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.