kolmapäev, august 30, 2006


This is everyone's addiction here in New York. When bored the solution is easy - just go to YouTube and watch a video from The Smiths. Anyway here's four of my picks for you ...

1. The Nomads versus The Philistines "HALA"

I went to school with Nizar (of Palestinian origins) and CJ (of Filipino origins). Toward the end of the final year, CJ said that he was working on music tracks for Nizar's rhymes and that Nizar was putting together a rap group called "The Philistines." They moved to LA and now have a music video. Enjoy...

2. Jefferson Airplane "The House at Pooneil Corners"

Before U2 did it, and before the Beatles did it, Jefferson Airplane did it. The band from San Francisco put on a live show on a roof in New York in 1968, captured on film by Jean-Luc Godard. It still seems like a cool stunt, and they sound pretty good live. Listen for singer Marty Balin's wake up "Wake up fuckers! Free music! Free love! Get some!" Their song is one of their most apocalyptic. It was written the year Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, and we had the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. By all accounts a bad year.

3. France Gall "Les Sucettes"

Oh dear. This is French pop singer France Gall singing "Les Sucettes." It's a song penned by Serge Gainsbourg about lollipops, but really it's a song about fellatio. Apparently France Gall, then just about 17 years old, didn't get the innuendo. She supposedly ended her professional relationship with Gainsbourg after she found out what she was singing about.

4. Baltic Chain

And for your baltic fix, here's a video of the Baltic Chain from August 1989. Better get out your handkerchief. It's a tear jerker.

teisipäev, august 29, 2006


Well folks, today is the day that Toomas-Hendrik Ilves, the man that sold Estonia as "the world's only post-communist Nordic country", gets his 64 votes from the Riigikogu. Like Oliver Twist, Ilves will look up and say, "Please sir, may I have some more?" But most likely there will be none.

The greatest criticisms of Ilves are that he is arrogant and he was raised in the US. He therefore does not "know" rural Estonia although he lives there with his wife and children. That very well may be. But it is also true that over the past five years, Arnold Rüütel has remained mostly invisible on an international level. When he speaks he says little, if he can be bothered to speak at all.

In reality he hasn't even campaigned for office this year. He has sat there as useful vanilla, void of any flavor. Rüütel is smarter than he comes across and I think his patient hand has been useful at times. But why should he now be chosen over someone that has actively campaigned for the position and enjoys the majority of popular support? That is baffling to anyone acquainted with reason.

Maybe some of the boys at Keskerakond will defect today. Or maybe the valimiskogu will be so disgusted with Savisaar and Reiljan that they will reject their nominee. Not to sound optimistic - we all know that in days like these it is best to suppress optimism about the future of the Estonian presidency - but this is not yet a done deal.

esmaspäev, august 28, 2006


Answers to your excellent questions:

Kuidas läheb?


EPP - Why Estonia??? (Besides your lovely wife ;)

I have always been interested in the Nordic countries. When I was a small boy I used to read my brother's set of encyclopedias and I remember reading about the Lapps who used reindeer for everything. It seemed so cool. And everything is cute and quiet and in pastel colours - it's like the Japan of Europe. And underneath this cute exterior it has this menacing psychology of alcoholism and suicidal depression. Quite a combo.

EPP - Which countries would like to visit and live in?

To live? Of the places I've been I like Vancouver in Canada. I also liked Italy immensely. If I lived there for the rest of my life and was buried in an old dusty cemetery, I think I'd feel just fine. I also have strong urges to go to Brazil and Japan. In fact, I'd like to do a trip from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo, then Buenos Aires in Argentina, and then to Santiago, Chile.

INGA - I have a question about Estonian language - I have heard that it's one of the most complicated languages to learn, is that so?

I haven't tried to learn many other languages so I don't know. I did take Spanish for a long time in school, but I was not particularly great at it and today I remember little. My Estonian is much better than my Spanish ever was.

Danish was hard to pronounce and I feel that Estonian pronunciation is easier, although the Scandinavian languages (aside from Icelandic) are pretty easy to read. Swedish is actually fairly easy to understand, if you have subtitles :)

The Slavic languages are very hard, in my opinion. I have learned some basic phrases, but it is so hard to remember words. Polish seems labrynthian. Russian is impenetrable and even harder because of the alphabet.

Italian doesn't seem to be so bad. I can understand that even with the subtitles switched off. Portuguese is also not so hard for me because I listen to Brazilian music all of the time. So I can understand some basic stuff in there.

The real trouble with Estonian is not the cases. The cases are only tricky when you are speaking it. It's the word order. You have to hear the whole sentence before you can digest it and understand it. In English you start from the very begining and ride the thoughts out to the end. But in Estonian the verb is often at the end. And Estonian sentences, particularly written ones, throw a lot of details into the beginning and then proceed to the action.

Another problem is all of those ü's, õ's, ä's, and ö's. I can't even make the õ sound. I sort of make it, but it's not the real õ sound.

The words are also quite tricky. Little changes in a root word can mean different things. For example, ei lähe means "don't go" while ei lähenda means "doesn't solve."

But altogether, it's not as hard as some other languages. Think about the people who have to learn Japanese or Korean or Chinese? Or how about even Finnish? have you seen Finnish lately?

