reede, veebruar 15, 2008

ethnicity and nationality

I have recently been keeping my eye on the race to succeed Eero Heinäluoma as chairman of the Social Democratic Party in Finland, with the excellent blog, A Lamb with No Guiding Light as a daily source of fresh English-language info.

Some people, particularly those on the Internet, really don't like SDP, but having come face to face with Erkki Tuomioja and known some party members, I must say that even if their policies irritate, their bleeding hearts are often in the right place.

Tuomioja, the former foreign minister, is now a candidate to be party chair, while fresh-faced former MTV VJ Maria Guzenina-Richardson (photo) is running for vice chair. Tuomioja is famous in Estonia because his grandmother, Hella Wuolijoki, was born in Valgamaa in southern Estonia. Guzenina, who is not famous in Estonia, owes her name to her Russian family roots. And yet, nobody considers Guzenina to be Russian, nor does anyone consider Tuomioja to be Estonian.

Finnish, it appears, is a nationality, as opposed to an ethnicity. Finns are defined more by their relationship to the omnipresent, omni-taxing state than their shared ancestry, even if they all happen to look the same.

Somehow, here in Estonia this concept of ethnicity and nationality is mixed up. People talk about "Estonians" as if being Estonian meant being devoid of foreign roots, but those who do so forget that President Ilves had a Russian grandmother while Estonian Europarliamentarian Katrin Saks had a Russian grandfather. Minister of Culture Laine Jänes and Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar both have Russian mothers, for instance. Yet the public sees them as indisputably Estonian.

How can one speak of one ethnicity then, when even those who are deemed most representative of that ethnicity actually have a diverse background? The answer, it seems, is that Estonianness is more of a national identity than an ethnic one. Estonians, therefore, are defined more by their relationship to the sinine must valge and "Leto Svet" than the fact that they all happen to look the same.

This, I think, is a concept that those hoping to understand Estonia should embrace.

This post has been updated to reflect that Guzenina is running for vice chair of SDP, not chair.

29 kommentaari:

Karla ütles ...

I'll ask now, Giustino, before things get hot. Ya wanna borrow my HandiVac? For the loose fur and feathers that will presently blanket your website? ;-)

Giustino ütles ...

Don't worry, Karla, I am ready to weather the shit storm of anti-Tuomioja sentiment.

Ari ütles ...

Thanks for the plug. I should point out that although Guzenina-Richardson received some support in the poll I cited in my post, the following day she announced that she was running for vice chair.

Giustino ütles ...

Maria Guzenina-Richardson is running for vice chair - and not supporting Erkki Tuomioja, who, she implied, was "another old face".

Ouch.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Oh, I quite like Erkki, he's the closest article to a genuine intellectual that our political elite has. His books are actually learned and well argued - in an age where the capability of the politicians merely to form grammatically correct sentences seems to be under severe strain... Yeah, he's pretty patrician, loves to offend the gutter press and is not really someone that your average person on the street would have a pint with (the criteria that was used to choose the current president of the USA). Or Chianti, I guess, I don't think Erkki touches beer...

The nationality thing is I think most obvious when it comes to Swedish speaking Finns - as they are considered in the constitution and by themselves - there is one nation but two languages (well, don't ask Suomalaisuuden Liitto crazies about this). But I think the tolerance would be quite limited if there wasn't your basic loyalty towards the Finnish state and society as evidenced by fluency of language and stated opinions.

nipi ütles ...

There are times where I am quite sure that mr Bureshin is not estonian. Even if he speaks fluent estonian.

Giustino ütles ...

As a funny side note, as I sit here typing, did you know that in the 17th century, Finns made up 20 percent of the population of Virumaa? They were 'imported' to work on the Swedish and Baltic German estates. And they stayed. Now they are Estonians, I guess.

tomia ütles ...

I once read an article about these Finns in Virumaa and seem to remember that they went there voluntarily, in order to escape the "draft" even. Then there was some sort of issues about those Finns not being serfs ... can't really remember

Anyway, that migration was nothing special, Finns and Estonians, like Finns and Swedes, have been moving back and forth for ages. Before ice breakers--and the climate change--there was a winter road over the ice via Suursaari.

Not to mention the fact that often those Russians had Finnic-speaking ancestors not so long ago. For example, the areas around both St Petersburg and Moscow were Finnic until Stalin and the 1700s respectively.

Russia is not keen on remembering this, let's call it, the Chud history. They want to be Slavs, imperialistic Slavs even, although that's not the whole picture either.

