esmaspäev, aprill 30, 2007

Russia Shoots Itself in the Foot ... Again

A Russian Duma committee head is now demanding that the Estonian government resign, according to several news reports.

This is humorous in that Russia -- and no country -- has the right to demand that a sovereign nation's leader step down.

But it also underscores that it is very much a political goal of Russia to not have the current Estonian government in office. Instead they would probably like to see Edgar Savisaar, who they have decided is the most capable of assuming power in the country, in the PM's spot.

Earlier Russian efforts to affect internal politics in Estonia have failed because they have worked with fringe groups like Night Watch, whose leader Dmitri Linter could go to jail for five years for provoking the riots in Tallinn last week. Linter is set to suffer the kind of fate Tiit Madisson, the Estonian radical nationalist, found himself in in 1996 for attempting to ovethrow the Estonian government.

Moreover, parties that toe the Kremlin line, like the Constitution Party, did abysmally in the March 2007 elections. They got less votes than their predecessor parties got in 2003 and that's with an ever increasing number of naturalized ethnic Russian citizens AND a Bronze Soldier controversy.

The only strategy now seems to be to support Savisaar. Former Estonian PM and historian Mart Laar has likened the arrival of the Russian Federation in Tallinn to the arrival of Stalinist lieutenant Andrei Zhdanov, who dictated the membership of the communist government in 1940 to then President Konstantin Päts.

Well, if you are going to use history as a club, you couldn't pick a better metaphor.

Meanwhile, the poor Estonian embassy workers in Moscow are barricaded in their embassy and still can't get out. We are all waiting for you to act normal Moscow. Still waiting.

A peaceful sight

I don't care how you felt about the decision to remove the monument. I am relieved, and I hope you are relieved too, to see this sight.

The Silent Victor

There are a lot of unpleasant feelings out there in Estonia right now. Most people I think are angry at the violent marauders that broke windows and looted shops since Thursday.

Why? Because we all live here too. And we're not necessarily very political people. We have small children. Or we are old. We have to go to the store to buy food. We have to go to the Apteek to buy medicine. We want to live our lives in peace, and thousands of drunk 17-year-olds destroying our home is revolting.

But the extreme dislike for the rioters has now spilled over into politics. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip is the focus of those who are maddest -- in every sense of the word -- over the removal of the monument. They want him to resign. It's their stated goal and, surprise, surprise, it's also the goal of the Russian government, who would rather work with their good pal Edgar Savisaar.

But the thing is that Savisaar is equally hated at this moment. People's stomachs turn as they watch him go on Russian state TV and apologize to the Russians on behalf of Estonians. Who was he again? The Mayor of Tallinn. No one will form a coalition with Keskerakond now. Not even Reform party. So he too is marginalized from the debate.

But surprisingly silent is Mart Laar, the head of Isamaa-Res Publica Liit, yet holding no official capacity at the moment. Laar of course supported the removal of the statue. But he's not the face man for the removal and therefore no ire is directed against him. It's Ansip they want, not Laar. At the same time he is encumbered by the slime that follows Savisaar wherever he goes.

In short, I am begining to think that Laar will benefit most from this.

Dry Spell

I went to the supermarket here at about 5.30 on Saturday hoping to get a snack while I worked in the office. While I was standing on line, I noticed the enormous amounts of alcohol being purchased by individual Estonians on line.

"Christ, what a bunch of drunks, I thought to myself." Then I purchased my food and moved on.

At 5.45 I received a call from my wife, who informed me that if I wanted to buy any alcohol to drink until May 3, I should go to the supermarket now, because the government had placed a nationwide ban on alcohol sales until that date. This sort of explained the behavior I saw previously but, still, how can you drink two cases of A. Le Coq in a just a few evenings. It didn't seem possible.

When I ventured back into the store it was even crowded than before with last minute boozers stocking up. I decided to buy just a few beers, and because these kinds of bans don't happen everyday, a nice Saku Gin Long Drink. I had a cold and I thought the grapefruit inside would do me good.