Porvoon tuomikirkon sytyttämisestä syytteessä oleva askolalainen nuorukainen oli ilmoittanut aikeistaan kavereilleen hieman ennen tekoa. Sytyttäjä ja kaksi hänen seurassaan ollutta nuorta oli palaamassa toukokuun 29. päivänä aamuyöllä Porvoon keskustassa sijaitsevasta ravintolasta, kun 18-vuotias nuorukainen ilmoitti aikeistaan.

Ok, this has something to do with Porvoo's dome church ... I hear it burnt down. But still, Estonian is easier than Finnish. I'm glad I am not learning Finnish at this moment.

TATSUTAHIME - Kas sa tahaksid päriselt Eestis elada? Miks?

Eesti (praegu) on rahulik nurk maailmas. Mulle meeldib Hiuumaad, Saaremaad, ja Tartut. Me praegu elame New Yorgis. New Yorgil on palju kultuur - musik ja midagi mood - aga see linn on must. See küsimus on nii suur - mis koht elada ja miks. Aga tõde on kerge leida. Kui ühel kohal on pühas õhk ja tavaline elu - siis see on tervislik koht olla.

Millises riigis sa mingil juhul ei tahaks elada?

Kus meri ei ole.

JENS OLAF - Who cares about Estonia, who does?

I think Ukraine is the most important East European country for the North American and European foreign policy elite right now. There is this idea that the Baltics are too small and foreign for Russia to see them as a model, but that Ukraine can pave the way for Russian reform.

Estonia is a small, northern country. It is gifted with a small population and thus can distinguish itself by doing things that larger countries cannot. Estonia can have paper free government, and e-lections, and genome projects, and do many pioneering things because of its size and adaptability.

In that way it can distinguish itself.

Ergma Update

Well, it looks like Ene only got 65 votes. Period. There were not votes against her because Estonia's minority parties decided that they had no reason to come to parliament to vote - even if it was against a candidate.

I'm not sure if KESK and ERL think this move makes them appear bold, but to me it seems childish. I hear it over and over again - "the president has no power, it's not an important position, it's just ceremonial."

If so, why is it so important to KESK and ERL that they cannot even show their faces in parliament to do what they were elected to do and vote "yes" or "no."

Ene would lose if they voted anyway but the reason KESK and ERL won't vote is that their candidate hasn't been selected. And the reason he hasn't been selected is because he has refused to stand for reelection in parliament. Does that make sense to you? Pinch me. Are you sure we're not in Wonderland?

Seriously Estonia, are these the guys you want running your country? Two party leaders that refuse to let their party members vote because they are too afraid of what might happen? One fair-weather incumbent who won't stand for election in parliament because he knows that he'd lose there?

Is cowardice a virtue? If so, Estonia is thrice blessed.

Let them know how you feel:

Phone: +372 6273 460
E-mail: keskerakond@keskerakond.ee

Phone: +372 631 6202
E-mail: sekretar@vpk.ee

Phone: +372 644 85 78
E-mail: erl@erl.ee

laupäev, august 26, 2006

Kes on see Giustino?

Kallid sõbrad, palun küsi minult mis te tahate. Täna on "Küsi midagi Giustinolt päev." Palun ...

reede, august 25, 2006

Sticking my nose in Estonia's business ...

Uh oh - it looks like I have just stuck my nose in Estonia's business.

I wrote this piece - which sort of examines the pronkssõdur controversy from an American perspective, on my own, and without the intention of having it published in an Estonian national newspaper. However, it was submitted to Postimees and they liked it enough to publish it. Since I read Postimees everyday (what I can read of it) I was honored to be party to the debate.

Anyway I decided to add my 2 EEK to the ongoing dialogue about monuments and memories and wars. The basic point is that Estonia's most uncontroversial heroes from the Second World War - the forest brothers - are being overlooked in the arguments about Nazis and Communists.

I also wanted to remind readers that Estonia isn't an island and that the United States has similar controversial issues (like the use of the Confederate flag) and that it's heroes from the American Revolution were controversial in their day. I even tried to draw a parallel between Estonia's forest brothers and the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont, who were also derided as gangsters in their time (and many were).

Well anyway, I am happy to be published and to contribute to this discussion. It is very meaningful for me.

kolmapäev, august 23, 2006

Democracy in Action Part II

Ok, since I am on vacation, let's set our sights a little lower. If you want a vote in parliament on August 28, for whatever presidential candidate, you should probably contact members of the Center Party faction in the Riigikogu. It's possible a few could show up, barring there isn't too long a line at the Söörikukohvik. Here they are:

Ain Seppik
Vladimir Velman
Lauri Laasi
Küllo Arjakas
Enn Eesmaa
Eldar Efendijev
Helle Kalda
Arnold Kimber
Tiit Kuusmik
Olev Laanjärv
Heimar Lenk
Inara Luigas
Koit Pikaro
Nelli Privalova
Kaarel Pürg
Jüri Šehovtsov
Evelyn Sepp
Toivo Tootsen
Marika Tuus

I have no favorite in this race. I can see the positives and negatives for all candidates. But I do worry about tinkering with democracy in tiny Estonia. I have seen it in the US, and every time it happens it widens the disconnect between representatives and their constituents. One thing we Americans learn from traveling in East Europe is that people actually can make a change in their lives. Don't believe me? Just ask those Germans who tore down the Berlin Wall. I'd prefer if there was at least a real vote in parliament come August 28.

teisipäev, august 22, 2006

15 Things Estonia has Given the World Since 1991

Cross Country Heroics - Andrus Veerpalu took the gold medal in men's 15km cross country skiing at Salt Lake City in 2002, followed by Jaak Mae who took the bronze. Veerpalu also took the silver in the 50km at Salt Lake, and took the gold in Turin this year in the 15km men's cross country. Kristina Šmigun (pictured) won two gold medals in Turin this year in cross county skiing.

