The conflict in Georgia has had its impact on the Estonian political debate.
While the situation has prompted Isamaaliit-hosted, pro-Georgian rallies, like the ones this week in Tallinn and Tartu, it has also allowed some other political players, like former prime ministers Edgar Savisaar and Tiit Vähi, to urge a quieter approach.
The ambiguity in the real Estonian position was driven home by Saakashvili himself, who, whether it be for pure marketing purposes or not, described Georgia in an interview as the "only former-Soviet country" that has embraced Western liberal democracy to such an extent. He was of course thinking about Georgia in relation to Kazakhstan or Armenia. But I couldn't help but wonder that, in Saakashvili's mind at least, not only was Georgia eclipsing Ukraine in its orientation, but that Estonia didn't even register.
Could it be that Estonia is no longer a "former-Soviet republic"? In some ways, yes. I tend to see the discourse in this country as that of a country stuck in the halfway house between two empires. On one side, Estonian nationality is strongly based on identification with the Swedish empire of the 17th century. I know most people see the Swedish influence as minimal, but hear me out.
More recent ideological framing, like Samuel Huntington's thesis, is based on an older juxtaposition of absolutist protestantism versus absolutist orthodoxy that reached its heights during the 17th century. That's why this country is happy to have monuments to Gustav Adolph and Karl XII, but not to Peeter Hirmus. In this way, identification with the nordic countries and Europe in general is not about choosing one civilization over the other, it's about choosing civilization, period. The fact that 70 percent of FDI comes from Stockholm and Helsinki is seen as the way it should be.
On the other hand, a lot of Estonians feel that what happens in Tbilisi, as far away from Tallinn as Barcelona, matters for their future. They feel that they sit on the same formerly tsarist tectonic plate, and whatever happens to Georgia will eventually happen to them. They still, in some corner of their minds, feel they are subjects of the tsar.
Yesterday our niece asked when the Russians are coming. This concept is burned in every Estonian's psyche. That one day, they and their mistreated conscript army will rain rape and disaster on the pastoral spirit of Eestimaa. But what if they never come? What if this is it? What if, from here on out, the future is not predicated on what happens in Tbilisi, but on the fact that this crisis interrupted President Ilves' summer French immersion course?
The somewhat awkward diplomatic situation the country found itself in underscores this shift. On one hand, Estonia had to show unequivocal support for Georgia. If Russia's plans for Tbilisi -- regime change -- had been realized, it would have been a disaster for reform efforts in that country, let alone the larger ideological and security implications.
When I think of Georgia, I don't think of Mikheil Saakashvili. I think of all the Georgian students I have met who base their entire future on securing some kind of Western-oriented career. To replace Saakashvili with an illegitimate client of Moscow would be a blow for their future. Those Georgians who packed the square in Tbilisi needed to be shown that they were supported, and that the West would not sit idly by while their country was swallowed by a larger neighbor.
On the other hand, the deal brokers were not Estonians. Instead it was the French EU presidency and the Finnish presidency of the OSCE that led the European mission to end this war. And that is the catch. Even as this country becomes more and more European, to the extent that gets hard to imagine troops at a check point outside of the SAS Radisson, it is also hard to imagine some Estonian politicians going to Tbilisi and then flying to Moscow to secure a peace agreement.
Is this country ever going to get to that point? Or is it playing the role it should play? The Finns negotiate the ceasefires, the Estonians make the international condemnations? What's a new European to do?