esmaspäev, juuli 30, 2007

Formerly Swedish

The other day I was dispatched to the Tartu Konsum to purchase sugar for making jams. We have several apple trees in our back yard that are bearing fruit -- too much fruit -- and it was decided to turn nature's bounty into something more palatable and that can be put in long-term storage or gifted to friends.

My assignment at the Konsum was to find moosisuhkur -- literally 'jam sugar' -- but none of the paper bags of sweet white stuff said that. One however glared out from the top saying something that I recognized instantly -- syltsocker. In Estonia 'sült' is jellied meat. But, being a geenius, I put everything together and, after some inspection on the top of the bag (see photo), discovered that this was indeed the moosisuhkur I was after. This particular product was manufactured for sale in Sweden and its two sentries on the Gulf of Finland -- Suomi and Eesti.

Kom Loss På Svenska

Unknown perhaps to many Scandinavians, for whom the 'near abroad' of Tallinn brings to mind uncouth pickpockets ready to pounce at any sign of S E K, Estonia has something of an underlying Swedish influence. It's hard to put ones finger on it, but in most places it is there, a Scandinavian bedrock upon which other things -- German manorhouses, Soviet tenement blocks -- were built.

The way it hits you is not through viewing the churches on Toompea, but rather, by shopping for things like moosisuhkur. It's by looking at the back of a coin and seeing three familiar lions, lions that oddly resemble the coat of arms of Denmark. It's by seeing the ubiquitous signs for firms like Ragn Sells or Falck -- things that are so part of the Estonian landscape you would never notice them until you are told they are owned -- like everything else -- by some guy in Sweden or Denmark.

History tells us that the Swedes and Danes were most active in Estonia from the Viking era until the defeat of Sweden in the Great Northern War in 1721. Their activity though, is often boiled down to land possession. Denmark kept Ösel, while Sweden got Dagö. The language of commerce was German, the language of the Teutonic Knights and their land-owning descendants. When the Russians took over, they made a deal with the Baltic German upper class that meant that the German identity of Estonia would remain intact, although loyalty would now be to the east, rather than to the west.

But strangely, the German influence in Estonia is largely historical. There are German-styled buildings, German household loan words for things, German-influenced Lutheran churches, and German names on headstones to long dead Estonians named Johannes. But the Baltic German minority left Estonia during the prelude to World War II. So their influence feels more like the one you get while digging out moldy items in your parents attic, rather than the 'here, today, tomorrow, next week' feeling you get when you realize that something you are holding binds you to something more essential to the foundation of your society.


One hint of where the Scandinavian influence in Estonia first took root can be found on the west coast, where a few hundred Swedish-speaking descendants of the Estlandsvenskar that first inhabited Estonia's many islands -- called Aiboland -- in the 13th century live on (see photo of famous rannarootslane Maria Murman (1911-2004), right).

In 1934, Swedes were the third most populous minority in Estonia after Germans and Russians, but their numbers dropped rapidly in 1944 when young Estonian Swedes packed into boats to flee the 'Soviet liberation of Estonia'.

Recently though efforts have been made from both sides to reinvigorate what has historically been an important minority for both Estonians and Swedes. For Swedes, the importance of Estlandsvensk is linguistic -- it is a unique dialect of a comparatively small language. It is also a historical curiosity -- Estlandsvenskar are seen as being more 'pure' in their Swedishness than modern Swedes, they are considered a time capsule of Swedishness, if you will -- something to be studied and preserved.

For the Swedish part, Den Andra Stranden is an excellent website that compiles interviews, essays, and various forms of media to preserve Estlandsvensk culture

For Estonians, Swedish influence is important as it serves as a vital link to the northern European community which Estonia uses as a way to measure its own development and among which it sees itself as playing a larger role in the future. Despite the mass emigration of Swedes in 1944, the Swedish linguistic influence also lives on in Noarootsi commune's high school, which is the only high school in Estonia to offer language immersion in Swedish.

Musical Connections

One interesting factoid is that there is a significant musical dialogue between Sweden and Estonia going back to the 1970s when Jaan Manitski -- now a former foreign minister of Estonia -- managed the Swedish pop group ABBA.

In recent years, two Swedes, Sahlene (pictured) (2002) and Sandra Oxenryd (2006) have represented Estonia in the Eurovision Song Contest. For whatever reason, Estonians have been ok with Swedes representing them, even if they don't speak Estonian.

Finally, who could forget Swedish 80s rock band Charizma, who in 1990 penned the classic song, "Join Hands" with the following deep lyrics, "the time has come to build a bridge of friendship Estonia and Sweden. Join hands, join hands together. We're friends forever." Charizma also tried to represent Estonia in the Eurovision song contest in 2004, but they lost. :(


One of the sticking points in the Estonian-Swedish relationship however has been Swedish acquiescence to Soviet demands during the occupation period, such as returning Estonian soldiers to Soviet-occupied Estonia and recognizing Soviet power in Estonia.

Swedish acquiescence to Soviet demands did not occur only towards Estonia, though. Sweden similarly made concessions to the Soviets and Nazis alike when it came to closer allies like Finland or Norway. Nevertheless, some Estonians have a gut reaction to not trust Sweden as a reliable partner in the international arena, especially when dealing with Russia.

Despite this, Sweden has remained one of the most important partners for Estonia in Europe, with its huge investment in the country guiding its business class into supporting inclusion in the European Union. The government of Prime Minister Carl Bildt proved especially receptive to the restoration of Estonian independence in the early 1990s, and now that Sweden's most prominent blogger is back in government, you can be sure to see more of his face around Kadriorg, sharing coffee with Estonia's Swedish-born president. Bildt and Ilves have both been among the most prominent of including Estonia in a space that Ilves called, partially in gest, 'the former Swedish empire'.

