an inferior East that is not free, an East where one can be killed even for writing articles.

In the Cold War period, the image of the east became one of lower living standards and overwhelming political interference -- one-party states that were decades behind in development. In the new construct, Putin's Russia is the new east and the Baltic Sea region is part of the West. Whereas in the Baltic Sea region journalists need not fear the state, and media is seen as an integral part of the social contract between citizens and those that govern them, in Russia, the media is seen as less important, especially should it threaten the ultimate value, which is not freedom but stability.

It is this clash between values of stability in Russia and freedom in Estonia that could lead Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to write to his Finnish colleague Ilkka Kanerva in May that Estonian society was disintegrating because youths broke windows and looted stores for two nights. Whereas in the West, such things are known to happen in Paris and Los Angeles and Copenhagen, in the east, such things are a sign of instability and question the legitimacy of the regime. Lavrov foolishly looked at Estonia and thought it was like Russia. It might be worth it for high ranking Russian officials to visit from time to time.

Therefore, Politkovskaja's death is important to us not because who she was or what she wrote, but because the circumstances of her death reinforce our opinions -- in Tallinn, in Helsinki, in London, in Ottawa -- that our way of life is the way of life, and none other. In Moscow though, images of youth clashing with police in Tallinn or Heiligendamm or Paris say the exact same thing, "Who needs the chaos of freedom, when one can breathe in the state-controlled air of stability ?"

laupäev, oktoober 06, 2007

Little Bastards

We have a bit of an orchard in our backyard here in Tartu. Several apple-bearing trees, some that bring forth golden apples, others green, and then there's the two or three trees in the corner whose apples mature into a ripe and ruddy red.

I was unaware of the apple trees in our backyard when we decided to move in, but then they burst forth in late spring, thousands upon thousands of orbs suspended by limp branches weighed down by their abundance.

We would all go out on a summer day to gather up the hundreds of apples that had dropped over a week or so, only to walk out the following morning to see that hundreds more had fallen down overnight. On occasion, I would be picking up falling apples only to have one cascade down from the tree above and hit me ~plonk~ on the forehead. It was on one of these apple foraging missions that I met again a small Estonian plant known as nõges.

You see, originally I thought Estonian nature was harmless. In the New York woods where I grew up, nature was not so nice. There was poison ivy, which kept me home from school a few times, and if you didn't get that, poison oak and poison sumac had ivy's back to make sure your experience of the forest would be absolutely miserable.

On top of the rash-inducing shiny leaves of North America, there were also the many berries that one should not eat unless they planned on getting very sick and/or dying. When I was a kid, the most plentiful berries in the forest were not charming murakad. They were the ominous sounding bloodberries, which were only good for throwing at one another. And bloodberries always stained your clothing.

But I had yet to encounter anything as unsavory as bloodberries or poison ivy during my time in Estonia until I encountered nõges. I was reaching down to pick up an apple when ~ouch~ something stung me. It was those damn leaves. I had been stung by nõgesed twice before, both times in forests in Viljandimaa, but I had forgotten how similar to a bee sting it really was.

I looked at my hand. There was a red stripe from where the little bastard had decided to sink its little feelers into my flesh. After I hauled my bucket of red apples inside, I approached Epp, still rubbing my hand, and blurted out: "those leaves bit me!" to which she responded with wicked laughter and in a mocking voice repeated back, "leaves bit me", this time crying with laughter. I guess the way I said it was unusual. But that's exactly how it felt-

According to the trusty Wikipedia, kõrvenõges -- the kind of nõges that stung me -- is known as 'stinging nettle' in English. Apparently it is found in North America too, but it is far more common in Europe. If you want to see a photo of its tiny jaws, click here. So next time I'll keep my eyes peeled for the nõgesed in our garden. And if you happen to get bitten by a nõges, I feel your pain and I promise I won't laugh.

reede, oktoober 05, 2007

The end of democracy

I went to Tartu City Library yesterday to get some books. I went home with one I didn't intend to find there, but haven't been able to leave alone ever since. It's the Baltic States Investigation by the US House of Representatives in 1953, better known as the Kersten Commission, and features interviews, under oath, with many Baltic diplomats and eye witnesses to the chilling events that occurred in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the summer of 1940.