In line with me were the most unsuspecting drunks you ever saw. Two guys that looked like 19 year old chemistry majors stood in front of me with a whole cart filled with enough booze to make you sick just by staring at it. They laughed when they saw my expression. "Nii palju," I said to them. "Jah," they replied sheepishly.

Another guy in front of me had two huge cases of Saaremaa õlut, which is one of the most alcoholic beers in Estonia. It's basically like drinking beer with a shot of vodka mixed in. I couldn't fathom this one guy needing all that beer until May 3.

But you never know with these Estonians.

laupäev, aprill 28, 2007

New Policy for Itching for Eestimaa

I am a human being from the United States. Some of my greatest heroes are the men and women of the US that fought so hard against authority for the right to say what was on their mind. These ideals go back to very founding of the city that has harbored most of my family members, New Amsterdam, presently New York, which was founded on Dutch virtues of tolerance.

At the same time, I am deeply connected with Estonian society through family, and, as the 'editor' of this blog, I cannot permit comments to be posted that are racist in nature against Estonians or other nationalities. As much as I hate doing this, I will remove any comments that call for violence against the citizens of this country, or their total extermination, as nationalists of other countries tend to say while getting themselves hard on the Internet. This blog's role is to further discussion, not to further hate speech.

I am disappointed that it has come to this, but I think it is ultimately the best choice at this time. And it's a great excuse to take myself too seriously ;-)

Coming to Terms with a Dark Chapter in History

Now that Mr. Controversial is gone, and the opinion pieces in Estonian newspapers will move from "What should we do about the Bronze Soldier?" to "Did we do the right thing with the Bronze Soldier?" it's time to start asking ourselves a very serious question -- what should go there in its place, and how can the Estonian state foster a true understanding of that conflict among all its citizens.

I believe that the most accurate assessment of that conflict in Estonia is that World War II was one of the darker chapters in Estonian history. Estonia was swallowed up by two competing powers -- an expansionist Third Reich and an expansionist Soviet Union. Both powers had ideologies that supported their expansionist efforts -- the Reich's ideology was based on ideals of ethnic German superiority while the Soviets' was based on the export of Russian communism.

Both acted criminally in the 1940s. If they were alive today, actors from both regimes would warrant lengthy prison sentences in Estonia for crimes committed during that time. But they are not alive, and the purpose of this is not to lay blame at the feet of Germans and Russians today. Instead, it's to put into context that there is no way in which the Estonian state will ever support one of these two sides.

So if there's one aspect from that war that should be recalled in a central square, it's not necessarily military sacrifice. Since most of Estonia's casualties weren't military, but were civilian, then I believe that the best way to commemorate the dead of the Second World War is to erect a monument that is civilian in nature.

Ethnic Russians lived in Estonia before the war too, you know. They were more than 8 percent of the population at that time. And they suffered just as everyone else did during those awful years. So a monument to civilian losses would be just as appropriate for them as it would be for the ethnic Estonian majority.

I also think that in order to dispell the growing macho infatuation of some youth, both ethnic Estonian and ethnic Russian, with World War II (to the point of dressing up in WWII-era uniforms), the new monument should be feminine in nature. Indeed, it should be a monument of a woman mourning the dead. I think that this is the most accurate depiction of the Estonian experience in the Second World War and it serves as a representation of what the final result of violence is -- sadness and emotional torment.

That, in summary, is the Estonian experience of World War II.

reede, aprill 27, 2007

Let the Spinning Begin

Now that the main event is concluded, it's time for the spinning to begin. The Estonian Foreign Ministry fired off a note this morning that shows how the Estonian government is claiming victory and actively working to discredit the looters, who took all their anger at the Estonian government out by helping themselves to free booze.

Yesterday’s rioters found the police presence and the assembly of people to be a good reason to act destructively.

The rioters showed clearly that their real goal was to riot, destroy, break and loot.

These actions confirm that they have nothing to do with respecting and protecting the memories of those who fell during World War II.

Meanwhile, the Russians are considering -- and probably will -- sever diplomatic relations with Estonia.

