teisipäev, veebruar 26, 2008

cto?

Leave it the BBC to ruin a perfectly good February morning. Tim Whewall of the BBC goes to Kadriorg to ask President Ilves important questions like, why doesn't he speak Russian.

Ilves replies that to speak Russian would mean "accepting 50 years of Soviet brutalisation because most Russian-speakers settled in Estonia only after it was occupied by the USSR towards the end of World War II."

Then the Estonian media, which loves nothing more than to put any heated, divisive statement about Russia on the front page, picks it up, as does Russia's federal news agency Regnum, which notes that "Ilves is the first Estonian president who does not speak Russian."

Well, let's see, Estonia has only had four presidents. Konstantin Päts spoke Russian -- he was Orthodox, served in the Russian army, and was the son of one Jakob Päts and one Olga Tumanova. Lennart Meri spoke Russian, a skill he no doubt learned as a potato peeler in a Siberian work camp. And Arnold Rüütel, the former Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Estonian SSR, definitely spoke Russian.

But that's just the thing. In the race between Rüütel and Ilves in 2006, one of Ilves' strengths was that he spoke English -- one of the three main languages of the European Union, not to mention the operating language of NATO -- on the level of a native speaker. People were occasionally embarrassed by the fact that the only foreign dignitaries Rüütel could communicate with without a translator were Vladimir Putin and Aleksis II.

And that's sort of the rub. Russophiles and Russians might think of their language as a "world language" that is easy to acquire. But, considering Ilves has lived in Estonia for nearly two decades and not acquired it, I guess it defeats that premise. It also shows that for Estonians, it was more important to have an English-speaking president than a Russian-speaking one. That's got to hurt from the perspective of a country that still views itself as a counterweight to the United States. Hence the attention from Regnum.

Honestly, from my perspective, despite the angst reflected in the media, I have come to not be personally bothered by the shrinking language gap in Estonia. The majority complains about the ethnic Russians who refuse to speak their language -- meanwhile most of them already learned it and have jobs at Hansapank or Estravel.

You wouldn't even know their native tongue save for a name tag, and even then you might wind up with one of those wicked Estonian combinations like "Eha Petrushkovskaja" or "Olga Saar." You can't really tell the difference between people, and you shouldn't be able to, because this is one country, not two little countries sutured together.

Yes, there are those awkward moments sometimes where you ask a question or are asked a question which comes back in a dizzying array of consonants and vowels that could be Hungarian or Bulgarian or Yoruban. But it doesn't matter, because even the most desperate tourists in the world can make themselves understood by tap dancing and farting.

So, let's please give it a rest. Let Ilves wear a bowtie and learn French. Let Edgar Savisaar and the Russian transportation authorities haggle in Russian. And let me blog in English. It's my native language, and nobody has yet managed to take it from me.

124 kommentaari:

Kristopher ütles ...

Irresponsible on the part of the BBC reporter. Exactly why editors are still needed; blog posts aten't necessarily articles.

The question to Ilves was probably, why don't you speak Russian in interviews or in your official capacity.

I'm sure Ilves realizes that any speaking a language in the sense of KNOWING it only removes barriers and contributes to cultural understanding.

Giustino ütles ...

I think its naive to think that Ilves would just learn a whole new language and be able to hear all the Russophone community's concerns. It would just lead to some comical 'ich bin ein berliner' moments, that would be picked up the Russian press which only runs negative stories about Estonia.

No matter what he would do, it would be portrayed as bad in the Russian press because they must continue their "Estonia = bad" meme at all costs. Reality, as usual, is irrelevant.

Karla ütles ...

For a seasoned journalist, Whewell (or should that be Phew-well?) comes across, at worst, as a pettifogging putz with a personal axe to grind, or at best best, as quite witless and lame in the overly familiar, palsy-walsy jocularity he attempts but fails at.
"Nodding" to ceremonial sentries at any state residence in expectation of a returned nod (or grin, or wink) will naturally be ignored. Indeed, attempting to engage ceremonial sentries at a personal level is usually attempted only by very inebriated tourists or overly optimistic and out-of-control old poofs. ;P
Commenting on ties and suits is best left to fashion critics. Challenging a host who is both head of state and in an official setting on his linguistic preferences displays an unspeakable degree of insolence, and publicizing one's own gaffes suggests a total lack of professional sensibility.
I'm fully confident that when visiting King Juan Carlos, our redoubtable Lynx conversed splendidly in Spanish without having occasion to ask HM how his Catalan or Basque were coming along. Indeed, I know at least one other Old Oxonian who has met Ilves on more than one occasion and been quite flattered that the President understood his halting Estonian and responded in the same tongue.
Reminiscences about shared experiences are also best left out of the public eye. If Phewell were as palsy-walsy with Ilves as his bizarre mix of smarminess and impertincence would suggest, it's a sure bet Ilves would have had him out to Ärma farm and shared a beer in the sauna, rather than tea at Kadriorg -- and in such case Phewell would also have had the modicum of good sense not to inflict his claptrap on the BBC audience.

space_maze ütles ...

If A Turkish reporter were to ask Angela Merkel why she doesn't speak Turkish .. what would she reply? She would probably wonder why she SHOULD speak Turkish. I mean, her Turkish collegues aren't expected to speak German.

Ilves kind of stepped into this one, though. Or, did not give an adequately stupid answer to a really stupid question. Saying that knowing Russian would mean acceptance of Soviet power is silly. Speaking Russian because it's expected of him would be.

While I'm sure he can make this distinction, it didn't come out in his answer.

There is one reason I DO wish the president of Estonia was able to speak Russian : Estonia has a massive symbolic value for Finno-Ugric nations not fortunate enough to have their own nation-state, like the Mari, the Komi and the Udmurt. Maris (I have had no contact with Komi and Udmurts, so I can't say much there) see Estonia as their little window to the "free world", and are massively interested in what's going on in Estonia, and what Estonia has to say to/about them.

As Ilves is not learning Mari .. and while some Mari do speak Estonian, most will not obviously .. and because English education in Mari El SUCKS .. any interaction between Estonia and such nations will have to be in Russian, unfortunately.

Giustino ütles ...

Here's the official addition from the President's Press Office:

«President Toomas Hendrik Ilves peab võõrkeeleoskust oluliseks, osates ise inglise, saksa ja hispaania keelt ning õppides praegu prantsuse keelt, mis on üks enimkasutatud keel Euroopa Liidus ja NATO-s,» teatati Vabariigi Presidendi Kantseleist Postimees.ee'le.

Kantselei teates rõhutatakse, et novembris toimunud intervjuus vastas president Ilves küsimusele, mille konteksti järgi peaks olema võõrkeele õppimise põhjuseks okupatsioon ja selle järelmid.

«Vastus just niimoodi kitsalt tõlgendatavale küsimusele kätkeb paratamatut eitust - võõrkeele õppimise põhjuseks ei ole okupatsioon.Laiemas kontekstis ei kahtle president Ilves, et Eestis elavatel inimestel, kelle kodune keel on vene keel, tuleb kasuks eesti keele oskamine ning eestlaste silmaringi laiendab ka vene keele oskus,» seisab teates.

Berka ütles ...

It is very common to take the headline and the comment from the real context to get the attention of the audience. So for a person ( and for Russian media) the relevant part is that President Ilves does not want to speak Russian and they see here hate towards the Russians. But this comment was only part of the interview and actually has no meaning without the whole story.
Unfortunately the comment of President's Press Office is not published as much as the Ilves comment, so many people might get the wrong impression.
But well, things happen, and in future it would be wise do not give out comments like this by Ilves, that can be understood for someone as - or used in some media propaganda- like the Russian media is doing it against Estonia.

Karla ütles ...

Whewell's was, in toto, a cheeky, needling sort of piece anyway. He didn't raise any serious issues, was not about to, so the out-of-context quote was contrived and ought not be laid at Ilves' doorstep.
Re-read the Whewell tripe and ask the yourself: what the hell was he writing about? ZERO critical centre, IMHO...

egan ütles ...

What exactly is the Estonian position on Ilves's bow tie? It does look pretty funny, and commenting on it is entirely consistent with the tone and tenor of FOOC pieces. I suggest listening to some of them that are about countries you don't feel quite so strongly about before rushing to judge Whewell.

He is completely open about the genealogy of his own and Ilves's orientations, and he even shifts his position towards Estonia in the piece.

This programme is broadcast on Radio 4 on Saturday mornings and its listeners don't have an extensive knowledge of Estonian politics. Using these easy points in your 5 minute segment (funny looking chap with a daft bow-tie, cyberwarfare with Russia, language differences within the country) along with the background of a personal trip to the president's palace helps to draw the listener in.

