As nations, the Danes and the Estonians have some things in common.
The males of these small Baltic Sea countries tend to subscribe to the lifestyle of perfunctory denim wearing, sausage grilling, and beer for breakfast, while the females play catch with mobile communication devices and obsess over ways to make their naturally blonde hair more interesting.
There are other similarities. Both Denmark and Estonia have three lions on their national coat of arms and like most northern Europeans, each country harbors the inner pride that their nationality is superior to all others, even if the national passtime includes complaining about the vanity and egomania of their civil servants.
But in terms of asserting this private sense of worthiness, the Danes and the Estonians are different. For Estonians, it is good enough to feel better than their eastern and southern neighbors. And even if the northern neighbors are better off and more secure, they're still inbred, inebriated, overweight, and speaking some archaic form of Estonian.
But for Danes, the Baltic Sea region is not enough. They once had Iceland and they still have Greenland, which, by definition, extends to a role in the Arctic. And they did keep Saaremaa until the mid-17th century. Why, they're a former great power, aren't they? Yes, a former imperial power that might still have by some fantastic stretch of the nationalist imagination a claim to Estonia. The Danes envision themselves as unsung leaders of the world, waiting for the opportunity to seize power so that they can make their Scandinavian righteousness and love of all that is just and good truly universal.
The recent decision to make current Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen the next head of NATO therefore is a step in the direction of eventual global submission to the wonders of the Danish way.
There were some issues with his appointment. Rasmussen is said to be unloved by the Russians, to which I ask in response, who is? Sometimes I doubt the Russians even love themselves. Next there were the Turks, unhappy about his free speech posturing during the cartoon scandal. No problem. Anders Fogh will have a Turkish deputy to keep him in line. Finally, there was the trouble of finding a replacement for Copenhagen's most toothy smile. The solution? Finance Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, aged 44. By having the prestiged surname alone, he qualifies for the job. And did you know that Løkke sounds a lot like the Estonian word for 'bonfire'? How pagan.
I have never met Rasmussen, but I once sat next to a guy on a bus who had. It was at the Lennart Meri Conference in 2007. We were headed to the Old Town, where Mart Laar was going to show us all the places Peter "the Great" passed out after long nights of debauchery. All the seats were occupied, except one next to an older gentleman with a moustache.
"Where are you from?" I asked out of politeness.
"Denmark," he sighed.
"Does Tallinn remind you at all of home?"
"Well, the weather certainly does."
"I used to live in Copenhagen. It was a fun city, though I heard they closed down Pusher Street in Christiania."
"Yes they did," he smiled. "Rasmussen's been trying to rein in some of the excesses there."
"Now that was an interesting place. Some of the drug dealers were very professional looking middle-aged women."
"Oh, I am sure it was just like a proper farmers' market," he snickered.
"What do you think of Rasmussen?"
"Well, I think he's done quite well. He's very talented; he always has been, for as long as I've known him."
"You know Rasmussen?" I asked in astonishment.
"Know him? I trained him."
I soon found out that my busmate was Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, the former foreign minister from Denmark from 1982 to 1993, and head of Rasmussen's Venstre Party from 1984 to 1998. Uffe is head of the Baltic Development Forum and a friend of Estonia. I hope his Venstre successor will continue in that tradition.