esmaspäev, oktoober 30, 2006

Securing Energy for the Future

There's been some evolution in how the Baltic Sea states are dealing with the Russian-German pipeline agreement, whereby Russian will provide central Europe with energy, bypassing more traditional conduits through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, prompting protests from those governments, especially Poland and Lithuania.

According to the Nordic Council, increased energy cooperation was a focal point of a joint meeting of Nordic and Baltic prime ministers this week in Copenhagen:

Energy co-operation across the Baltic Sea was an important theme at the meeting of Nordic and Baltic Prime Ministers, 30 October. The Baltic countries are busy emerging from their 'energy isolation' thanks to power cables to Finland, Poland and Sweden.


The issue of the power cables from Estonia to Finland and from Lithuania to Poland and Sweden was also discussed at the meeting. The Baltic States want to break their isolation as far as energy is concerned - and may even build a new nuclear power plant together.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also offered a 'European' integration solution to the 'pipeline dilemma' facing the Baltic Sea countries during a meeting with Polish PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed Monday she would push for Poland and the Baltic states to be linked to European Union natural gas and electricity grids in order to supply energy in case of future cut-offs from countries such as Russia.


"We agreed to discuss energy supply ... in the sense that we create a common European energy market in both electricity and natural gas supply and that naturally Poland and the Baltic states must have access to the European gas markets," said Merkel.


Merkel admitted that fully connecting Poland and the Baltic states to EU energy grids, especially the gas grid, would be "difficult" but that she expected initial decisions to be made at an EU summit hosted by Germany next March.

I am not sure how this all going to work out, but it's nice to see some solutions in the pipeline.

pühapäev, oktoober 29, 2006

Estland versus Estonia

So I went to the post office the other day to mail a letter to Estonia. Sometimes the employees of the United States Postal Service know that it's in Europe. But then there are the others who think it's another oddly named city in the State of New York, like Astoria or Fredonia. I have to tell them it's in Europe, and sometimes I wish Estonia used it's 'other' official international name - Estland - more often.

See, you can tell that 'Estland' is a country. The -ia suffix just makes it sound like a province, like Bavaria, Wallachia, Carpathia. Sure there are some provinces with the -land suffix, but over all, it could help Estonia stand out just a bit more if it wasn't just another tiny piece of land in a sea of Eastern European "ia" lands. The "land" suffix puts you in competition with Iceland, Finland, Greenland, Poland, Holland, and Switzerland. Not a bad category to be in.

Of course, there's no sense in doing something so frivolous as renaming your country for the sake of a guy at a US Post Office. But it could make my life just that much easier ...

neljapäev, oktoober 26, 2006

When Estonia was 'Eistland'

It's kind of funny to think that the best name Estonians could come up with for their people until the mid-19th century was maarahvas - the country people. Because if you look at the saga of Olaf Tryggvason, an early Norwegian king who lived in Estonia for some time, the name Eistland is clear to see. In fact, the Icelanders who use the language of the sagas today refer to Estonia by its 1,200 year old name - Eistland.

In some historical references, the term "Estonian Vikings" is used to describe the Eistlandic activities on the Baltic seas during the era of Norse invasions. But really, I think the term 'pirates' better suits the situation. Here's the text from the original Heimskringla sagas, which includes the saga of Olaf.

Þar skildist Ólafr við móður sína, ok tók við honum Klerkon, eistneskr maðr, ok þeim Þórólfi ok Þorgilsi. Klerkon þótti Þórólfr gamall til þræls, þótti ok ekki forverk í honum ok drap hann, en hafði sveinana með sér ok seldi þeim manni, er Klerkr hét, ok tók fyrir hafr einn vel góðan. Hinn þriði maðr keypti Ólaf ok gaf fyrir vesl gott eða slagning; sá hét Reas, kona hans hét Rekon, en son þeirra Rekoni. Þar var Ólafr lengi ok vel haldinn, ok unni búandi honum mikit. Ólafr var 6 vetr á Eistlandi í þessarri útlegð.

Olaf Tryggvason (c. 960 - 1,000 AD) was the great-grandson of Harald Fairhair - the first King of Norway. Due to some typical Viking blood fueding, Olaf had to escape to Novgorod where is uncle was in service to the king. However, he didn't get there on time.