The programme is called 'from our own correspondent' for a reason: it's not the usual grind of reports that the BBC correspondents usually file, it's their own personal perspective on the people they meet and the stories they do.

Giustino ütles ...

What exactly is the Estonian position on Ilves's bow tie?

I got used to the bow tie awhile ago. I understand that our leaders have their idiosyncrasies.

There are very few Estonian leaders today that can speak with any kind of moral authority.

I am not saying that Ilves possesses 'moral authority' himself, but he can channel it. I am not sure who else could.

It's regrettable that the presidential race came down to him and Rüütel. I would have liked to have seen five or so candidates debate just to see what they were made of.

Giustino ütles ...

He is completely open about the genealogy of his own and Ilves's orientations, and he even shifts his position towards Estonia in the piece.

It's mostly not his doing, Egan. It's the Estonian media that must make an issue out of it, so the armchair metsavennad can argue on the Internet about it, and it's the state-owned Russian media that has to do it, to continue their "Estonia=bad" coverage. The language/ethnic issue is a distraction for uninspired journalists.

It's what I would call the "I'm in Estonia, so I have to write about Russia" syndrome. And yet when the reporters go to Helsinki, they are force-fed so much "perfect Nordic country" BS that they leave thinking that Russia was on the other side of the equator.

egan ütles ...

All politicians should have some kind of wacky attire, if only to annoy journalists.

btw: I sent an email to your hotmail account, do you still use it? I have something to ask...

egan ütles ...

I dunno really, he is a Russia specialist and was sent there by the BBC because he would also go to Russia and he's comfortable in that language. For whatever reason, Estonia has a different relationship with Russia and that is surely the biggest test of Ilves's presidency.

If he's writing about Estonian politics, around the time of independence celebrations, he has to ask something like that. and he's done well, getting a response that chrystalises Ilves's philosophy and makes headlines at the same time. It's not like he was tripped up, I heard him say 'I am a cold warrior' on Finnish radio this week.

Karla ütles ...

Lester Bowles Pearson, Canada's 14th PM and a Nobel laureate (ta-raa!), invariably wore a blue-polka-dot-on-blue bow-tie as his trademark and journos had fun with it. Didn't hurt "Mike" Pearson one bit. During his tenure, Pearson's minority government introduced universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada, and the current Canadian flag. He got the Nobel for his groundbreaking work at the United Nations while he was Canada's foreign minister.
Another fairly successful pol who fancied bow-ties was Sir Winston Churchill. Saul Bellow wore them a lot, especially late in life after he got his Nobel for literature. Vladimir Horowitz, one of the greatest pianists in history, wore them (other than with formal kit).
Other than as a trademark, the bow-tie is great for not dipping into the soup at official luncheons. Also, whilst checking under the hood, it's unlikely to catch in the fan belt and strangle the wearer... Shall I go on?
;-)

erueestlane ütles ...

This journalist has a major sour grapes itch. Gosh, I would have to commit suicide if I were to compare where I ended up and where some of my old buddies are today ...

Only in Estonia can this happen. He has not realized what Estonia is and what can happen there. Has he met Ilves' wife? He'd put a barrel in his mouth after comparing Evelyn to the old nagging hag in his pitiful mortgaged house. :-)

Giustino ütles ...

It's not like he was tripped up, I heard him say 'I am a cold warrior' on Finnish radio this week.

Estonian foreign policy's been down the "if we're nice to them, maybe they won't kill us all" route before (see bases pact, 1939).

These days they come out with all the rhetorical guns blasting.

Hella ütles ...

In my opinion lves is a true nternational gentelman, not a soviet spokesmaan.

egan ütles ...

You know, this is all well and good, but British people don't have the first clue about it. Ilves looks like the night porter they vomited on when they went to Tallinn for a stag do in 2002. They wouldn't know the president's name, still less his policies towards Russia or anything else.

Sarv ütles ...

Russian does have huge tremendous value as a lingua franca, and they used to say, 1/6 of the world.

Was just thinking about all those nations like the Ural-Altaic and Finno-Ugrian peoples ...relatives of Estonia's! ...if Ilves is aware of Meri's legacy, he might do well to learn Russian for their benefit.

Rainer ütles ...

Sarv, consider Ilves' background. First of all, unlike Estonians here he was never exposed to Russian. Secondly - the väliseestlased fervently hated and still hate all things Russian, especially the language

Luarvik ütles ...

A very unfortunate wording either by the president or the author resulting in bit of a PR damage. Local Russian-language blogs were/are full of disappointed posts about how yet again the government (in this case the president) does not value its subjects... So in this regard, the text could have been somewhat more diplomatic.
And just out of interest, do G.W.Bush, H.Clinton and B.Obama speak Spanish? At least a little?

Giustino ütles ...

Ilves looks like the night porter they vomited on when they went to Tallinn for a stag do in 2002.

And Gordon Brown looks like a Monty Python character.

Russian does have huge tremendous value as a lingua franca, and they used to say, 1/6 of the world.

More people speak Portuguese than Russian. When the Japanese business delegation arrives, do you speak Russian to them? No. Niet. Nao.

Local Russian-language blogs were/are full of disappointed posts about how yet again the government (in this case the president) does not value its subjects...

I know. But is it 100 percent of the president's fault, or is it the media that cannot resist feeding everyone divisive red meat?

Like I wrote, it's nice to think of everyone in Estonia as belonging to two groups where one group thinks all one way and the other thinks a different way. But that's not actually true.

And just out of interest, do G.W.Bush, H.Clinton and B.Obama speak Spanish? At least a little?

Bush has been ridiculed for his Spanish. Romney tried to speak Spanish during his campaign but he misspoke and it turned into a mini scandal. Which is why it would be wise for Ilves to keep speaking Estonian.

If I spoke to any elected public official, I would speak in Estonian out of simple respect, even if they know English. Ilves might be an exception. But Ansip? He is the prime minister, I am a lowly journalist. I speak to him in Estonian, not the other way around.

Giustino ütles ...

Plus, even if Ilves said something right, the Russian media would never carry it because they are like a little ethno-national FOX News, where they must stick to script.

Liberals love terrorism. Estonians are fascists. Yuck.

egan ütles ...

That'd be an interesting line for an Estonian journalist to pursue, but I'd imagine that a fair few estonians have actually heard of Brown.

I honestly don't think Ilves can complain about this, if you go to Estonia and don't cover the state of relations with Russia you are missing the big story. I mean, Russia is right next door and there are large numbers of people who live in Estonia but identify as Russian.

The very fact that he has such an assertive (aggressive?) posture towards Russia is news, and until Estonia and Russia normalise relations that's how it will be. I mean, a British Prime Minister who said something similar about learning French would get absolutely slated. It's just a language. Learn it or not, but there's no need to go to the border and show your arse to the russkies.

Richard ütles ...

Whewell isa journalist writing for a British audience (even though the BBC likes ot play up its global audience it's editorial tone and standards are still very British).

Seconly, this piece was not a hard-hitting in-depth political analysis piece, or a piece of undercover reporting.

This was under the ¨From our own correspondant¨ rubric. This type of piece generally has a lighter approach to heavyweight topics, with journalists often introducig aspects of memoir, travelogue, local colour, personal impressions etc. It is not serious reporting. BBC hacks call it the ¨what I write at the end of the day, relaxing after a few beers and my tie off¨

Secondly, the journalist is basing his ¨why don't you speak Russian¨ assumpition on British language politics. Many local politicians, and the liberal left, in thje UK actually encouarge immigrant groups to foster their langauge, and some local councillors actually boast of learning Polsah, Russia, Kurdish etc in order to ¨adopt community cohesion,¨ to use the latest jargon. This contrasts with the central government's latest drive that ¨immigrants must learn Englisn,¨ a drive that is actually criticised my many.

Therefore, a liberal-leaning, city councillor in Leeds or Crewe of Hull would consider it politically astute to at least say ¨Oh I am learning Polish (or Russian , EStonaian etc) , I can say a few phrases.¨ (EU citizens can vote after all)

Different countries, different audiences, different expectations. Such are the problems of foreign reporting. You are writing for your domestic audience (is this case British, despite the BBC's global audience), yet the subjects of the piece (is this case Estonian) have completely different expectations.

AFter all, I think that what some Estonain or Lithuanian journalists write about the UK is rubbish, for exactly the same reasona that Estonian react to this piece. Different points of view, different expectations, different attitudes to minority languages.

Richard ütles ...