Finns had a strong "tribal" (heimoaate) phase, with Kalevala and IKL and what not. But the multicultural, or perhaps rather bicultural, nature the country made it very difficult even before nationalism went out of fashion. But even back then the Jews, for example, were given citizenship, they didn't have during the Russian era.

By the way, I don't know what you mean by stressing the alleged omnipotence of the state. Finland has the same kind of "checks and balances" as the rest of Europe, if not stronger in many cases.

Lina ütles ...

Great blog! After many years of speculations why Lithuanians don't love Estonians much (and we believe Estonians share similar feelings), it is interesting to read something like this. I loved the bit about Estonian sweaters in particular! :) Check my blog if you get a chance. Some topics might be similar to yours.

Karla ütles ...

Giustino said...
Estonianness is more of a national identity than an ethnic one. Estonians, therefore, are defined more by their relationship to the sinine must valge and "Leto Svet" than the fact that they all happen to look the same.

Well said. With the proviso (understood) that sharing in the language as a common cultural vehicle and identifier is also an essential prerequisite.

After watching that energetic over-the-top performance by Oja & Co., I was deeply disillusioned to learn, however, that 'Leto Svet' did not denote 'Latvian sweat.' Ah, well...
;-)

G and T's remarks about those Virumaa Finns threw some new light on the origins of one of my departed friends, an Olavi Vanda who died years ago in Ottawa. He was from Virumaa, and conceded that his origins were probably Finnish, though his own surname puzzled him: he thought it sounded a bit like 'a girl's name.' Only decades later, sitting in the airport at VANTAA, did I make the connection.
But as Tomia says, there's been a fair bit of two-way traffic across the Gulf. My good friend Seppo's maternal grandfather came to Finland from Võrumaa, but because he did so before 1918, Seppo - to his sorrow - doesn't qualify for Esto citizenship. He feels strongly about his Esto roots and was an enthusiastic supporter of Esto independence back in Soviet times, joined various Esto organizations in Stockholm, and continues to vacation in Estonia to this day. I've suggested to him, half-seriously, that he might petition his EÜS frat brother, T.H. Ilves, to intercede in his behalf. ;-)

Nearly 35 years ago, I was busted in Helsinki by the Supo (Suojelupoliisi), along with several other Baltic exiles. Oh, nothing remotely criminal - just a bit of pro-independence, anti-Sov political activity. The courtesy and consideration - not to mention personal angst - expressed by some our Supo custodians, especially toward the two Estos amongst the detainees, was explained not just by understanding and sympathy for our cause, but, in the case of a couple of the lads, by their personal antecedents. One had a grandfather from Estonia who had settled in Kotka, another an Esto great-grandfather who had been a merchant in Viipuri. All were acutely aware of the role of our Suomenpojat and deplored the 'delicate position' of their 'hallitus' which compelled them to 'intefere' with our activity. (In fact, the 'bust' was a godsend, led to official protests by Western governments, and rendered a bonus of publicity which our formal representations would not have achieved.)

Perhaps one of the most eloquent monuments to the history of Estonian multiethnicity is the Monument of Peoples (Rahvaste Monument) up in Toomeorg, erected in 1811 to mark the mass reinterment of 42 cartloads of boness unearthed during excavations for the TÜ main building in 1806, with the multilingual brass plaques indicating that "Siin Hengwa Mitme Maije Rahwa Luid." There they lie together, bones of Germans, Estonians, Poles, Swedish and Finns, all of whom once lived, loved, laboured and went to their last repose together in what had been the Old St Mary's cemetery...

Giustino ütles ...

By the way, I don't know what you mean by stressing the alleged omnipotence of the state. Finland has the same kind of "checks and balances" as the rest of Europe, if not stronger in many cases.

If you read Finland for Thought, your impression of Finland will be that privacy rights and taxes are the most pressing issues of the day.

egan ütles ...

You missed out 'only' after 'read'.

Vanda is Vantaa in Swedish, Karla. Maybe Olavi was Finlandsvensk?

tomia ütles ...

Perhaps he was a Vandal.

Finland's privacy law is brand new, but it still has this strange omission which enables the tax records to be sold by private firms en masse. Embarrassing, but it doesn't make the state omnipotent. Nor do the taxes that have been democratically decided on.

Surely you don't think highly of Finlandforthought. I mean, if you did you wouldn't be publishing these articles that show that you know what you're talking about and aim at more understanding.

Karla ütles ...