13 kommentaari:

LPR ütles ...

Does it have to be moosisuhkur? Why? Is it better than regular suhkur?

In EU, is it even legal to make your oma moos?

It'll probably taste extra good knowing that you could get trahv for making it.

Giustino ütles ...

My daughter likes it. She came down the stairs the next morning saying, 'Issi, I want jam. I want jam.'

Wahur ütles ...

My bet is, moosisuhkur is not too refined and therefore suits better for cooking. Not sure, though.
As for legality, last I knew it was still legal. Although, knowing a bit how Estonian bureaucracy works, it may not last long. But hey, who cares. Grandpa already makes moonshine and delicious elk preserves, Granny will make even more delicious "salamoos", who cares :)
Now lets just hope puu does not read it, she always takes anything very seriously.

Wahur, still 15 years to learn Grandpa-stuff

Kristopher ütles ...

Moosisuhkur is pectin and white sugar in one product.

You can always cook your jam longer but adding pectin in the form of moosisuhkur will make it set better.

Moosisuhkur should be OK for vegetarians unlike gelatin.

Kristopher ütles ...

I was going to add, I am sure moosisuhkur is a little more expensive than if you bought pectin and sugar and mixed them together yourself.

And isn't salty-sweet one of the primary flavours in Swedish cooking?

I wonder if they sell a product that is just salt and sugar together.

They could sell it in different proportions (70% sugar, 90% sugar etc) and charge more than trhe price of either component.

It would probably catch on in Estonia. One variety for use in soups, one for use in sauces (with a bunch of recipes included).

Take the Japanese -- who makes their own gomasio? Everyone buys readymade sesame seed and salt mixes.

If anyone wants to make money, look into sugar salt. Basic combinations of basic products. Major profit margin to be made.

Frank ütles ...

Not quite convinced that moosisuhkur and the rest are that Swedish, if you delve a bit in etymological and historical bogs you might easily find the "Germanic" roots - late medieval Northern German was the lingua franca of the Baltic sea region, and the Hanseatic League was the dominant influence (the old stones in Gamla Stan in Stockholm do not speak Swedish ...) So it is "Mus-Zucker" (...) and Sülze-Zucker, and if you scratch your scandinavian bedrock you will find more often than not a "Deutsche Hansa" heart of the matter. I bet that even Gustavus Adolphus conversed in German most of his day and age. In the end, this need to find a "national" angle is quite tiring and artificial, if you ask me - among the best things in life and kitchen are the mixta composita like pannkoogid moos or Pfannkuchen-Mus ...

Giustino ütles ...


That's quite true. Even the British kings spoke German in the 18th century. Still, I get the impression that there was more cross-Baltic Sea contact in the pre-Hansa age than has been discussed. Unfortunately, apart from a few sagas, there is little historical record.

One's origin is a powerful thing. It seems that people are somehow programmed to produce a certain environment. Once institutions are set in place, it is difficult to alter them. In some ways it seems that Estonians, like Finns, are programmed to create a certain kind of society.

Go to Helsinki today and you'll immediately feel its cleanliness and cool social temperature. In the 1930s people wrote the same things about the Finns. And in the 1770s they perhaps wrote too of the orderly Finns and their taciturn exterior.

So do we really change over time? I just spent about 20 minutes driving around with my father-in-law and brother-in-law. I think the only words uttered were "jah" and "ma ei tea".

Who set up the social conditions whereby this social demeanor is normal? Look at Fellini and Bergman -- two contemporaries. Is it just the environment? Is it something else? How long has it been going on?

Frank ütles ...

Giustino - how I would love to explore this question ...

I am afraid that my employer - prone to look over my shoulder any minute - will not realize the considerable benefits of this endeavour ...

City Paper featured an article years ago "How to do Business in the Baltics" , explaining to Westerners what behaviour or cultural codes they should expect from their Estonian counterparts. One sentence ran as follows: "Don´t expect praise - and if you get praise, you will probably not notice it ..."
Most character treats attributed to Estonian business men reminded me heavily of my father, Estonian citizen by birth of Baltic German lineage and swaddled in Kalamaja as a toddler ... My wife (Austrian) never fails to remind me that I cannot give praise the way and as often as she would like me to do.
I am curious how our daughter - 10 months old soon - will develop ...

LPR ütles ...


When you get an estonian to praise you verbally, you have then truly accomplished someting outstanding (think of Nobel Prize, peace in Palestine, cure for common cold, etc).

In everyday life one should be content with a nod.

Couple of years ago one perceptive manager wrote into my yearly evaluation that "he has trouble recognizing accomplishements and accepting praise".

I was the only estonian she'd ever met. I wish she'd known my father.

LPR ütles ...

Isn't there a certain kind of awkwardness about us Estonians that is at once charming as it is annoying?

Just as it might be immensely enjoyable to ride in total silence it might as well be maddening of now knowing what people are really thinking.

Liis ütles ...

I might be on the wrong track here, since I do not understand the word "immersion" completely, but I would like to point out that Noarootsi Gümnaasium is not the only secondary educational school in Estonia that teaches Swedish. Gustav Adolfi Gümnaasium has Swedish as well and has had it for many years. When I was still in grammar school they even had a teacher from Sweden every year.

But as I said, I might have misunderstood the word immersion :)

Anonüümne ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Wahur ütles ...

Did you read that, giustino?!
I think your blogs would make quite a paper. At least one interesting presentation in otherwise properly scientific and therefore inevitably utterly boring event (sorry, leelo).