Vanilla Ninja - The Estonian pop quartet, then trio, then quartet, then trio again scored their own kohuke, their own ice cream, made it huge in their own country and then went onto become the hottest musical act in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland since Wagner.

Carmen Kass - I am not one to be caught watching programs on models and/or modeling, but even I know who Carmen Kass is. What most Americans don't know is that she was a candidate for European Parliament and that she starred in a film with Buratino himself, Priit Võigemast called Täna Öösel Me Ei Maga (Tonight we don't sleep)in 2004.

Skype - True, Skype is based these days in Luxembourg, but its primary code was written in Tallinn, where one of its main offices is located. I didn't take Skype seriously until it seemed like just about every human being I knew was using it as a verb as in "Just Skype Me."

Mart Laar - Yeah, Isamaa may have just four seats in parliament, but Mart Laar is still a favorite global dinner guest from Chicago to T'bilisi. In the year 2006, a year he could have spent on his butt in Viljandimaa, Laar split his time between Estonia, accepting prizes and writing op-eds in the the US and UK, and advising Georgia's president on economic reform.

Flat tax - There's no photo that can describe how much credit Estonia has given to instituting a flat tax. The way right-leaning newspapers gush over Estonian economic reforms you'd think that Estonia was no longer a land of old ladies who've been wearing the same clothes (and looking at the same wallpaper) for 30+ years. Just check out the news this month. Read about Estonia in the Global Politician, Voice of America, or L'Express. From Mauritius to Manhattan they've all heard of the Estonian flat tax revolution.

Nice Beaches - That's why everyone comes. It's not the deep harbors. It's not even the attractive women. Danes, Swedes, Germans, Russians, Poles. They all came - and are still coming - for the nice beaches. Even if summer only lasts two weeks.
It seems silly, but when you consider that Sweden and Finland harbor mostly rocks and little sand, you can understand why they are more eager to go across the sea to Estonia than to take a plane to Thailand.

Markko Märtin - If you follow off-road racing, you've heard of this gentleman. Märtin sadly lost his partner, Michael Park, last year, but Estonia erected a monument to Park in his honor in Tallinn. Even the prime minister showed up to express his sympathies.

British Stag Parties - from Red Seven, the "World's Leaning Hen and Stag Company" -
What a difference the collapse of Communism has made! Some things may have stayed the same – the narrow, cobbled winding streets and medieval walls remain from centuries ago, making this capital of Estonia an undeniably beautiful city. Yet what was once a sleepy Baltic backwater is now one of the most vibrant Stag party destinations in Europe.

Free from the masses that have descended upon Prague, Tallinn is now rightly cultivating a reputation for offering those essential Stag weekend ingredients: plenty to see, plenty to do, plenty of gorgeous women, cheap food and drink, fantastic daytime activities and amazing nightlife. What more do you want?!

Wife Carrying Record Holders - Estonia has won every single Wife Carrying Championship held in Sonkajärvi, Finland since 1998.
In 2003, Margo Uusorg and Egle Soll set a world record of one minute and 0,7 seconds.

The Estonian Genome Project -
The Estonian Genome project hasn't spun out its own DeCode Genetics just yet, but it still put a very small country on the map for anyone interested in genetics/genomics.

Cheap (and skilled) Labor - From New York to London to Sydney, Estonian workers are painting ships, remodeling apartments, waiting tables, and babysitting the children of privilege.
Before 1991, they had to flee a repressive political system. These days they just have to buy some tickets ahead of time on RyanAir.

Juhan Parts - Cockheaded and cocksure, Peaminister Juhan must have felt swell when he got to run the Estonian government, shake hands with Tony Blair, join the EU, and join NATO - all before his 40th birthday.
Sure, he's out of the spotlight now, but rest assured, Juhan will be back.

Flustered Putin - There was nothing better than watching Vladimir Putin's brow wrinkle and his voice grow tighter every time the Balts mentioned the word "occupation" in the runup to his big Communist party in Moscow in 2005.

Plentiful Booze - Being a nation of functional alcoholics, Estonia has established itself as the place to get drunk. Finns come to load up and then bring some home. And most others' tales of Tallinn usually include hazy memories, finding secluded places to pee, and perhaps, even getting sick in Old Town.

And that's just fifteen things. We left out Lennart Meri, Edgar Savisaar, Kalev chocolates, and Rakvere meats. If you have anything else to add, please do!

esmaspäev, august 21, 2006

Eestlaseks jään ...

Some people think that history is irrelevant. But nerds like me like to filter through history and find interesting facts to digest for hours on end. Recently we went to Strand Bookstore in New York, and they had a world atlas from 1665. First I turned to the Italian pages to see if the villages my ancestors called home were on the map and what kind of interesting drawings - pirates, sea serpents, volcanoes - were drawn next to them.

Then I tried to find my wife's country, Estonia, and I turned to the Russian Empire. But there was no Estonia there. After long consternation, I turned to the front of the atlas to the first country represented - "Suecia". "That's right", I thought. "Estonia was once part of Sweden." As natural as it once was for people to think of Estonia as belonging to Russia, it was at one time just as easy for cartographers to think of Estonia as 100 percent Swedish.

