It's that time of the year. Bronze Soldier removal anniversary time. A time to replay clips of violent youths overturning cars and lighting flags on fire. A time to engage in word battles on YouTube supported by random facts pulled from the KGB archives. A time to lecture Estonia about integration. Yes, it is that time of the year.
A German student in one of my classes said recently that she was surprised how her Estonian interview subjects tended to view the integration dilemma as a foreign construct, a plaything for foreign students and foreign journalists, but something that actually matters little in day to day life.
I privately wonder when I stopped giving a shit. A Swedish friend in Tartu once had to deal with an old Russophone neighbor who one day went crazy in the apartment house corridor shouting obscenities about "Estonians" and his terrible lot in life to live in the City of Good Thoughts. The Swede seemed to conclude that the subject was crazy. In New York we step over people who talk to themselves all the time.
The problem with all of these interpretations of Estonia and what is to be done in this country, is that the "Estonians" the Swede's angry neighbor was railing against are treated as one unified block. The actions of one political party, like Isamaa, can be attributed to all Estonians, because the state is wrongly seen as ethnocentric. But when we revisit the facts, we see, for example, that the vote to remove the odious Soviet statue last winter only passed by two votes.
The reality on the ground is that, when it comes to politics, it's rather hard to pin anything on the "Estonians." In a country where you are 70 percent of the population, it's sort of hard not to vote along ethnic lines. Instead you vote for other reasons. Some people in Tartu are disenchanted with the ruling Reform Party. In Tallinn they opine about Keskerakond. The concerns of everyday life -- day care and housing and zoning issues and roads and sanitation -- take precedence over historical blood feuds and naive suggestions about integration policies.
And so, one year on, I find myself reading the "foreign" English-language press and scratching my head. "There's Soviet baggage in Estonia." Well, what do you expect? "The citizenship processes could be liberalized." Easier said than done, my friend. "Maybe you should take another official language." And maybe you should privatize the British National Health Service.
This country is complicated, but attempts to explain it to the outside world often fail. People fumble for remedies to problems they themselves misdiagnose. It's like 18th century medicine -- they create a host of other conditions for you by trying to solve one unrelated problem. Got the flu? How about some leaches and blood-letting? That's sure to do the trick!
Estonia is closer than you think to solving the Rubik's Cube of the Soviet legacy. Let them work it out by themselves.