kolmapäev, jaanuar 23, 2008

our two cents

I find it a bit interesting some times that three of my favorite blogs in the region are authored by Americans, former Americans, or people who have lived in the United States for extended periods.

There's Finland for Thought, authored by Phil of Baltimore, Marginalia, authored by the Chicago-born Peteris, and All About Latvia, run by Aleks -- now back in Riga -- who spent around a decade in Indiana.

Sometimes I wonder if we have been raised to cause trouble wherever we go: molded at an early age in the spirit of Tom Paine, who started one revolution in the American colonies, then left to France where he started another one. It's as if we will always be creatures of the enlightenment, two centuries after its expiration date.

And it's not just here on the Baltic rim. I've had passionate arguments with people about Russian politics, people who defend Putin and scorn Estonia, until I find out that they too are Americans who just happen to have been brainwashed by the Russian mass media before The Singing Revolution came to the local movie theater.

May I ask the question, who are we to judge or dictate or explain? How many times have I found myself buried in an argument over Estonian language laws only to realize that I never wrote them and I can't even vote here! And yet those other Americans hiding behind their laptops project all the attitudes they have gleamed from their adopted home media towards me. What a spectacular waste of time!

It is a bit funny how we manage to elbow our way into the public debate, no matter where we are, though. It must be a talent one acquires through watching Looney Tunes and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Now Estonia has a president who might at anytime burst forth a quotation from John Locke. Lithuania too. Should anyone be blamed or thanked instead?

I guess we'll just keep doing it like we've been doing it.

33 kommentaari:

liina ütles ...

When you said John Locke, I immediately thought of LOST....

Indrek ütles ...

I think there are active people(very few) and passive people (most of the population).

The fact that You bothered to move to the other side of the Atlantic indicates that You are one of the active people.

Max ütles ...

"It's as if we will always be creatures of the enlightenment, two centuries after its expiration date."

Rather like the progeny of a putative union between Voltaire and Huckabee's great-great-etc-grandmaw, you mean? :)

Max ütles ...

Indrek's right: expats are almost by definition quite venturesome and open to 'jumping into' things, incl. political hot water. But then Americans on the whole, even at home, are very open and not at all averse to sharing their opinions, even controversial ones. I've always found this a rather attractive trait (well, more often than not) especially when contrasted with the average mangiacake Canadian's frequent response of 'Well, I don't know about that' (which translates to either: "I haven't a clue" or even worse "I don't agree with you, but I haven't got the balls to say so."
The town hall meeting, the tax revolt and recall legislation are American traditions from which Canadians, and others, could benefit, if they had the nerve.

Kristopher ütles ...

Part of it might be your own conditioning to respond more positively to Americans and the way they talk and think, but sometimes ***chauvinism alert*** I suspect we Americans wield the English language better than any other English-language-speaking people -- the vernacular is richer, riper, more decadent, casual, more laden with cultural references. We're like the Tarantinos of English-speakers. I'm not saying we've ever produced a Shakespeare or even a Joyce, or that there aren't regional pockets of great depth elsewhere, but the American idiom seems to be perfectly suited to Internet discourse. When an American starts typing, other Americans prick up their ears. There's an aura.

Put it down to critical mass -- there are 300 million of us. Also, 30 million of us are functionally illiterate, which injects some ferment back into the mix as we reflect these redneck etc speech patterns satirically.

Blogaddict ütles ...

What's up with americans liking peanut butter and jelly sandwitches? And root beer? Dr. Pepper? Diet Dr. Pepper?

Some kind of genetic mutation? A wayward DNA strand?

Trek ütles ...

What's up with americans liking peanut butter and jelly sandwitches? And root beer? Dr. Pepper? Diet Dr. Pepper?

Some kind of genetic mutation? A wayward DNA strand?


Don't forget peanut butter and banana sandwiches! YUM!

Jim Hass ütles ...

Like Adam smith, we know that we (each of us) have a unique god given, moral sense that we have to share. Think of Hayek's local knowledge. We have a take on things and gy god we gotta share it with ya. Those enlightenment habits or democratic ideas still let us think that our opinion is as good as anyone else's opinion. It seems that my continental friends are much more cautios about opposing experts. Perhaps the downside of much of our perspective is a sort of ahistorical rationalism, and thinking that everyone thinks, or should, like us.