The journey was not successful -- in the Baltic sea they were captured by Estonian vikings, and the people aboard were either killed or taken as slaves. Olaf became the possession of a man named Klerkon, together with his foster father Thorolf and his son Thorgils. Klerkon considered Thorolf too old to be useful as a slave and killed him, and then sold the two boys to a man named Klerk for a stout and a good ram. Olaf was then sold to a man called Reas for a fine cloak.

Reas proved to be a better host to Olaf in Eistland than Klerkon. Together with his wife Rekon and son Rekone, they lived as a family unit until six years later when Sigurd Eiriksson spotted Olaf at a market and bought him back from Reas. Olaf later met up with Klerkon at a market in Novgorod and killed him with an axe. Later they had some beer. And all was right with the world.

For you Estonian readers, there is a version of Olaf's tale available in Estonian here.

kolmapäev, oktoober 25, 2006

Interest Surrounds Bildt's Investments, EU Aspirations

Carl Bildt is the latest member of the new Swedish cabinet to become immersed in the critical eye of the media, and -- unlike the television fee scandals of two weeks ago -- it appears that he may have a genuine 'conflict of interest.' It has been reported that Bildt, who appears to have been stereotyped as a rich boy from a wealthy part of Stockholm, has some investments in the Russian energy industry. At the same time, Bildt is possibly debating whether or not he should hang onto his post of foreign minister or assume a higher ranking post in the EU.

Kommersant reports:

Bildt is naturally interested in the success of his business, which means prosperity for Russian natural resources companies. His opponents say this is the reason for the excessively lenient policy of the Swedish foreign ministry towards Moscow.

Urban Ahlin of Swedish Social Democrats believes that Carl Bildt did not give an adequately stiff reaction to the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Observers note that the new foreign minister is extremely cautious making any statements relating to Russia.

I wrote earlier that the appointment of Bildt was a good thing because he has a first hand relationship of Estonia and could be counted on to support Estonia internationally. Like many great powers, Sweden's shadow is larger than it's actual body. Here I am in New York buying IKEA furniture and driving a Volvo. Roads and plazas are named all over the US for Swedish diplomats like Raoul Wallenberg and Dag Hammarskjold - though none have been named for Hans Blix yet. It seems that Bildt might also be eyeing a similar international role, beyond Sweden.

As Sveriges Radio International reports:

There’s speculation that Sweden’s new Foreign Minister Carl Bildt may soon be moving on to a top job in the European Union.

The EU Observer says speculation is mounting that the union’s foreign policy spokesman Javier Solana may step down for health reasons. Bildt, along with the former prime ministers of Slovakia and Austria, is named as a top candidate.

According to the EU Observer, insiders say Bildt is not hiding his ambitions to obtain the top job. The foreign minister has recently come under fire here in Sweden because of his financial interests in the Russian company Gazprom, which might be a conflict of interest.

Investments aside, it could benefit Estonia - and the whole Baltic Sea region - to have someone who has personal contacts in these countries in such a post. What do you think - would Bildt as foreign policy spokesman change anything, or would it just lead to more of the same?

teisipäev, oktoober 24, 2006

Citizenship an Issue ... Again

The headline from Interfax reads: "Moscow to back Russians' struggle for rights in Baltic States - Putin." How is that news? I've been reading this stuff from Interfax and RIA Novosti for nearly two years now, and every few months they run the same headline with the same message.

President Valdimir Putin, addressing the World Congress of Compatriots in St. Petersburg, said: "I cannot fail to mention the well-known fact of mass denial of citizenship rights in Latvia and Estonia. There are about 600,000 so-called non-citizens there, who are permanent residents."

The Estonian foreign ministry has replied -- in English -- by updating its tables on citizenship in Estonia. The last update was in April, during a similar anti-Baltic citizenship laws campaign.

According to the ministry, the number of stateless persons in Estonia is down to 8.8 percent of the total population, or 120,511. So far a little more than 4,000 people have received citizenship this year. Over the past five years about 5,900 people have been naturalized per year. So perhaps Ansip was right when he said that this issue would "disappear" by 2015. I don't know - how do you think this issue will resolve itself?

esmaspäev, oktoober 23, 2006

The Honeymoon is Over

Remember September? Toomas Hendrik Ilves was elected president. Tõnis Mägi sang and it sounded good, even to American ears. News was so slow in Helsinki that they had to run Toomas' face on the cover of the Helsingi Sanomat. And the media - which was totally biased in his favor, no argument there - showered us with photos of Estonia's comparatively young president in his smart bow-tie and its attractive first lady who is, ohmygod, only 38 years old! Yeah, I remember that too. Being familiar with the Estonian media, I had a hunch they'd eat the Ilveses sooner or later for lunch, and this week the gloves, so to speak, came off.