Now, it is my hope, that after 15 years of freedom, people will continue to think of Estonia as just Estonia. Tomorrow, according to the Estonian Foreign Ministry, the prime ministers of Estonia and Iceland will mark the 15th anniversary of Iceland's re-recognition of Estonian independence with events and ceremonies in Tallinn.

The PMs will on that day inaugurate a memorial plaque to be placed on the facade of the Foreign Ministry which is also designed to explain the background of the name of the square. The granite plaque bears an inscription in Estonian, Icelandic and English: “The Republic of Iceland was the first state to recognize, on 22 August 1991, the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia.” An exhibit on the history of Estonian-Icelandic relations will be opened in the Foreign Ministry lobby.

Though they are many miles apart, Estonia shares much with Iceland, which only became independent in 1944. It also shares much with other "new" republican governments in Europe, from Ireland to its neighbor Finland. At one time these countries did not exist on the map. But today nobody thinks twice about their independence. That's a good thing.

15 Aastat Tagasi

Get used to it.

neljapäev, august 17, 2006

Democracy in Action

Some people think that the Estonian Presidential election is a done deal. It's all been rigged by the minority in government - a failed parliamentary round, followed by an electoral college vote that could guarantee Arnold Rüütel another five years in government.

What is a citizen - who under the terms of the constitution is denied the ability to directly elect a president - to do in this scenario? The ideal for the Center Party and Eestmaa Rahvaliit would be that Estonians keep doing as they are doing - they'll complain about Edgar Savisaar's power grab and mock Rüütel as an old, ineffectual leader. But their opposition will stop at derision and humor and jokes. And that will have no effect on Savisaar and Reiljan at all.

But instead of taking the decision of the valimiskogu lying down, there is something Estonians can do about the presidential election: annoy the shit out of your municipal representatives.

I am not going to endorse anyone here. But the clear popular favorite is Toomas Hendrik Ilves. But if you want Ilves, or Ergma, or Rüütel, or even Edgar Savisaar - you should let your local municipal council members know. Better yet, tell them that you will be watching them. Tell them you will demand a vote for a certain candidate, and if your candidate doesn't receive the vote you want - then you will never vote for them, or their party, again.

So for the next eleven days I will be putting up the contact information for different municpalities, starting with the capital of Tallinn.

For Tallinn, you need to contact -

Elmar Sepp head of the Keskerakond faction.
Keit Pentus, head of the Reform faction.
Toomas Tõniste, head of the Isamaliit faction.
Erika Salumäe, head of the Social Democrats.

If you want to e-mail everyone, you can contact them here.

Again, I am not advocating a particular candidacy. But I am trying to make sure that regular Estonians have an opportunity to tell the valimiskogu what they think. If anyone wants to help, they can post more contacts in the comments section to different municipalities and I wil be glad to put them up in future posts.


Anyone who wants to contact representatives in Võru municipality can contact Võrulinn esimees Tõnu Anton, who also heads KESK in Võrulinn, as well as this general inbox.


Anyone that wants to contact city council members in Narva can try Mihhail Stalnuhhin, chairman of the Narva city council. Here is also a list of Narva council members although, conveniently, they cannot be reached by e-mail. Try also Narva mayor Tarmo Tammiste.

kolmapäev, august 16, 2006

Tallinn Pride: Latvia Exporting Homophobia, Idiocy

Everyone knows the phrase 'loll nagu lätlane,' and according to an organizer of Tallinn Pride 2006, Latvia has expanded its exports to include both homophobia and idiocy.

Pride spokesman Lisette Kampus said there were not enough cops along the parade route. “ [ The skinheads ] attacked the middle of the march—and first, the women,” she told GayRussia.Ru. “ [ Y ] oung Estonian men attacking young Estonian woman—it is completely shocking for us. There are no words. It is something extremely shameful.”

In an e-mail, Kampus added: “We are all in ... real massive shock. Anything like this has never, never happened in Estonia during any demonstration, parade, etc. We consider ourselves to be a peaceful nation, even when it comes to gay issues.”

Indeed, Tallinn’s previous pride marches have been trouble-free, but this year has seen a rash of antigay actions directed at gay parades in the region, with marches being banned, attacked or both in Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and, now, Estonia.

“I think that we are seeing what kind of impact such situations that took place in Riga, Krakow or Warsaw can have on neighboring countries,” Kampus said. “Latvia is exporting its homophobia. Things in Riga were an encouragement for stupid people in Estonia.”

This could mesh with the story that some skinheads had actually bussed in from Riga to join in the egg bombing of gay Balts. And if it's not true, it's always nicer to blame someone else anyway.

Is Rüütel's Victory Assured?

So the consensus thought out there is that Arnold will be in office until 2011 because, although he usually polls a distant third in online presidential polls, the minority in parliament - Keskerakond and Eestimaa Rahvaliit - have decided to take their chances on an electoral college where it is supposedly common knowledge that Arnold will prevail.

I don't think Arnold Rüütel is a bad president. But I do think that the majority of Estonians would prefer Toomas Hendrik Ilves this year. He out polls everybody. He is the popular favorite. And in a democracy, don't you owe it to your constituents to give them what they want?