One of the more intriguing aspects of this book is that it allows you to be in the room with President Konstantin Päts and Prime Minister Johannes Vares-Barbarus when decisions are being made about Andrei Zhdanov's directives to the Estonian puppet government. The details emerge about just how the elections of July 1940 took place in the testimony of Johannes Klesment, who was a counselor to the government at that time:

[Minister of Interior Affairs] Maksim Unt was called to the Soviet Legation and I went home. On the next day he sent me his assistant, Mr. Vihalem, and Mr. Vihalem had a little piece of paper in his hand and he gave it to me. I remember it very well. There was written in the Russian language in green ink that the elections must take place on the 14th and 15th of July. It was after 10 days instead of 35 days as demanded by law.

I discussed this option with him. He himself was an assistant professor in the university. I asked him how he thinks we can do it. He said there was nothing to be done. I asked him who had written on this paper with green ink in the Russian language. He did not know.

The next day the President was called from his summer residence, which is about 100 miles from Tallinn. He was called back to Tallinn for a meeting of the cabinet ... then Mr. Vares, prime minister of the puppet government, said to the president on the last evening that he was ordered by Soviet special representative Andrei Zhdanov that the new election of the parliament will be arranged and these elections will be carried out after 10 days.

He asked the president to make some changes in the election law. The president looked at me and said "Mr. Klesment, can I do it?" I said "Mr. President, it is impossible. The president cannot change the electoral law because according to the Constitution the electoral aw is changed only by parliament, and by presidential decrees it cannot be changed."

He smiled again and looked at the prime minister and said, "Mr. Prime Minister, how can I do it? You hear what the counselor of the government has said.

Well, Dr. Vares was very unhappy. He said he had told Mr. Zhdanov last evening it was impossible to arrange the elections so quickly. The President said to him that it may be that Mr. Zhdanov is stubborn and he demands we arrange an election. We can do it according to laws. Later on, Dr. Vares proposed that the government itself change the electoral law. Then the other members of the puppet government -- one of them was a professor in the university, Prof. [Hans] Kruus, and he said a presidential decree cannot change the electoral law and if he couldn't, how could we do it?

It took a little time and then the pupper government decided that it would change the electoral law by cabinet order. And so it was done. The President wrote a decision that he will have new elections, and then the Cabinet, knowing that it is quite contrary to the constitution, decided to make a cabinet order and change the electoral law.
Klesment's testimony then goes into how the list of candidates was created for the illegal election on July 14 and 15, and finally how the parliament itself voted to join the USSR.

Rep. Charles Kersten: Were you present at the meeting of the parliament where the parliament took action on the incorporation of Estonia into the Soviet Union?

Klesment: Yes, I attended the meeting.

Kersten: State whether or not there were any Soviet troops or military there.

Klesment: Oh, yes.

Kersten: Right in the parliament?

Klesment: Yes, around the parliament, on the streets, and in the rooms of the parliament.

Kersten: While the voting was going on?

Klesment: Yes.

Kersten: Would you state whether or not they were armed?

Klesment: With arms, yes.

Kersten: Armed with what?

Klesment: With guns

Kersten: About how many Soviet troops were right in the parliament when this was going on?

Klesment: The parliament building is on a hill. There were Soviet tanks and so in front of parliament, and in the rooms of parliament, I cannot say exactly, but I would say there were 100 men, by all means, with guns and all. All the corridors are full of the Soviet armed soldiers and on the stairways and through the rooms.
Think of that next time you walk up Toompea to the Riigikogu building.

neljapäev, oktoober 04, 2007

Hindu love gods lay it on thick

Well, you couldn't ask for better PR than this piece in the Hindu Business Line, which described Tallinn as an "elves town" and Estonia as an "island nation" (close, it's a peninsula) and "a land in the midnight sun, always ready to burst into song."