What's with the Carlson picture? The Russian cartoon version of a story written by a Swede. Are you implying that Ives is a kind of Estonian speaking Carlson, coming across the water from Sweden? Or have your kids just been watching him on TV?

space_maze ütles ...

Was just thinking about all those nations like the Ural-Altaic and Finno-Ugrian peoples ...relatives of Estonia's! ...if Ilves is aware of Meri's legacy, he might do well to learn Russian for their benefit.

Exactly.

However, Finno-Ugrians being stubborn bastards seems to be a global rule. A while ago, a representative of Mari interest groups refused to give an interview to western reporters in Russian, to protest the recent (at the time) crackdown on Mari cultural institutions for "jeopardizing the integrity of the Russian Federation" or some nonsense like that.

So instead he, gave his answers in a different language he spoke and for which he knew the western reporters would find a translator - Estonian.

Realistically, though, Russian will generally remain the lingua franca for Inter-Finno-Ugric dealings. Lest a miracle happens and English education becomes decent in the Volga basin. On which note, anyone can recomment any good English textbooks for self-teaching? I'll be going to Mari El in the summer, and should bring books helpful to English education. Hmpf.)

Colm ütles ...

I am amazed the Estonian language managed to survive the centuries of foreign rule and oppression. Ireland, likewise oppressed for centuries lost its native language Irish (Gaelic) in the C19th. It's an issue that has often troubled me. Irish lives on only on letter-heads, in schools, amongst internet communities and in some small remote western communities caught between the sea of Anglophones and the Atlantic Ocean. It is all but dead and the majority of speakers are non-native, myself included. Why Estonia remained Estonian-speaking and Ireland changed to being English-speaking is a question I can't find an answer for.

I admire Estonia and Estonians and I am proud that my girlfriend is an Estonian speaking native. I just wish we Irish had managed to hold on to our language.

I feel I have no native language, not English, not Hiberno-English, not Irish but some mix of the three. As long as Irish is not the majority language of the Irish state, the latter and the Irish identity will always feel hollow.

Tormis ütles ...

In a perspective of PR people it was actually very strange statement that Ilves gave. President of a nation should never answer to questions like that the way he did. There are some things that he should have considered before answering this way and most important of them is the media. Media is always trying to make stories bigger than they actually are and I don't hesitate that there is actually misunderstanding.

To now talk about the language problems in Estonia then it is actually quite annoying to go to shop and ask for something but the answer to you is "cto?" I understand that every person has a right to speak their own language, but people born in Estonia are Estonians, or what?????

The problem of course doesn't lay on the shoulders of kids born in Estonia, but on the shoulders of their parents and grandparents born here.

If Estonia would not have the language problems between Estonians and Russians, we wouldn't have many other problems between the nations either.

Colm ütles ...

I have just read the article and I must say that even for the BBC it is shocking. The British media is always a lover of promoting British culture and the English language (at the detriment to minorities and smaller nations) but this piece, apart from being insensitive to Estonia is also extremely unprofessional. Someone has a chip on their shoulder!!

egan ütles ...

Someone does, but I wouldn't go pointing fingers colm.....

egan ütles ...

Some of that horrific cultural imperialism:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/languages/

That doesn't inlcude the cymru, gaelic or irish services, btw.

Stop talking rot.

Colm ütles ...

Which are here btw:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/cymru/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/alba/

Some of that horrific cultural imperialism:

So we should just forget about the centuries of opression of the Celtic nations by England and the British Empire because the BBC in 2008 has a multilingual online news service? Give me a break!

Giustino ütles ...

What's with the Carlson picture? The Russian cartoon version of a story written by a Swede. Are you implying that Ives is a kind of Estonian speaking Carlson, coming across the water from Sweden? Or have your kids just been watching him on TV?

Russia is always portrayed as a menacing bear. I recently saw the cartoon and I thought I would like to portray Russia as a harmless little boy.

I admire Estonia and Estonians and I am proud that my girlfriend is an Estonian speaking native. I just wish we Irish had managed to hold on to our language.

I have heard some really insulting things from Russians about Estonians that remind me of British insults of the Irish, ie. that they are primitive, barbaric, alcoholic, lacking civilization, "white chimps".

It's a colonial mentality, and I think that Estonians and Irish occupy similar positions in those respective relationships.

Someone has a chip on their shoulder!!

A lot of guys are jealous of Ilves. They all think they started out equal, except one remained a lowly journalist and the other became a president. Whewall isn't the only one.

My question is, do you really want to be a president and have to wake up early to go receive the Albanian ambassador? Or would you rather drink into the night, write down some random crap about your feelings and get paid for it?

To now talk about the language problems in Estonia then it is actually quite annoying to go to shop and ask for something but the answer to you is "cto?" I understand that every person has a right to speak their own language, but people born in Estonia are Estonians, or what?????

Tormis, you are not responsible for others' ignorance. I am not responsible for it either. They can learn or they can live in their world and say 'cto?' to you at the store. It is their problem that they are unable to communicate with you, not yours.

If we were in Russia, then it would be our fault that we couldn't communicate because the onus would be on us to speak in the national language. But we are in Estonia and those are the breaks.

egan ütles ...

I don't know. Are you arguing that 'the British media' is responsible for centuries of oppression? Your post above seems to indicate that you might be.

That's complete rubbish. The BBC, the British media and its consumers don't really know that much about small countries. Sad but true.

take a look at this article, for instance:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/7258995.stm

Should the BBC just do puff pieces for Bertie and Toomas, no matter what they say or do, because those opposed to them are a minority?

Giustino ütles ...

Should the BBC just do puff pieces for Bertie and Toomas, no matter what they say or do, because those opposed to them are a minority?

I think that people in general don't know how to conceptualize Estonia. They come here expecting onion domes and bazaars, and instead they wind up feeling like they are in northern Germany or Finland.

They expect (expect!) that "all Estonians know Russian", except Estonians' Russian is -- forgive me -- terrible. They speak it like they would speak Estonian, it is like lush slavic words are lathed into bullets and shot out of a machine gun.

If there's one thing I don't want to hear, it's an Estonian speaking Russian. I'd much rather let them speak Estonian and I'll listen to the real old Russian ladies massage their words.

So they expect Russia lite, and instead they get a more fattening version of Scandinavia.

This is because when we were all in grade school decades ago we had nice maps with a big Soviet Union and nice movies that showed how life was there and how people there were all the same. Now we have to relearn some things and we resist it because we are extremely lazy. That's all there is to it.

egan ütles ...

That sounds like Finns trying to speak Swedish.

Incidentally, the only one of the party leaders who is completel comfortable in Swedish (except for Stefan Wallin, the Swedish People's Party leader) is Timo Sioni, the aggressively Fennoman leader of the True Finns. It's hilarious to watch him tear strips of Wallin in the election debate (4 are in Finnish and 1 in Swedish, I think), while the others mangle their sentences and slip Finnish words in.

He's much more convincing as an opponent of bilingualism for this. If he wasn't so fluent, the suspicion would be that it was simple chauvinism and ethnic hatred, combined with a bit of stupidity because he couldn't learn Swedish.

Luarvik ütles ...

I guess we all do it. Look down on those weaker, poorer, newer (states). It's a source of perverse pride to know that there are entities less well off and less fortunate than ourselves.
I wonder how long does it take for Estonia not to be first and foremost (read any article in international press): post soviet, post socialist, post communist etc, etc, etc country. Sad to think that 50 years of Soviet occupation is what sticks and defines a country and a nation... But guess that is what people remember. For at least another generation of journalists.

Karla ütles ...

Colm said...
Why Estonia remained Estonian-speaking and Ireland changed to being English-speaking is a question I can't find an answer for.
A deservedly adequate answer can't be attempted in this space, but a couple of brief hints might point in the right direction. The Irish had one powerful oppressor speaking and enforcing one tongue, the Estonians had two major oppressors. In the 19th-century cultural struggle between Pan-Germans and Pan-Slavists, the Estonians played off one against the other to gain concessions for Estonian. But even earlier, the linguistic die was cast with the translation of the gospels into Estonian by the likes of Andreas and Adrian Virginius (17th c.), father and son clerics in Southern Estonia, and by Johann Hornung. This ensured that the Latin, rather than the Cyrillic alphabet would be the basis of written Estonian. Also, unlike the English landlords and officials in Ireland, and unlike Russian officials in Tallinn, the Baltic German nobility by and large kept their use of German unto themselves, fearing assimilation of their minority, and learned sufficient Estonian to deal with the peasants.
But perhaps the real key or "secret" you seek lies in Pearse's oration at the grave of O'Donovan Rossa, which resonates deeply with all Estonian nationalist who are familair with it. Especially the final paragraph. Almost half a century ago, an Irish friend at a Canadian university played me a dramatic recitation of this splendid panegyric (by Dominic Behan, brother of Brendan) on a scratchy old vinyl disk, and it proved a major stimulus in leading me back to Koidula, Veske & Co. BTW, I can still recite much of that panegyric from memory.