As I was saying about Savisaar, I've been wrong about him. I used to think he was a shrewd, calculating politician looking to build his own party. And yeah, sure Estonia needs a Center Left to balance out its young, rightwing turks. But Ilves is a social democrat. He is neither young nor rightwing. His leadership, backed by the people and the majority of parliament (save about one guaranteed vote) should be a no-brainer in this election. But in Savisaar world, the popular voice is his voice. The popular interest is his interest. It's like the rest of Estonia doesn't exist.

The Baltic Times didn't mince its words in this week's lead editorial -

Once again, “Rhino” Savisaar, who conducted parallel negotiations with leading parties to shortlist presidential candidates, has shown that he is less interested in the development of Estonia than with his own selfish, partisan interests. (Psychologically this puts him in the same odious league as Latvia’s Aivars Lembergs and Lithuania’s Viktor Uspaskich.) As always, he wanted to show himself the kingmaker, that he is the court of final appeal. But for many Estonians, and non-Estonians too, he has come off looking like the narrow-minded fool.

People are mad about it, sure. But is Rüütel's election really sealed? In 2001, Rüütel could only muster a bare majority in the Valimiskogu (the 367 member electoral college). That is, he won with 50.1 percent of the vote. I can find no link that tells me who is a member of the Valimiskogu. That in itself is why it is bad and undemocratic - it answers to nobody. They can vote for a candidate - Rüütel - that would lose badly in a popular vote, and still hang onto their jobs.

But still, if he won with only 50 percent in 2001, why does everyone think that he'll scrape by five years later?

teisipäev, august 15, 2006

Urho Kekkonen: Savisaare Eeskuju?

So I have been reading up on a very dead Finnish guy called Urho Kekkonen (1900-1986). When I was younger and more naive and reading about Finnish history in Helsinki, I noticed that Kekkonen was in power from 1956 to 1981. 25 years. "That's a long time for one president," I thought to my sunny, naive self. "Gosh, the Finns must have been in love with the guy to elect him so many times."

You can stop laughing now.

Anyway, Wikipedia has a great deal of information on Urho, including the following tidbits:

From the beginning he ruled with the assumption that the Soviet Union accepted only him; the country at the time was some times called Kekkoslovakia. Because of defectors like Oleg Gordievsky and the opening of the Soviet archives it is known that keeping Kekkonen in power was the main task of Soviet Union in its relations with Finland.

Throughout his time as president, Kekkonen did his best to keep political rivals in check. The Centre Party's rival, National Coalition Party was kept in opposition despite good performance in elections. On a few occasions, the parliament was dissolved as the political composition did not please Kekkonen. Too prominent Centre Party members often found themselves sidelined, as Kekkonen negotiated directly with the lower lever. The "Mill Letters" of Kekkonen were a continuous stream of directives to high officials, politicians, journalists etc.


In 1973, he was re-elected by emergency law which saw his presidency extended by four years. The elimination of any significant opposition and competition meant de facto political autocracy for Kekkonen. The year 1975 can be regarded as marking the zenith of his power, when he dissolved parliament and hosted the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in Helsinki with the assistance of a caretaker government.


In 1979 Urho Kekkonen was awarded Lenin Peace Prize.

God, does that sound like anybody you know? A 56-year-old Finnic man that likes to play with democracy, who is adored by the big pushy neighbor to the East? That led a big fluffy personality-based party called ... The Center Party?

I'd just like to say that I've been wrong all along. Edgar Savisaar's historical twin is not Konstantin Pats. No, his role model is pretty obviously uncle Urho from across the Bay of Finland.

A Very Revealing Photo

Insert your own homoerotic interpretations.

esmaspäev, august 14, 2006

Reykjavik Pride

Well, it looks like it's homosexual week here at Itching for Eestimaa - what better than to kill time between now and Arnold Rüütel's reinstatement than talking about controversial topics like gays, gay marriage, and pronkssõdur (by the way, is the pronkssõdur actually gay, what are your thoughts?)

Iceland may smell like sulfur, but at least their pride rallies go off without a bunch of boneheads throwing sticks, rocks, eggs etc. And as depraved as those sons and daughters of Vikings may be, their society has not fallen for it. When I wrote up a school report about Icelanders in 1991 there were 259,742 of those gay-loving whalemeat lovers. Last year there were 296,737 of them. So much for the "gay acceptance = death of society" theory. Oh well, courtesy to Blogging Reykjavik for their pride photos.

Hey it looks like Tallinn, but it's not:

Looking Forward to 2011

Imagine it's 2011. Mart Laar has gone from being the opinionated, stubborn roly poly 32 year old of 1992 to being the opinionated, stubborn, rotund 51 year old of 2011. Kristina Smigun has decided that the 2010 Olympics were her last, and has settled down to raise a family and coach skiing in Otepää. And Arnold Rüütel is still president, an 83-year-old president.

In fact Arnold Rüütel has been president so long, few people remember a time when he wasn't in office. There are whispers of a once chain-smoking intellectual president named Veri or Mari, but no one can quite remember much about him. Instead they know their president as Arnold, a man of few words and a hair line that just won't recede.

Arnold was never really elected by the Estonian people. He wasn't even elected in parliament. Instead, his backers massaged the system so that he could be elected by a favorable mysterious electoral college that had to answer to nobody about their vote.
But president he has stayed, deep into his December years.

