There's something utterly depressing about hearing the Pet Shop Boys in a supermarket in Estonia. Maybe it's the cold synthesizers or the singer's sad tales of broken romance, but I'd rather hear anything else, I even welcomed Madonna's "La Isla Bonita" after suffering through one of their tunes.
I guess it reminds me of being on the Brighton waterfront at 2 am, with some guy screaming at me that his boyfriend OD'd. I told him, "What do you want me to do? Get him in one of those taxis and take him to a hospital." But he didn't. All he did was cry and scream. What a nightmare. And of course I didn't help, being not only a foreigner with a dead cellphone but a callous bastard, too. But that was then.
I think little of Estonian politics these days. The Ansip years stretch on, buoyed by the prime minister's steadfast belief that he is always right (Crisis? What crisis?). Ansip has supposedly modeled his career on Denmark's Andres Fogh Rasmussen's but he actually reminds me a bit of his overly confident counterpart to the north, Matti Vanhanen. In the same way that Ansip can argue that his country's concerns about the planned Nord Stream pipeline are solely environmental, Vanhanen can tell the Finnish press that an underwater pipeline is good for the environment and European energy security. Matti and Andrus, two sides of the same Balto-Finnic coin (which will hopefully be a euro on both sides of the gulf by this time next year).
I think Estonians are bored with Estonian politics too. Party support has ossified. Reform and Centre trade leads every few weeks, depending on whose leader most recently said or did something dumb. IRL and SDE limp by with their reliable slices of the remaining electorate. The same tired politicians continue to hurl the same insults at each other and few care. The central spread in this weekend's Postimees isn't about Estonia at all; it's about Ukraine. I have to say, I am more eager to read about Ukraine than Estonia.
The underwhelming victory of Viktor Yanukovich over Yulia Tymoshenko last week has caused all sorts of soul searching in Estonia and, in general, the West. Estonians look at the electoral map of Ukraine with its Russophone, industrial east and see Ida Virumaa, perhaps glad that they've only got one county like that, rather than half a country. Americans look at the electoral map of Ukraine and see the irreconcilable "red states" and "blue states." Geopolitical nerds fantasize about a velvet divorce between West Ukraine and East Ukraine. As usual, we blame ourselves. If only we had done more, Ukraine wouldn't have fallen back into the hands of the Kremlin's stooges, some analysts argue. We've missed a prime opportunity and it's all our fault.
Indeed, there are lessons to be learned. I think everyone in the West sympathized most with Yulia over Viktor, even if, as any Ukrainian-born cab driver will tell you, she's just as mercurial and crooked as the rest. It started with her role in the Orange Revolution. I did enjoy watching her spar with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a series of articles, because anybody who gives it to Lavrov is ok with me.
Tymoshenko, let's not forget, also has the hair. Never underestimate the power of the hair. With Tymoshenko, for the first time, perhaps ever, people in the West had a distinct image of Ukrainians, and a positive image at that. She became Ukraine's romantic nationalist face, with a mug more magnetic than Viktor Yuschenko's or Viktor Yanukovich's. Show the photos of Yulia and the Viktors to anyone on a street in Tartu or Stockholm or London or Vancouver, and most people would probably choose Yulia. She seemed so different from what we've come to expect from Soviet and post-Soviet leadership: not only was she dynamic and charismatic, but she was also female.
Think about it. Who was the last female leader of Ukraine? Actually, I did a little research, and Serafima Hopner was secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine for a few months in 1918. That's better than Estonia, though, where there has never been since 1918 a female state elder, president, or prime minister. In the West, especially after 12 years of Margaret Thatcher, gender seems less of an issue. Ireland's had two successive female presidents. Even in Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania, women have held the highest office. But still in Estonia, it seems that we are faced with an ensemble cast of middle-aged men who are always right.
Despite the progressive, northern light in which Estonians would like to view themselves, I think the population would actually be uncomfortable with a Yulia-like candidate serving as prime minister or president. At one level, some female candidates have done well as mayors and parliamentarians. But at the top? Estonians swear they are not religious, but they prefer their leaders to be like their Evangelical Lutheran pastors: dour, conservative, plain, righteous, and, most of all, male.
There have been a few exceptions. Marju Lauristin comes to mind as an Estonian leader who was one of the faces of the Popular Front in the '80s and continues to play a role in the domestic debate. She was also the head of SDE for five years, from 1990 to 1995. But Estonia hasn't had a woman running for PM since then and there will probably be no female face at the debates in 2011, either. How is that possible? How is it possible that in a country where 54 percent of the population is female, the heads of all the major political parties are male, and only one minister out of 13 ministers in the government is a lady?
I am sure there is a logical, Estonian explanation for that, and I'd be glad to hear it. In the meantime, while some analysts say that the Ukrainian presidential elections are an example to Russia, which does not have free elections, one could also see them as an example for Estonia, too.