I admire Estonia and Estonians and I am proud that my girlfriend is an Estonian speaking native. I just wish we Irish had managed to hold on to our language.

All is not lost. Far from lost. The Welsh have in just a couple of decades clawed back Cymric from total obscurity, and as you point out, Irish lives in the West of the country. Certainly in Galway. Important thing: it's still officially 'on the books.' But has English really eclipsed Irish, or have the Irish (as some would contend) captured English? To wit: Synge, O'Casey, Joyce, Shaw, Beckett, CS Lewis, Wilde, Yeats, etc., etc.,etc. But as to Irish itself, well -- that ancient tongue still speaks, and to foreigners. In 1995 there was a recitation by an Irish bard in Tallinn at Mustapeade Maja, and the house was packed. My wife and I had another commitment, but a couple of young American colleagues from the Estonian Defence Academy attended. "Only in Estonia," they marvelled. "It was great. None of us understood a word, but the MUSIC of the language was terrific," Phil told us.

Éireann go Brách!

space_maze ütles ...

Give Irish time. If Estonian can recover from the rut it was in in the early 19th century, Irish can survive its current situation.

In 1800, Czech was considered mostly lost, being more and more replaced by German. Czech has recovered so well that I need to communicate by tap dancing and farting (and English, and my VERY modest Czech .. though certainly not German) everytime I'm in the Czech Republic, as it should be.

Given time, Irish should recover too. The Republic of Ireland is finally giving the language the dedication it deserves, making it the primary official language (and thus an official language of the EU), as opposed to some kind of toy language. And I do get the impression that many grownups outside of Gaeltachts (or whatever the plural might be), while not enthusiastic about learning the language themselves, definitely want their kids to learn it.

Things look a lot better than they do for any other Celtic language, with the exception of Welsh maybe.

Karla ütles ...

space_maze ütles...
I need to communicate by tap dancing and farting...

I envy your ability to tap-dance. My old legs ain't up to it. But my farting retains its full musicality, and I'm working on playing a tune. I've got the first few bars of the old/new/old Sov anthem down cold. Here it comes...

Союз нерушимый республик свободных
Сплотила навеки Великая Русь!
Да здравствует созданный волей народов
Единый, могучий Советский Союз!

Thomas ütles ...

it was just unlucky or ignorant from the bbc reporter to ask such question just one day before the 24th of february and secondly a bit of an impulsive answer from mr. president, he could have just answered"well, as i have been raised abroad and thereby never been exposed to russian language, i never picked it up" and the stupid question would be not even worth any attention

Colm ütles ...

I have heard some really insulting things from Russians about Estonians that remind me of British insults of the Irish...

I once had the unfortunate situation of sharing a house with an English girl who liked to make unsavory jokes about the Irish, Scots and Welsh all which I ignored until that day she laughed at and made fun of the famine. That really hurt inside.

A deservedly adequate answer can't be attempted in this space, but a couple of brief hints might point in the right direction.

Aitäh teile Karla. That was indeed food for thought.

"It was great. None of us understood a word, but the MUSIC of the language was terrific," Phil told us.

Éireann go Brách!


Yes, the music does indeed attract alot of interest for the language.

Go maire an Eastóin! Elagu Eesti!

Give Irish time. If Estonian can recover from the rut it was in in the early 19th century, Irish can survive its current situation.

There is hope. The Gaelscoil movement is helping to raise a generation of young fluent speakers outside of the Gaeltacht [plural: Gaeltachtaí ]. Hopefully something can be done to stop the Gaeltachtaí themselves from shrinking any more. At any rate I will at least make my contribution to the language by continuing to speak it and by having a bilingual Irish-Estonian family.

Karla ütles ...

Thomas,
It was neither "unlucky" nor "ignorant." It was an ambush. Read the original Whewell piece. It was the ONLY question Whewell raised and Ilves told him it was a "dead end."

Tim Whewell is not a novice. He has covered A-stan and Lebanon in his day. He knew what he was doing.

Ilves is not an impulsive man, and quite cognizant of the language issue, and language issues in general - being himself fluently quadrilingual and, prior to his RFE/RL career, having taught both English and, I believe, Estonian. (I think the Estonain lectureship was actually in Canada, at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.)

Whewell's piece took on a snarky, patronizing tone from the outset. What, besides mocking bowties and palaces and his erstwhile colleague's stellar career path, did he touch on?

Not a single thing. Then he proceeded to extract an out-of-context response to a question his host indicated an unwillingness to deal with.

Whewell's masters will be pleased at having stirred up so much dust and feathers at so little cost.

Make no mistake about it. TH Ilves is up to snuff in HIS job. It is a snide ferret like Whewell who fall woefully short by any standards.

space_maze ütles ...

There is hope. The Gaelscoil movement is helping to raise a generation of young fluent speakers outside of the Gaeltacht [plural: Gaeltachtaí ]. Hopefully something can be done to stop the Gaeltachtaí themselves from shrinking any more. At any rate I will at least make my contribution to the language by continuing to speak it and by having a bilingual Irish-Estonian family.

I might be coming to Ireland on a job starting this September (It's a 1 in 3 chance, if I get the job I am currently applying for) .. if this happens, I can do my part for the situation by doing something totally weird: learning Irish as an immigrant/visitor.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

I never thought about comparing Irish and Estonian in the way presented here, but Karla has at least one very good point. Protestants, perhaps seeking grass root support were developing local languages across whole territory in which they were active, as opposed to official Latin. In the Baltic states they launched first ever Latvian and Estonian books, translating Gospel into the local languages.

egan ütles ...

I'm really struggling to see what's so offensive here. TOOC is a radio programme, intended to bring a bit of colour and what would usually be considered irrelevant detail to the listener. Whewell has done that, and elicited a response that encapsulates Ilves's philosophy. It is not his job to be a shill for Estonia.

Nobody put a gun to his head and said 'say something inflammatory about Russia', he did it of his own free will. It is, presumably, an accurate reflection of his views. So what's the big deal here? It wasn't the only question he asked, it was just the most newsworthy answer given by Ilves.

I really recommend listening to the whole programme before you start saying it's 'snarky'. The first piece is about kosovo and its new western orientation, the second seeks to explain Russia's opposition to small countries becoming more independent.

I really think the ire of Estonians should be directed at their presidents pretty dumb response, rather than the premise that small countries have a small space in the news. That's not going to change soon, but if Ilves stops talking about Soviet domination then there is a chance it might start slipping journalists minds if they are reminded of northern Germany while in Tallinn.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Somebody pointed out that BBC has multi language section. I don't think it applies here. BBC's Services are intended to foreign countries, not to minorities inside the UK, as far as I know the situation. In Estonia an equivalent of BBC, Ringhääling has substantive part of broadcasting to local Estonian Russians, prime source is R4.

egan ütles ...

The BBC has extensive programming in Cymraeg, Gaelic, Irish and Urdu aimed at people within the UK.

space_maze ütles ...

ETV has daily news broadcasts in Russian. In all my time in Britain, I never saw a news broadcast in Urdu on BBC1. So how, exactly, is Estonia not living up to British standards here? (Not that anyone actually said that it wasn't)

I do actually agree that Ilves' answer here was not good. Saying that speaking a language = submission is stupid. Saying that speaking a language because you HAVE TO = submission would be something completely different. But while the excerpts from the press office Justin posted here (in Estonian - someone care to translate?) indicate that Ilves knows this quite well, his answer doesn't. Pity.

That is not to say that the question wasn't stupid. Would BBC send reporters to France, and have them ask Nicolas Sarkozy why he speaks no Arabic?

Or even better, to Poland, to ask Donald Tusk why he speaks no German?

Both of these scenarios would make your average Brit wonder about the sanity of BBC reporters.

space_maze ütles ...

The BBC has extensive programming in Cymraeg, Gaelic, Irish and Urdu aimed at people within the UK.

On BBC1, in the daytime?

egan ütles ...

I don't think anyone has said that Estonia is not living up to the BBC's standards. I merely pointed out the BBCs minority programming inresponse to Colm's bizarre idea that the BBC is responsible for 'centuries of oppression'.

You're right that BBC1 does not broadcast in minority languages. They quite simply would not know where to start, as pretty much every language in the world is represented in London. It's the city with the largest number of cypriots in the world, for instance, more than any city in Cyprus.