Puu ütles ...

A couple things. First off. My dad is Irish American and mom is estonian . My mom is like the organizing commitee at the estonian house, estonia is her religion.Half the expatrait estonian community has been in our living room at one time. But she left the country when she was four. And she doesn't want to live there. But she spends most of her time with old estonians. And its a basic thing that everyone knows about her. Actually in moving to Estonia you Guistino are braver than my mom. And i would be absolutely thrilled if my dad would take the trouble to learn a few basic estonian phrases ;let alone politics or history.
America is the one place in the world where true pluralism is allowed to flourish. In New York just in my Neighborhood you've got Domincians living with orthodox jews living with yuppies. And the whole country is like that tons and tons of sub groups doing what they want or being frustrateed but coexisting.And in a way american pluralism is a model for the rest of the world in america most groups aren't fighting each other. They are too busy competing for money, or even if they don't like each other theya re going to interact and not bomb each other.
And in a lot of ways its a useful modle for the world and thats why english is important and americans are big commentators. Americans screw up alot too and its bad when identity just becomes MTV or somehting but the basic principle is sound as long all the other cultures stay strong. Which is a challenge.

Puu ütles ...

Also being American people listen to you
not just because of democratic idelad but for most people lots of reality as evidenced by the John Locke lost comment is tied to TV. and the Us has the big Media market share.
Just not to be obsessive, but this is haunting me and if you want to make yourself useful in the creating a fair dialgue front, I have a suggestion, a bit somber to be sure. The singing revolution emphasized it as a great coup for Estonian nation that no blood was shed when Estonia seperated from the Soviet Union.The second go round this spring however Estonia didn't return the favor( or what ever to the minority Russian population) and in this respect Estonia is totally imitating the US in the we are righteous and other people's blood doesn't matter front. So could you possibly look into the two Russian protestors that died in the protest. Who were they? How have the protestors that were put into prison treated? If you take a hard line on this now in favor journalistic balance it could earn brownie points that would make for a more balanced country. please do this. It will come up and will come back to bite the government I promise you and it better to deal with the hurt now.Obviously the estonian government isn't fascist but ti was bad people died and that needs to be addressed do this get respect in the russian community and start a dialogue about democracy in which the Russian speaker living outside of russian can align with some democratic ideal other than what is being pushed by moscow. If the Russian minority in Estonia can be empowered in a manner similar to how all minorities are empowered in the US Surely there are people in Narva who would like to see a more democratic Russia, Estonia is the perfect staging ground for that debate. But start it by taking some time to examine the positive in the Russian community . It must exist.

Puu ütles ...

Also being American people listen to you
not just because of democratic idelad but for most people lots of reality as evidenced by the John Locke lost comment is tied to TV. and the Us has the big Media market share.
Just not to be obsessive, but this is haunting me and if you want to make yourself useful in the creating a fair dialgue front, I have a suggestion, a bit somber to be sure. The singing revolution emphasized it as a great coup for Estonian nation that no blood was shed when Estonia seperated from the Soviet Union.The second go round this spring however Estonia didn't return the favor( or what ever to the minority Russian population) and in this respect Estonia is totally imitating the US in the we are righteous and other people's blood doesn't matter front. So could you possibly look into the two Russian protestors that died in the protest. Who were they? How have the protestors that were put into prison treated? If you take a hard line on this now in favor journalistic balance it could earn brownie points that would make for a more balanced country. please do this. It will come up and will come back to bite the government I promise you and it better to deal with the hurt now.Obviously the estonian government isn't fascist but ti was bad people died and that needs to be addressed do this get respect in the russian community and start a dialogue about democracy in which the Russian speaker living outside of russian can align with some democratic ideal other than what is being pushed by moscow. If the Russian minority in Estonia can be empowered in a manner similar to how all minorities are empowered in the US Surely there are people in Narva who would like to see a more democratic Russia, Estonia is the perfect staging ground for that debate. But start it by taking some time to examine the positive in the Russian community . It must exist.

joel k ütles ...

I don't think moving to Estonia in the 2000s requires "bravery" per se, not from what I have seen from three stays in the country, including one in Tartu.

