teisipäev, august 30, 2011

¡Ilves! ¡tarand! ¡Ilves!

"I don't think that guy is going to be reelected," a university professor confided in me one autumn day in the last years of the '00s. "He's just too arrogant. Estonians want their president to be a man of the people."

It's true that when people criticize Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, they immediately seize upon the 'a' word: arrogant. But what they forget is that arrogance is one of the defining traits of the Estonian people. No matter which one of them you get in Kadriorg, he (or she) is likely to be arrogant. And so I didn't take my professor's prediction too seriously. If anything, most Estonians relish their leaders' arrogance. They like a leader who acts like he knows what he's doing.

And then there was the matter of Ilves' trademark bow tie, which some took as comedy and others as treachery. I recall a blog post criticizing Ilves for wearing a blue and yellow tie during a meeting with Swedish counterparts. Heresy! Treason! Vanity! There it is, the 'v' word. And it's also very Estonian. Just as they are an arrogant people, the Estonians are utterly vain. They buy tabloids in vast quantities just to read up on the personal lives of people who are famous only because they have been featured in said tabloids. They change their Facebook profile photos every fortnight. The vain president, the vain first lady, the vain businessman, the vain athlete, the vain model, the vain author, the vain chocolatier. Read all about it! What do all these Estonians have in common? The 'v' word.

So, like all other Estonians, Ilves is perceived as arrogant and vain. But he is also a smarty pants. When they say "US educated," they don't mean that he sold crack outside of PS 21 in Bedford-Stuyvesant. This gentleman was valedictorian of his high school class, got a bachelor's at Columbia, and then his master's at the University of Pennsylvania. And his son went to Stanford! Jeesus, the Ilveses are smart people. They are of brainy stock. While being a nerd might get you humiliated in junior high school, it tends to work to your advantage when consulting with other world leaders. Drop in a forgotten quote from a Greek philosopher here, construct meaning out of a random historical fact that no one remembers there. Watch the jaws drop. Suddenly, you're the person humiliating the others. And it feels great.

Lyndon Johnson used body language to get his way. The long, tall Texan would lean in, enveloping the individual he wished to persuade with his presence, his face a millimeter away from his target, suffocating his victim with "supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint and the hint of threat," his eyebrows moving up and down, until the errant senator or congressman caved in and agreed to vote Johnson's way. They called it the "Johnson Treatment." The "Ilves Treatment" is to be made to feel as if you never attended a day of school in your life.

Indrek Tarand, Ilves' opponent in the presidential election embodied many of these characteristics. Tarand is known as the man who ran an advertisement in Eesti Ekspress upon his university graduation in 1991, "Indrek Tarand lõpetab ülikooli, kõik pakkumised oodatud"/ "Indrek Tarand is finishing university, awaits all offers." Even the arrogant and vain Estonians were bowled over by that move. And that's really all you need to know about Indrek Tarand. His successful campaign for European Parliament was taken right out of The Candidate, with Tarand cast as Robert Redford's Bill McKay, a gum chewing, bluntly honest novice who isn't afraid to lose and yet somehow manages to beat the establishment. Ilves' has his bow tie, Tarand has his cool shades. Therein lies the difference.

I was on the same flight with Tarand, a plane ride to Copenhagen in June. When I saw him, I stared at him a bit, as if he were an old friend. Then I recalled that I only knew him from the tabloids. When he caught me looking at him, Tarand winked at me. I wondered if he recognized me from the tabloids. We sat across from each other but didn't say a word. But all the time up in the air over the blue Baltic Sea I felt that we had something in common. We had both sold our souls to Estonia. I wonder sometimes if President Ilves feels that way too when he's jetting around the world.

In the end Ilves defeated Tarand, receiving 73 votes to his 25 in parliament. It was the first time since 1991 that an Estonian president had been selected in the first round, a sign of "political maturity," Ilves said approvingly. It was probably best that both men kept their day jobs, Ilves in Kadriorg, Tarand in Brussels. These Estonians know how to promote themselves and how to promote their country. They stand out, they look good, they find wise or witty things to say. And, most importantly, they act like they know what they are doing.

