kolmapäev, aprill 28, 2010

talle see sobib

One of the perks of living in Estonia is that you are far removed from the endless barrage of propaganda that is American political discourse. On the downside, the longer you stay in Estonia and, especially, the stronger your command of the local language becomes, newer, potent forms of propaganda manifest themselves in your daily life.

Consider the case of Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar. He was prime minister of this country for a short period of time in the early 1990s. Ever since then he's been running a never ending, so-far unsuccessful campaign to win back his seat in Stenbock House. Savisaar likes to lavish his voters with free firewood, potatoes, electronic greeting cards, and public advertising campaigns that border on harassment. His political demagoguery has earned him the exasperation of many an Estonian, not to mention the ridicule of his rivals. But the problem for his political opponents is that his critiques are not completely untrue.

Savisaar's most recent attempt to woo voters is to pin the economic crisis on the ruling coalition. He's been trying to do it for years now, with some success. His party did win the most votes during the municipal elections last October. And here's their narrative, as put by Ain Seppik, an MP and Savisaar's right-hand man. Seppik said in a recent article that when Centre was in coalition with Reform from 2005 to 2007, all was well. The economy was up, unemployment was down; Estonia was looking forward to an endless summer. Then things took a turn for the worse. Following the March 2007 elections, Reform callously dropped Centre and decided to steer to the right with their new best friend and coalition partner Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit. The economy subsequently tanked, unemployment grew, there was rioting in the streets, and Estonia now faced cold, endless winters.

So Savisaar blames the ruling coalition for the high unemployment rate and the deep economic decline of the last few years. And who could argue with him? It's true! Estonia does have high unemployment. Estonia has experienced an extreme economic slump. Of course, other countries have these phenomena too, his opponents point out. But little Estonia has the third highest unemployment rate in Europe. GDP meantime dropped 14 percent last year. The EU on average saw a decline of 4 percent. Anyone who travels around Estonia can see that the money from the economic boom did not exactly trickle down to all. There are plenty of disgruntled have-nots in this country, and most of them can vote in parliamentary elections. So why not appeal to their interests?

Savisaar's opponents fire back that they aren't responsible for Estonia's problems. Estonia's paternalistic rulers instead argue that they are only responsible for the good in this land. As Prime Minister Andrus Ansip put it, his Reform Party has made Estonia what it is today. But the bad? Well, that's like the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Some other superior force is behind the bad. Not the local politicians. I mean, without their foresight and wisdom, things could be much worse and when I say worse, I mean Latvia. Estonians owe their leaders everything, that lightning-quick wifi connection, that efficient online tax system, those gold medals our skiers won at the Olympic Games in 2006. But, wait a second, Centre was in the coalition in 2006. Looks like Ansip and Savisaar will have to share the gold.

So you see, there are different narratives competing in Estonia. Flasher T, an Estonian blogger, has constructed his own, which is closer to Reform's than to Centre's. In Flasher's narrative, Estonia's friends in high places secure it the green light for Euro adoption next month, filling the sails of the ruling coalition with wind that will earn them the top slot in next year's parliamentary elections. Since Eesti Pank director Andres Lipstok will be the point man for the currency change, Flasher hypothesizes that Ansip will retire to some sinecure in EU or NATO, while Lipstok becomes the flashy, new, attractive face of Reform's 2011 ticket. And Flasher may be right. The Estonian media is undoubtedly slanted towards the ruling coalition: they are certain to make a hero out of Lipstok if that's the way events shake out.

But they may not turn out that way. If American political discourse (and personal experience) has taught me anything, it's that journalists tend to favor the winner. When the Centre Party won the municipal elections last October, I noticed how the Estonian media suddenly went a little easier on the victorious party. And they have to go easy on them: you can't interview politicians if they won't speak to you, and if you can't write your articles, then you are out of work. All journalists have to trade a little integrity for access, and that's why if Savisaar does come out on top, and he is able to put a coalition together, the media spin might turn quickly in his favor. The Centre Party's narrative will prevail.

For some reason, the British parliamentary election of July 1945 comes to mind. Winston Churchill's Conservatives were favored to win. Churchill had led the country through the war and enjoyed a certain hero status. With the war in Europe over, though, the British public turned their concern to employment, housing, social services, and they voted for Labour's Clement Attlee instead. Of course, that's an elementary school textbook's version of events, but take it as an example of how fast the national mood can change, and how a prediction that would seem rather obvious -- the Allies' triumph in the war leading to Churchill's certain reelection -- was not fulfilled. Not to say that Savisaar is Estonia's Attlee -- the local Benny Hill jokes are often not off their mark -- but don't count on the "victory" of Euro adoption translating to votes.