Thanks, Egan. You're obviously right on both scores. Point is - as per G's initial thesis - that my late friend himself had not bothered about his 'ethnic' identity much, it having been eclipsed by the the 'national.'

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Prime candidates should be Lotman brothers, considered Estonians enough as they were elected from ethnic Estonian counties, to lesser extent Igor Gräzin too.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Finland for Thought is a lively blog and Phil is a likeable guy, but I wouldn't really see his libertarian site as being always very informative about Finnish conditions. He often confuses cultural issues with politics and sees Finland as flaming red when it has been traditionally a non-socialist country (for good or worse). He would actually see most Western European countries as semi-totalitarian "welfare hells" but happens to be situated in Finland.

Btw, I must confess that I regard libertarians as modern day Leninists - there is no way that such humble things as the human nature or empirical observations could in any way question the Grand Theory which is fool proof against all possible counter arguments, a hermenautically sealed system of thought. No, sorry, belief.

Giustino ütles ...

To me, the divide in Estonia is not ethnic Estonians versus ethnic Russians. As I pointed out, ethnic Estonians don't hate their ethnic Russian mothers and grandmothers. It is instead Estonian nationality versus Soviet nationality.

That's why they have no qualms about removing the hammer and sickle from a war monument, but wouldn't touch the monument to tsarist Navy personnel in Pirita.

They renamed "Kingiseppa' Kuressaare, but they have no problems in naming Katariina Kolledz after Catherine I.

Those who are still stuck with a Soviet national mindset are stuck in limbo. They can't really become Russians and they find it hard to become Estonians. Hence, the angst.

Giustino ütles ...

Btw, I must confess that I regard libertarians as modern day Leninists - there is no way that such humble things as the human nature or empirical observations could in any way question the Grand Theory which is fool proof against all possible counter arguments, a hermenautically sealed system of thought. No, sorry, belief.

Unfortunately, the libertarians are the most charismatic people in northern European politics.

In Finland and Sweden, also in Estonia to an extent, the left has real connections to ugly things like the communist party. The modern agenda is bogged down in all these multicultural issues and identity politics.

For a young person who doesn't automatically "get" what they are talking about because they weren't part of the No Nukes movement back in 1982, the libertarians seem more 'normal' because the belittle the lefties.

The problem is that the right wingers are also nuts -- nuts in their hatred of "tax-loving feminists."

And this isn't just some subculture war between 'punks' and 'hippies' at high school -- this is the legitimate political environment of states. Fun to watch, but highly counterproductive.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, the Social Democrats' connection to such ugly thing as Communism has been that they have been its deadliest enemy (well the US of A I guess is a close competitor here). First they liquidated the Social Democrats whenever there was a chance. The Finnish SDP was absolutely essential in stopping the SKP after the war and was actually partially funded by the CIA...

Libertarians are annoying because they argue just like Marxists-Leninists or Freudians used to do: there is no way that mere empirical reality could disprove the theory because it will always fundamentally be the reality that is at fault, never the Theory. Of course I like the socially permissive side of them, I too would legalize most drugs and couldn't care less what mutually consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes. It's the libertarian economics I can't stand - and of course their semi-Nietzschean survivalist fringe.

Apropos, about your site and Finland for Thought, I think the main differences are the understanding of the native gibberish that passes for language in these uncivilized parts (Phil seems to be quite Finno-Ugrically challenged) and your lack of obvious ideological agenda. You might have one but you obviously are not obsessed by it. So not every bloody trivial or neutral news item is treated whether fairly or - more often - unfairly as a part of some great ideological-political struggle.

tomia ütles ...

Unfortunately, the libertarians are the most charismatic people in northern European politics.

Come again? I don't know a single Finnish libertarian by the name. Hmm, but in Sweden there is this guy and his blog whose name I almost remember.

But it's true that the omnipotent-feeling rich kids do flirt with the libertarian ideas even in Finland. But their outlet is Kokoomus-nuoret.

The latest real attempt to introduce something like libertarianism in Finland was the (neo) Nuorsuomalaiset back in the 90s. They knew that the only way to save Finland from a bankruptcy was "neoliberalize" the country. Sweden with it's socialist escape route was already a lost cause, clearly, a new Argentina just waiting to happen.

At best they got two seats in the parliament, then none. And who said that the wisdom of crowds is nonsense?
http://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Crowds-Collective-Economies-Societies/dp/0385503865

Giustino ütles ...