Just as an example for you. People able to speak Welsh are 21% of the population of Wales. they have a national radio station, a TV station, local radio programming and a website catering for them. This is for about 600,000 people out of a total population of 2.9m, large numbers of whom also have English as their first language (you cannot get a public job in Wales unless you tick the box that says 'Welsh speaker', so English speakers learn the language anyway).

Urdu is used on local radio, where there is usually a couple of hours of programming if there is a large population of South Asian descent.

I'm not sure about Irish and gaelic because I have never lived in Scotland or Northern Ireland, but I'm sure they are very well catered for given the small number of native speakers there.

space_maze ütles ...

Yeah, it wouldn't make sense for BBC1 to broadcast in the languages of various minority communities, native or immigrant.

I think we've kind of got multiple discussion threads intertwined there, partially caused by me not paying enough attention. I hadn't noticed that we're talking about BBC being responsible for the historic oppression of the Celtic peoples of Britain :-D

Karla ütles ...

"That is not to say that the question wasn't stupid. Would BBC send reporters to France, and have them ask Nicolas Sarkozy why he speaks no Arabic?

Or even better, to Poland, to ask Donald Tusk why he speaks no German?

Both of these scenarios would make your average Brit wonder about the sanity of BBC reporters."


Bang on target, space_maze. We could add to the list: what's the current state of Breton (a Celtic tongue quite close to Welsh) in
Britanny, or of Catalan or Basque in Spain? Should the current heads of state be prepared to give an account? I still say, the question was inappropriate, loaded, and, being the SOLE serious point raised, one wonders at its purpose.

Surely, the main purpose of the Estonian state is not running a school of second-language instruction for the unwilling and the indigent.

Egan - Whatever sophistry or cant you engage in now doesn't emulsify the turd YOU dropped earlier:

" Ilves looks like the night porter they vomited on when they went to Tallinn for a stag do in 2002."

Where in hell did that come from? Were you confabulating, or looking into a mirror?

Rather tipped your hand and dropped your knickers with that one, didn't you? ;-)

Caveat: If you find yourself in a deep hole, stop digging!

egan ütles ...

Karla: You think anyone in the UK knows who Ilves is? My point was that he has no name or face recognition in the UK (whewell's audience, lest we forget), so if anything he should be grateful for being given the 'bow tie guy' handle.

Sorry if you didn't like the colourful way I expressed it, but I rather thought that reflected worse on my compatriots and our behaviour abroad than anything else....

Karla ütles ...

Egan ütles...

You think anyone in the UK knows who Ilves is? My point was that he has no name or face recognition in the UK (whewell's audience, lest we forget), so if anything he should be grateful for being given the 'bow tie guy' handle.

Interesting way you have of looking at us Estos. Well, HMQ gave him the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath of Great Britain. And the French gave him the Grand Commandeur Legion d'Honneur of the Republic of France . And he's received a few more gongs abroad. So maybe -- just maybe -- the 'bow tie guy' handle wouldn't elicit the gratitude you feel is due.

Maybe -- just maybe -- 'Order of the Bath' might have rung a bell, even with some soccer fans?

Did I misquote you? No. Here it is, standalone sentence:

" Ilves looks like the night porter they vomited on when they went to Tallinn for a stag do in 2002."

"Colourful?" No. I found it offensive. Extremely offensive.

Giustino ütles ...

@eganIf Ilves stops talking about Soviet domination then there is a chance it might start slipping journalists minds if they are reminded of northern Germany while in Tallinn.

Estonia is actually a very feel-good place. The living is good, in summer there's berry picking to be had, in winter saunas to relish. I wish people spent more time talking about the good stuff.

@spaceThat is not to say that the question wasn't stupid. Would BBC send reporters to France, and have them ask Nicolas Sarkozy why he speaks no Arabic?

Great comparison, considering Algeria used to be part of France only 50 years ago.

@EganSorry if you didn't like the colourful way I expressed it, but I rather thought that reflected worse on my compatriots and our behaviour abroad than anything else....

What is wrong with the Brits these days. You are supposed to inspire with us with cool pop music and outrageous comedy, and all we get is Sting playing with a Bosnian lute player and another dreadful Hugh Grant movie ... what a disappointment.

egan ütles ...

I have not got the first clue about the honours you mentioned, Karla, but people who are proud of those bestowed by HMQ are usually forelock tugging eejits. JB Priestley, Roald Dahl, Nigella Lawson, Benjamin Zephaniah: these are people who have emerged from our honours system with dignity, by saying no. I realise this is more difficult for foreign heads of state, if Ilves was a head of state when offered it. If he wasn't, he's gone down in my estimation.

He's a politician, not some kind of deity. He looks like a waiter, Tarja Halonen looks like Conan OBrien, Angela merkel looks like Harry redknapp and QE2 looks like a blue rinse granny. Lighten up.

Giustino, if we can apologise for the slave trade we sure as shit should apologise for Hugh Grant and Sting. Crimes against humanity, all of them.

Karla ütles ...

OK, your monarch, your honors list. Regard it however you please. Turn yours down too, if offered. 'The Bath' is still a better identifier than a tie to some of your countrymen. And a nice nod of recognition from the UK government to the Estos.

Of course Ilves was head of state last October when HMQ and HRH dropped by for dinner, and - appearances to the contrary - the Lynx wasn't serving.

'Eye of the beholder,' and all that. I'm sure we could find unflattering sobriquets for just about anyone in the world without trying too hard. Gawd, did it as schoolboys, didn't we?
;)

egan ütles ...

Wait a minute. Prince Phillip went to Estonia? And you're offended by what I'm saying? QE2 must have bitchslapped the old Greek good and proper that night, if he kept his racist gob shut....

It is indeed in the eye of the beholder, and I am sorry if I offended you. I'm used to a sarcastic dismissal of politicians, which is possibly part of the disconnect here. We expect irony and sarcasm from out reportage, if not from our reporting. This is a radio programme in the UK, and maybe it should have stayed that way.

Karla ütles ...

QE2 must have bitchslapped the old Greek good and proper that night, if he kept his racist gob shut....

NOW you've bloody done it! Crossed the line!! Erased the line, in fact. Assume a sitting position, lean forward, and kiss your arse goodbye. The wrath of Karla is as nothing, zip, nada to what you've called down on your head by attacking HRH Hisself and the House of Battenberg, also Houses of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Windsor, Welf, Guelph, etc.

BTW, some guy who identified himself as M. Fayed just called and said to tell you they're coming for you, may the shades of Di and Dodi protect you.

Karla weeps...
:(

space_maze ütles ...

Seriously. WTF?

Martasmimi ütles ...

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles...
I never thought about comparing Irish and Estonian in the way presented here, but Karla has at least one very good point.

I (being half Irish) have said this as well.
The Irish have a saying
"so many came yet so few were invited".
I think this applies to Estonia as well...

erueestlane ütles ...

But he does look like a waiter. A very slow and reluctant waiter.

Karla ütles ...

erueestlane,

Quoi dire? Just pick a response that suits...

Socratic response: "What does a waiter look like?"

Miltonian response: "They also serve who only stand and wait."

Nordic response: "Fåkk åff."

Down-home response: "Eru, ära ole peru."


Preferential: "The best number for a dinner party is two --myself and a damn good head waiter." --Nubar Gulbenkian (1896-1972), British oil tycoon and socialite.


Ecclesiastical: "At last God caught his eye." --Harry Secombe's "Epitaph for a Head Waiter"


Philosophical response: "There are things you just can't do in life. You can't beat the phone company, you can't make a waiter see you until he's ready to see you, and you can't go home again." --Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, ch. 2 (1989).

Colm ütles ...

I merely pointed out the BBCs minority programming inresponse to Colm's bizarre idea that the BBC is responsible for 'centuries of oppression'.

I did not say that the BBC was responsible for centuries of oppression. I said that the British Empire was.

I said that just because the BBC has a multilingual website today does not mean that we should forget about how the British government for centuries did everything in its power to destroy the Celtic identities and languages native to the UK and Ireland in its policy of Anglosization. Still today, just look at the arrest of Máire Nic an Bhaird in Northern Ireland in 2006 or how Minister Poots refuses to impliment an Official Languages Act. Please do not misquote me.

I hadn't noticed that we're talking about BBC being responsible for the historic oppression of the Celtic peoples of Britain :-D

We weren't. It is just a certain individual paraphased me incorrectly and might have made me look like illogical and nonsensical.

That is all I am saying in the matter. This misunderstanding has run its course.

egan ütles ...