As probably the only American with a blog about Estonia, though, Giustino has shouldered a lot of responsibility.

I admire the way that you are generally balanced, obviously an Estophile but with well-placed jabs of criticiism that don't seem overly harsh.

Marginalia is a visually quite beuatiful and very literary blog, but it seems to me it's apples and oranges compared to your general interest coverage.

Giustino ütles ...

I admire the way that you are generally balanced, obviously an Estophile but with well-placed jabs of criticiism that don't seem overly harsh.

I don't think scorched earth American politics are possible in this country. You are bound to see your nemesis in the supermarket the next day.

Have you noticed though how political these bureaucratic appointments can get? Everyone wants to fill the bureaucracy with guys on their team to build institutional support.

I had the misfortune of seeing outgoing Chancellor of Justice Allar Jõks at the airport drinking a beer. I am sure he's consumed many in the past few weeks.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, I think there is a tradition of lively public debate in the Anglo-Saxon cultural area, not unconnected to strong liberal traditions that have existed in those countries. In Finland, for example, there is a certain instinct towards consensus and passionate but analytic debate is not something that comes very naturally to us. Not to paint an overly rosy picture though: often these sharp analytic tools are not based on very deep understanding and knowledge of the issues. I find that Phil for example tends always to see the Finnish society on American terms meaning that our traditionally non-socialist country appears to him to be flaming red, as he habitually confuses culture with ideology. Still, his blog is one of the liveliest political blogs in Finland, and I don't think that it is a pure coincidence that he happens to be American.

Louis ütles ...

Ive found Swedish society very non confrontational in this manner as well, its one of the more subtle things in society which dawned on me in time. I kept thinking "come you people, dont you want to stand up and get excited about thing??" but its just not the way in general.

My take on the way swedes do it here (and I mean no offense) is that society has all these fabulous advances, many things are "how they should be" to my mind, but this advancement comes through a more general consensus among the population. In Australia if we tried to do some of the good stuff here, people would be kicking and screaming, the shit would be going down and eventually we would get say 10% of what was proposed.

So the other way of doing it up here does get stuff done but i feel it comes at a price, some of the "spice" of life can get lost amongst it a bit. Like the article here, its the different australian /american (to make a broad category) way of thinking.

Oh and to Kristopher, I dont think a rich vernacular makes you the deep thinkers of the world, if that was the case Australians would be right up there too and clearly we are not :)

Giustino ütles ...

Ive found Swedish society very non confrontational in this manner as well, its one of the more subtle things in society which dawned on me in time. I kept thinking "come you people, dont you want to stand up and get excited about thing??" but its just not the way in general.

The Swedes and Finns tend to get really excited about those TV license fees.

Max ütles ...

Giustino said…
"I don't think scorched earth American politics are possible in this country. You are bound to see your nemesis in the supermarket the next day."


Hmm... Just got a scary mental image: there I am, pawing through the pre-packaged pork chops and I bump into Savikas...
Hay-soos! That's scary! I think I'd turn vegan on the spot.

Kristopher ütles ...

Oh and to Kristopher, I dont think a rich vernacular makes you the deep thinkers of the world, if that was the case Australians would be right up there too and clearly we are not :)

Did I say that? Did I say that? I think I was going more for "there's someting down-home in americans' speech that cuts through class (and even competence to hold forth on subjects)".

I give you Australians points for having a rich vocab, sometimes it seems that, like your species, majority of your slang is found only on your continent. I am looking for ways of incorporating it into American language and taking credit for it, muahhaha.

Kristopher ütles ...

Re other blogs: There is this one. Latest Letter From Estonia (which is not from Estonia) starts off by declaring how he has now reversed his policy and IS venting his opinions about Estonia.

(And er...if I can plead full disclosure rather than blatant self-promo here?...I keep a blog. Though I concede it's heavier on the "Estonian in America" aspect rather than vice versa.)

Max ütles ...

There is no such thing as "the Queen's English." The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company and we own the bulk of the shares!

-Mark Twain (1835-1910), in Following the Equator, ch. 24, "Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar" (1897).

Giustino ütles ...