15 kommentaari:

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

Estonian pop star Sal-Saller (arrogancy is part of his job description) has a line in one of his whiny fake foreign accented songs where he declares that "in Estonia, everyone is a superstar". I found it funny and dead-on. That also maybe explains why estonians do not like to big cities like New York etc. which make one feel insignificant. In a village, everyone is a superstar.

Listen to maainimised complain about the "fast-paced" and "frantic" life in Tallinn. Makes you laugh when you are on NY or Moscow subway.

_nagilum_ ütles ...

... but it is interesting to follow it all, all that's going on. only 25 votes against ilves; this means two things, a) that tarand may be popular with the people, but has little to no political weight (how could he, he's alone, and as long as you don't have to deliver, well, being a bit of a blowhole isn't such a bad thing); and b), the keskies aren't as happy as they used to be voting against their grand poobah's expressed enemy just for the hell of it. tarand slightly de-mystified and made to look a fool for keskerakond, savisaar on the way down. estonian politics might just become interesting after all.

Sepp ütles ...

@Liivimaa

Amusing...I would often be met with dumbfounded looks by kodu Eestlased when I explained to them that in all the years that I have spent walking the sidewalks of New York, I have almost never encountered one of our Estonian kin folk. Just didn't seem possible to them.

OTH, to relieve their anxiety over this, I would also mention that outside of a few enclaves like Brighton Beach, one rarely heard Russian spoken in the States and the average American probably spent less than 2 seconds a year wondering about what was going over there in ex commie land.

Ricardo ütles ...

This whole article is based on the thesis of Estonian being arrogant and vain. However, evidence for that is really poor. That Estonians read tabloids about famous people who are famous for being famous? Which people in Europe actually does NOT read that kind of tabloid? Actually and from my experience, if that is the way to measure "vanity", I would say Estonians are less vain that the European average. As one example, Estonian tabloids seem to care less about aristocracies than tabloids from other republics.

As for arrogance, I wonder whether the author of this post has ever had contact with ordinary people from France, Italy and Germany (just to name countries with big population).

Rainer ütles ...

I agree with Ricardo. This theory of (all) Estonians being arrogant and vain is something one would expect from Edward Lucas. A hefty generalization from someone who probably comes into contact with only certain kind of people, let's call them "the successful ones".
And yet there are plenty of people in Estonia suffering from the low self-esteem, sometimes to the point of self-hatred (a good article on the subject by Imbi Paju: http://www.postimees.ee/218362/imbi-paju-eneseviha-juured-reetmisest-ja-autundest/ ). Sadly this kind of national masochism is much more characteristic of certain social layers/generations in Estonia today than arrogance and vanity.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

to Rainer

Interesting article you referenced. Thank you. Here is one that really struck me personally ...

"Meie kultuur peaks andma võimaluse meenutada neid isikuid, kes tugevdavad meie kokkukuuluvustunnet, mitte tunnet, et meid on reedetud."

I feel that our culture is more about betrayal rather than ühtekuuluvustunne. I cannot stand there and hold hands with my countrymen one day, and battle them in traffic and fight them in everyday situations the next. If we have anything in common it is the general ärapanemine. I like to be a winner so, I fight and all kinds of laulupidud and kumbmaya hold my hand teary moments are distractions to me.

I am utterly sad and completely honest by saying that. My motto is and will continue to be "don't fuck with me" and I know everyone else has the same motto too. They will just not say it. Just watch them behave and you get it.

Arrogance is a too soft a word to describe it.

That's us.

That's me.

And it sucks and thats how it is.

Ricardo ütles ...

"battle them in traffic"? Battle them in traffic???

Excuse me "Liivimaa parim ratsutaja", but in which Estonia do you live????????????????

I suggest you driving in Portugal, France or North Italy. I am not evil enough to suggest you to drive in South Italy though.

Liivimaa parim ratsutaja ütles ...