Just a friendly reminder here, the Estonian government moved a monument from a central square to a cemetery. And the Russians consider that grounds for severing diplomatic ties. Will they take off their shoes and bang them on their desks when the vote is taken? And who will win this new propaganda war?

So many questions now exist that have yet to answer themselves.

neljapäev, aprill 26, 2007

Cirque du Tallinn

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia. It is its most populous city. Since the days of the Hanseatic League it's been an important commercial center. And today it is in the headlines because of the governments plans to relocate a war memorial to a cemetery.

The weather today in Tartu was sunny and mild. Students floated by in ambitious haircuts and apparel, making the most of a day after a cold winter. Beer flowed freely in outdoor cafes. Young people relaxed by the fountain in front of Town Hall.

The same is probably happening in cities all over Estonia today. In Pärnu, the very city where Estonian independence was proclaimed in 1918, all was peaceful. The same in Kärdla, Võru, Põlva, Haapsalu, and even in the real heart of Estonia, Paide.

But three years ago, in a small Estonian town called Lihula, the Estonian government removed another monument, this time one to Estonians who had fought in the 20th Waffen SS to -- as they say -- keep the Red Army out of Estonia long enough to restore Estonian independence.

That removal turned violent. Estonian protestors threw rocks and bottles at Estonian riot police. Because, you see, they were insulting their dead. And insulting the dead calls for a hysterical response. As a sidenote, it was also the end of the honeymoon for the government of Juhan Parts.

As I look at what is happening in Tallinn, I think back to a quote I read in a story about Lihula three years ago in The Baltic Times:

“It would be good if the government erected a central monument for all the victims of the war, regardless of which side they fought,” said one student. “Why not show a mourning mother that is crying about her son’s death!” It would illustrate the cruelty of World War II - and that everyone was suffering from it."

Nordic Breeze, makes you feel fine

Well, I guess Estonians believe that they have already 'positively transformed' and so it's time for a catchy new slogan to sum up the post-EU, post-NATO Estonia.

One being offered is 'Nordic breeze', which to me sounds like an underarm deodorant or a new brand of gin long drink or a lite FM song by Seals and Crofts. Therefore, I am not too fond of this one.

I personally am interested in anything that mentions the forest, because whenever asked about their homeland, Estonians get shy and say something about the forest, as if it were a fetish of which they were ashamed.

teisipäev, aprill 24, 2007

Nägemist Yeltsin!

It's a funny thing. Most of us the West liked Yeltsin because he seemed approachable and semi-normal. He could go to Katyn and unflinchingly apologize for Soviet war crimes. He knew the Stalinist state because his father had been arrested for sabotaging it. He didn't want to see military action in eastern Europe because he had already lived through one and one was enough.

On the flipside, there are all those actions that are easy to criticize, and apparently many in Russia are not as enthusiastic about burying Boris as we were about burying that decent, just decent, fellow Gerald Ford last year.

But above all, he was smart to recognize and correct Stalin's mistake of occupying the Baltics in 1940 and to withdraw the Russian army from countries that didn't and still do not pose any threat to Russia. He may have been a bumbling drunk, but, in terms of the Baltics, he didn't let nationalist pride get in the way of making the right decisions that have been ultimately beneficial for Russia.

esmaspäev, aprill 23, 2007

Eesti kõige suurem probleem

Kallid eestlased. Mina olen natukene kurb. Miks? Sellepärast, et kõige eestlased mõtlevad, et mina olen missugune inglise keele õpetaja. Nad ei viitsi rääkida oma keeles. Nad arvavad, et inglise keel on parem minuga.

Ma ei usu et see on õige kui minu naine räägib kogu aeg minuga inglise keeles. Ma usun et kõige parem stenaarium on see, et ma oskan eesti keelt kui hästi kui mu naine oskab inglise keelt.

Siis, palun. Olge minu sõber. Palun abi. Kui ma ütlen midagi eesti keeles, siis ütle teie vastus eesti keeles ka.

Teie sõber,


reede, aprill 20, 2007

Finnish Babes

So here I am again, in the Helsinki-Vantaa airport, watching people and, as any man does regardless of his marital situation, watching females. They are -- and always will be -- more interesting to look at. Men are boring. In Finland, most of them come in two shapes -- there's the big guy with the shaved head and the goatee, and then the academic guy with the hair parted on the side and the glasses.