This is it really. I see a pissed up loudmouth trying it on, you see a response to 'centuries of oppression'. I mean, if i said to a copper 'your day will come' when he accosted me while I was drunk late at night, I'm pretty sure I'd get a clip round the ear and a night in the cells. Whichever language I said it in.

You're right, historically speaking, but I am unsure of the benefit of attempting to turn the clock back.

Doris ütles ...

Well the thing to understand about Ilves is that compared to... well, ALL other Estonian politicians, and especially his preceder in Kadriorg, he's intelligent, coherent and (in the eyes of most Estonians) sees to the heart of a lot of the problems in the society right now. I mean, we poke incessant fun at the squirrel-gang and The Wolf Shifty-Eyes (how do you translate "kriimsilm"?), the KeRa, The Rhino a.k.a. Savip2ts a.k.a. Savisarvik and his Abiratas, the Arnold sometimes also referred to as Teine Arnold (ick), even Lennu-taadu... Because, you know, in the end he wasn't all there any more. But like Lennu-taadu, our Lynx is considered a Good Person doing a Good Job.

And he's been trying very hard to reach out to the Russians, he went to Narva as his first domestic visit to talk to high school students (and did it in Estonian, halting on his side and halting on the student's side. Kind of appropriate, I thought at the time)He called them "meie venelased", our russians. And it stuck: Meie venelased are good and friendly and intelligent and they like living in Estonia and participating in the political and social life of Estonia. At least that is how a lot of Estonians have started seeing the local Russians, and this already diffuses the bulk of the animosity. The Russians are no longer some separate antagonistic group, they are separate but still ours. Like brother and sister, they fight but they still love each other...

Kristopher ütles ...

Ilves's phenotype is the bright kid that people like to pick on.

So despite some unforgivable sophistry and tastelessness, Egan is on to something here.

But the acid test of Ilves's effectiveness is that his people -- most ordinary Estonians -- accept him. Estonians don't make fun of him. I don't think it's just a residual reverence from the vaikivad ajastud.

Of course, I still argue that Estonia doesn't really need a president.

People like Rein Lang will say that given our level of development, Estonia doesn't need quite as much freedom of speech for people like Egan. That's absurd. But what I will argue is that given our level of development, Estonia doesn't need to support a "king of Kadriorg". And one good speech read from note cards at the penguin ball doesb't change that.

egan ütles ...

doris: I did not know that. Surely Ilves could have gotten that into an answer while diffusing the (possibly hostile, I don't know) line of questioning?

I mean, I accept that the Russian media is a bit of a lost cause. But with that answer Ilves has ensured that British people who heard it (quite a lot, FOOC is quite popular) think he is obsessed with looking backwards and is hostile to the Russian population.

That's not a good outcome, and you can't really blame the media for it. I think he could do with some training here.

And kristopher: 'unforgivable sophistry and tastelessness', moi?

I just looked up Rein Lang and his delfi bill and am pretty astonished, really. Would he have a problem with what I've written?

Kristopher ütles ...

Nothing personal. I just noticed your Irish opponent's argument seemed to have become somewhat distorted. I don't know if everyone has time to read 60 comments, so dispensing with nuances in the later stages of an debate would appear to be a trifle unfair.

Mention of vomit in connection with public figures, if you're not talking about Bush Sr. in Japan, or a symptom of polonium poisoning, probably isn't very necessary.

egan ütles ...

He said 'I have just read the article and I must say that even for the BBC it is shocking. The British media is always a lover of promoting British culture and the English language (at the detriment to minorities and smaller nations) but this piece, apart from being insensitive to Estonia is also extremely unprofessional.'

After his comments about 'centuries of oppression' and his problems with PSNI's D&D charges, it's difficult to see definitively where he thinks the oppression stopped and which agents of the British state are and aren't responsible for it.

Karl ütles ...

The first time I saw Ilves' quote, the letter scrambled and suddenly spelled out 'crisis with the Russian media'. And voila, Regnum picked it up quickly.
Personally, as a native Estonian from the younger generation (a.k.a. poor russian speaker), I think it really does not matter, if the president speaks Russian or not. Nowadays the communication language in Europe is English (or French, which he is also studying), and it's about time the Russian part of Estonia, and for that matter, mother Russia herself, ought to recognize it.
So I say, go Elvis, erm... Ilves! Someone needs to be frank and fair about Russia and not suck up to them (ahemSavisaarahem).

Giustino ütles ...

Well, Ilves has now apologized.

The Estonian Russian media has covered it, but I doubt the Russian media will. I, like Ilves, cannot read Russian, so I have no idea what they are saying in the comment section of Postimees. And, unlike, say Swedish, I can't decipher any of it.

Karla ütles ...

It's a pity the President found it necessary to do so as a result of a tempest in a teacup stirred up by Whewell's inexcusably sloppy and insubstantial piece, which lacked even the merit of entertainment value.
Still, Ilves' remarks to the Swede amount to more of a clarification than a retraction. Good.
As to the "anger" of a certain segment of Russophones, I suspect that is a chronic condition which has more to do with an historic loss of privilege than alleged rights.

Giustino ütles ...

As to the "anger" of a certain segment of Russophones, I suspect that is a chronic condition which has more to do with an historic loss of privilege than alleged rights.

This makes me think even more that the monolingual state policy is smart. Can you imagine if we had a bilingual state policy here? They'd make it so every public servant would have to know Russian to get a job. But Estonian? That would just be optional.

Juhan ütles ...

What do you think, how many years to bilingualism? I'm afraid EU will start demanding it soon.

Colm ütles ...

They speak Estonian in the Riigikogu because Estonians are 70 percent of this country, not just because the law says so.

So very true. Go make lots of babies Estonians! It reminds me of something a German friend of mine once said. The joke about Germany is that the average family consists of Mann, Frau und Hund. So her university lecturer used to tell all his female students: "It is your duty towards your nation to make babies". Something tells me there's a great need on Estonians to 'get at it'. What Estonia needs a week of heavy snow, bad weather outside and lots of vodka...

Giustino ütles ...

The best way would be to preempt EU 'demands' -- though I doubt they can really demand such a thing.

One way would be to adopt the EU charter on minority or regional languages and vow to 'protect' Estonia's national minority languages -- Russian, Swedish, and German.

The thing is that Estonia already meets most of the criteria of that charter. The other problem is that there is a huge proportion of society that would go to war over giving Russian any status whatsoever.

I really don't agree with over regulation of the linguistic sphere and this constant controversy over languages.

I do support the laws on displaying signs and things like that. I think it is normal to do something like that to protect a small language.

Still, all Estonians have to do is keep reproducing and speaking Estonian and the situation will work itself out.

They speak Estonian in the Riigikogu because Estonians are 70 percent of this country, not just because the law says so.

Nobody seems to understand this.

Karla ütles ...

This makes me think even more that the monolingual state policy is smart. Can you imagine if we had a bilingual state policy here? They'd make it so every public servant would have to know Russian to get a job. But Estonian? That would just be optional.

A situation that prevails in Canada, BTW, where the federal civil service is heavily Francophone despite the fact that barely 24% of Canadians consider themselves Francophone. Promotions have been denied and senior Anglophones sacked because they could not meet the language profile. (There's the joke about the Francophone lifeguard who couldn't swim...)
However, if you click to the parliamentary channel during question period, most MPs are holding forth in English, even Francophone members often switching over after a token "M. le Président (Mr Speaker), Mesdames et Messieurs..." and perhaps a sentence or two of French sprinkled in aferwards. Simply BECAUSE they wish (like pols everywhere) to be understood by the constituents they are grandstanding for...
No, I have no personal axe to grind. Worked 20 years in a totally Franco milieu and had no probs with the profile. MAYBE BECAUSE I'm Esto, and figger it's no big deal to speak another language ... Well, SOME people do, eh?
:P

Karla ütles ...

Colm,
The vodka might be counter-productive.
"It provokes the desire but it takes away the performance.
-Shakespeare, Macbeth, II/3

:)

Loved the German anecdote, though... So what happened when the Polizei caught the Mann procreating with the Hund?
;)

Colm ütles ...

"It provokes the desire but it takes away the performance.
-Shakespeare, Macbeth, II/3


One of my favourite lines from my favourite Shakespearean play. When I saw Macbeth live they used a broomstick between the legs for that line... :D

So what happened when the Polizei caught the Mann procreating with the Hund?

I don't know, but it can't have been worse than the man who was arrested for procreating with a bicycle in Scotland!

Worked 20 years in a totally Franco milieu and had no probs with the profile.

Chouette! Le champ linguistique au Canada m'intéresse beaucoup.

Juhan ütles ...