I admit, that by using traffic as an example of unfriendly estonian behavior was weak. I just meant the overall ärapanemine and generally hostile and rude atmosphere in Estonia.

_nagilum_ ütles ...

lpr rainer, ricardo: but the estonians HAVE been betrayed. you can look at it whichever way you want: they got screwed by history several times over, learned the hard way that you can't rely on most of your so-called friends, had to hack their way out of misery and dictatorship twice in the same century, got 25% of their population arrested, displaced, murdered, were robbed, nationalised, the list is endless. they're suspicious, and who the hell could blame them? arrogance, yes; but the source is a rather justified "us against the rest of the world" mentality. because once the morally superior western world gives you a practical demonstration of how much their high and mighty talk is worth, by handing over your nation's gold reserves to the people who are keeping your land occupied for instance, some kitchen table let's all be friends and love and support each other till the end of time crap just doesn't do anymore. these things take time, and it's not the estonians who f'ed up. let them be annoyed with the world and each other, hell i would be if something alike had happened to my country.

Christine ütles ...

How much did Estonia pay for that soul of yours?

_nagilum_ ütles ...

i thought they didn't have any money for extras.

Lingüista ütles ...

I've still seen no evidence that Estonians are any more arrogant than, say, Russians, or Americans, or Italians, or Germans, or...

You see, my native country (Brazil) supposedly suffers from the opposite disease: we are 'too friendly', we 'trust too quickly', we 'don't believe in ourselves' -- Brazilians keep telling jokes about how f-ed up Brazilians are -- etc. etc. etc. But the moment Brazil attained some semblance of economic success and started being listened to internationally, I started hearing rather arrogant claims from politicians (starting with former president Lula himself).

Also, just talking to people from our beloved neighbor countries -- especially small, poor ones like Paraguay or Bolivia -- and what they say Brazilians are like when they visit their countries can be an eye-opener: Brazilians can be every bit as arrogant, don't-f-k-with-us-we're-better-than-you as any other people. Just give them a chance.

So, are Estonians any worse? I've only met a few of them thus far, and I have noticed a number of surprising features... but arrogance wasn't one of them. (But then again, they were abroad, in countries richer than Estonia, which does not exactly feed one's desire to show one's arrogant side.)

National characters are difficult things to pin down.

Giustino ütles ...

That Estonians read tabloids about famous people who are famous for being famous? Which people in Europe actually does NOT read that kind of tabloid?

But most countries in Europe are far bigger. I guess an Icelandic tabloid might measure up to an Estonian one in terms of glorification of a small country's natural incestuousness, but even a Danish tabloid is bound to include society figures with whom few "average" people come into contact. That's a much bigger pond.


As one example, Estonian tabloids seem to care less about aristocracies than tabloids from other republics.

That's what makes the vanity of the faux celebrities inside so much more hilarious. The aristocracies in countries like the UK are important because they are important. The nouveau riche aristocracy in Estonia is important because they own a big house or a nice car or go on vacation to nice places to rub elbows with the UK aristocracy.

As for arrogance, I wonder whether the author of this post has ever had contact with ordinary people from France, Italy and Germany (just to name countries with big population).

I've been to all three countries and have relatives living in at least one. Italy is an enormous country compared to Estonia. The level of self importance must be examined from this perspective. If you are the mayor of Tartu, Estonia's second largest city, you represent about 100,000 people. If you are the mayor of Milan, Italy's second largest city, you represent 1.3 million people -- about as many as live in Estonia.

Now, quick, tell me the name of the mayor of Milan!

Giustino ütles ...

I think what I detect among (successful) Estonians is what we would call "putting on airs." It's the idea that if you buy the right clothes, get the right car, the right haircut, live in the right neighborhood, offer guests the right wine, that you can somehow escape the fact that your ancestors were peasant farmers or that your grandmother lives in the countryside in a house with limited plumbing.

Kristopher ütles ...

Arrogant and vain -- I suppose it can be given a positive spin.

It's also a good name for a wine bar in Tallinn. Or Kõrk and Vein, if you like.