In summary, it encapsulates how Estonia portrays itself to the global audience. A synopsis:

1. Nordic, yo.

Due to its strategic location as a link between East and West, this Nordic nation has witnessed conquests since the 13th century.

The Nordic countryside is also dotted with ancient castles that used to be inhabited by the Teutonic knights.

2. Hi-Tek

Information technology companies such as Skype, which was recently bought over by the e-bay portal, and foreign investors such as Swedbank, Maersk, Galvexm, including the NRI-owned entity Tolaram Group have a presence here.

3. Note to self: Assimilate

What is remarkable about the Estonians is their ability to assimilate cultures and influences of other nations, make the most of them and at the same time retain the distinct Estonian essence.

4. History comes alive

With a solid town wall made up of 26 defence towers, within it are housed a Dominican St. Catherine’s Monastery founded in 1246, the 600-year-old Gothic Town Hall, the world’s oldest functioning pharmacy, and the 159-metres high Oleviste Church which was recorded as the highest structure in the world in the 16th century.

5. Unfriendly visa regime

However, Estonia, like the other regions of the Baltic Sea, has one obstacle that visitors have to overcome — its visa policy.

The Baltic Sea region countries give extremely short-term visas, making it difficult for first- time visitors to discover and explore over and above the stay they have planned.

kolmapäev, oktoober 03, 2007

Why Doudou Diene is Wrong

According to a Valgamaalane interview with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Doudou Diene, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, told him that Estonia should adopt another official language.

Apparently Diene is busy drawing up a report where official languages should be determined on the size of a minority population. Ilves' response was predictable:

“If Diene recommended that several official languages should be adopted in Estonia, I will recall that there are 4 million Turks living in Germany. Why doesn’t that country have several official languages?”
Ilves is right to point out that the rest of Europe currently does not follow similar norms. But I think that the comparison to Turkish immigrants in Germany is misleading. If Estonia really wants to point out why Diene and others are wrong they should look farther west, to the Canadian Province of Québec.

Québec only has one official language, French, even though 8 percent of its residents are native English speakers (and it was 14 percent in 1951). English speakers have been living on the territory of Québec for a long time, even longer than the Old Believers have had their villages on the shores of Lake Peipsi. So why does Québec only have one official language?

Because if
Québec was forced to adopt English as an official language, thousands of guys with fleurdelisé flags would go apeshit and proceed to start blowing things up, let alone tearing down bilingual traffic signs. In another words it would be a politically and socially destabilizing event that would have severe repercussions for, say, Québec's status in Canada.

It would be a bad political decision that would do more harm than good and perhaps make gentlemen like Doudou Diene look bad for giving out such foolish advice. I know he means well, and solutions like these look great on paper, but they fail to factor in such important things as history amongst other things. And if the Quebecois had reasons to have one official language, the Estonians do too.

teisipäev, oktoober 02, 2007

How It's Done

Does PACE Chairman Rene van der Linden deserve to be fired? Social Democrat Deputy Leader Sven Mikser thinks so. Mikser told AFP today that van der Linden's consistent errors during his whirlwind Baltic tour in September were cause for sacking.

""He has compromised himself so much that we think he should be removed from his post," said Mikser, who as a Social Democrat and one time Center Party member is not exactly a rabid, Russian-hating Estonian nationalist.

It would be tempting to view the Estonian response to van der Linden's visit, which included a very long letter from Riigikogu Speaker Ene Ergma, as being typically defensive. But then there was the visit from Council of Europe Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg this week who, unlike van der Linden, had actually done his homework.

Also, as opposed to van der Linden, Hammarberg retained a respectful tone throughout today's press conference at the Estonian foreign ministry, and made several critiques -- Estonia's prisons need to be updated and are not in standard European conditions, and citizenship laws can be eased to make citizenship more attainable for non-citizens.

How so? Hammarberg said that the "age-out" option for citizenship acquisition should be lowered from its present level (all adults born before 1930) to a level younger (those aged 65 today, for example, were born in 1942). He also said that babies born to non-citizens that are eligible for citizenship should receive it automatically, rather than having to have their parents apply for it. Both tweaks in current laws should be able to ease citizenship requirements Hammarberg said.

