reede, detsember 08, 2006

Comrade Wolf

Being rather young myself, it's hard for me not to sympathize with Estonia's younger politicians. In my country, politicians like Barack Obama, age 45, are treated as if they are 20-something -- Obama is regularly referred to as a "rock star" in the Beltway media -- while old geezers like John McCain, 70, try their hardest to stay "middle-aged."

So I had warm feelings towards Parts' government in '03 when they came into office because they were young and seemed like they cared. But after the nightmare of watching the ritualistic sacking of minister after minister in the Parts government in '04 and '05, I started to believe that Parts belonged in the opposition because he makes a great critic. And Juku didn't let us down yesterday when he scathingly tore into Estonian foreign policy:

“If we take stock of our foreign policy of recent years, we get a bleak result,” the MP from the merged opposition party Pro Patria and Res Publica Union said in his comments following a keynote address by the minister of foreign affairs ahead of a foreign policy discussion in parliament.

“We’ve lost to Russia in the propaganda war in Estonia and in Europe alike. And that is only because of our own sluggishness and passivity,” the former leader of Res Publica said in his remarks to fellow lawmakers after the speech by Foreign Minister Urmas Paet.

Parts said that Estonia at this point has no clear-cut mission in foreign policy, it lacks initiative and acquiesces in mirroring the policy of large European nations.
Parts described Estonia’s foreign policy of recent years as mediocre and lacking ambition.

Parts in right. The Russian foreign ministry has at least three English-language news services pumping out its version of Estonia to the world 24/7. And what does Estonia have? A generous post by Radio Free Europe? A helping hand now and then from The Economist? Every day when I put "Estonia" into my search engine, it comes back with four articles of Russian foreign ministry-approved pornography about those swastika-loving fascist Estonians who force their poor "compatriots" to speak to them in Estonian. So yes, in that sense, Estonia is very much losing the propaganda war. Even Georgia has its own "news service" with its own "point of view" - but Estonia has none. At the very least, the Estonian foreign ministry should have its releases circulated via all international press wires. They post it on their website, but nobody reads it!

Still, I don't like Juhan's tone. He sounds agitated, almost as if he'd rather use Russia to score points against the Reform Party (which leads in most polls for the '07 parliamentary elections) than actually work with the Reform Party so that Estonia has a coherent foreign policy. I, for one, think that it does. How "coherent" is Finnish foreign policy or Danish foreign policy? Estonia is just 1.3 million people - how "big" a foreign policy do you expect it to have? Over the past two years the country has expanded its foreign presence considerably, worked with its Nordic and Baltic partners, built up its relations with key partners like Sweden, Germany, and the UK, and scored visible visits from high-profile world leaders. That's a lot of work for one large building on Iceland Park.

So my reaction to Parts' comments is mixed. In some ways he is very right. In other ways is a living example of the phrase, "An Estonians' favorite food is another Estonian."

14 kommentaari:

Anonüümne ütles ...

Juhan Parts was always a power-hungry guy that came into the job dubiously. How Res Publica "FIDESz'ed" itself was also shameful, becoming the arm of the old Koonderakond -- party of power. He was its public face. He's as crafty of a politician as Fat Eddie or Antsy Ansip, and will do anything to get votes.

But realistically, what can Estonia really do in the PR war? I think you choose to see the negatives. The English-language media ALMOST NEVER criticise Estonia; as opposed to Latvia, which gets a shellacking by media from the Washington Post to the Observer. Estonia is always referred to as that wonderful place where things are going so well.

Sure, the Russian PR machine is going, but it has not damaged Estonia nearly half as bad as Latvia, because Estonia has so many fans in the Western media. So I think Parts is just using some stuff to criticise the Foreign Ministry and my old colleages in press/info, and shame on ol' tilted head for that. He can't do half as good of a job.

Giustino ütles ...

Sure, the Russian PR machine is going, but it has not damaged Estonia nearly half as bad as Latvia, because Estonia has so many fans in the Western media.

You are right on that. I have read few, if any, negative articles about e-stonia in the Western press. They all think it's an Internet wonderland.

But the Russian PR machine gets picked up and recirculated by other press outlets around the world. They treat an RF press release like its an AP story. Maybe the Estonian FM should similarly put out releases that hit the wires.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

'Every day when I put "Estonia" into my search engine, it comes back with four articles of Russian foreign ministry-approved pornography about those swastika-loving fascist Estonians who force their poor "compatriots" to speak to them in Estonian.'

For me it is even harder. Estonia has no voice in German. Some agency news and the Russian news in German!. What happens: Russia cries foul, German media takes it without own estimation and with this they start debating it in the German blogosphere, argh.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Estonia's policy has always been to maintain dignity and not to respond to those ridiculous accusations. It has worked quite well for us in the past (1990's) but lately Russia's propaganda war has become more intensive. I don't think establishing a pro-Estonian PR-agency would be necessary. Estonian diplomats are doing a great job and I raise my hat for them.
You are also contributing with your blog - excellent blog by the way.

Frank ütles ...

Hard to imagine there are many national PR agencies that can rival Eesti Instituut ... I guess the problem is that there are still many journalists that are too lazy to take a closer look at something unfamiliar or not that obvious or just not "big" enough, so they do rely on their old "Russian" contacts or sources - but there should be enough "enlightened" journalists around to spread the good news ...

plasma-jack ütles ...

Ever seen a movie called "Vali kord", Giustino? It should be available on DVD with English subtitles.


Anonüümne ütles ...

A good amount of Eesti Institut's stuff came from the Foreign Ministry's press/info office back in the old days. So for anyone to criticise our office shows a complete lack of understanding and respect. We worked our arses off for less than EEK 3000 a month and nearly starved. And how rich is Juhan? How much money did people from the old Koonderakond give him to take over Res Publica and present a "positive" (but crooked) face to the public (while ruining a perfectly good youth NGO)?

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

No question, without Eesti Instituut there would be no serious representation of Estonia in the wired world.

Giustino ütles ...

Maybe what is needed is news in three OTHER languages - German, French, and Russian. And yes, French is important.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

to Guistino

I think you missed crucial point - quotability of those Russian services.
News agencies by themselves are of little use. Who reads Ria Novosti as Ria Novosti, or Reuters as Reuters for that matter? I don't, and frankly, don't believe lot of people do.
The point in the work of news agency is that its news get into normal media: newspapers, journals and internet portals, television news, read and watched by billions of people.

If you analize those channels you see that the Russian news agencies largerly fail this tasks. They get little to no quotations, referrals in the media. Somewhat more in French press, somewhat less in English press, always more frequent (perhaps because they are cheap) in second-tier media, almost never in big media. I refer here specifically with regard to the so-called "Baltic question", don't know if they get better quoted on their coverage of Uzbekistan.
If you trick around with your news search engine you'll see it. Newspapers read in the West have AP, Reuters, AFP and ADP based stories about the Baltic states. For example Reuters has its office here in Tallinn. It is news source about Estonia, it is just considered neutral, objective and respectful. Why should the government set up mock (governments effort can sometimes result in things like that) "news agency" to do pro-Estonian propaganda if it will unlikely develop as source in mainstream media, it will be viewed by some (on both sides) as propaganda, it will cost (remember ETA)? The freaks like us, who use will be of course reading it, but I am afraid it is not sufficient to justify its existence.

Have a look at some of the news about Estonia/Baltics in the newspapers next time you fly to America.

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