The women of the Helsinki-Vantaa however have different hair colors and body shapes. There are blondes -- both real and false, red heads, brunettes, and I even saw a woman who was sporting some sort of skunk-flavored hairdo that combined bleach blond with black stripes. As for bodies, they range from the lanky to the portly, with the recurring trait of having a large backside, as is common in these parts, the Finnic booty, if you will, with which Estonian women are also blessed.

I haven't seen my wife -- mu kallis naine -- in over two weeks. After two weeks of sleeping alone, I am very interested to ignore all of her bad traits indefinitely just so I can sleep in a bed with a sympathetic human being again. My wife's worst trait is that she is an organized, can do northern European woman, and I am a bit of a southern European-inspired slob. If left unattended, I might just vegetate on a couch reading blogs and eating kreemisaiakesed. Anyway, I am a bit tired of falling asleep on my own. It's much better when there's someone else there to encourage you. When I go on the road I usually fall asleep watching Aqua Team: Hunger Force or The Colbert Report. When I am at home sleep proceeds as ritual.

You can tell I am jet lagged by how much I am talking about sleep. But what about those Finnish babes, particularly the ones in the red and yellow jump suits that are charged with cleaning out the WC? Well, again, they remind me of my wife. Each Finnish lady is like one feature of my wife taken to the extreme. Sort of like different versions of the same prototype. It's a bit weird, but it's oddly comforting to be in the presence of people that even look like my wife, even just a little bit.

Anyway, I am friggin tired and I have to wait until 1:fucking:45 to get on board the plane that will take me to Tallinn where I will meet up with my loved one and take a bus to Tartu. Eventually I will be sitting back in the living room where I packed my bags several weeks ago. And because I am so hungover from work, we've agreed that there will be no furniture assembly projects this weekend!

neljapäev, aprill 19, 2007

Coming soon to a capital near you ...

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says there will be "severe consequences" for moving the monument to a cemetery. One wonders, will such consequences include the rape and mutilation of women, the mass execution of Estonian leaders, and carting Ilves off for a lengthy stay in Tver? Or just a boycott of Hapukoor. Stay tuned.

esmaspäev, aprill 16, 2007

Looking for Leadership

George W. Bush has been a lameduck president since about the middle of 2005. He came into office on a whim, got a chance to basically do whatever he wanted after 9/11, and watched his presidency die in three simple steps: the failure of his post-electoral victory plan to reform Social Security, the realization that there was no plan B for Iraq, and the inability of our authorities to react appropriately to Hurricane Katrina.

Now that I am back here in the US I can feel the necessity for leadership. People are extremely tired of the Bush Administration. Unlike in 2002, where you might get beat up for saying anything bad about Bush, in 2007 people just can't wait until this presidency is over.

Of all the Democratic candidates in the race, the one I oddly find myself leaning towards is Barack Obama. I say 'oddly' because I think that Senator Obama has gone far on his charisma and has produced relatively little. Yet at the same time it is his inexperience coupled with his ambition that makes me believe that an Obama presidency might achieve what no post-Nixon presidency has managed to do: Bury the Nixon Administration, once and for all.

"Nixon?" You might say. "His presidency was up in 1974 and he's been dead since 1993!" Yes, yes, I know that Nixon is dead. But all the senior players in the current Bush administration, in Washington in general -- Cheney, Wolfowitz, Gates -- they all go back to the Nixon-Ford Administrations. Who did George W. Bush sit next to at the Republican National Convention in Miami in 1972? Why it was Donald Rumsfeld, of course. This grouping has been in and out of power for nearly 40 years. And this is the end of their tenure in the driver's seat.

With Obama you get a guy who has been in politics for a relatively short amount of time -- unlike Hillary Clinton -- and who by the virtue of defeating Clinton in the primaries will have alienated the other power base in Washington -- the Clintonistas -- the Paul Begalas, James Carvilles, Sandy Bergers, et al.