We will have to wait to see how Estonians vote next March. Either outcome will be interesting.

31 kommentaari:

McMad ütles ...

Keskerakond = Blatnoi party (look up what that means if you dont know).
Economic crisis did not originate from Estonia. You havent seen it, and most people choose to have a very short memory, but the economic development since the country regained her independence is absolutely amazing! And its only thanks to the free market model.

martintg ütles ...

Savisaar is the Yanukovych of Estonian politics. I'm sure his solution to Estonia's economic problems is to sell out Estonia to Kremlin demands.

Erki ütles ...

"...those gold medals our skiers won at the Olympic Games in 2006." - thank you for saying OUR as you consider yourself already as a member of this community. So can we say our Justine as well?

Giustino ütles ...

Muidugi, aga kes on selline "Justine"?

Giustino ütles ...

You havent seen it, and most people choose to have a very short memory, but the economic development since the country regained her independence is absolutely amazing! And its only thanks to the free market model.

I have seen it, even the transition from 2002 to 2010 has been inspiring. At the same time, Estonia is lacking a strong "architectural review board." It seems like, if you have the money and the friends, you can build whatever you want, wherever you want it. That is my experience in Tallinn and in Tartu.

Savisaar is the Yanukovych of Estonian politics. I'm sure his solution to Estonia's economic problems is to sell out Estonia to Kremlin demands.

A good analogy, though Ukraine is more internally divided than Estonia. Savisaar will have to rely on partners to hold power (and, by the way, his most recent partners in a coalition government were Andrus Ansip and Villu Reiljan). But why aren't Estonia's other parties going after his base?

Temesta ütles ...

@ McMad

Economic crisis did not originate from Estonia.

As Giustino said the economic crisis was much worse than the average in the European Union, only Latvia and Lithuania did worse. That means that there have been problems (like an enormous current account deficit, excessive borrowing and a real estate bubble) specific for Estonia that aggravated the impact of foreign factors.

I could also point out that the Estonian economy was already in recession in March 2008, long before there was talk of a global financial crisis.

Temesta ütles ...

Interesting read for people who think Estonia's accession to the eurozone is a sure thing:

http://fistfulofeuros.net/afoe/economics-and-demography/is-estonias-euro-membership-a-done-deal/

Lingüista ütles ...

How could the other parties go after Savisaar's base, since Savisaar's base is full of people who are precisely unhappy with the other parties -- since these left them as have-nots? Plus of course the ethnic Russians who will support Savisaar no matter what. Is there any way in which Reformerakond could appeal to them? In that sense the comparison to Ukraine's Yanukovych is quite good -- the Russian Navy deal for Sevastopol, for instance. There's no way he would attract his opponent's basis by not doing the deal -- they wouldn't vote for him no matter what -- so by actually doing the deal he at least pleases and secures his own basis.

People seem to be quite polarized in politics lately -- this is especially clear in America, but in other countries the same seems to be happening. Like society is fracturing along political lines.

Andres ütles ...

Muidugi, aga kes on selline "Justine"?

Siis peaks vist pigem selle Justini ära eestistama kah. Kusti, näiteks.

Vello ütles ...

Lingüista:

You wrote: "How could the other parties go after Savisaar's base, since Savisaar's base is full of people who are precisely unhappy with the other parties..."

What's the story with Keit Pentus? I saw her on TV the night ranting about how we've (we = Reform?) got to have a constant (in non-election years, too) dialogue with the Lasnamäe and Ida-Virumaa crowd. Other than buying ads in the Russian-language press, are the other parties making any effort to open a dialogue with Edgar's voters?

And what about Hanno Pevkur? I'm told he's an Ida-Virumaa boy and that he's loved by ethnic Russians in that area. Can he do anything to steal the Russian vote from Savisaar?

Do the other parties have any plan at all? I find it hard to believe they're just sitting on their hands or trusting unto the Lord. There aren't so many ethnic Russians in Estonia that a politician, if he set his mind to it, couldn't actually meet every single one of them in the time between elections. He could get a bus, paint "Venka Ekspress" on the side of it, and travel around and eat shashlõkk for a year.