The heyday of Rüütel's presidency has come and gone. Gone are the days of NATO membership and EU membership. Replaced are days of uncertainty as the post-Putin government of Russia has collapsed among infighting and warring factions, and even in Estonia support for Jüri Ratas' Center Party is weak following charges of electoral fraud in the 2007 elections. (Edgar Savisaar choked on a verivorst at a Christmas Party in 2009 and Villu Reiljan stepped on an unexploded mine while hiking on Naissaar in 2010).

Enter into this the government of Vladimir Zhiranovsky who has emerged as the new dictator of Russia and has assembled an army of Putin youth groups to take back what they see as Russia proper - including Estonia and Alaska. Who is there to face this crisis. Who will see Estonia through it's new twilight years? Will it be up to Estonia's octogenerian president or its 33-year party leader to combat this great challenge?

Sure, it's just a funny script for a future that hopefully won't happen. And I mean no disrespect to Edgar and Villu, but I had to write them out of the story somehow. However, real challenges do occur and in those situations it is importnat that a country have competent leadership. The US has proved so far that it can have the most incompetent leadership and still skate by. But the stakes for a small country like Estonia are higher.

When I read today that KESK and ERL indeed intend to not honor Estonia's constitution and instead will do a fake run through of the parliamentary vote to reinstall Rüütel this month, I had to wonder if they are so busy thinking about themselves, their friends, and this month, that they forgot about the big picture. Rüütel is a well-respected man, but he wouldn't even campaign because he knew he'd lose in the parliamentary round.

When running a country it is wisest to counsel the will of the people for they know what they want and they'll accept their own mistakes. But sidestepping them? That's not good for anybody.

pühapäev, august 13, 2006

Shades of Stonewall

On hot evenings in late June 1969, a cozy corner of the West Village in New York City turned into a riot zone. On the evening of June 28th a routine police raid on a bar known as a hang out for gays and lesbians turned into a violent fight between the police and the the patrons of the bar, the Stonewall Inn. In total it is estimated that 2,000 gay people did battle with 400 police officers in what became known as the Stonewall Riots.

The great "awakening" that shook the US and Western Europe - and other parts of the democratic world in the 1960s and 70s happened at a time when the economies of the communist countries - still licking their wounds of Stalinist mass murder - began to stagnate. When stronger Russification policies were introduced in the Baltics in the early- to mid-1970s, they fomented an awakening of a different kind - a nationalist reawakening, which culminated with Singing Revolution and Baltic Chain in the late 80s. Estonia didn't have a youth awakening like America's 1960s youth awakening. Estonia had its own, different nationalist awakening - not unlike the rise of Solidarnos in Poland or the 1968 uprising in Prague.

Now that Estonia is part of the "West," the movements of the the personal awakening of the 1960s and 70s are spreading their global movements into previously closed territories. Hence, Tallinn Pride 2006. It should have gone well, but it ended up with a bunch of skinheads throwing stones, rocks, and eggs at innocent people.

Coming from the epicenter of the modern gay rights movement, I can say that gay people don't march because they are soliciting new recruits into some perverted same-sex sex land. They march because they are a tiny minority, engulfed by straight people. They are horribly alone in the world. When I walk into a room filled with women, it is hypothetically possible that there is a romatic encounter lurking in every one of their jeans. I'm a heterosexual male. But for them, they must find company in special bars, and deal with the scrutiny of people that cannot understand something they probably had a hard time coming to grips with themselves. They are different and controversial. That's why they reach out in Tallinn and Riga and Warsaw. Because they know that there are young people there that need to not feel alone and not feel scared. To feel tolerated and accepted.

Enter the Skinheads. Tallinn has a skinhead problem. It's not the only country in Europe that has one. There are plenty of skinheads in Berlin and elsewhere. So it's not just an "East European problem" (sorry). Fortunately, problems in Estonia are not those of immense size. There are perhaps less than fifty active skinheads in Tallinn out of a city of 350,000 or so people. However, they are organized and they know how to stir shit up. Because their ideology is nihilistic, destruction to them is an ideal. In their perverse universe, they'd rather see the Estonian forests burn than have a 60-year-old statue to dead communist soldiers in central Tallinn. And they'd rather pelt innocent people with eggs and rocks than accept the sexuality of their fellow Estonians and allow them to walk down the street holding signs.

Estonians are cool to these marches. Tallinn is a quiet northern city. It hums, but it makes little noise. So the idea of dozens of lesbians, gays, and especially transgendered people marching down its quiet streets might not make the old ladies of Estonia particularly happy. Still, Estonia puts up with its share of bothersome intruders for the sake of welcoming tourists and their dollars. It puts up with drunk Brits - among the most vile of creatures - fondling its daughters at their Tallinn "stag" parties. It puts up with haughty Finns loading up on cases of Saku so they can go home and get drunk in the quiet of their Helsinki apartments. It puts up with some members of the Russian minority who display and honor the flag of the nation that killed their best writers, intellectuals, and plucked their family trees bare.

But gays? Holding signs? Is that too much for Estonia to bear? Give me a break. Get a life. Get over it. I understand that Stonewall did not happen in Tallinn. I understand that there was no Estonian Woodstock or No Nukes movement. But Tallinn has proven it is a tolerant town. And the only people it has to blame for this latest disturbance are about 30 to 50 shaven clowns.

