esmaspäev, august 18, 2008

kekkoslovakia

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.

30 kommentaari:

puolimieli ütles ...

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.

Johan Bäckman is a fanatic Russophile notable for his constitutional inability to disagree with anything Vladimir Putin says. I wouldn't pay any attention to what he says.

Giustino ütles ...

The Estonian media gave him prominent attention. Is he working with Leena Hietanen?

Kristopher ütles ...

In 2007, Edward Lucas said: "For the first time since 1993, I no longer feel confident that the Baltic states will survive". I remember the quote and it is quoted in another blog, but I can't find the link now.

Kristopher ütles ...

Ah, it was in Marginalia. :P

plasma-jack ütles ...

In most cases, save South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it is not looking to acquire territory, but to strongly define its borders.

Sorry mate, but this is the typical Western attitude. Russia is not agressive, except for cases in Georgia and Chechnya. Russia is not racist, except for the fact that couple of hundreds of foreigners get killed every year. Russia is largely democratic, although the elections of course are rigged. And oh, Russia is in path to becoming a normal economy - except that the corruption is so deep-rooted that nobody even tries fighting it. So the situation overall is actually pretty good, though catastrophic.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Oh well, him, an idiot for free or then on pay. It was lovely to see how the Finnish media simply froze Leena Hietanen's "book" to death. Absolutely icy silence which I think was most effective.

I would say in Kekkonen's defence that during his era Finland integrated with Western economies, our powerful Communist movement was shattered and we had peaceful borders during most of the Cold War. That was not too bad of an achievement. Yes, there was a price to pay but then again the West had left us for dead in the fall 1944, you make the best bargains you can. In the end I think the collective delusion of our youth radicals and the "intelligentsia" in the 1970's was bit of a meagre return for the Kremlin - they really have such a gigantic chip on their shoulder that little flattery can get you very far. Ask Kekkonen...

stockholm slender ütles ...

Ps. I don't think there is a single critic of Estonia in Finland, however bizarrely marginal, that the Estonian media would not give prominent attention. It really does make it seem like a huge movement - which it very, very assuredly is not. I'm sorry but sometimes it seems that the absolute purpose of the Estonian media is to give a distorted, overly negative picture of Finland. Our gutter press used to do the same, but I think that that has really changed after the Estonian EU membership. Maybe there would be an example to follow?

Giustino ütles ...

Sorry mate, but this is the typical Western attitude.

Here's a question for you. If Russia is so intent on annexing the formerly Soviet countries, then why hasn't it annexed Uzbekistan or Belarus yet? Answer: it has loyal stooges there and has no need to annex Uzbekistan.

Why waste your time diluting Russianness when you can get everything you want without reopening the old "nationalities" question that tore the USSR to shreds?

Bunter ütles ...

I wouldn't be worried about the future, Russia will continue to push and we'll all burn in the fires of nuclear war. Have a nice day, sir.

But now, seriously talking, I'm pretty sure next election will go really well for the right wing and social democrats just because a) people are still stupid and apolitical b) there's no other choice. Estonian political pendulum seems to be absurdly tilted, mostly because people are really superficial about politics so the faces count. And those have been pretty much the same for last 6-8 years.

Russian influence will depend how wisely will they use their economic muscle and how well can they tame their (re)waking imperialist ambitions. Public push by russia just pushes us more to the west but if they can act as sneaky bastards (which personally I doubt), danger of finlandization would be very real. Money is always hard to turn down.

space_maze ütles ...

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.

Serious question, then .. why do maps on walls in ministry buildings in Russia have all of the former USSR marked as Russia?

I got to see this for myself in Russia in July, in a ministry library in Joshkar-Ola .. and fortunately had my camera at hand.

http://kribu.net/~loophole/map.jpg

A few days later, I got to read a story about such maps in Postimees. Had I sent them my picture right away, I would have made the news!

Giustino ütles ...

Serious question, then .. why do maps on walls in ministry buildings in Russia have all of the former USSR marked as Russia?

You mean color-coded as Russia. I have seen that on some Western maps as well. But they do sometimes refer to the Estonian state as "the Tallinn government," as if it were some secessionist government.

It's so weird. It's like they are in denial about 1991, as if Yeltsin wasn't president, as if they didn't throw out the red flag for the tricolor. It's really an autocratic system, where the leader's personality is more important than anything else.

martintg ütles ...

One of the gestures by NATO to Yeltsin when he grudgingly accepted NATO expansion into the Baltics was not to develop military plans to defend eastern Europe, since the presumption back then was that "Russia is not an enemy or a threat".

Georgia was a turning point. The rapidity of the US's acceptance of Poland's request to base US troops and Patriot missiles is a recognition that this presumption is no longer valid.

