There's much gloom and doom in the Estonia media recently when it comes to talk of the future.
One Finnish writer predicted that Estonian independence will last only another decade or so, using last year's "events" to forge some kind of forward-looking statement.
Others look at ominous financial forecasts plus Russia's recent intervention in Georgia on behalf of its "citizens" and can only muster up a prediction that we must be headed for 1940 redux. First will come a bases pact, then an Orzel-like event that spurs the full occupation of the country, followed by deportations and the decapitation of Estonia's statehood.
This kind of talk really annoys me, not only because I obviously don't want to predict a future where friends and relatives are raped and killed by marauding Russian conscripts, but because it's so unimaginative.
Is this the only history lesson they teach in schools? Sometimes, I think so. You'll notice that when it comes to Estonian chronology, whole centuries are often given a few sentences, whereas paragraphs are devoted to months in the years 1939 and 1940.
But, in reality, this lack of creative thinking is an injustice to all. Over the past few years Russia has been busy sealing border deals not only with Latvia, but also with Norway and China, because it is actively trying to build the state. In most cases, save South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it is not looking to acquire territory, but to strongly define its borders. And while the Russian Federation may not be a nation-state per se, it is a state led by Russian nationalists for whom Stalin was a Georgian, Dzerzhinsky a Pole, and Trotsky a Jew.
Only 79 percent of Russian Federation citizens identify as ethnic Russians, and according to most reports I have read, that proportion is dropping. The aim of this nationally-minded federation, therefore, is not to acquire more uppity minorities, like the Georgians or the Estonians or whomever, but to continue to build a Moscow-centered Russia for the Russians.
Crafting some kind of "Soviet people" ideology to squeeze the annexation of Estonia into that agenda not only does not make sense, it goes against the principles of the post-1991 Russian state-building project. And besides, an Estonia placated by "Olympic Games"-like nationalism, where sovereignty is defined by song festivals and winning gold medals in skiing, that is party to the decision-making organs of both the EU and NATO, is inherently more valuable.
That is why, at least for several years, Russia's man in Estonia has been Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar. The Russians were deeply disappointed when Andrus Ansip's Reform Party routed Keskerakond in last year's parliamentary elections, and even more disappointed when the Keskid went into opposition. Hence, at the first opportunity following the "events," the Duma mission to Estonia voiced its support for the dissolution of the Ansip-headed government.
The kind of relationship Russia would like to have with Estonia is predicated on the relationship it had with former Finnish President Urho Kekkonen. And if Savisaar, or one of his surrogates, takes power on Toompea, Estonia will be forced into the ambiguous position of trying to appease both European and Russian interests at the same time.
It could be done, both to Savisaar's benefit. If Estonia was to adopt some generic minority legislation, like the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, it would look like a good, little EU country -- although it already implements most of the provisions of the charter. And if Estonia were to wave more requirements for citizenship of stateless persons, it would only create more voters -- for Savisaar. The minority issue is just one issue that comes up, but it shows you how it could be used by a potential Estonian leader to reinforce his own domestic support while placating the interests of external parties.
Furthermore, it's naive to think that the right-wing parties will continue to dominate Estonian politics until the end of time. Calvin Coolidge's roaring '20s Republican party gave way to FDR's New Deal. Harold Wilson left office in Britain in 1976, three years before the rise of Margaret Thatcher. If one thing is certain, it is that in democracies, the political pendulum tends to swing from time to time. And that's another question for you to contemplate. If not Ansip or Laar or Parts, then who?
But for all of those predicting the death and dismemberment of this country on the basis of 1940, I would say, if you want to talk worst-case scenarios, take a look at our neighbor to the north, where one man ruled as president for 26 long years; where he used his hyvä veli network of good old boys to implement policies, and where the Moscow card was always used to secure domestic legitimacy.
It's time to rid ourselves of this World War II lobotomy, and think more critically about what growing, unchecked Russian power could really mean for Estonia. It's time to think less about the restoration of Eesti NSV, and more about the potential threat of Finlandization.