Estonia is a democracy. And in Estonia you can be a skinhead. You can be a curmudgeonly bitter old communist. But you can't burn down forests. And you can't vandalize monuments to the dead. And you cannot assault your fellow Estonians just because you don't like what they stand for.

neljapäev, august 10, 2006

It's Ergma

A couple months ago when I was toying around with the idea of who could succeed Arnold Rüütel in office, I put up a photo of Ene Ergma. I didn't think that Ene was a shoe-in candidate, but I remembered photos of her welcoming Tarja Halonen to Tallinn, and I thought for some reason that she might be a candidate.

However, when Toomas Hendrik Ilves entered the race, I thought he'd surely be everyone's choice for the August 28 vote because he had the most popular support. Still, his tough statements toward Russia - which are really just honest assessments but too tough for some in Estonia to handle - probably made him too dangerous for Edgar Savisaar who is planning to become Estonia's next prime minister in 2007 (by the way, kudos to Ansip for keeping the coalition together this long).

When the parties in the roundtable had to pick two candidates to advance for the August 28 vote, Ilves was the pick of the Social Dems, Reform, Isamaa, and Res Publica. But Ergma was KESK's top choice. I have a feeling that KESK thought Ilves would (without a doubt) be the first candidate. But I think the four partners decided that Ergma had the best chance of getting elected in parliament.

Some people believe that Savisaar is gaming the system so that he will be president. But I think neither his party, nor ERL supports this. Without Savisaar, they are like sheep. Who would lead KESK in parliament without Savisaar? Kalle Laanet? Mailis Reps?

As I have written before, KESK can do as it pleases and still expect ERL's support in forming a colaition in 2007, should they win enough to form a government.

The remaining question for KESK will be if Ene Ergma is non-controversial enough to gain their support in the August 28th vote. Ergma is 62 years old. An astrophysicist, she was educated in Moscow and speaks fluent Russian. KESK obviously feels that having someone that can speak to the Russians in their language is important for keeping their need to feel comfortable with their "near abroad" satiated while at the same time keeping their tentacles out of Tallinn. She was their first pick afterall - there must be some support for her among KESK's ranks.

Or Savisaar could have gamed it this way. Maybe KESK will find Ergma's Res Publica affiliation enough to vote her down in parliament in late August.

I believe that, in their hearts, the Ergma-backing coalition desperately wants to avoid the electoral college embarassment of 2001. Also, Estonia so far has had a tradition of electing academics president. Even Rüütel was an educator in agricultural academies before becoming president. In this way, Ergma could enjoy broad support. Perhaps even in an electoral college.

And, for my support, she can also speak English. As I have written before, it's important to have a president that can communicate with Tony Blair in his language, as well with Aleksis II when he comes to town on a mission.

kolmapäev, august 09, 2006

Why Do Chicks Dig Scraggly Dudes?

Let me preface this post by saying it has nothing to do with Estonia. It has to do with me. And I am a man. Yesterday I did not take a shower and I did not shave because it was my deadline day and I had to hurry to work. As the hours - and caffeine - took their toll, I began to resemble a character that might be at home on a show like Lost, or perhaps a buccaneer co-starring in Pirates of the Caribbean. I was greasy and dirty, and, so I thought, pretty unattractive.

But as I walked to my subway stop I noticed something funny. Women were checking me out. Now, women don't check men out the way a construction worker in the city goes "Holy shit" and will bend over half way to get a close up look at a woman's ass. Instead they sort of seem a bit startled and their eyes open a bit wider. Then they try to back out of their lengthy stare by looking elsewhere. This is different from most occasions when women just walk ahead, eyes front, as to avoid the glare of would-be stalkers, psychopaths, ex-boyfriends, and construction workers.

When I got home, my wife told me - the uncleanly unshaven male - looked handsome. This does not happen every day. But in fact her favorite character on a TV show we watch called Lost is named Sawyer (pictured above) - he's dirty and scraggly and unshaven too. I recall that many of my female friends will go to any Johnny Depp film - even Pirates of the Caribbean - just to see Johnny. And they like him best when he's all dirty and hairy and looks like he smells of cigar smoke, make-up, and rum.

This reminds me of one time when I was living in Denmark. I hadn't showered for, perhaps, three days. I was as greasy and crispy as fried mozzerell'. Even my shirt had holes in it, and, to make it better, someone had written something on it in eyeliner. I was crunchy - I was rank and foul.

But for whatever reason that night, women seemed to want to be around me. I wound up walking home with a very nice-looking Danish masseuse. If I had showered and shaved, that would have never happened. But since I was dirty and resembled Che Guevara, I became irresistable.

It's an odd contrast given how women tend to favor cleanliness. Burping, farting, picking your nose, talking about excretion - these are all obscene gestures that irritate them. They are not as obsessed - or comfortable - with the world of bodily functions, like us guys.

Yet at the same time, they seem to like us most when we smell of body odor, have a scruffy beard, and sort of look like we might be the type of guys you could buy some really good weed from.

What's up with that?

Oh well, women have always been mysterious and fickle in their tastes. And I don't mind going a few extra days without a shave.

teisipäev, august 08, 2006

Tinkering with Democracy

When I was in ninth grade we held a mock trial in my English class. Each member of my class was given script. Several became jury members, others became witnesses. There were plaintiffs, defendants, attorneys, and - of course - a judge. We studied our scripts and proceeded carefully through the trial under our teacher's tutelage. It took an effort by every member of the trial to make it happen - and we got sucked into it. But then, during cross-examination, the student playing the defendant began to crack up. He stopped playing along with the trial and started cracking jokes and veering off script. Within minutes the trial atmosphere was ruined. Our mock trial had been mocked.