I suspect that one of unpublicized outcomes of Tuesday's emergency NATO meeting will be the commencement of formal defence planning. This will include the development of military infrastructure and exercises to defend the new NATO members against a hypothetical war with Russia.

Kristopher ütles ...

The problem is that surely Russia must also know that Saakashvili will not be there forever and that the next elections may unseat him. Yet they didn't wait.

The other thing is that it is assumed that Russia will use the "citizens" pretext in the future. Why would they even need to?

Kristopher ütles ...

What's more likely, that right-wing parties in Estonia will be driven out in favour of Savisaar or some new young Russia-friendly socialist -- or that Russia will get even more emboldened (or paranoid) and realize that the old 20th century practice of talking territory as a hedge still works wonderfully?

Giustino ütles ...

The Russians are unoriginal, to put it mildly, and they compare themselves at every opportunity to the Americans, even though they have half as many people and a fraction of the wealth.

So the invasion of Georgia was modeled on NATO's intervention in Serbia and the US-led invasion of Iraq.

I wonder if Stalin had Hitler envy in 1938? He saw what he did in Austria and Czechoslovakia and thought, "If he can do that to the Czechs, I can do it to the Estonians!"

Kristopher ütles ...

It's going way beyond mere tit for tat.

Russia has been buzzing the coast of Alaska with cruise-missile capable bombers for the last six months, too -- ever since Kosovo.

It has a new presence in Cuba, apparently.

Maybe the Baltics won't be next, after all?

My impression, too, is that half of the Russian conscripts probably still don't know how to clean their rifles, and sure, the population is declining, but what's scary is maybe not Russia so much or even its nukes, but the possibility that Russia could cement an anti-American coalition. Russia says its relationship with China has never been better.

Russian aggression has to be nipped in the bud, instead of abandoning Georgia, which is what the West has done. The maxim is that war is the failure of diplomacy, but Russia skipped the diplomacy in the first place. It's crazy to try to resort to diplomacy now.

America is so scared of a war with even a slightly more equally matched opponent that they will ignore the danger signs and fail to act when it could matter.

martintg ütles ...

kristopher ütles...
Russian aggression has to be nipped in the bud, instead of abandoning Georgia, which is what the West has done.


I don't get the sense that Georgia has been abandoned. What did you expect NATO or the USA to do? It is a characteristic of democracies that they are slow to react, that is why totalitarian regimes consider democracies to be "weak".

Kristopher ütles ...

I would expect them to intervene exactly as they did in Kuwait, presenting an ultimatum for withdrawal. While the Russians are pondering this, president goes before Congress and tells them that freedom is at stake. Whatever is necessary under the Constitution.

Kristopher ütles ...

And how has Georgia not been abandoned? What is keeping the Russians from remaining in the country indefinitely? The occupation is sucking the lifeblood out of the economy, besides the obvious human rights violations.

Giustino ütles ...

Can't we hit at Putin's financial assets somehow? Publish his Swiss bank account number? Play dirty? Napoleon dynamite needs to be taught a lesson.

martintg ütles ...

kristopher ütles...
I would expect them to intervene exactly as they did in Kuwait, presenting an ultimatum for withdrawal.


As you recall, the USA spent months assembling forces in Saudi Arabia (which btw financed a large proportion of the operation). Where could the USA do the same in regard to Georgia? Turkey? Why would Turkey permit such a thing, it is under no obligation to assist non-NATO member Georgia.

If the USA did threaten to do such a thing, Russia would simply roll over the remainder of Georgia, how would that benefit it? At least there remains a rump Georgia, and Russia is under international pressure to withdraw, lest it be seen as being unreliable and unable to keep its word.

NATO's first priority should be to consolidate and strengthen the defence of its current membership. Rather than demanding NATO go and defend Georgia, we should be demanding that NATO do more to assist us in terms of defence planning, infrastructure and exercises.

martintg ütles ...

PS, Turkey isn't even allowing the passage of US hospital ships into the Black Sea to assist Georgia:
http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/article.php?enewsid=113020

Kristopher ütles ...

Giustino: I read that couple billion USD left Russia in the days after the invasion. And folks are buying stock in Georgia. That'll all help.

Martin: I know less about military tactics than Obama, but my (then-) adolescent mind does recall something about a massive buildup in 1991. But I believe when there is a will there is a way. The US found ways around the Turkish problem in the second Gulf War, did they not? I say an ultimatum could be issued, couched in language the Russians (as students of the US) could understand.

To me, it's a letter-of-the-law reading to say that Georgia was not a full member of NATO and lack of military action in fact demonstrates that NATO will not dilute its real guarantees. It's not even heaperemehelik behaviour to leave Georgia hanging -- look how much materiel the Russians have carted away and destroyed. What a waste.

Even with the "undiluted" guarantees, the same questions come up in case of Baltic invasion -- the existence of staging areas and port access. And there are all sorts of objections that could be raised to a NATO liberation of the Baltics (the Estonian coast does not afford a D-Day-style landing etc so we'll wait and see...).

