neljapäev, märts 13, 2008

järgmine peatus: 'the new cold war'

One of the reasons I routinely attempt to connect Estonia to other northern European countries for readers used to seeing it portrayed as just another piece of the geopolitical puzzle, is that Estonia is blessed with a quality one might find in Bergen, Reykjavik, Umeå, or Oulu: isolation.

On any map, Estonia is connected both to the central European landmass and is a stepping stone to the St. Petersburg region and Eurasia beyond. Yet on three sides Estonia is surrounded by water. To the south are the avenues of Riga and Europe, and to get there you must get on a bus or plane. This is not Benelux where happy backpackers can zoom from country to country by high-speed train, drinking all the way. Even within Estonia, travel is encumbered by unpaved roads, ferry connections, and aggressive drivers.

If a person wakes up in Kärdla, Hiiumaa, how long would it take them to get to Narva at the other side of their tiny Baltic nation? And for the residents of Võrumaa, how genuine were events like last year’s riots in Tallinn? Weren’t they just like every event in the world, broadcast by radio and television? In Estonia, the outside world takes awhile to seep in.

It is in this context that I should say the premise of Edward Lucas’ book The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces both Russia and the West seemed troubling. Here Estonia is portrayed as the frontline in the behind-the-scenes battle between Western liberalism and Eastern illiberalism. Banks and gas pipelines are the carriers of the disease. President-Select Dmitri Medvedev might be the poster boy for New Russians, but who knows what his heirs or handlers might do with the channels of power they inherit.

From the perspective of The New Cold War, small fishing villages such as Omedu on Lake Peipsi where they sell smoked fish and onions are the new guard posts of the West. It seems a preposterous notion. But on Omedu’s side of the lake, the politicians are derided as idle or self-interested servants, held to scrutiny, and discarded when they are no longer useful. On the opposing side of the lake, the politicians are gods massaged by the media and industries they own. They are only accountable to the man at the top, not the people at the bottom.

This is the crucial difference that makes for the conflict described by Lucas and it is all true and widely known in Estonia. While Lucas tries to rouse Rip Van Winkle-like Western Europe to the fact that the narrative of 1989, of Russians embracing Western values, listening to the Scorpions and Billy Joel, eating Big Macs, and trudging down the road to the West is long over, it is not difficult to argue that Estonia never had much faith in its eastern neighbor to begin with.

More likely the Estonian government of the 1990s and early 2000s that successfully navigated the Estonian ship of state into the ports of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization saw Russia like any Pärnu homeowner would view the retreating of the Baltic Sea after a flood. It was time to inspect the damage, repair what could be salvaged, and build a better foundation. Moving, in Estonia’s case, has never been an option.

And because of this quiet country cynicism, a better bulwark for the West could not be imagined. During last April’s nonsense, we pondered what would happen in our home city of Tartu should the “Pskov division” be “not far off.” And it was difficult to imagine Tartlased doing much of anything other than shrugging and going about their business. Either they would stand by the invader’s tanks and mock, as they have done for centuries, or, more likely, they would hunker down inside with a stash of alcohol from the local Selver and mock some more via Internet. If the invaders were to sever Estonia’s Internet connection, well: that would only result in one thing: a fierce and bloody guerrilla war.

And that leads us to the final question. For whom is this book written if the Estonians are already aware of what lies across the River Narva? Well I bought it in Heathrow Airport, and it is written by a British author in the English language, though many editions are planned in other languages. So I suppose the main audience is the readership of The Economist itself: Britons and those who take part in corner-booth international relations chats at cafes from Santiago to Hong Kong. This is a book written partially for those in the know and partially for the English-language audience that needs to know.

Inside you will find the sinister murders of Russian journalists and dry humor in explaining how Gazprom manages to waste so much of its money on “ludicrously grand buildings, holiday resorts, yachts, and other gimmicks.” It is as if Edward Lucas’ brain were uncorked and its contents, mixed from the briefings of Vladimir Socor’s postings at The Eurasian Daily Monitor, the behind-closed-doors musings of NATO officials, the paranoia of Lithuanian energy heads, and the rare moments of honesty on the part of Kremlin apparatchiks, were poured into nine chapters that somehow manage to tie the mess of the Putin years into a coherent framework. A book, if you will.

This is no easy task. Lucas’ final chapter: ‘How to Win the New Cold War, Why the West Must Believe in Itself’, could be a book on its own right. But rather than ponder where there could be more and where there could be less, readers should instead just read it. Some might read its title as a call to arms. But, rather, I see it as a very long letter written by a correspondent who has so much to tell you that he cannot squeeze into an article in The Daily Mail or The Economist. It’s a letter from the correspondent to you. In this way, the book is for everybody: the traveling journalist in Heathrow, the London commuter, the corner-booth conspiracy theorists in Santiago, Chile, and maybe even the citizens of small Estonian villages who wearily watch Russia from the other side of the lake.

12 kommentaari:

Наблюдатель ütles ...

Nice article. By the way, Pajamas reviewed Lucas' book a while back.

"And because of this quiet country cynicism, a better bulwark for the West could not be imagined." Well, not sure about the West. America--yes, most of socialist wimpy Europe in EuSSR--very reluctantly, except for Lithuania and Poland

Neal ütles ...

If a person wakes up in Kärdla, Hiiumaa, how long would it take them to get to Narva at the other side of their tiny Baltic nation?