The casus belli began with the arrival of Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, Queen of England and Vacationer of Scotland. The Queen's arrival was symbolic of the fact that Estonia has become Ilvesland, just a "boring, Nordic country" where people pay for parking with their mobile phones, listen to their electronic music in peace, and the Queen occasionally shows up.

However, it was the first lady's choice in wardrobe that got both Postimees and SL Õhtuleht to run two pieces where fashion designer Kai Saar declared Evelin's choice in clothing to be a catastrophe.

Õhtuleht has a blow-by-blow account of Evelin's fashion faux-pas, including the picture of her winter glove [seen above] with the following caption:

TALV TULI OOTAMATULT: Evelini kortsus kindad ja nendega toonilt röökivas harmoonias fuck-me tikk-kontsad.

Yeah, they said that Evelin's gloves were too wrinkled. And they didn't match her 'fuck me' boots. The article went onto generate 460 comments. Word battles also erupted over her figure. It grew so personal, one had to wonder if they were just setting the agenda for about a month's worth of discussion in a Women's Studies course.

President Ilves didn't get off without his own small dose of public scrutiny. In his case, he committed the most grievous error. He stuck his hands in his pockets again.

But that's all ok and there's no reason to be ashamed of Estonia's head of state. Everyone knows that it's nearly impossible to top the outlandish outfits Her Majesty has worn over the years. And the British press has similarly shown her no mercy. The only difference is that the Brits didn't elect her. They're stuck with her just because the House of Hanover replaced the House of Stuarts back in 1714. Their head of state is hereditary. The next British head of state will be Charles. His duchess will be Camilla. In other words, there's no reason to get too upset over some wrinkled gloves and fuck-me boots.

Western Europe Wakes Up to Putin

It looks like tiny Estonia won't be the only country feeling the Kremlin's heat from here on out. Unable to divide and conquer [ie: cite the oppression of Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia] the Russian answer to a semi-united front from the European Union appears to be to spread the criticism, to the farthest reaches of the continent. As the Guardian reports:

Mr Putin's sarcastic anti-Spanish outburst at a dinner on Friday with EU leaders in Lahti, Finland, was accompanied by criticisms of Italy's mafia problems.

His comments, first reported in the Guardian, made the front page of Spain's El País newspaper yesterday.

Mr Putin pointed to the southern resort town of Marbella, where the mayoress and former mayor have been jailed and thousands of illegal homes face demolition, as well as other Spanish corruption cases.

El País said the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, had been "perplexed" by the comments. Italy's Romano Prodi had been left "without words" when Mr Putin pointed out that his country had invented the mafia concept, the newspaper said.

In a way, Russia's new "voice" towards Western European criticism is a positive for EU-Russian relations. Despite the support of Mediterranean EU chiefs like Jose Barroso, Javier Solana, and Romano Prodi, it has been my impression that EU-wide interest in the eastern flank of the country had more to do with fears of Polish plumbers than the EU-Russian relationship. Now EU citizens from as far away as Napoli and Marbella can indulge themselves in their very own "Putin experience."

From what I gather, with Schroeder gone, Putin's last ally in the EU is septegenarian Jacques Chirac. He was the one who advocated for a 'light touch' with regards to the Georgian-Russian issue. So perhaps we should all start thinking about the French presidential elections next year. The Chirac successor seems like a key piece of the puzzle in determining how the big players in Europe will react to Putinism, as does whomever succeeds Tony in the UK. The next two years should make for splendiferous blog postings.

laupäev, oktoober 21, 2006

kolmapäev, oktoober 18, 2006

The Intriguing World of Väliseestlased

When you are a foreigner in an unknown country, things can get interesting. And things have certainly been interesting for the thousands of brave souls who have left their "isamaa" to move to places like London or New York or even neighboring Finland.

Three recent cases showcase the interesting scenarios. One involves a young woman in Finland who is at the center of a political scandal involving the former party secretary of the right-wing Kokoomus party.

Harri Jaskari [pictured] recently stepped down amidst allegations that he was involved in violent behavior against a former Estonian girlfriend and perhaps acted as a "pimp," whereby she assumed the position of "ho."

