I spent two hours yesterday in the presence of Marju Lauristin, and I am still tired from the experience. This is a human being who, even in her late 60s, is tireless and engaging.
At times, as she paced in front of the desk, her arms waving about as she explained the differences between the Popular Front and the Congress of Estonia in the late 1980s, I began to wonder if she really was an Estonian. Estonians don't move their arms around like that, do they? Estonians aren't charismatic, are they? Estonians aren't ... friendly?
It seems that some Estonian thought leaders -- be they academics, politicians, or in betweens -- have some special gravitational pull that makes you believe everything they are saying. I have noticed this with regards to people who have encountered Mart Laar. At first, they might seem skeptical, but once exposed to Laar's unique charisma, they turn into Laarbots. I am almost afraid to meet him for fear that it might happen to me too.
I asked a Laar supporter once if they thought it might be time for the current generation of Estonian leaders to pass the torch to a younger brigade, perhaps less shaped by the collapse of the USSR. "Could you imagine," I said, "that we take a time machine to the year 2030, and Laar is prime minister for the sixth time?!" The supporter smiled and said that she would be very happy with that result, as Papa Mart knows what's best for Eestimaa.
Almost all of my professors are down on the current Estonian government. There are a number of Danes who have infiltrated the halls of Tartu Ülikool along with some Germans (yes, they're baaack) and they can't figure out why the government is cutting away at the public sector, reducing their salaries to a point that even regular Estonians start to cry.
In Denmark, a significant percentage of the population of the country feeds in one way or another on the teat of the state. This is the Scandinavian welfare model: the people work for the state and, typically, vote for parties who will increase their benefits and paychecks, or at least won't reduce them. From their perspective, the public sector must be protected, as it is the backbone of civil society.
If the Danish government started making public employees cry, there would be hell to pay, I am told. In Estonia, they'll shut up and take it for the sake of liberalism. The speck of light at the end of the tunnel is a pot of shiny coins, the leaders tell the maarahvas, and in that pot the money is in the European currency. The Gods in Estonia are not teachers or nurses or trade unionists, you see; they are foreign entrepreneurs. And forget about the poor drunks living in shanties in the Estonian global south. They might not be dead yet, but they will be soon enough!
Ai, ai ai. Estonian politics. It's everywhere; in the classroom, at the bus station, even in my sister-in-law's place where Laar and Lauri Vahtre's most recent works fill the bookcase. Now, with the European parliamentary elections coming up, I even got a free Eesti Eest! newspaper in this morning's Postimees. IRL has some good candidates: Tunne Kelam (the wiseman), Marko Mihkelson (the bold loyalist), and Karoli Hindriks (the slick choice of a new generation).
I can't wait to see who the other parties put forward. Really.