Brüno ütles ...

Meie Peetroni Kusti.

McMad ütles ...

@Temesta

read: http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/analytics/?doc=26156

Temesta ütles ...

@ McMad:

Old news. What do you want to say with that?

martintg ütles ...

Other than buying ads in the Russian-language press, are the other parties making any effort to open a dialogue with Edgar's voters?

This is an excellent point. the incumbent parties should be out on the ground handing out free firewood and potatoes too. We may scoff at Savisaar's antics, but it evidently works for his constituency.

The Russian vote isn't a monolithic block, many of them have chosen Estonian citizenship. So they should be embraced as "New Estonians" so that they are encouraged to grow their kids as loyal Estonian citizens.

McMad ütles ...

@Temesta

That Estonian .gov has handled the situation very wisely and not set up the future generations with a HUGE dept.

Temesta ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Temesta ütles ...

McMad,


The problems of the Estonian economy are not of a fiscal nature. Economy is more than public finances. I reverse your reasoning: good management of public finances and low debt did not prevent the crisis from striking very hard. That shows that there were (are) some serious problems in the structure of the Estonian economy.

Temesta ütles ...

On the other hand, you are right that management of the public finances in Estonia is very good.
Maintaining such a low budget deficit during such a savage recession is an impressive achievement.

Giustino ütles ...

Lauristin explained it to me this way: the Estonian economy was like a speedboat, the Finnish and Swedish economies were like cargo ships. During a boom, the speedboat is able to zoom ahead of everyone else. When there's a bust, though, the cargo ships may dip a little, but what happens to the speedboat?

Justin ütles ...

Is Savisaar angling for the PM position? I talked to someone the other day who said they think he has his eye on the president role, since it's the only big job he hasn't held yet. I know the PM has much more power, but is that what he's after at this point?

He's getting on in the years, so he has to achieve his life goals, whatever they are, pretty soon.

Rainer ütles ...

Justin,

It is painfully obvious that Savisaar fancies himself the Prime Minister-in-waiting, having to bide his time as the head of his city state Tallinn. Why should he be interested in mere presidency? No actual power comes with the office. Somebody once put it very well: althoug for Savisaar's supporters and constituency his becoming the president would be an ultimate political orgasm, it wouldn't satisfy him at all.

McMad ütles ...

@Giustino

Lauristin is wrong. In countries like Holland, Belgium, Germany etc. every economist worth his title has made it very clear that the social welfare state model is not sustainable. To keep it as it is the tax burden for an average worker has to be raised to 70% over 20 years. The problem is that too many vested powers don't want to let it go, as it is such an easy carrot to hold before the eyes of the stupid and the lazy to canvas their votes. So easy immediate fixes are used: lets borrow ourselves into dept over our heads to ease the situation now, and f*ck the future.

茂鴻 ütles ...

笑口常開~~天天開心........................................

Giustino ütles ...

@McMad

The metaphor was used to explain why the Estonian economy fell so precipitously compared to it's slower-growth neighbors. Growth in Estonia sometimes doesn't seem to make sense. Just as the country is covered with half-finished Soviet building projects, it's now covered with half-finished homes and office buildings. Who knows where the owners are. They probably took the money and got out of Estonia :(

McMad ütles ...

@Giustino

The market will take care of these empty and half-finished buildings. When they stay empty long enough, they become cheap enough for people living now in dilapidated soviet housing blocks in Mustamäe. Then we can bulldozer Mustamäe, build some nice individual homes there etc :)

Temesta ütles ...

@ McMad:

As a defender of giving free reign to market forces, what do you think about Estonia's government backed fixed exchange rate?

plasma-jack ütles ...

I talked to someone the other day who said they think he has his eye on the president role, since it's the only big job he hasn't held yet. I know the PM has much more power, but is that what he's after at this point?

A President is in no position to give out handouts to his friends in business. On the other hand, the head of state is entitled to pardon convicts, so that could be a nice source of revenue.

McMad ütles ...

@Temesta

I'm not keen on that.
As i'm not keen on anything that has to do with that horrible, bloated and undemocratic monstrosity called the European Union.

偉子生誠 ütles ...

how do u do?

Inita ütles ...

Did anybody get to see the Ühtne Eesti show in Saku Suurhall? Any comments?

plasma-jack ütles ...

It was clever, funny and fabolous. Also showed that our parties are amateurs when it comes to organizing a party congress.