The whole thing is so messy I feel guilty dragging you into it, dear readers:

[Jaskari] also gave a detailed account of his relationship with the Estonian woman who accuses him of violence and pimping.

The two had met in Tallinn in the spring of 2003. The relationship ended in early 2005, but the woman had left some of per property in Jaskari's Helsinki apartment. Jaskari says that early this year the woman "showed up again", and he gave her the key to the apartment so that she might move her things out.

In August Jaskari was contacted by police who told him that the woman was accusing him of violent behaviour, and that the police suspected her of selling sex, using their former home as a base. If Jaskari allowed her to use his apartment for such activities, it could be seen as a form of procurement.

Suspicions of physical violence concerned the time that Jaskari and the woman were together. He says that he had defended himself "in a few situations", but would not go into detail about any actual events.

OK, that sort of made sense. But then the Estonian woman started changing her story:

A former Estonian woman friend of Harri Jaskari, who last week stepped down as party secretary of the National Coalition, was quoted as saying by Estonian daily Eesti päevalehti on Tuesday that the day after reporting Mr Jaskari to the police she had withdrawn her accusation that Mr Jaskari had procured women.

But the woman, identified only by a Christian name, continues to charge Mr Jaskari with assault.

"He throttled and beat me and chased me with a knife. The police often came round to our place because of it," she told the paper.

"He is a pathologically jealous man."

Maybe he is, may he isn't. I have a feeling this is a toxic break-up being played out in the public eye. The details all seem a bit fuzzy to me.

Anyway, "Eva Roosmaa" - as she is identified in the Finnish press - isn't the only at the center of an interesting situation. Here's another young Estonian drawing attention to himself.


Just over a hundred players entered for this year's U.K. Poker Open, sponsored by - Pacific Poker with a prize pool of almost GBP 300 000.

The grand prize of $134 000 was taken by Talinn, Estonia player Marek Kolk aka "The Maverick," who has previously been "in the money" at a number of major world tournaments including the last WSOP.

It was a tough tournament - Kolk had to defeat a final table that included five other professional players of the calibre of Roland De Wolfe, Theo Dalton, Dave Clayton and Simon Zack, as well as online qualifier Alan Parkinson. Other notable players who competed include England rugby stars Matt Dawson and Austin Healy, Graeme Dott, Ray Parlour, and Eastenders star Billy Murray.

Finally, and this is my favorite case, Estonian Olympian Kaido Kreen was recently sentenced to three years in prison for stealing mobile phone parts from Nokia. He's the gentleman to the left in the picture on your right. Luckily, no mobile phone parts fell out of his pocket during the game.

Kaido Kreen was a member of the Estonian beach volleyball team who competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Beside the 41-year-old Kreen, the court in Vantaa in the Helsinki metropolitan area handed down jail sentences to two more Estonians for the same offense, STT news agency said. Kaido Tamme, 36, has to spend two years in prison, while the third man whose name was not disclosed got one year.

According to the sentence, Kreen stole more than 600,000 euros' worth of mobile telephone components from the plant in Salo between 2004-2005. Tamme and the third individual took the stolen components from the plant to Estonia. The court did not bring charges against the five other defendants.

How do you steal 600,000 euros worth of telephone components? How is that possible? I have to hand it to Kreen, he may be a criminal. He may be devious. But he must have some kind of skill set to rip Nokia off that bad. I have images of him loading up his car with spare batteries and next-generation Nokia telephone faces. But I am sure he devised a much more ingenious scheme involving espionage tactics and underground tunnels.

Someone should collect these modern day Estonian folk tales. I think younger generations will treasure them someday.

teisipäev, oktoober 17, 2006

They *do* look like cousins ...

Setting aside the height, weight, hair color thing ...

esmaspäev, oktoober 16, 2006

More Bad News from the East

Somebody in Russia is killing journalists.

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The business chief of Russian state news agency Itar-Tass was found knifed to death at his flat in central Moscow on Monday, Itar-Tass said.

Anatoly Voronin, 55, Tass's business manager, died "as a result of multiple knife wounds," a source in Moscow's Prosecutor General told Tass.

Tass sources told Reuters that Voronin was supposed to return to work on Monday from holiday and his driver waited 3 hours for him outside his block of flats in Moscow this morning before returning to Tass to report him missing.