The will of the local Russians in not indedepent from will of the Russian Federation. And worryingly, the arvamusliidrid in the Russian community seem to be quite hostile towards Estonia. Much more so than Estonians towards local Russians. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Kristopher ütles ...

Too gloomy I hope, Juhan. The local Russians just want the best of both worlds.

If Estonia were somehow to go bilngual, I would insist on the Russian also being transcribed into Latin characters. I don't read that alphabet and I feel I have a right to know what is being written. Certainly I would require that additional letters be added to Russian rather than /yu/ being used for ü and /ya/ for ä.

Karla ütles ...

While I strongly endorse and applaud multilingualism anywhere, formally legislated bilingualism has in most instances I'm familiar with created many more problems than it has solved. Often MASSIVE problems, exacerbating domestic differences such legislation was intended to overcome. Won't bore you with a plethora of examples.
Extending government services in minority languages on an as-needed basis locally or regionally makes sense, but anything beyond that - anywhere - has proven a slippery slope.
For Estonian culture, it would be a death sentence. Estonian national identity is inseparable from language. History, geography and demography have thus decreeed. This is not up for debate.

Giustino ütles ...

Won't bore you with a plethora of examples.

I sometimes really don't understand Finnish laws. Swedes are only 5 percent of the population. What if you are a Romani or Russian minority living in Finland. You have to learn not only Finnish in school, but also Swedish. It seems pretty unfair to force one minority to learn the other minority's language.

space_maze ütles ...

I especially don't get it as unlike other minority languages of Finland, Swedish is not endangered. Sami actually could use some of that protection Swedish is getting.

Karla ütles ...

Just as Giustino brought up the Romani in Finland, I was listening to a CD named "Gypsy Soul" by Ashik, with vocals by Nina Nanda, and it came to mind how goofy it would sound if the lyrics were translated and performed in Swedish...

Marta ütles ...

Why would everyone get so excited about this issue?
Alright, stupid question, President Ilves should not have answered, but as it was already mentioned before, Mrs Merkel does not speak Turkish, Mr Sarkozy does not speak Arabic, etc. Why would they?
They do not work as interpreters.
Any of these languages is not official or working language of the EU or NATO.
Yes, it might be useful to speak as many languages as possible, but sometimes it is more efficient to speak one language properly. Especially if you actually need it every day.
It was embarrassing, when Estonian President spoke Russian as the first and only foreign language, compared to Mr Ilves, who speaks two of the working languages of the EU, and is learning the third one.

Giustino ütles ...

Why would everyone get so excited about this issue?

1) Russian media needs red meat to feed to brainwashed readership

2) Estonian media needs red meat to feed to perpetually bitter, right wing audience

3) Estonian Russian media needs red meat to feed to perpetually critical and whinging audience

4) Yankee Bloggers in Estonia need red meat to feed to Canucks and Limeys

5) So far Ilves has not really screwed anything up. Not bad, considering he's been in office for a year and a half. This is his first real 'scandal'.

Marta ütles ...

This was rhetorical/ironical question to show some perspective, but thanks.
Ps. Nice blog :)

egan ütles ...

That's an excellent summary of this whole debate, giustino.

The Swedish speakers in Finland have traditionally owned a lot more of the country's assets than their numbers would suggest.

It is possible that these Baltic German landlords would have made Estonia bilingual too, had they not been expelled/assimilated/killed or whatever (I actually don't know what happened to them or when, so please don't jump down my throat).

Roma and Russians in Finland are poor, Swedish speakers used to be the aristocracy. Simple really.

And giustino: can you reply to your email? Please?

Karla ütles ...

"This is his first real 'scandal'.

Just in from dinner down the road: raw caribou liver in maple syrup. 'Scandal?' Nah. No missing millions, no dead girl or live boy in the plot line. Only scandalous aspect was the Whewell catalyst and the fact that some Estos knocked the Lynx. Rest will love him all the more, and as far as MOCKBA and fellow-travelers go -- well, they hated him already.

mpechter ütles ...

It is possible that these Baltic German landlords would have made Estonia bilingual too, had they not been expelled/assimilated/killed or whatever (I actually don't know what happened to them or when, so please don't jump down my throat).

The Baltic Germans always were demographically challenged. Up to the 20th century, their numbers were kept steady by the influx of new Germans from the German states
and more importantly, the germanization of local Swedes, Poles, Russians and most importantly Estonians.

The situation changed in the young Republic of Estonia, because Estonians with their newly found national pride refused to germanize anymore. Also, the nationalization of the manors' lands and the general bitterness resulting from that made a significant portion of the Baltic Germans to leave.

The final strike agains the Baltic Germans was the Umsiedlung, or resettlement. It was the result of Molotov-Ribbentop pact which left the Baltics to the Soviet sphere of influence. One condition to that was the prior transfer of all ethnic Germans to the areas under German military control (mainly areas annexed from Poland at that time).

kawry ütles ...

It was a good story in Regnum. The journalist thought that Russian or any other country audience does not know about the Estonia's Presidents Russian language ineptness. It gives the idea that Russia does not deny the fact that the believe Estonia is a little child that needs to be punished.
The BBC Journalist got what he wanted to show, what are the relationships between Russia and its neighbors (Estonia and Georgia in particular) and what does Russia think or do when they start acting independent.

Nice blog btw

erueestlane ütles ...

(yawn) What's G been cooking? We need some other topic to chew on.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Is Regnum federal news agency? Since Regnum means Empire in Latin Regnum should be called imperial news agency

Sarv ütles ...

What's in Ilves' stomach?

Karla ütles ...

More red meat!
More red meat!

}:{

n-lane ütles ...

I, like Ilves, cannot read Russian (Giustino)

I have read both the BBC interview and the press release, published by his Office: Ilves doesn't say he cannot speak Russian. Basically he says he doesn't want to.

I think he must at least be able to read Cyrillic alphabet. He certainly might have picked up some Russian while working for Radio Free Europe in the 1980s, covering topics on Soviet Estonia.

By the way, The Russian gazeta.ee from Narva claims to have contacted Tim Whewell and received from him a transcript of the interview. They published a Russian translation of this transcript.

Karla ütles ...

Ho-hum. So the Lynx can't speak Russian. Maybe it wasn't in his job description. Although he's NOT running a language school, he does pretty well. There's no pleasing everyone. And he pleases between 470 million and 1 billion Anglophones (estimates vary, depending on how one defines fluency in English). And he pleases 400m Hispanophone. And 130m Germanophones. And he's working (competently I'm sure) at pleasing 130m Francophones. Since he's defined his vision of Estonia as having a Western orientation, I thnk that's a pretty fair start...

Not all journos share Whewell's view. Here's another take:

"The loquacious Ilves, who, as well as English, also has a command of German and Spanish, always leaves a favourable impression. Listening to him is a treat. He wields a wonderful mix of intellectual insights and down-to-earth wisdom seldom found in public officials."
-European Voice, 4 October 2007

Giustino ütles ...

I think he must at least be able to read Cyrillic alphabet. He certainly might have picked up some Russian while working for Radio Free Europe in the 1980s, covering topics on Soviet Estonia.

I can make out some cyrillic, and the scope of my Russian is:

da (yes)
niet (no)
shto? (what?)
aharashol (good)
prashol (please)
noozhna nosh (i need a knife)
zat knies (shut up)
kak de la (what's up)
shto de liet (what to do?)

and that's about it. Even knowing that doesn't mean I can read one or two words on the Russian Postimees website ... other than the Postimees logo, of course.

Puu ütles ...

I wrote a fourteen page paper on why Estonian as opposed to Gaelic stuck around. It's on my blog.
Anyone who's interested go read it.

Karla ütles ...

How about 'spasiba'? Goes right after 'noozhna nosh', and can be followed by 'ruki verhh'...
:)

Giustino ütles ...

Almost forgot the most important Russian phrase:

je ne ponemaju

Right up there with 'jeg kan ikke forsta du' (dansk), 'no lo so' (italiano), and 'no se' (espanol).

Karla ütles ...

Nichevo/nitchevo is useful too. You're way ahead of me: that's it for my vocab, other than a couple of obscenities a kindly Esto-Russophone taught me (didactically, not abusively).

Nichevo's equivalent in Québecois is "Rien là." Used a lot. Curiously, a lot of unilingual Anglophones in Quebec have integrated "Nothing there" into their daily idiom, along with a barely perceptible gallic inflection in all their English. But the "Nothing there" used a couple of times in Toronto, say, gets a curious double-take at times.

n-lane ütles ...

And what about Ansip? He gives interviews in Russian sometimes (e.g. for Russian TV journalists).

space_maze ütles ...

I've seen Ansip give interviews in Russian to Russian Aktuaalne Kamera.

erueestlane ütles ...