Come again? I don't know a single Finnish libertarian by the name. Hmm, but in Sweden there is this guy and his blog whose name I almost remember.

Maybe it's a generational thing, but everywhere I go there is always the 30-ish libertarian guy. If you can recommend any social democrat-leaning Finnish blogs, in Finnish or English, then I would appreciate it.

egan ütles ...

The SDP were in purgatory for fairly long periods in the post-war era. The Soviets regarded them as untrustworthy because, without the likes of Vaino Tanner advocating national defence, the working classes would not have fought so hard against their proletarian brethern in WWII(went the Soviet logic).

If you're going down that road you may as well lump Kokoomus in with the Nazis.

Martin-Éric ütles ...

Citizenship issues are actually a real mess in Suomi. While time eventually fixes someone's family origins and make the natives finally get round considering them locals, it takes several generations to happen. Meanwhile, even 2nd and 3rd generation Finns are still routinely reminded that they might be "Finnish citizens, certainly, but not Finns. In fact, don't even dream about it, you and your family will never be considered Finns."

By contrast, Estonians are of such mixed origins that the only thing that seems to matter is allegiance to the flag and speaking the common Estonian language. I clearly recall a collegue confirming this, adding that, in practice, everyone has ancestors all over Northern Russia, Danemark, Sweden, Finland or Poland - with very few people factually being of Fenno-Ugric origin, so the only unifying factor is the language.

Finns are nowhere close to achieving such a civic sense of citizenship and I don't put my hopes too high about Astrid Thors being able to even remotely improve this.

Giustino ütles ...

By contrast, Estonians are of such mixed origins that the only thing that seems to matter is allegiance to the flag and speaking the common Estonian language.

No one even knows what an "Estonian" is supposed to look like. Some look like blond Scandinavians, others look like Germans, others look like Inuit.

Giustino ütles ...

Martin-Eric, send me your contact details. I lost yours awhile back and I can't find an e-mail address for you.

tomia ütles ...

While time eventually fixes someone's family origins and make the natives finally get round considering them locals, it takes several generations to happen.

As if there was a committee monitoring the situation and making recommendation. In fact, nobody cares: come here, learn language, make your living, and a vast majority feel impressed, even flattered that somebody has gone through the trouble. I mean, we all know that if somebody who has decided to come to Finland of all places and adapted to the culture he's not well.

About the sosdem blogs. Of course there are several. According to Hesari's article the most popular are green, though. Like Kasvi's and Soininvaara's. Quite a few popular independent political blogs may be a bit on the right side, but libertarian! Nope.

How did you know I'm older than you?

plasma-jack ütles ...

In Finland and Sweden, also in Estonia to an extent, the left has real connections to ugly things like the communist party.

Yeah, Katrin Saks was a party member (I know it because she said it in the European Parliament when they were arguing over crimes of communism). And I wouldn't be surprised if Sven Mikser were an October Kid in the 80s. But what about the libertarians' connections? What about our palavalt armastatud oravapealik and our revered Euro Commissioner?

Giustino ütles ...

There's a difference between being a former party member (and what other political parties did they have in Estonia in the 1980s?) and having party rallies and demonstrations where the hammer and sickle are on display.

I have been to left wing rallies in Berlin. It's a commie fest.

Martin-Éric ütles ...

There is no system of checks and balance in Suomi. Decisions are, in practice, irrevocable, because the administrative courts systematically reaffirm every decision made by the various government offices.

As for Finns feeling flattered by someone learning their language, gimme a break! If someone knows more than "En ole mistään kotoisin" and "Kiitos" they are instantly perceived as a threat to Finnish workers because, not only have they achieved the (Finns wished) seemingly impossible of mastering the language, they are also fluent in one or several foreign languages and likely to attract better jobs than Finns as a result.

Your second assertion, that someone must be out of their mind for wanting to settle down in Finland is correct. This country is anything but democratic and legally transparent. It's already bad enough as it is for Finns, but it becomes downright intolerable for a foreigner who comes from a remotely civilized country.

Besides, the average Finn routinely throws racist comments without thinking twice about it and assumes that all foreigners are obviously uneducated 3rd-world country refugees who cannot contribute anything useful to the country.

This combined attitude, of jealousy against smart multilingual foreigners who integrated well and of despise against refugees, turns the idea of useless foreigners into a self-fulfilling prophecy: professionals who adapted well are eventually pushed asides because they are perceived as a labor threat and refugees who never got a standing chance in the first place both end up in the same boat: unemployed.