During last year's "events" I found it somewhat amusing that major news outlets, like The New York Times, sent their Moscow correspondents to cover the situation in Tallinn.
To me, this seemed like an ass-backward approach to reporting on Estonia, let alone even conceptualizing Estonia. Wouldn't it make sense to send someone from Stockholm, considering most of Estonia's financial sector is seamlessly integrated with Scandinavia? Or even to send a journalist from Berlin, seeing that the kroon has been, for 16 years now, pegged to first the mark and then the euro? How about Brussels? EU member. NATO member. Anyone? Anyone?
There's a real conceptual problem out there, mostly born by an older, lazier, less-globalized cadre of thinkers, who still think in terms of Cold War-era school maps covered in expanding seas of nauseous red.
Estonia is "post-Soviet", sure. But the thing is that there are degrees of post-Soviet. And when 'post-Soviet' is defined by countries like Belarus and Uzbekistan, then a country where the parliamentary parties are boringly divided between the liberals, conservatives, populists, social democrats, greens, and agrarians, looks rather unfamiliar to those standing in Moscow, but rather similar to those standing in Berlin or Stockholm.
In the post-Cold War era, northern Europe was divided by those seas of red. But today, the great Nordic community project that peaked in the early 1970s has been replaced by the great European community. I myself felt astonished this past week when, after having my bag scanned at the Tallinna Lennujaam, I walked right into the rest of the airport without having to produce my passport. Schengen has a significant psychological impact on pan-European consciousness. The 1960s post-war 'nation state' suddenly seems about as kitschy as an old 45 record. It's cute, but, what do you do with it?
So the question is, therefore, whither the nordicbalticpostsoviet jabberwocky? A recent concept floated by the Baltic Development Forum has been to 'rebrand' the region. While older concepts, the sleek Scandinavians, the technical-savvy Nordics, the ballsy Baltics, will still float, a new conceptualization should ring that will allow even the blokes at the New York Times to know what's up.
One idea is that Estonia is part of the "top of Europe", or, in the words of Tina Turner, simply the best, better than all the rest. The best universities. The best technology. The best living standards. The best haircuts. Feel like dumping $2.6 billion on an Estonian technology company? Look no further. You've come to the top of Europe. I am not sure if this regional branding thing will work out in the end. Maybe it's just another European money pit. But I do feel that the BDF is onto something.