With Tass officials, the driver went up to his flat and found the door open with all of his things scattered all over the flat and saw Voronin's body, the sources told Reuters.

"It is a colossal loss for Tass," said Ludmila Perkina, an editorial official at Tass's main news center.

"He did so much for Tass. He tried to do everything so that we -- the journalists -- could work. Our hearts are very heavy today."

Voronin had worked at Tass for 23 years.

Is Resignation Really the Answer?

As EuroNews reports, a second minister in Sweden's new government has resigned amidst scandal. The big scandal? Not paying taxes on her nanny or television license fees.

Sweden's culture minister has resigned, the second cabinet member to leave the Swedish government in two days. Cecilia Stego Chilo [pictured] said her failure to pay her television licence fee for 16 years and the fact that she had not paid employer taxes when taking on a nanny "was not acceptable". On Saturday, Sweden's Trade Minister, Maria Borelius, resigned, after newspaper reports accused her also of employing a nanny without paying taxes or social contribution fees.

The new Swedish government's first week in power has been one of mounting embarrassment. After winning elections in September, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt only named his cabinet just ten days ago. Another cabinet member has also admitted not paying television fees.

In the United States, Don Rumsfeld has held on to his post as Secretary of Defense despite being challenged from within the Republican Party and the military establishment over his handling of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Rummy has refused to step down. But in Sweden if you don't pay your television license fee, you are unfit to hold office?

This reminds me of another northern country, Estonia, where other aspiring 'corruption-free' governments have seen resignation after resignation over matters that do not even explicitly taint the government official.

For example, Jaak Jõerüüt stepped down as defense minister in 2005, not because he himself had done anything wrong, but because some ministerial employees had worn controversial t-shirts. And the Parts government fell just because the Riigikogu wouldn't endorse an anti-corruption bill.

What is accomplished by ceremonial resignation? Does it leave the state stronger or weaker in the end when ministers prefer to step down than take the heat of critical media? Is resignation really the answer?

Putin Heads to Lahti to Bully Meek Eurocrats

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin will sit down with European Union members in Russia's former Grand Duchy of Finland to talk about things like dead journalists, natural gas, and Georgia. Putin is feeling tough after deporting all of those people with Georgian names back to Georgia, and now he's up for a dessert - some appetizing disunity, plus the obligatory Estonia bashing, in Finland - the fourteenth republic. As the Financial Times reports:

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, said he hoped the meeting would be positive and pave the way for talks on a new partnership across the board.

But he told the Financial Times Mr Putin would not take criticisms of Russia lying down, and claimed the EU should stop trying to turn countries such as Ukraine away from Moscow by presenting them with an “artificial dilemma”.

Mr Chizhov added that Mr Putin would not take lectures on human rights while ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia, two new EU members, were treated as “non-citizens”.


He also claimed that Estonia was being turned into “an SS hall of fame”, with memorials being erected to local soldiers who fought with the Germans against Soviet forces in the second world war. An Estonian government spokeswoman denied the allegation.

“The EU is doing nothing,” Mr Chizhov said. “We supported the accession of these countries to the EU and we hoped the ‘big brothers’ inside the EU would provide them with a certain calming – even educational – influence,” he said.

“So far this hasn’t produced the changes we were hoping for.”

Notes to Chizhov:

1. Russians were the largest minority in the Republic of Estonia prior to its occupation by Soviet forces. According to the census of 1934, Russians made up nearly 9 percent of the population of Estonia. And every one of the descendents of those inhabitants was eligible for citizenship when Estonia regained its independence.

2. The Estonian government has been more willing to remove monuments to Estonian 20th Waffen SS than to do anything about the memorials to the Red Army soldiers that took Tallinn in 1944. Because the Soviets killed more Estonians than the Nazis did, the Estonian people have the right to make their own moral judgements about the actors of World War II.

Still, I've been to many Estonian towns. I've been to Kärdla, Kuressaare, Paide, Pärnu, Viljandi, Tartu, Põlva, Tallinn, Käsmu - I've spent a lot of time in Suure-Jaani, but I've never seen anything that would lead me to believe that Estonia is an 'SS Hall of Fame.'

Both of these facts lead me to think that the EU knows that Russia is grasping at straws when it tries to play the "Estonia" card. The only trouble I see ahead is putting together a common EU policy towards Russia [no way!, really?]