We could have a president that's only 18 years older than I am, who is so post-Baby Boomer politics that he probably can't even remember the Kennedy Assassination, let alone get into arguments about whether he served or got a deferment. This is an opportunity to bury aging camps of political opportunists and the culture wars -- if America is ready. I doubt it will be, but let's see what happens between now and November 2008.

reede, aprill 13, 2007

Greetings from Boston

I am here in Boston, the cradle of the revolution, and it is raining. The past two days have been sunny yet cold. My room is an an old brownstone in Brookline, a neighborhood to the West. I took the "cheap room" which means my bathroom is located outside my bedroom. Our house is old here and I am afraid that some sort of poltergeist may choose to cross my path as I make a midnight sojourn to relieve myself. No ghosts so far.

Boston is special, or at least, at one time Boston was special. It was "the" American town. New York was home to mercantile sissies. Virginia to gentlemen planters. But in Boston? Take your tea and drink it with salt water, limey bastards. The British are so gentle, so verbose, so refined, yet somehow having the gumption to stick a bayonet in the lot of them over some taxes seems bold. It seems obscene. It seems dirty. In a sense, it is American.

Sam Adams, the revolutionary, who had to borrow suit to attend the continental congress in 1776 in Philadelphia because he was such a rotten, filthy, dirrrty scoundrel -- he's an American. We are a people who take pride in being unrefined. A glorious thing to be. This is the land of "Girls Gone Wild" lest thee forget. And who are we? Heathen.

'Tis this principle that makes Estonia a trusted party you see. Heathen. Unruly democrats. We feel you Estonia. We really do. People here know you too. They tell me you are a "happening place" -- can you imaginme! Meie Eesti a "happening place"?

Yet who are the least faithful? The Western Europeans. For so long the prime example of how superior they were lay to their east (or in Finland, to their south). Yet suddenly the easterners are more interesting. Denmark? Zzzzzz. Estonia? A happening place.

But I am here all alone in my lonesome. My wife is in Tartu. My daughter is in New York with my folks. And I am alone in this clean, red brick city where they like baseball too much. I keep an eye out for someone to talk to, perhaps Matt Damon or Ben Affleck on the T. But, alas, no one here but me and some young Irish people in khaki pants.

America is such an interesting place. Here we are, arguing over Don Imus and his racist comments for disparaging the curly haired, tattooed ladies of the Rutgers basketball team as "nappy headed hoes." Pick up the Wall Street Journal. The shamefulness persists. "Affluent liberals" are to be despised. "Wealthy conservatives" are to be respected. So if you get rich and pat yourself on the back, you're a great person. If you mention the poor? You're engaging in "class warfare" and, oh, by the way, you like the French, loser!

Meanwhile, somewhere between Endor and Tatooine, our troops are fighting in Iraq, or is it Eye-Rack, and Afghanistan. Oh well, whatever, nevermind. It's times like these that make me think the British are lucky. They exist just because they exist. They have no mission other than to sup tea and make more comedy programs (and palatable pop records, I might add).

Us? We have some sort of idealistic mission statement. Which means that we are damned to make mistakes.

esmaspäev, aprill 09, 2007

A Rose Revolution?

Rootsi analyst Vilhelm Konnander has hinted that the recent choice of Jüri Pihl as minister of the interior may portend future decisions by the unaffiliated to run as Social Democrats in Estonia, rather than as Reform, Center, Isamaa, or other candidates.

A surprise in the new cabinet is the inclusion of Jüri Pihl as Minister of the Interior. Pihl has previously headed the Estonian security police, and also been Prosecutor General. Until now, Pihl has been unpolitical, but will now represent the Social Democrats in cabinet, which further strengthens the impression of a coming SDE stronghold on Estonian politics.

What drives this logic? Well, there is the obvious question of what will follow the eventual unraveling of the rightwing coalition of Isamaa and Reform. I say eventual in that in parliamentary politics power usually swings between parties, although in Estonia either Reform or Isamaa-Res Publica have been in power since 1999 and perhaps before that too [help me out here guys].

