One aspect of the Yana Toom affair that I brought out in my talk in Stockholm was a generational dimension, and it's one that's been on my mind in recent weeks. I was thinking about my friends (roughly my age) who travel around the world, and then I thought about two very famous Estonians, Marko Matvere and Jaan Tätte, who also travel around the world. Except when our friends travel around the world, it's just traveling around the world. But when Matvere and Tätte travel around the world, it's a Big Fucking Deal. Oh, look, Tätte sent home a postcard from Hawaii. Let's put it in a museum! Why are they so important? Sure, they write songs. But my friends also write songs. Sure, they appear on TV and in film. But ... so do some of my friends. And yet, whatever Matvere and Tätte do seems to be more imbued with meaning, more relevant. They are, ühesõnaga, culturally significant.
The only real difference between the Tätte and Matveres of Estonia and people my age, is that they are a little older. They are of the so-called "Winner's Generation." (They are both pushing 50). This is pretty hilarious construct for Americans, because in America, the generation born in the 1960s was pretty much seen as getting screwed at every stage of their life [See Reality Bites]. But in Estonia, people born in the 1960s are number one. Think of the first Laar government from 1992. Much has been made of their youth at the time. Laar was 32. Foreign minister Jüri Luik was 27. Defense minister Indrek Kannik was 28 (just checked these by the way, though I recall Laar boasting at a conference about the young members of his first government). Two decades on, not much has changed. The big boys are still running the show. There are younger ministers, some even my age, but they are usually somebody's protege. Who makes the big decisions about Estonia's future? The Winners.
But who is a Winner? I usually think of Savisaar as the first Winner, not because he wins so many elections, but because he thinks he's so important. He may count on some pensioners' votes, but the painstaking/philosophical/academic approaches of say Paul-Eerik Rummo or Jaan Kaplinski are absent. People wonder what Savisaar stands for. That's easy. Savisaar stands for whatever Savisaar happens to think at the time, naturally. End of story. It was this combative nature that earned him the nickname, "Piggy." And what you see down the line after him is a long list of Piggies. They are significant just because ... they are significant.
And, to draw Yana Toom in here a little, all of the issues that molested their psyches during the Brezhnev stagnation continue to plague Estonian politics. Russification is one of those issues. It's not unlike Vietnam in the United States. Remember the 2004 election and the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"? Somehow, what happened in Southeast Asia at the tail-end of the 1960s became more important than what was happening in Afghanistan and Iraq in the middle of the 00s. And for younger, less diverse generations of Estonians, these questions about language and history are not as important as being able to find a good job. But for the Winners they were, and will continue to be, among the most significant issues we face. A discussion about minority issues in Estonia today does not occur in the context of 2013 but, too often, in the context of 1980. But, as Kaplinski alluded to in his essay (see discussion in previous post) Estonian-Russian interpersonal relations before the war, before the Winners came onto the scene, and in the tsarist era, were actually pretty okay. Not that it matters much what he says. It's got to be frustrating for the Kaplinskis of Estonia. He's now an elder in society, and yet all this wise old man can do is write essays and hope that somebody reads them.
The thing about Yana Toom is that she is a Winner, at least technically. She's the same age as Juhan Pärts, Jüri Luik, a year younger than Matvere, two years younger than Tätte. Except Yana Toom is not a winner. She's a loser. I would not like to see the conditions under which she becomes the foreign minister of the Republic of Estonia. But Estonian Russians of her age have to deal with that. While their EstoEsto peers climbed quickly to hold the top positions in the land, meet with presidents and kings and queens, and generally can count on having things named after them when they are dead, the Yana Tooms of Estonia cannot point to a similar amount of success. These are people who were completely socialized in the Soviet system, who became adults before it fell apart, who looked forward to one future and yet were handed a very different one. That's bound to generate some bitterness.