But seriously, folks. What does the EU really need to tell Russia? Or better yet, what advice can the EU give Russia that Russia will actually consider? On Belarus? On gas pipelines? On Georgia? On Iran?

Does the EU have any leverage over Russia? Does Russia have any need to listen to its concerns? Does anybody trust Russia enough to believe it will do anything it says it will do?

If Chizhov's observations of Estonia can be so false and untrue AND the EU obviously knows them to be false and untrue then what exactly is the point of this summit? Is it just a PR show for Finland? Maybe not even that.

kolmapäev, oktoober 11, 2006

Well Look Who Came to the Party

How did I miss this? Carl Bildt, whose blog I read pretty regularly, was recently appointed foreign minister of Sweden. He comments:

Well, things do happen in life, as we know.

On Friday I was appointed Foreign Minister of Sweden in a move that was widely seen as somewhat surprising.

And in many ways it was. But when asked, while it wasn't entirely easy to say yes, it would have been impossible to say no.

Estonia is lucky to have Bildt as the foreign minister of one of its largest economic partners, not to mention political allies. Bildt recently congratulated Estonia on its election of Toomas Hendrik Ilves as president and wrote one of the more moving tributes to Lennart Meri when he died in March. Along with Tarja Halonen, Bildt gave a speech at a memorial on the day of Meri's funeral in Tallinn.

In other words, he's a staunch ally. I wonder if he'll keep up blogging.

Remember Our Old Friend, Pronkssõdur?

From everything I read there is still a police presence around the most controversial monument in Estonia. There has been one since May. I know that the Estonian government didn't want to spend its huge surplus on redistributing some of the state wealth back to the have-nots, but, how long exactly is this going to go on?

September 22 came and went and here we are still. Prime Minister Ansip wants it gone and I understand him. It seems like a very big hassle to live in fear of dueling crowds of Slavs shouting "fascist" and rightist Fenno-Ugers vowing to blow the whole place up. Wouldn't make sense to bury the issue in a faraway cemetery on the edge of town?

But then there are those that are afraid of Lihula on steroids. Because it was ok to unleash the riot police to hold of crowds of natives hurling sticks and stones in Lihula when they took their war monument away. They could get away with that. But do they really want to revisit Lihula in Tallinn? That idea gives me the creeps.

And so the compromise has been to try and "change the meaning" of the monument. What exactly does that mean. How will the somber laying of national symbols in commemoration of the dead of the first Estonian republic manage to peacefully coexist with Soviet anthem singing and unveiling of the hammer & sickle?

None of these solutions seems to solve anything. And so the watch goes on. and on. and on. Maybe if we wait long enough, it will go away?

pühapäev, oktoober 08, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya 1958-2006

When you become a journalist, you are made aware that there are some situations in which it is possible your profession can turn fatal. Usually though you imagine that death only strikes those reporting in war zones that are hit by stray bullet or mortar. But in modern Russia, a land where bodyguards are a status symbol, the absence of overt war does not guarantee your safety.

Investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who chronicled military abuses against Chechen civilians and garnered accolades and awards from around the world, was killed in her apartment building Saturday in an apparent contract murder possibly tied to her reporting.

Politkovskaya, 48, was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in an elevator in her apartment building at 8/12 Lesnaya Ulitsa near Belorussky Station in central Moscow.

Politkovskaya was not the first journalist to die an execution-style death in Russia, and she probably won't be the last. But in a country that lacks the will to bring the murderers of journalists to justice, one has to wonder if it is really worth the trouble for those behind these assasinations to kill their critics. The logic follows that if you are free to kill reporters, what they write shouldn't bother you much anyway - unless of course you are more worried about appearances then any kind of threat to your political economic livelihood. Hence, the murder of journalists is not only deplorable, it's also ... illogical. But Russia was never much one for logic.

Anyway, looks like a mob hit.

Footage from a security camera in the apartment building foyer showed the presumed killer, a tall young man wearing dark clothing and a black baseball cap.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika will personally oversee the investigation, his office announced Sunday.

However, people are being quick to lay the blame at Putin's feet because it fits into the "Russia is sliding back into authoritarianism meme."

Her killing sent shock waves across Russia and raised fresh doubts about media freedom under President Vladimir Putin. She was the 12th reporter murdered in contract-style killings since Putin came to power, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

What's ironic about Putin's Russia is the close resemblance to Mussolini's Italy. Instead of communism in Russia, we now have fascism - a state-centered around the fused ganglea of big business and political power where xenophobia is fashionable and a strong arm is preferred to any hint of chaos. The irony is stronger because Russia's post-war identity was built on being the country that defeated fascism. Yet what do we have today in modern Russia?