The Social Democrats are uniquely positioned in that they 1) have experience in holding power; 2) are nationalist and eurofriendly enough to secure rightwing votes; 3) have a broad, internationally tested philosophical basis that makes it easier for them to reach out to marginalized voters -- such as Russian-speakers or the unemployed or the elderly -- that parties like Reform (the rich guys) and Isamaa (the patriotic guys) don't have.

It's interesting that in this last election almost every person I knew that wasn't voting for Isamaa-Res Publica was voting for the Social Democrats. Why? Because they seem like the most mainstream Estonian party -- and that's perhaps what Konnander is hinting at. They are the party that is easiest to belong too. Ivari Padar may not be the most charismatic guy, but he's also probably the hardest to hate, in the same way that some people hate Edgar Savisaar or think Mart Laar is a baffoon.

Finally, because of the party's structure and its lack of 'the charismatic leader' -- young aspiring politicians sense that enlisting in SDE's ranks could pay off. I mean if you join Keskerakond, then you'll just find yourself like Jüri Ratas, won't you? Edgar Savisaar decides that he wants to be mayor of Tallinn, so your tenure is up. Yuck. Nobody wants that! If you join Isamaa-Res Publica Liit then you better get in line behind Taavi Veskimägi if you want a job. The field is crowded. Reform? A lot of well qualified people already belong to that party. But SDE? There's room for growth and attention. It's an attractive alternative for those who wish to enter into public service.

SDE is in the unique position that it could basically adopt any policy and still look like SDE. Not a bad place to be.

reede, aprill 06, 2007

The benefits of being in New York

Because my last blog was perhaps too sour for some, I have decided to write about some of the things that make me happy to be back in town.

1) Access to affordable and diverse food. And I don't mean wild varieties of Indian or Thai, I am talking about a country where cheddar cheese is not a luxury item at the supermarket, priced above, and placed separately, from the onslaught of Estonian cheeses which mostly taste the same.

2) Access to music. In Estonia, if I wanted to buy an actual copy of music -- like a CD -- that I couldn't find in the music store, I'd have to order it and pray to the Gods that it would get there. Here, I just have to walk into any large store -- Virgin Records, for example -- and buy it.

3) Anonymity. I think this is a big reason so many people from the Midwest wind up here in New York City. Nobody knows you here, and you are likely not to bump into anyone from your past. As they said in Sex and the City: "who knew an island that small could hold all my ex-boyfriends" or in my special case, I worked for more than a year about 14 blocks from an ex-girlfriend and never once ran into her. With anonymity comes a great deal of personal freedom. In Estonia, if you screw up big, everyone will know about it. Here if you screw up, you can get a job two blocks away, and no one would ever know.

neljapäev, aprill 05, 2007

The Ghost of Frank Sinatra

So we are back here in New York for the next weeks. I think most New Yorkers really have no idea where this country called Estonia is, and if they do, few have an understanding of why one of their native-born sons would freely choose to live there, rather in New York.

This is actually an outgrowth of New York's attitude towards all places other than New York. Boston is hamlet of bitter Red Sox fans who put a little bit more 'ä' in their accent than the New Yorkers do, but skip the 'r' at a similar rate. Philadelphia is a poor cousin. Washington is false and sterile. And what is there really beyond that? Fly over country.

On the other side there's LA (too smoggy), San Francisco (too idealistic) and Seattle (too rainy). New York is "the only place in the world where you can get a slice of decent pizza at 3 am" -- why would anyone ever want to leave?

Of course, New Yorkers do travel. They feel more at home in Europe than anywhere else, particularly in London, where the cold aloofness of the British matches their own internal disgust with humanity. Stepping over people in the subway will do that to you. Eastern Europe or Scandinavian Europe -- to which ever sub-category Estonia belongs, is seen as an outrageous place to get drunk and laid by New York cads. It's a weekend destination, not a place to live in the proper sense.

But what does it feel like for me being just two months out of it and stepping back in? Well there's some things I already miss about Estonia. The first is meals that match the actual size of my stomach. I miss the feeling of digesting a normal amount of food and feeling content, instead of trying to consume the meals served me here and then lying on my back in a 'food coma' to digest them.