Hammarberg also said that after his discussions with Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Population Affairs Minister Urve Palo that he felt there was consensus in the current government that such reforms could be adopted. He also praised (!) the Estonian government for its efforts thus far.

And because he made his critiques of Estonian policies respectfully and with some praise for the government, he was listened to. Meanwhile, van der Linden's Wikipedia profile is growing longer by the hour. His suggestions may not be implemented, but at least Hammarberg left Estonia the man less scorned.

Nagu kaks tilka vett!

Aging Swedish-born Italian film star Anita Ekberg ....

Best known for: La Dolce Vita (1960)

And deposed former president of Estonia, Konstantin Päts.

Best known for: Mutual Assistance Pact with USSR (1939)

esmaspäev, oktoober 01, 2007


According to various reports, Yulia Tymoshenko's party, the well-named Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc is leading as the votes are counted in Ukraine's most recent parliamentary election.

Tymoshenko is described as "pro-West" in many articles. I find this an intriguing concept. In the post-Soviet space, there appear to be two models of development, pro-Moscow and pro-West. Pro-Kremlin countries, like Belarus and Kazakhstan, are wholly undemocratic entities. They are, as my friend would put it, "loyal stooges" of Vladimir Putin. One guy gets in power and stays in power. Lukashenko came to power in Belarus when I was in ninth grade. I am now nearly 28 years old. That's the kind of nonsense I am talking about.

"Pro-West" on the other hand seems to mean western integration, ie. integration into western economic structures like the European Union, and western defense structures, like NATO. My interpretation of Russia's dislike of these institutions, particularly NATO, is not that it bears the hand of the United States, but because it makes it more difficult to meddle unilaterally in adjacent countries.

NATO membership for Georgia, for example, would be a headache for Moscow because it would no longer be able to tinker in Georgian domestic politics in the middle of the night, for example, by dropping unexploded missiles in fields near the breakaway province of South Ossetia. It would internationalize politics near Russia, bringing in unsavory actors such as Dutchmen, Brits, or Americans to figure things out.

But beyond these superficial structures of western integration, I think there might be a more personal basis for Tymoshenko's western leanings -- the reality that without Ukrainian democracy she would not have the status that she has today. Perhaps Leonid Kuchma would have handed the state over the Viktor Yanukovich. In any case, females don't seem to dominate in the pro-Kremlin post-Soviet space.

Tymoshenko's beauty appeal has certainly helped her. If I had to vote in Ukraine, I would probably vote for her because certain biological twitches would make it less possible for me to examine the issues. A Ukrainian cab driver told me once that she is a corrupt oligarch, like the rest. But ... just look at her. Does she look like the kind of woman that would steal your money?

[Pausing for the sake of irony]

One has to wonder, is this how women voters feel when presented with a male candidate? In my country I have heard some rather vulgar remarks about John Edwards and Barack Obama -- women's locker room talk about two men that want to be our president. Unfortunately, when I was actually in the men's locker room back in the '90s, we never talked about Hillary Clinton.

One more reason I like Tymoshenko is that she has managed to irritate Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister of a joke country called the Russian Federation. I have some genuine unhappy feelings about Russia these days, not least because Andrei Piontkovsky, a famous Russian analyst, is on trial there for writing a book.

What does this all mean for Estonia? Estonia has played an active role as a mentor to Ukraine through a concentrated effort from the ministry of foreign affairs, particularly under the auspices of NATO. Indeed, I sometimes feel that Estonia's head is more often in Tbilisi, Chisinau, and Kiev than it is closer to home in Hell-stinky, Stockholm, and Riga, not to mention Haapsalu, Pärnu, Häädemeeste -- you get the picture.

Ukraine's continued adherence to democracy shows that maybe that presence has paid off, or that Tallinn's efforts have not been in vain. Maybe one day Ed Lucas at The Economist can add Yulia Tymoshenko to his list of eastern European leaders that matter, right next to Vladimir Putin and Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Or maybe not. Your thoughts?