Hmm... Just got a scary mental image: there I am, pawing through the pre-packaged pork chops and I bump into Savikas...
Hay-soos! That's scary! I think I'd turn vegan on the spot.


I used to think the media were trying to bring about his fall by only using unappealing photos of him. Then I realized that all photos of him look that way.

Kristopher ütles ...

So could you possibly look into the two Russian protestors that died in the protest. Who were they?

Two died now?

Last spring was the "second go-round" for the singing revolution?

Estonia should look into it to earn brownie points?

Estonia should be a forum for discussing Russia's internal problems?

Huh?

Max ütles ...

It's OK, Kris. When Puu poos, she's operating on a metaphysical plane, and might feel that...
"I'm not confused, I'm just well mixed."
-Robert Frost, quoted in Wall Street Journal (New York, 5 Aug. 1969).

Giustino ütles ...

Puu,

I haven't discussed the cyberwar or the protests that much because I wasn't there and I didn't have my website hacked.

I do know that in a way you should be glad that I wasn't there. I know that people who live on the same block as we used to were kept into the night with the sound of police sirens and helicopters.

I have two young children. Do you think I would really empathize with young people throwing rocks at the police and creating a situation where a man could be murdered in the middle of the street so close to my old home?

Also, note to self, if you see riot police and throw rocks at them, you're going to get your ass kicked. It's going to happen to you in Seattle, and in Genoa, and in Paris, and in Tallinn.

As for the young man who did die that night, Dmitri Ganin, I too am patiently waiting for his murderer to be caught, but I am also waiting for the Aruban police to find Natalee Holloway. It took a year to find Chandra Levy. Trust me, time will tell.

Your best comment though is the following:

It will come up and will come back to bite the government I promise you and it better to deal with the hurt now.

The government, like all others, will eventually fall. At that point there will probably be a lot of finger pointing about this issue, mostly in the way of one A. Ansip of Tartu.

So everyone will have their scapegoat. Lõpp.

Giustino ütles ...

If the Russian minority in Estonia can be empowered in a manner similar to how all minorities are empowered in the US

Actually, the Russian minority in Estonia is pretty similar to the ones in New York.

In New York the minorities have their own little neighborhood and don't really mix. For example, our old neighborhood was Hasidic Jewish and Irish.

The young Jewish guys wouldn't even look at me in the laundromat, let alone say hi. I was not from their community and therefore unworthy of the pleasantries they share with one another. The Irish guys were ... Irish. "IRA" was spray painted on a traffic sign near our house.

In Estonia, its more of the same: keep to yourself, keep to your own. Mark out your own little pocket of Tallinn, don't mix with others.

To add to the fact that the "Russian minority" can be divided four ways - the old minority and the vanausulised on Lake Peipsi; the sort of post-Soviet "national minority" that has sprung up in cities like Pärnu and Tartu -- bilingual, integrated; the "regional minority" of Narva, Sillamäe, and Kohtla-Järve which feels more culturally isolated; and the "migrant" minority of Tallinn, which is like the ones in New York -- bound to neighborhoods, living in a situation where communities ignore one another.

I have come to the conclusion that in order for minorities to exist in the longterm they need institutions, institutions they themselves build.

Take the the Estonian Swedish minority or the Estonian Jews or the Old Believers -- they have churches, special schools, cultural programs that create a sense of unique identity while at the same time retaining Estonian nationality.

And they built those institutions themselves and they last. Think of all the cultural destruction that came with the Soviet and Nazi occupations. And yet Estonian Swedes are still here. Jews are still here. Why? They have institutions -- Swedish St. Mikael's Church in Tallinn, the Tallinn Synagogue, etc.

The Estonian government has created guidelines for achieving cultural autonomy. Russians are considered a minority and can create institutions according to those guidelines.

So, considering all of that, why on Earth should I -- an Italian-American married to an Estonian woman -- have any role in building a dialog or institutions that can only be created by Estonian Russians themselves?

It's like I wrote. Who am I to dictate? Who am I to judge? I am sure there is enough talent among the 340,000 Estonian Russians to eventually do that.

Puu ütles ...