This reminds me of night of drinking ca ten years ago. We were driving in countryside. Sven was quite drunk already and since he was in debt to us some money, we decided to teach him lesson he wouldn't forget. We drove to Kihelkonna on the west-Saaremaa and left him to sleep it off in forester's cabin. We took his mobile phone so he would not be distrubed, and his wallet. We then drove back to Võru.

We started worrying after a week. It turned out he had tried to catch boat to Stockholm as local people said it would be faster. Then he hitchhiked and walked as far as Mõnnuste village in three days where he met local girl.

He is now raising three children I hear but he not pay back friends yet.

Наблюдатель ütles ...

More about the West's bulwark:

Within the EU, there are at least five camps or groupings, when it comes to deal with Russia, enunciated the ECFR report, ranging from the "Trojan horse" countries, strategic partners and the friendly and cool partners to the "new Cold warriors": the "Trojan horse" countries refer to Cyprus and Greece; the "strategic partners" imply France, Germany, Italy and Spain; the friendly pragmatist nations are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Luxemburg, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia; the "cool pragmatists" indicate Czech, Demark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and Britain; whereas Lithuania and Poland are cited as the "new Cold warriors".
http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90780/91343/6302611.html

I remember waiting for a ferry to go to Saaremaa in 1997 and talking to a few local guys in a trahter. They spoke no English, and my Estonian being nonexistent, we switched to Russian. I told them I wanted to go to Kihelkonna and see Vilsandi, whereupon one guy, quite drunk at the time, said: There is a scenic road of stone eggs leading there. The other Estonian guy explained that his buddy just used a calque for cobblestone in Estonian...

I've stayed in Kihelkonna a couple of times. What a lovely place, as is the rest the island. The Karujarv lake is unique, being an island lake. It has the clearest water I've seen anywhere

Sven ütles ...

I notice this on saaremaa newspaper's portaal and think, why there is English bloggy. Then I see who write and it is that bastard, who get me drunk with beer and leave me ten year ago to island !

OK, no hard feelings. :)As say Englishmen.

I returned once back to Võru. It took 9,5 hour. I think, that it take more, if Your ferry would go back to pick up Economical Minister. :)

egan ütles ...

I see it as a very long letter written by a correspondent who has so much to tell you that he cannot squeeze into an article in The Daily Mail

'Russian authoritarianism implicated in death of Diana'

'Does gazprom cause cancer?'

'Asylum seekers buy Russia with proceeds of benefit fraud'

erueestlane ütles ...

To point to a good article: http://www.exile.ru/blog/detail.php?BLOG_ID=17760&AUTHOR_ID=

Rainer ütles ...

"He is now raising three children I hear but he not pay back friends yet."

I don't know all the specifics of the case, but if someone woud pull such a stunt on me, I woud consider myself relieved of my debt ;)

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, I hope we still remember what happened with the first Cold War? Remember, that was when the Soviet Union was much more powerful, fuelled by a missionary ideology and had a truly global reach of imperial or semi-imperial connections. I simply don't see Russia having any of the resources to match even that failing effort. I guess its economy is now the size of Canada? Or smaller? There simply cannot be a return to any global rematch. Locally Russia might make difficulties - though it really should be more worried about its borders to the south than the west. Siberia is awfully empty and there are awfully many Chinese around - or Islamic countries along the Russian borders. Well, of course the Kremlin is not famous for its strategic sophistication but maybe even Moscow will eventually understand where the real threats are.

Doris ütles ...

Like all bullies, the real problem of Russia is its inferiority complex. And has been for the last... 300 years or so, ever since Peter the Great chopped some beards off and declared that Russia should be like Europe.

Kristopher ütles ...

Lucas has done good work in his field, and it is great that there is a channel for his efforts, whether it is a book, scroll or whatever format. Amen to that.

Lucas said back in May he was "cross" with all parties involved in last April. Well, I thought last April was an embarrassing chapter for everyone -- except for precisely the cagey, wary country folk, members of the Kaitseliit who were ready to take things into their own hands, and the riot police called up from the counties.

Everyone else managed to look bad to various degrees. Even Estonia's officials, hiding behind the West's skirts. You talk about faith. Where was the faith? What's the point of vaunted membership of EU and NATO if the government is going to act like that every time there is a problem? I think that the EU was just being the EU, but Estonia was acting like we were sold down the river when the EU hadn't issued a statement in 12 hours.

(BTW, I like the idea of a "Kärdla to Narva race" -- maybe the finish could be extended to Ivangorod, to draw international attention to border lineups. You can't have runners breathing in idling truck fumes.)

So? ütles ...

Remember, that was when the Soviet Union was much more powerful, fuelled by a missionary ideology and had a truly global reach of imperial or semi-imperial connections. I simply don't see Russia having any of the resources to match even that failing effort.

But then there'd be no book.

Giustino ütles ...

Everyone else managed to look bad to various degrees. Even Estonia's officials, hiding behind the West's skirts.

It will ultimately be the undoing of the Ansip years. It's like Blair and Iraq. Once he passed that point, Mr. 'Cool Britannia' was no longer cool.

Likewise, though the country rallied around Ansip last May, with hindsight and less Russian badgering, the party of the 'Baltic tiger' liberal managers -- daunted by delayed euro adoption, inflation, Russian gray sanctions, and a large minority at home that is still writing his name on public walls -- seems less ferocious. They've gone from Simba to Snagglepuss in eight months.