I miss walking. I want so badly to walk someplace, but there is no place for me to walk to. The places that sell all the things I need must be reached by car. Those who would bicycle are lying to themselves. I am, for lack of better words, fixed to certain areas and movement is just the process of exchanging a train seat for an office seat or a place on a line in a deli or a seat in front of a computer.

And finally - and this is the most odd - I miss being surrounded by people speaking Estonian. For the past two months English has been my internal monologue. It's been so easy to think. But here it's like there are dozens of voices competing for attention in my consciousness. I register every word of every person that passes me, and it's actually kind of disconcerting. Oh, to be on an Estonian bus, listening to two guys mutter incomprehensibly between each other!

One thing that's great about New York is the sense of humor. In the office yesterday I felt perfectly justified in playing "Ice Ice Baby" and "Pump Up the Jam" on my laptop. But in Estonia I would feel a bit like a weirdo. People in Estonia have their own self-referential sense of humor, but it is not mine, and I understand this.

I think one feeling that haunts me is that I should somehow be ecstatic to be back in New York, gobbling down pizzas, drinking martinis, watching art house films, seeing indie rock bands, kissing the rats in the subway. But in all honestly, I feel sort of a limited attachment to this place. It's just a place like many of the others I have been to. I am here for work and to visit my family. I am happy with that part. The rest is just scenery.

teisipäev, aprill 03, 2007

Üks naljakas dialoog

Me lendasime eile Tallinnast New Yorgisse Finnairiga. See tähendas, et me pidime olema Helsingi-Vantaa lennujaamas neljaks tunniks. Üks tõesti naljakas asi oli see, et mu tüdruk proovis rääkida soomlastega eesti keeles. Kui me olime lennujaama kohvikus see dialoog juhtus:

Tütar: Mis sinu nimi on?

Müüja: Excuse me?

Tütar: Mis su nimi on?

Müüja: Mun nimi on Jarkko.

Tütar: Kas see koht on sinu oma?

Müüja: What?

Tütar: Kas see on sinu oma?

Müüja: Ei. Ei ole minun oma.

The sad death of Estonian communism

The other day I finally made my trip to the Museum of Occupations in Tallinn. It costs 10 kroons to get inside, and it wasn't that unfamiliar to me since I have watched all the key films at

I know that I was supposed to come away with the joys of the Singing Revolution ringing in my ears, but instead I was haunted by the faces of the gentlemen and women of the June coup that cast Estonia into 50 years of being, quite literally, on Moscow time.

To me that fact alone -- that Estonian clocks were switched to Moscow time in 1940 -- sums up Stalinism. The reality that the Sun enlightened the territory of Estonia and Finland, and all the countries down to South Africa, at the same time, was but a mere detail in the worker's paradise. It was 7 am in Helsinki, Finland but 8 am in Tallinn, Wonderland.

The great dark spot on Estonian history is purported to be the willingness of some of its residents to do Berlin's dirty work in the 1940s. But I find the actions of Estonia's communists to be a tad darker. Why? Because the SS men followed orders under an occupation regime. But the communists of the 1924 coup attempt and the 1940 coup? They were not boys of 18 in German uniforms. They were grown, educated men that thought they knew what was better for everyone else. Communism could not win in a popularity contest, so it had to be enforced from above, for 'the public good' as defined by intellectuals.

But despite this I only feel pity for them and that vein of thought in Estonia. Because even though communism flourished at the official level from the 1950s through the 1980s, the truth is that it died a pretty brutal death in the Second World War. At least half of the June communists didn't live to see the end of the war in Estonia. And what has been their legacy -- Estonia is surrounded by countries where the left has traditionally been strong like Sweden and Finland, yet today's Social Democrats' coalition partners are the Milton Friedman-inspired Reform Party and a party whose name translates to 'father land'.

From what I can tell the June communists never regained the power they had in 1940. Most of the cabinet ministers that survived the war died quiet deaths in academia. Others found themselves imprisoned by the NKVD. Fighting and losing is one thing. Inviting the wolf into your house and telling him to make himself at home is quite another.