The very nature of blogging involves judgement of some sort.it's not a great ananlogy but Estonia has troops in iragq supposedly for a more democractic Iraq, why can't estonia try to encourage a more democratic Russia, not by force but by encouraging more democratic thinking in the russian minority.because the whole point of the united states is that it isn't cultural really it's a form of government, in which everyone supposedly has equal rights. There are plenty of Russsians living in the Us who want nothing to do with Moscow.What would be good is if a similar forum for criticism could flourish across the border in the politically across the border. Because the estonian have nothing against the Russian people ( just as one would hope that the iraqi people have nothing against the american people) just the government. People and government can be seperate but a more deomcratic Russi would be goood for everyone so why doesn't estonia do what it can do encourage it.

Giustino ütles ...

People and government can be seperate but a more deomcratic Russi would be goood for everyone so why doesn't estonia do what it can do encourage it.

How can a country tell its minority to do its bidding on behalf of some general Western effort to democratize Russia?

Besides, politics in Ida-Virumaa resemble the Russian system in that there is one party with a vague, populist platform (Keskerakond) that basically represents the local business interests.

Keskerakond has 22 seats out of 31 in Narva. It's one-party rule.

Puu ütles ...

A country doesn't have to enforce behavior on its minority population
but it can treat them well enough that they becomee advocates for the country rather than antagonists. I think this is the case with some russians ( advocates that is).
Take the case of the Somali refugees in Finland versus the Muslim populations in
Sweden or worse France. The difference in enfranchising the population rather than making them feel like outcasts. The difficulty is how to do it without threatening the Estonian culture.

Kristopher ütles ...

Puu, Russia is a mess, and less than you think has changed in nine years (except Kingissepp and Pskov are now getting some hypermarkets). Ivangorod ran out of water a few years back, and Narva, for all of its relative problems, pitched in to bail it out.

Apart from having universal literacy and basic Soviet-era services, it is a grim place.

As Marx might have said, the substructure has to be fixed up before we can really think of fixing people's ideas.

On the subject of the oligarchy, I'm sure Estonian politicians have said their piece about Putin, Yukos, Politovskaya. There are extensive cultural exchanges with the Finno-Ugric peoples in the interior, whose plight is also dire.

Kristopher ütles ...

It is the Finno-Ugric peoples within Russia I am most worried about at this moment, and perhaps the rest of the world should be, too.

But I am sorry I snapped at you before.

Giustino ütles ...

The difference in enfranchising the population rather than making them feel like outcasts.

This statelessness issue has continued for a long time, but it has an expiration date, perhaps, as the government has predicted, around 2015.

In 1992, 32 percent of the population was stateless. in 2003, 12 percent of the population was stateless. As of January 2008, its 8 percent.

This "denying Russians citizenship" out of some kind of 'apartheid' policy meme is a joke.

Puu ütles ...

Yes, Russia is a mess, but if you read like for example Stephen Cohen's (prf of Russian Studies at NYU) book Failed Crusade or if you want to be really brave and read Godfather of the Kremlin by a Russian born journalist for Forbes that was shot by the Russian mob a lot of the disfunction in Russia currently
comes from the greed or apathy of international companies in the era of Enron and World Com. It's like lots of negative media protrayals of america made people think that capitalism was the same as Al Capone. Peace and freedom come from a public which is not afraid. Fear causes violence . The reason those kids were throwing rocks and looting was in the end because they were afraid. This guy i have been seeing
in New York, ran away from home when he was twelve because of fear because his mom held a knife to his throat. He was in a ( mostly non violent) gang which was composed mostly of minorities who lived in fear that society would exploit them. He got over that fear finished school owns a business and has a good relationship for the most part with a girl whose parents wouldn't go anywhere near his neighborhood growing up. When people learn to trust each other everyone benefits.

Kristopher ütles ...

For a second, I thought you had said, "If you read Stephen Colbert.."

The pic hadn't been referenced yet in the thread.

I must admit I haven't considered international companies as having much of a toehold in Russia. It seems just a few years ago that an American businessman was murdered on a Moscow street. Can you name any of these int'l companies mentioned in the book, for the benefit of blog readers who don't have the book handy?

Russian capital and sovereign wealth in the form of int'l concerns -- that's another story. Powerful enough to even drive the Americans out of Baltic infrastructure.