It's all becoming very clear to me, the whole thing. My perspective is informed by time and distance. Only with time and distance is it possible sometimes to make sense of things.
It began with a newspaper on a Wednesday morning. Sami Seppänen, CEO of Finnish telecommunication firm Elisa's Estonian office, had finally done it. He had unearthed the domestic Holy Grail. The chalice of Kalev. Estonia's Nokia. What is it, you ask? I wanted to know too, so I read the whole article.
Nordic trade unions, Sami wrote. They are always on strike. It's such a pain, that it makes sense for the Nordic countries to outsource their manufacturing to nearby Estonia. And they are already coming.
"Electronics producer Elcoteq is expanding its manufacturing in Tallinn, the Danes' Flexa is closing its factory in Denmark and moving its furniture manufacturing to Estonia, the Finns' Incap wants to close its Finnish factory and bring its electronics production to Estonia, the Swedes' car tire maker Trellborg is bringing from Sweden part of its production over to Estonia, and Ericcson Estonia's production is also growing."
It's like a perfect storm, no, even better, a shooting star, a Nordic meteroid of manufacturing jobs is headed this way, set to recreate the awesome collision in Saaremaa that Lennart Meri hypothesized gave the Scandinavians their "Thule" so many years ago. But how should we feel about this? How should we feel now that the search is over, and Eesti Nokia is on its way across the Baltic, packed away in boxes of electronic equipment?
The Scandinavians and the Estonians have a long, intimate history. As far back as the fabled year of 1991, when the Estonians regained their independence, historians familiar with old chronicles agree that it was not the Americans or Brits or French who were most eager to recognize it. Instead it was Reykjavik, followed quickly by Copenhagen, that, two days after the August 20 reaffirmation, restored relations on the basis of the de jure relations that had existed since 1922. Reading Seppänen's article, I began to wonder, maybe this was the secret plan all along: to pry the Estonians away from Moscow so that they could become the "sixth Nordic country," akin to the "fifth Beatle," a nifty little R&D and assembly shop, a satellite across the sea.
Of course, no Estonian is content to be the fifth Beatle. Even if he just plays organ on a few songs, he wants full membership in the band. He wants to be on the album cover, not in the liner notes. The Estonian wants to see his somber tricolor up there, tossing in the air alongside the crosses of the giants. He aims to look Stockholm in the eye, not up the nose. And so the joy with which Estonia's Nokia is received is muted. Others whisper. What can sate the Estonian's hunger for status, money, and international prestige?
At night, I pace back in my workshop, trying to put it all together. For years, the Estonians have dreamed of their own Nokia, their own launching pad to prosperity. But what if Seppänen is right? What if Estonia's Nokia doesn't come in the form of shiny communication devices, but as manufacturing jobs outsourced to a sunny corner of an often troublesome galaxy of labor. I worry as I pace. Will the Estonians be content? It's up them, I determine. Something to mull over as they assemble consumer electronics and detail rubber tires.