So I am here in Tallinn, city of Danish expansionism. Tallinn does not feel like the Estonia I know, the Estonia I try to write about. This city is not crisscrossed by the bumpy, unpaved roads of Viljandimaa. Instead, its well-heeled pedestrians enjoy the cosmopolitan life.
That means eating a lunch like the one I just ate -- of delicious, peeled pears covered in sweet whipped cream, satisfying pasta salads, medallions of mouthwatering beef. Where are the potatoes, pork, sauerkraut, and tordid? They don't sell food like this in Selver.
This is the fare served up at the Second Annual Lennart Meri Memorial Conference, held this week. The conference, organized more in line with Meri's interests than his cult of personality -- as it should be -- draws together the Estonian policy community, representatives from think-tanks across Europe, foreign ministers, prime ministers, ambassadors, high representatives -- people whose opinion should count. And also the media.
I have to say the mood of this conference strikes me as different from last year's. There seems to be greater resignation in the air about "the West" and its ability to influence events in adjacent countries. The soft and hard support mechanisms that influenced, say, the "color revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine seem tired by the reality of how hard it actually is to make Abkhazia make up with T'bilisi, or how realistic it is that Ukraine would under go complete reorientation, or how much energy it will take to produce meaningful reform in Belarus. At the same time its clear that "we" still care about "them." This isn't all just for fun and territorial bragging rights.
Still the speakers, including riigijuhid Mart Laar and Toomas Hendrik Ilves, argue that we should worry less about changing the debate within, say, the Russian Federation, and instead focus more on making sure our own countries are corruption-free. The best offense is a good defense. Wear a condom. That sort of thing.
That's a tall order even in lily white Estonia -- held out as a model for other transition countries -- where the domestic political debate simmers over crooked real estate deals. Is it really like the old grannies of Viljandimaa will tell you? Is it true, vanaema, that all politicians are crooks, even Estonian ones?
György Schöpflin, a European MP from Hungary, argued yesterday that we are entering a bust after a long boom -- one that I assume dates back to the end of the George H.W. Bush recession in the early 1990s and drove us from the Spice Girls debut, through their break up, their solo albums, and to their eventual reunion. We had a boom, now prepare for bust. That's a hell of a weight to have on your chest when Edward Lucas is telling you to strap on your protective gear for The New Cold War.
I am not sure how this stew will turn out, and I am not sure this conference will answer it. The discourse ranges from highbrow debates over "Western values" and "imitation democracy" to more concrete discussions about the Middle East. But I do believe that these kinds of discussions will help guide the policies of the future. Such concentrated talent can only lead to some kind of result.
As an aside, I am surprised by how enormous so many Estonian politicos are. Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo must be taller than I am. MP Marko Mihkelson must be as well. With a few less savory Tallinn luncheons, and a little practice, Estonia could have one hell of a Riigikogu basketball team. They should challenge Putin and Medvedev to a match.