Our refrigerator now contains four round küüslaugujuustud -- garlic cheeses. It's mahe toit -- natural food, bought directly from this year's maamess.
We bought four of them, because if we had bought only two, they'd be gone in two days. With this investment, we managed to secure enough of our favorite cheese to last possibly a week.
The word mess in Estonian means something like "fair." Maa is "land," but it's also "earth," and it's also "ground" and it's also "country," so a maamess is a "landearthgroundcountry fair."
What does that mean? It means tractors and animal feed and forestry equipment and local cheeses and meats and vegetables and robotic masseurs and women's magazines and insurance companies and folksy newspapers and even political parties.
The patron political party of this year's maamess, as well as the countless other öko festivals and gatherings we have attended in recent years, is Erakond Eestimaa Rohelised -- the Estonian Green Party.
Founded prior to the 2007 parliamentary elections, the party used to seem like the brainchild of leader Marek Strandberg. Our well-meaning friends in the Estonian Social Democratic Party (SDE) advised us that the Greens would quickly implode following the elections; they were supposed to be the new "Res Publica" -- the ill-fated vehicle of Juhan Parts & Co. that merged with the smaller but more tenacious Isamaa Liit in 2006.
But the Rohelised did not implode. They still poll rather well. They have followers too -- men and women, young and old, estophones and russophones -- who don snazzy green t-shirts and stand in booths at gatherings like maamess to talk with possible voters. And I have to say that I like them, even if I am not sure what they stand for, other than eating organic cheeses and scoping out new tractors, because "greenness" is very appealing to Estonians.
Case and point, when we went to deliver two boxes of Roheliseks Kasvamine - "Growing Green" - a book authored by mu kallis naine, the guard at the gate waved us through: "You don't have to pay!" he smiled. "I am green, like you. We are on the same side!" I can imagine this social movement catching on because the devout brand of liberalism sold by the Reform Party doesn't look as appealing during a global recession, and the left-leaning populism of the Center Party isn't convincing because their leader is rather unattractive, yet thinks he can win votes by plastering his face all over Tallinn.
Estonia's two biggest parties are both money parties. They buy billboards and revolving signs and new brands of kohuke snacks. This kind of advertising does not convince me. Beyond Reform and Center though I am pretty content with the choices. The conservatives in IRL are an obstinate, history-obsessed bunch of professional Estonians, but I do not doubt that they love their country. The social democrats can be eurofriendly poseurs, but I share their concern for their fellow impoverished, drunken maarahvas. There are a lot of people living in squalor in Estonia. This is the truth.
Finally, there are the Greens, whose soothing öko colors strike me as the most Estonian of all. The Greens are not as well-financed as Reform or Center, so they actually have to do grassroots work to capture some votes. This kind of grassroots work is an essential component of a healthy parliamentary democracy. It is ideal that you go to a country fair to talk with politicians, rather than choose between the slogan printed on every Tallinn city garbage can and the promises displayed at every Tartu bus stop.
My only question is, if the Greens hang out at country fairs, where do the social democrats and conservatives hang out? Are there young co-eds in red SDE t-shirts canvassing at the local Taara punkt bottle return to reach the down-on-their-luck losers of neoliberalism? Do the representatives of IRL adorn folk costumes and hang out in the history sections of Rahva Raamat and Apollo bookstores next to the latest works of their party elders?
In some ways, I hope they do, because Estonian political parties are among the least trusted institutions in the country. A little more face-to-face time could go a long way; much longer than any kohuke, bus stop promise, or revolving sign.