laupäev, mai 16, 2009

under pressure

My daughter and I got two seats to see Queen: the Doors of Time, a musical jukebox ballet based on the work of the British rock group.

Headlined by Broadway star Tony Vincent (Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar), the show opened at the Vanemuine Theater in Tartu tonight. I had no idea what to expect, but I was entertained by the ladies in conical braziers and gentlemen in G-strings. The music was excellent, I felt as if Brian May was in the orchestra pit. The choreography was good too.

We were a bit late, so we sat in the seats in the aisle reserved for the ushers. My daughter asked me important questions, such as "Are those dancers boys or girls?" and I tried to answer them to the best of my ability. After intermission, we made our way to our proper seats. And then I saw someone who looked familiar. Too familiar. Why, I swore I had seen his face before somewhere, on multiple occasions. And when he sat down beside us, I realized I knew the identity of our fellow theater goer: it was Andrus Ansip, prime minister of Estonia, captain of the ship of state.

He was there like me with his family, and I decided not to whisper any suggestions on how better to run the country in his ear. Instead, I respected his privacy. But as Tony Vincent et al. began their resurrection of the Queen songbook, I began to wonder how Prime Minister Ansip might relate to the band's lyrics.

Take "Under Pressure." The current coalition government is running into the kinds of problems that result when social democrats and liberals try to deal with labor laws. To cut spending or raise taxes? That is the question. Things are so bad that Ansip's Reform Party is prepared to talk with the People's Union to cut the Sotsid out of the equation. In other words, Ansip is under pressure, the kind of pressure that burns a building down. It's terror of knowing what this world is about, of watching some good friends screaming, 'Let me out.'

Ansip is straining from his troubled relationship with Finance Minister Ivari Padar. He feels so tied down he even authored a 'private' letter that went public expressing his dissatisfaction with Padar's suggestions. Ansip, you see, wants to break free. He yearns to be free from the Sots' lies. They're so self-satisfied, anyway; he doesn't need them. He's got to break free.

I felt guilty stitching together what I had read in the papers with the man sitting beside me. Who was I to use Queen's lyrics to set his political life to music? I decided to revert my attention to the singers and dancers on stage, and to making sure that my daughter didn't accidentally sneeze on the prime minister and cause some kind of international incident. And so I ignored the prime minister for the rest of the show, even when we stomped our feet and clapped our hands to "We Will Rock You."

I wondered how many other people like me had ignored him in the past. I wondered if a prime minister of Estonia could ever return to civilian life and start up conversations with strangers in dark theaters watching men and women in G-strings writhe on the stage floor to songs with titles like "Innuendo." At that moment, to me, Ansip was like an invisible man. It was almost as if I could see right through him.

12 kommentaari:

Jim Hass ütles ...

No matter what you do, you wonder if you should have done something different. Like this brush with greatness, I too wondered about politics when I sent out my facebook invitations to "Mafia Wars". Would it be too sensative a topic to invite Estonians? Would Mart be offended? Andre because of the Russian stereotype? Ultimately, we do what we do and they do what they do.

In that Vanity Fair color piece about the Icelandic financial crisis, the author states that Icelanders feel special because anybody can walk in and see the prime minister-- because it's a small island and they're all related. Isn't Estonia a bit like that too-- a small close-knit society? Maybe Justin you haven't quite met everybody, but you seem to have made great progress-- even the "Silver Fox".

Kristopher ütles ...

At a recent press conference, Ansip was asked if he still has time to stay fit, and he replied that he roller-skated (rollerblades, I suppose, not white quad skates) 50 km one Saturday and 60 km the Saturday before last. In any case, some insanely large figure. The guy covers massive ground; I'm surprised I haven't passed him on the Tartu highway.

Alex ütles ...

I think it's a good commentary on the relative political stability and safety of Estonia. How many other heads of government in post communist countries would feel safe enough to just sit in a crowded theater with the common folks?

ants ütles ...

"Uhkus ajab upakile, kangus käima käpakile." An estonian saying (wisdom)

Giustino ütles ...

Ansip reminds me of Bush circa 2006; we know his moment has long passed, but he's still sitting there because the opposition hasn't found their Obama yet. They will, but it will take time, maybe until economic growth is restored for which they can take credit. Kind of odd how one person can provoke such strong feelings. He is, after all, but one man.

Lingüista ütles ...

As an outsider, just a general question: what is it about Ansip that is as unpleasant as Bush 2006 was?

Giustino ütles ...

I haven't seen an opinion poll on Ansip's performance lately, but I am pretty sure it's not what it was in May 2007.

lounamaa ütles ...

What is unpleasant about Ansip?

First of all, it feels like he clings to power just a little bit too much. While clinging to power is what politicians are supposed to be good at, Ansip has held on for longer than any of his predecessors as Prime Minister and doesn't want to step down even in the face of a seemingly irredeemable crisis in his government.

Secondly, due to his stubbornness and unwillingness to compromise on issues that he believes would jeopardize his position in the eyes of his financial supporters (and electorate), Ansip has declared (along with his party and their coalition partner IRL) that some potential solutions to the current national budget balancing disaster are anathema. Flat out refusing to discuss raising the income tax to 26%, for example, while abusing their Social Democrat coalition partners for even suggesting this course of action (just imagine their surprise upon hearing that social democrats want to raise taxes!) does not seem very constructive.

Basically, it seems that Ansip and the Reform party want to pull the old switcheroo that has served them so well in the past and change coalition partners so that their government could maintain the economically liberal agenda that has supposedly served us so well in recent years. Why is this? Ansip seems to be unable to admit that he could ever be wrong. When bad things happen, it is always someone else's fault (in this sense, he is very similar to a certain Mayor of Tallinn). Maybe this is what is most annoying about him on a personal level. No "My bad!" from this guy. Just bullshit and accusations.

Lingüista ütles ...

Hm, lounamaa, you make it sound like Ansip is a stubborn politician who just won't admit he's wrong as long as there is any tiny chance that he might be right. You could put a positive slant on it and claim that he has "strength of character" and "faith in his worldview". Or you could put a negative slant and say what I said above: stubborn politician who won't talk to those who criticize his pet theories. In that sense, I do begin to see the similarity with Bush... Though my impression from afar was that Ansip looks more intelligent than Bush. (What was he before he became PM? Was he already a politician during the Soviet times?)

lounamaa ütles ...

During the Soviet times, Ansip used to be a Communist Party functionary in Tartu. He was also Mayor of Tartu for quite a while (after we had regained our independence).

His "strength of character" has currently led him down the path of demagogy as he prepares to throw the Sotsid overboard and justifies his move by claiming that the Social Democrats refused to compromise their political views in the interest of the country and used their ministerial positions to conduct an election campaign.

Looking back a few weeks, however, we see that in their shock and outrage over the Social Democrats' proposal to raise the income tax, the Reform Party and its leader basically said that it was stupid and arrogant of the Minister of Finance to bring to the table proposals that he knew contradicted the Reform Party's election promises and would therefore never be acceptable.

Giustino ütles ...

Ansip's end is nigh and he has to know it. Now SDE, Center, and the Greens will be in opposition. That's a center-left coalition right there.

In the past, almost all coalitions have either been liberals, conservatives, and social democrats, OR liberals, centrists, and agrarians (or whatever Rahvaliit is).

Now, it will be for perhaps the first time liberals, conservatives, and agrarians, leaving room for a social democrat, centrist, green coalition to be formed.

This current fiasco reminds me of when Savisaar and Reiljan tried to take matters into their own hands during the presidential selection in 2006. We all know how that turned out.

nipi ütles ...

Yeah, but I still expect something without Savisaar or Reiljan.