Well, G. didn't you learn at least learn ONE new word from bronze-night? They tried so hard and it still does not click?

I am not going to tell you. It wasn't "fashisty". That's too easy. What's the other one? If you don't remember, watch the footage again, it's all over the place. Funny as shit.

Giustino ütles ...

I remember them yelling something like 'pasha' (shame) but it sounded a lot like 'prasholl' (please).

What were they yelling when they made off with the designer jeans?

Kristopher ütles ...

I'm pretty much umbkeelne in Russian, but it seems I always hear "ya ne znayu". I can't imagine English speaking people say "I don't know" quite as much as the average Russian does.

I have never heard of prashol -- sounds like "let's go".

By the way, I like how you have given the Russian phrases a Latinate feel -- "kak de la" -- much like Russian aristocrats in a Nabokov short story: Priat-qui? Priat-qui?

n-lane ütles ...

So Ilves made a move against Ansip and all other Estonian politicians who used to give interviews in Russian?

The Swedish news agency TT seem to have the original transcript of the interview, so they actually should have asked: Does the President still stand by the statement: "it means giving in an accepting fifty years of brutalisation of this country."

But they didn't. Now I think Estonian politicians, who give official interviews in Russian, are in a dilemma.

erueestlane ütles ...

One of my favorite books, "Clockwork Orange" loses an important and funny dimension, if one does not know russian.

Using the style, I can say for example: "Rooskies were doomayiting that the removal of their favorite statooya was not such an horrorshow idea. So for two nochi in a row they went kreechating on the oolitsas and karsting the magazinas. Rooskie malchiveks and their young ptitsas went real bezoomny and were dratsing with the millicents all over the staryi gorod. The ultraviolence was fabulous. Tonnas of malchiveks got their zoobers kicked loose and one brat got his kishkas razrezzed out with a britva. No matter, they blamed it on the millicents ... "

Pooh. That was now totally off the topic. Sorry. I am bored.

Giustino ütles ...

But they didn't. Now I think Estonian politicians, who give official interviews in Russian, are in a dilemma.

I think that if you know a language well, then you should speak it if you have to in order to communicate. If you don't then don't. Rein Lang speaks Finnish fluently. Finns have a cultural autonomy, they are the fourth largest minority. If Rein Lang speaks Finnish, I have no qualms with that.

I have to say that Ilves is the president. Shouldn't people be speaking to him in his language?

n-lane ütles ...

I think that if you know a language well, then you should speak it if you have to in order to communicate. If you don't then don't. (Giustino)

I agree. So I think the question is why Ilves had to speak about "giving in" and "accepting fifty years of brutalisation" instead of just giving a more "down-to-earth" answer, like: "I don't speak Russian because I've never learned it".

Karla ütles ...

I think that if you know a language well, then you should speak it if you have to in order to communicate. If you don't then don't.

Very true. Rather analogous to legendary lexicographer Dr Sam Johnson's remark upon seeing a woman preaching in a marketplace in the North of England:

"A woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

(Sexist element to be pardoned, as it was 1763, and Johnson was in any event more disturbed by the overall inappropriateness of language and setting.)

I introduce analogies only because it is well to remember that Estonia's multilingual situation is far from unique and the key is adaptability. Francophone Canadians are underwhelmed by the attempts of, say, an Aubrey Forsythe-Smythe from British Columbia subjecting them to a pharase or two of fractured French. I've heard American Latinos' reaction to Bush's infrequent but memorable forays into Spanish. (Now there's a pol who got away with not even knowing ONE official language!)

Canada's last Governor-General (acting in loco HMQ as head of state) was Adrienne Clarkson (of Hakka stock, born Ńg Pên-kî Poi, in Hong Kong). There are over one million Chinese-Canadians. To my knowledge, Her Excellency never addressed them in Cantonese nor in Hakka. She limited herself to her very elegant French (acquired at the Sorbonne) and English. Presumed message, if any, to Sino-Canucks: REARN ENGRISH! There was never any discussion about this issue that I can recall.

Canada's present GG is Michaëlle Jean, born in Haiti. Black, beautiful and talented. She pretty much sticks to French and English at home. But when she does use her Italian, Spanish or Poruguese, the response is as favorable as might be expected. Especially from Canada's 1.3 million Italians, since Michaëlle Jean is an alumna of the universities of Florence, Perugia and Milan and used to teach Italian Studies at the U of Montreal.

You use what you got, and thinking people appreciate it. As for anyone who still harps on Ilves' birth abroad, I might note that the entire Canadian vice-regal family is foreign-born: HE Michaëlle Jean in Haiti, and her husband, filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond, was born in France. Their adopted daughter Marie-Éden was born in Haiti.

Of Toronto's five million inhabitants, 75% are immigrants or children of immigrants. They speak English. Those unwilling or unable to learn English function as best they can within ethnic ghettos.

I have to say that Ilves is the president. Shouldn't people be speaking to him in his language?

Quite right. This is pretty much the unwritten rule around the world. And it works.

Karla ütles ...

erueestlane said...
"Pooh. That was now totally off the topic. Sorry. I am bored"


Off-topic perhaps, but immensely clever, witty and entertaining. LOL!

Karla ütles ...

So I think the question is why Ilves had to speak about "giving in" and "accepting fifty years of brutalisation" instead of just giving a more "down-to-earth" answer, like: "I don't speak Russian because I've never learned it".

If Ilves did indeed evince such a visceral reaction, perhaps it should have remained 'off the record.'

Human reactions are often based on even more tenuous emotional connections than Ilves' presumably direct one to the officially imposed language of a conquering foreign power. Remember the dust-storm of protest raised a few years ago when Daniel Barenboim first proposed conducting an all-Wagner program in Israel?

A famously multilingual scholar (of Anglo-Canadian extraction, with no political or historical baggage) once drew a lot of flak at a scholarly confab simply by his spontaneous, gut-level reaction when asked why he hadn't learned Russian. "Funny alphabet. Too damn many sibiliants. Can't be bothered."

n-lane ütles ...

If Ilves did indeed evince such a visceral reaction, (Karla)

Do you think this interview is a fake?

perhaps it should have remained 'off the record.' (Karla)

It sounds like you are blaming BBC for doing its job and keeping facts on the record.
Wouldn't it be more honest to say that perhaps Ilves shouldn't have evinced such a 'visceral reaction' in an interview with a BBC correspondent?

Karla ütles ...

n-lane,
I fear you came into the thread late, and want a rehash...

It's a very long thread, and if you take it from the top, you'll find I've been quite specific, and, I fear, redundant, on those very points. I'm too tired at the moment to chew my cabbage yet a third time. ;)

A blog is rather like a newspaper whose press run never stops.

To read a newspaper for the first time is like coming into a film that has been on for an hour. Newspapers are like serials. To understand them you have to take knowledge to them; the knowledge that serves best is the knowledge provided by the newspaper itself.

-V. S. Naipaul, The Enigma of Arrival, "The Journey" (1987).

Puu ütles ...

A man preaching is often the verbal equivalent of masturbation. Hence the fascination with women, preachers or otherwise often comes from the fact that they aren't getting any.

Puu ütles ...

Sorry. I just hate that quote. Just because the man wrote the dictionary doesn't make him a universal authority. Maybe if he spent less time with Boswell it would be different.Not that there were ever any Johnson Boswell batman robin implications.

erueestlane ütles ...

to puu

Whah? (Mouth agape)

Puu ütles ...

"A woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

I was just reacting to that. Sorry. I hate that Johnson
quote. I also hate lots of British conservatives that go
on about how pampered Virginia Wolf was but quote
Romantic poets. Anyway it's my private beef and I probably shouldn't be throwing it around.

Jonas ütles ...

Egan: Incidentally, the only one of the party leaders who is completel comfortable in Swedish (except for Stefan Wallin, the Swedish People's Party leader) is Timo Sioni, the aggressively Fennoman leader of the True Finns. It's hilarious to watch him tear strips of Wallin in the election debate (4 are in Finnish and 1 in Swedish, I think), while the others mangle their sentences and slip Finnish words in.
I don't know where you got that impression from. Soini's Swedish is not that great at all. It only looks better when he sits next to people like Vanhanen and Katainen who simply shouldn't even try to speak Swedish, as they can't (although I suppose on the other hand, it's nice they try). Soini does make lots of mistakes and can't express himself that well, but he seems to think he can (you can't accuse him of being shy) so is heard speaking it more (so perhaps if you don't speak Swedish, you'd think that he was good).
Tarja Cronberg (green leader) is currently the best Finnish-speaking party leader in Swedish.