So I favour a strong "own defence" above all for the Baltics.

Kristopher ütles ...

Sorry for double-commenting again, but I forgot -- and the key thing apart from building defences and maintaining Israel-style readiness is to be sure that Estonia would fight if -- and it is unlikely -- it came down to it. Make sure that no transit-trade quislings or would-be Konstantin Pätses are sitting up in Toompea when push comes to shove.

martintg ütles ...

kristopher ütles...
Sorry for double-commenting again, but I forgot -- and the key thing apart from building defences and maintaining Israel-style readiness is to be sure that Estonia would fight if -- and it is unlikely -- it came down to it. Make sure that no transit-trade quislings or would-be Konstantin Pätses are sitting up in Toompea when push comes to shove.


I agree with you here. The Swiss provide another model of defence readiness, allowing conscripts to keep their automatic weapons and ammunition after their one year service at home and a requirement to practice at rifle ranges every year until age 30.

The real challenge for Estonia is air defense, and perhaps it and the other Baltic states could pool their resources, with a combined population similar to Finland (which has 75 F/A-18s), it could surely obtain a 30 or 40 aircraft while sharing training, maintenance, and other costs.

In regard to Georgia, equipment can be replaced, NATO has committed itself to rebuilding Georgia's military infrastructure.

Giustino ütles ...

So I favour a strong "own defence" above all for the Baltics.

Total defense, with plenty of training from the Finns, was Estonia's first defense policy. But when they saw that NATO would expand to Poland, they figured a collective defense policy would be the most realistic.

I think Estonia should integrate further into Nordic defense structures. Both Finnish and Swedish defense policies rest on neutralizing an Estonian threat.

During the Winter War, Finland was bombed from Estonian territory. Sweden had Soviet subs off its coasts throughout the Cold War.

These ideas to expand Finnish and Swedish military and naval cooperation should encompass Estonia too. The EU Nordic Battalion Group is a step in the right direction.

Kristopher ütles ...

I support Nordic cooperation, but it'll be interesting to see what Finland makes of developments. MPs in a security policy working group just released a report that pretty much denies any direct threat from Russia. To me, it's just silly to say that Russia's military doctrine in its NW is to be defensive.
http://www.postimees.ee/?id=27892

Giustino ütles ...

Didn't the Finns say one year ago that their three major threats are Russia, Russia, and Russia?

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, everyone knows it, so it shouldn't have been said... It's very hard to know what the core of the foreign policy elite really thinks of Russia's development in the near future. Anything they will say in public will be calming nonsense (old habits die hard). I would think they are gradually getting more alarmed, and would not be surprised with fairly quick moves towards Nato (but not before Halonen's term ends).

Katrin ütles ...

About Edgar Savisaar. It was only yesterday, when I saw a documentary in Estonian national TV-channel (ETV) about restoring the independence of Estonia. The documentary was made only a few years after the actual events took place. There was young Edgar Savisaar and Marju Lauristin, and other important political figures of the time.

Well, I was only a teenager then and I did not watch news and "serious" broadcasts very often, so much of the content of the documentary was new for me, too. For example - Edgar Savisaar speaking something quite contrary to what he is saying today. It was Edgar Savisaar's proposal, actually, not to give citizenship to every person, permanently living and working in Estonia. It was he who said to mr Igor Gräzin, who opposed him (Gräzin said something like - we should recognise them as citizens, while it's a really difficult situation and may cause us a lot of trouble..): in a few years time, they will learn the language and give the exam and they will get the citizenship (Edgar Savisaar's words!)... Well, of course, times change and so to people and the way they are thinking, but this man seems not to rememeber a single word of the speeches and statements he made in thouse days.

This documentary also contained a lot of information and materials about the Interrinne (Interfront) - a quasi-political movement of local Russians, who opposed the idea of independent (or even sovereign) Estonia. They were terrified by the idea that USSR might collapse and independent states might emerge.

Well, today, 20 years later what we say about it? They're actions and statements were horrifyingly similar to those made by actvists of the Night Watch and NASHI.
Brainwashed dummies? Maybe. But mr Putin himself said - collapse of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical catastrophy of the 20th century. This statement makes mr Putin a treator of his own country, because 20 years ago Estonians were treated in Moscow like heroes, people on the streets said "You're from Estonia? Cool! We're with you, we are trying to regaine our independence too, we are restoring Russia!". These sentences are from another documentary, showed in ETV a few days ago.

People, who supported Interrinne in those days and who are supporting movements like Night Watch and NASHI and Putin and his neo-soviet-fascist ideas are probably not aware that they are actually acting as treators of their own motherland Russia and are giving up the freedom that was handed them 17 years ago. OR... maybe it's what they really want?