In a way, that's the feeling you get from the Center Party's announcement this week that it will not participate in current roundtable discussions in selecting the next president with the rest of the parties, save their pals Eesti Rahvaliit.

KESK is close to signing some sort of pact with ERL, who want to do a run around the parliament to get Arnold Rüütel instated for another five years so he can either serve until he expires or retire from Estonian politics at the geriatric age of 83.

Every opinion poll I have read shows that Estonians want otherwise. Even Rüütel himself has said publicly that having the next president chosen in parliament would be suurepärane - (super duper). But he's not even in the running. Officially.

For months the Estonian parties have discussed the elections and trimmed the list of candidates from nearly a dozen to just two - Ene Ergma and Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Both are qualified for the office of president. Both have reached this stage in the selection process according to procedures agreed upon by the parties. But something is amiss. Something in the air is telling every would-be political analyst that KESK may show it's true colors in the next few weeks when it comes down to the wire.

Ilves and Ergma will get their vote in parliament. That much is true. Perhaps one or two Center party representatives will vote their conscience instead of with their boss. Or perhaps it will go to the electoral college. Or maybe Edgar Savisaar is psyching everyone out while he readies his own scheme.

Whatever that is.

It is important to remember in times like these that democracy is fragile. And the more dirty tricks you pull to serve your own self interest, the less democratic republican government becomes.

neljapäev, august 03, 2006

Is Mr. America coming to Tallinn?

Axis News' Eurasian Secret Services Daily Review thinks so:
The US Central Intelligence Agency agents have visited Estonia within the framework of the November NATO summit due to take place in Riga, Latvia, daily SL Ohtuleht writes today.

The CIA aircraft Boeing 737-300 with an identification number S0508 spent three days in the airport of Tallinn. Usually there is a logotype of an airline or at least an image of the flag of the country on the tail of the passenger or transport aircraft, but there were no identification marks on this vessel, says another Estonian daily, Postimees.

Toomas Mardo, the chief of the Tallin airport rescue service, told the paper the Americans on the plane were dressed in plain cloths and had told that were conducting preparation for "some visit".

Inga Yagomagi, the Press-secretary of the Estonian government, confirmed the CIA aircraft visited Tallinn for the preparation for the NATO summit. She told the press that there was no final confirmation as far that there might be a high-level visit to Tallin on the eve or after the summit. “However, this cannot be excluded”, Postimees quotes her as saying.

The CIA plane reportedly left the airport of Tallinn yesterday at 13:04 and was directed to Riga.

It's about time. So far Tallinn has settled for first ladies and vice presidents. It's high time for Mr. America, caesar maximus himself, to show his face in Raekoja Plats. And wouldn't it be grand come this November, if Mr. America got to shake hands with a new president that spoke English to him? Somebody like Toomas Hendrik Ilves or Ene Ergma? Well, they are the only two official candidates. I'm sure one of them will be there at Tallinna Lennujaam holding a sign that says "Mr. America" on it.

kolmapäev, august 02, 2006

Tallinn Takes Care of its Transsexuals ...

When you spend many moments of your day crawling around the Internet looking for news about a certain small northern European country, you realize that there are many reader-focused publications out there. The Jewish international press, as one example, knows how to express outrage. If someone poops on a monument in Estonia, everyone will know about it tomorrow. Similarly, the gay press has its finger on the pulse of all things happening to fellow homosexuals all over the world. When the Dutch Ambassador left Tallinn this year alleging discrimination against his Cuban male partner, a variety of international online publications covered it. That event tarnished Estonia's reputation a bit, but fortunately, Tallinn has been redeeming itself in the gay press.

As The Windy City Times (a Chicago-based mag that makes sure everyone in Illinois is informed when someone throws feces at a pride rally in Riga) reports this week:

Despite the recent disasters when gays tried to stage pride parades in Russia and Latvia, everything looks good to go for Estonia’s third pride parade and festival in Tallinn Aug. 7-13.

“Estonia has proven to be the most tolerant of the three Baltic states [ Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania ] , the pride marches have never been banned nor has there been any acts of violence or public hate speech from politicians,” said Lisette Kampus, publicist for Tallinn Pride 2006.

“We can only hope that Estonia will show the best example to our beloved neighbors Latvia and Lithuania. ... Soviet times are gone for a long time now and Estonia has proven to be a worthy member state of the European Union.”

This June, Estonia’s Parliament increased protections for GLBT people. In a 62-18 vote, lawmakers criminalized human-rights violations; unfair advantages; and incitement of hatred, violence or discrimination based on, among other things, sexual orientation. Violators face a fine or jail sentence.

The author of the amendments said Estonia was lagging behind other European nations in protecting gay people. “Now homophobia has been criminalized here as well,” said People’s Union MP Jaak Allik.

Tallinn Pride’s theme will be “Equal Obligations with Equal Rights!” Kampus said there is a “severe need” for a partnership law to “protect gays and lesbians and their families.”

Events will include exhibitions, movies, a karaoke competition and the parade on Aug. 12. For more information, see www.pride.ee .

I know it's wrong to feel superior to your neighbors, but, is it really that wrong, especially when it's so easy to become superior - ie. all you have to do is let the Estonian gay community sing karaoke in peace and save your feces for the next pronkssõdur protest?

Silly Baltic-speakers. You make being the number one Baltic state easy.