I wonder what kind of country Estonia would have been if it had kept the Stalinists out. It probably would have gone down the social democrat route instead, but as it is, the Estonian left is marginal and dead, and who to thank? Estonia's June communists.

The New Western Theater (LMMC Part II)

Attending the Lennart Meri Memorial Conference, I was struck by how three countries seem to be defining -- for better and for worse -- the West's future in the post-communist space.

Those three countries are Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine. Each one presents a unique challenge.

For Belarus, the challenge is this: How can Western countries back pro-democratic forces without engaging in the unsavory under the table diplomacy favored by the West's opponents? In short -- how do you win a basketball game playing by the rules against a street team that always wants to play dirty? This question in itself drives us to question our faith in our values -- and if there's one thing the Western press likes, it's talking about itself.

For Georgia, the challenge is this: How can the West positively reward and encourage reform at a time when its institutions already seemed saddled by obstacles. Between EU enlargement that grew membership from 15 members to 27 in the course of three years, uncertainty over the future of the EU constitution, and NATO operations in Afghanistan that are criticized by the alleged lackluster support from some members, how can the West hold out the carrot of NATO and the EU to Georgia while it has its own doubts about the development of those organizations? In essence, can you really help your friends study for final exams when you don't know the material that well yourself?

Finally, there is Ukraine. Ukraine gave the world the "Orange Revolution" and the easy-to-empathize-with face of President Viktor Yushchenko. Yet Yushchenko this week signed an order to dissolve the Ukrainian parliament headed by his 2004 presidential rival Viktor Yanukovych. While nobody in the West likes the Kremlin-friendly Yanukovych, they don't entirely like the idea of a president dissolving parliament one year after elections for what are, as it seems, political reasons. Here the challenge is this: Are we more interested in the means or the ends? Is a EU, NATO friendly Ukraine worth more than a principled, democratic Ukraine, warts and all? And who do you root for, if nobody has any principles?

I'm not sure anyone really has the answers to these questions. But I do think that these are three central debates that are burning in foreign policy circles right now.

pühapäev, aprill 01, 2007

Lennart Meri Memorial Conference: Part I

I was fortunate enough to attend the first annual Lennart Meri Memorial Conference at the SAS Radisson Hotel in Tallinn over the weekend.

In coming posts I'd like to describe for you not the content of the event -- which is too ginormous to adequately represent in a blog -- but impressions of the scene in which people of various affiliations, presidents, generals, journalists, and "sirs" (for how else can they be described?) mingle to talk about energy, security, and Meri himself.

I was educated in Washington, DC, and so meeting the well known is not new to me. I once encountered former attorney general Janet Reno outside a liquor store in Chinatown at 11 pm during my studies. Yet at the same time, there is a certain rush that accompanies one when being in the presence of people like Tarja Halonen, the president of Finland.

The rush stems from the knowledge that if you trip and fall, splattering red wine on the president, you will not only feel like a total fool, you will have caused an 'international incident' that may be reported on the Conan O'Brien show. So, I recommend drinking white wine instead to lessen the potential for such diplomatic intrigue.

Anyway, it was humbling from the viewpoint of someone that cares very much about Estonia that such dignitaries and generally interesting people could be lured to Tallinn at the end of March to honor their former president, now one year passed. Most states have presidents, but few are worthy of such conferences it seems.

As I crawled into bed on the first night, I turned on ETV and found myself engrossed in a documentary about all sorts of things --Finno-Ugric tribespeople, Estonian and Finnish nationalism, and there, hosting this particularly interesting film was the main attraction -- Meri himself -- looking middle-aged, yet cool.

He was speaking Estonian in a way that lured you in -- not the muddiness of an Estonian guy in the pub, or the hurried intonation of the politician. The words swirled in my ears as I tried to make sense of them. And I thought, "How cool is this? Here we have a documentary film maker that went on to become president of his country and to be revered as a thinker, so much so that his memory could gather others from around the globe to gather and do just that -- think!"

It's a sweet legacy. As an American, I was jealous.