I hope Anna's murderers are caught, but I do not believe they will be.

neljapäev, oktoober 05, 2006


The Baltic Times has an interesting piece on Jaak Aaviksoo, the current rector of Tartu University who is stepping down to enter politics as a potential prime ministerial candidate for the Isamaa-Res Publica Union, better known as the guys in the smart suits with the glasses.

As his lack of hair attests, Aaviksoo is a very smart man. And his interview is revealing about his thoughts on the future of Estonia:

What, in your mind, is wrong with the country?

There are a lot of worrying trends, including an increased concentration of power in both formal and informal structures. The transparency of society is also decreasing. There are serious trends of politicizing non-political posts, and politicizing investment decisions. This includes within the field of education. One of the most dangerous trends, which I want to change, is the allocation of investments according to party leaders’ affiliations.
What are your views on Estonia’s economic outlook?
Estonia has been very successful, but problems are on the horizon. Most of our success has been due to low labor costs. Once wages start to rise, things will change. If we don’t invest in building a true knowledge society, with vocational as well as higher learning research and innovation, we will face very serious problems.

BT is subscription only online, so I won't give the rest away, but I am glad somebody is thinking about what will happen after Estonia stops being the most awesome capital of the world.

teisipäev, oktoober 03, 2006

Old Money

Did you know that before Estonia had the kroon, it had the mark? It's true. Up until 1928, things were in marka, not krooni. I came upon this interesting site that has images of money from different countries during different periods.

My guess is that from 1918 to 1928, business was done in marka and penni. Here is an example of a 5 penni note:

You can also glimpse some more scenes of daily Estonian life from the newly founded 'peasant nation.' These appear to be fishermen:

Here are some interesting images from the currency when it switched to krooni, which I guess depict Estonian national values in the 1930s. There are some like this farmer:

And then there is this woman, who has appears to be holding some kind of harvested vegetable or grain in her hands:

Then finally this industrious gentleman, perhaps representing Estonia's fondness for workoholic behavior:

esmaspäev, oktoober 02, 2006

A Plebiscite for Georgia?

I know this is an Estonia blog, but the situation in Georgia is important in the context of demonstrating how much support allies of the United States can actually depend on when Russia makes its "interests" known. From a historical perspective, it's hard not to see the Russian empire in a long slow process of devolution - akin perhaps to the long, slow death of the UK, which played out into the 1960s and 70s as former imperial possessions (like Jamaica) attained independence. But as the empire unravels, the powers that be hold onto symbolic clumps of Earth to show that they aren't out of the game just yet (like the Falkland Islands).

And so Russia, vanquished by the expansion of NATO and the EU to its western borders, must now show its response to NATO encroachment in the south. There are signals that the US is serious about expanding the alliance to Georgia and the Saakashivili government maintains its wishes to join the ranks of organization (although Georgia isn't exactly close to the North Atlantic - but who are we to be fixated on names?!).
This conflicts with Russia's interests, which are having Lukashenko-like allies in all territories of the Former Soviet Union (at least) and the Russian Empire of 1914 (the most desirable option).

How this conflict plays out - Zhiranovsky is already calling for occupation and war - could have a lot of impact on how Russia and the US deliberate in future conflicts. Will the US symbolically protest military actions by Russia? Does Russia really feel that fighting a war in Georgia is in its best interests, given its inability to fully subdue the Chechen uprising, more than a decade after the first Chechen war? And what will be the premise for that conflict? ALmost forgotten is that this is about two renegade provinces of Georgia - Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Any conflict would most likely revolve around the actions of Georgia's military in the context of Russia defending its compatriots abroad.

The easy solution for Western democracies would be to take the NATO card out of the conflict, and to instead insist on the bureaucratic "EU" solution - plebiscites to determine the future of Abkhazia and South Ossetia - therefore ending the situation peacefully. They would be held at the same time, and would be administered by a non-aligned international force (would the UN do?). Voters in those territories would then be able to decide for themselves whether or not those provinces remained in Georgia or joined the Russian Federation. And all would be right and merry in the world and there would be no war and John Lennon would rise from the dead proclaiming Peace on Earth.

No seriously, I think it's an option. I doubt, however, the willingness of either side to agree to such plebiscites. In the meantime, the conflict will carry on . . .

pühapäev, oktoober 01, 2006

Only Ilves Can Reach Out to Moscow

In my parents' garage, there sits a LIFE magazine issue from 1953. On the cover is a photo of Richard Milhous Nixon, the man who would become our 37th president and whose name would become synonymous with untrustworthiness, the way the name "Clinton" has epitomized the oversexed male and "Bush" seems destined to become a metaphor for "aloofness" or "incompetance" [which is kind of funny considering that the first President Bush was also considered aloof from the reality of American life.] But in 1953, Nixon was one of the good guys. In fact, the title of the magazine article was, "Nixon, a Vice President Who is Making Good."

This was at the height of the Cold War, and before he resigned in 1974, the feather in Nixon's cap was that he was a staunch anti-Communist, who came from a generation of men who had perhaps tinkered with left-wing ideas in the 1930s when the nation's economic system crumbled and many were intrigued by the promises of socialist ideology in response to that problem. Nixon, in other words, was clean when the Cold War started. And therefore the statement "Only Nixon Could Go to China" was circulated to mean that only a staunch anti-Communist could visit the heart of Asian communism. Only Nixon could shake hands with Mao Tse Tung and not have to aggressively scrub his hands clean later. Meeting Mao in 1972 was not a great political liability for Nixon. You can imagine that if Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern had done the same, Nixon's peers would have been the first to criticize them as being "cozy with communism." Nixon's critics did not successfully mount that kind of campaign.

With that in mind, I propose the following successor statement - only Ilves can go to Moscow. Ilves has a communism-free biography. Not only that, his life story reads like a history of post-war Estonia in brief. He was born in exile in Sweden and returned with the restoration of the republic. He is the anti-Communist embodied, because in the Soviet mindset those who left their country supposedly betrayed it. But here he is serving in its highest post. In Soviet history, the thousands of Baltic refugees were scantly mentioned, because they were living evidence that the USSR did not liberate the Baltic countries. Ilves existence, especially now that he is president-elect, does much to undermine the perspective that is cherished in the east.

There are a number of issues that are affecting Estonian-Russian relations right now that need to be dealt with promptly. One is the border treaty issue. While the Estonian-Russian border has functioned as a regular border for 15 years, the lack of an actual agreement is symbolic as the incapability of Estonia to normalize relations with the Russian Federation. It also gives the RF one remaining tool in its diplomatic arsenal to use against Estonia.

The second, and greatest issue, is the undefined citizenship of the Russian-speaking minority. Without seeking to minimize the importance of the ethnic Russian minority, Estonia also has a number of other minority groups of significant size - namely Ukrainians (2 percent), Belarussians (1 percent), and Finns (1 percent). However, none of the states that represent those ethnic groups seem concerned about their status in Estonia. The Russian government is concerned with the legal status of the 26 percent of Estonian residents that are ethnic Russians. But still, non-citizenship doesn't affect all of them, it affects about 9 percent of them.

Something tells me that this remaining 9 percent of the population is going to be exceedingly difficult to "digest" into the Estonian citizenship. But Estonia's program to naturalize these 120,000 - 130,000 people is not happening in a vacuum. The Russian government has also recently authorized a program to aid foreign compatriots in repatriating to Russia. Would it be too much of a stretch to think that these programs could work symbiotically? That there could be a joint Estonian-Russian "citizenship campaign" that will work to end the citizenship issue by presenting non-citizens with three funded options - 1) naturalize in Estonia, 2) naturalize in Russia, and 3) repatriate to Russia. The last option may be appealing to both young persons looking for opportunities where they don't have to learn Estonian and old pensioners who simply do not have the capacity to relocate without state assistance.

While working with Russia could have a negative connotation for many Estonian politicians - Savisaar comes to mind - having an Estonian president like Ilves, who cannot even speak Russian take interest in solving the problems with Russia might be acceptable to all parties and safe for Estonia politically. Though Ilves himself doesn't have the power to launch such a campaign, he does have the ability to influence policy and public opinion.

On the other hand, recent Russian foreign policy has been characterized as "sowing instability." Russia perhaps would ignore such a move by Estonia because solving these problems might not be seen as being in its interest. However, by showing an effort to improve ties, Estonia might win more confidence in the international arena. And that kind of confidence is valuable when the shit hits the fan.

What do you think?