pühapäev, veebruar 24, 2008


There is an excellent piece about Estonia by Jüri Estam at La Russophobe. I highly suggest you read it today, February 24, the independence day of Estonia.

In the pantheon of nationalities, Estonians are still mostly an unknown quantity. The post-war era allowed crafty tourist-oriented campaigns to "brand" the nations of Western Europe for North American travelers.

Scotland was the land of whiskey, bagpipes, and the Highland Games. France was the land of chateaus, fashion, wine, and cheese. Switzerland was chocolate and watches. Germany was beer, bratwurst, and high-end automobiles. Italy was the grandeur of Rome and pasta. Finland is the home of Santa Claus, his sauna, and his reindeer.

But what of Estonia? What is Estonian nationality? Ask an Estonian and you'll get an answer like "the land" or "the language". But, to me, after having been in touch with this windswept peninsula at the roof of Europe, Estonian nationality is something like a classic Ingmar Bergman film from the 1950s or 60s. It's not the sparse dialog, it's not the medieval costumes, it's not the haunting northern landscape -- it's the sum of the whole, it's all the parts working together that 'make' Estonian nationality.

To me, the Estonians are a quantity unchanged. Even with all their technology and love of e-fficiency, it is not hard to imagine them eking out an existence in the Swedish or Russian imperial times, married to farms owned by Baltic German nobility, cast against a manic-depressive landscape of soul trying winters and liberating summers of endless daylight.

I once asked someone at the beginning of my adventures in this country, what Estonians were like. Were they like Germans, Swedes, Finns, or, God forbid, Russians? She answered my question by making me answer it by myself. "We are not like the Finns," she said. "My girlfriend has lived for decades in Finland and she still feels like an outsider. We are not anything else; we are simply Estonians."

And this is the paradox of Estonian national identity. It is defined by concepts that seem base -- paganism, serfdom, a self-sufficient agricultural mentality. And yet, it is still a high-brow concept that may only start to coalesce after one looks past the glowing articles about Tallinn's wild nightlife or Skype's Silicon -Valley-on-Gulf-of-Finland corporate culture, and spends some time out in the countryside with guys named Eino and ladies named Aino.

The Estonian national concept, like the Estonians themselves, takes a while to get warmed up. But once it gets started, you'll find yourself being passed one day by a stubborn, individualistic driver somewhere outside of Rio de Janeiro, and think to yourself, "That guy drives like a maniac. He must be an Estonian."

15 kommentaari:

Alex ütles ...

Happy Birthday Estonia! Long live Eesti Vabariik!

Karla ütles ...

teist pole sinule ant,
kui tõusta maa ja vabaduse eest
ning künda põllud tule ja tuha seest.

-Henrik Visnapuu, 1942

Karla ütles ...

"The thing that endures among the Estonians is nothing more nor less than a feeling of belonging together. It was this feeling which prevented Estonians from fighting Estonians in the twelfth century, when Letts fought Letts and Lithuanians Lithuanians. It was this feeling which survived the partitions of the sixteenth century and the long division of the country into the artificial provinces of "Estonia" and "Livonia." It was this feeling which, taking the nineteenth century form of nationalism, founded the Estonian State. Nationalism may pass, the ethnological boundaries may become blurred, but the sense that Estonians have of belonging together will remain, and must be recognized as one of the realities of the European organism."

-J. Hampden Jackson, "Estonia" (1948), p. 226

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

This is written by Jüri Estam. He was one of the major voices written in English in Estonia around 1991/1992. His articles were an important part of Eesti Elu (Estonian Life).
I posted totday about independence day too and the photos I've scanned are next to an article by him where he was reporting about the Congress of Estonia.

Karla ütles ...


My quotation of Jackson was verbatim and loco citato from the 2nd edition (1948) by Allen & Unwin (London), which, except for the final chapter "Postscript: Occupied Estonia" was identical to the 1941 first edition.

I find it interesting in that it parallels one offered recurrently by Giustino in this space, latterly on Feb. 15: "Estonianness is more of a national identity than an ethnic one - and elsewhere by Flasher T : "It's about self-identification..."

I am well familiar with Jüri Estam and his excellent writings.

Jackson's book, however, was in my grasp (my third copy of this slim but exquisite work, the first two having been purloined by friends long years ago) when I lifted the quote.

J. Hampden Jackson was another remarkable Estophile expat who lived and taught in Tartu in the 1930s and personally knew many of the 'greats' of the old Wabariik. In post-war years, he befriended the late August Torma, minister in charge of the Estonian Legation in London.

Another such expat with interesting observations on Tartu and the Estonian character was Jean Cathala, whose admirable Portrait de l'Estonia was published in Paris in 1937.

Hey, the 24th should be feel-good time, especially for anyone fortunate enough to be in Tartu, so let's hear a bit of flattery from Jean Cathala:
"C'est Bordeaux, c'est Nancy, qui nous ont montrés d'analogues ensembles, enveloppés de la même atmosphère; l'air de famille q'on sent à Tartu, c'eest bien un air de chez nous, le plus noble de tous peut-être, un air dix-huitième."

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Thanks, that's great. For those who are familiar with French:
Jean Cathala

Martasmimi ütles ...

Happy Birthday Estonia....
and many, many, more happy years
for you and all of your people....

Karla ütles ...


"C'est Bordeaux, c'est Nancy, qui nous ont montrés d'analogues ensembles, enveloppés de la même atmosphère; l'air de famille q'on sent à Tartu, c'est bien un air de chez nous, le plus noble de tous peut-être, un air dix-huitième."
OK, here's a bit of rough-and-ready literal translation:
"Bordeaux and Nancy together present us with a joint analogy, enveloped [as they are] in the same atmosphere; the familial atmosphere one senses in Tartu, it's homey, and perhaps even more noble - a classical atmosphere."

In going overboard in identifying Tartu with two old university centres in the south of France, Cathala is using the ultimate accolade - "un air dix-huitième" - cherished by the French for their own grandest intellectual period, the 18th century. So, in Esto, I suppose klassitsistlik miljöö.

(Damn good thing he missed the casinos, though...) ;P


Wait, wut? ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Wait, wut? ütles ...

Jüri Estam is an awesome writer. I had my students read his cover article pre-Bronze night from City Paper about his battle for free speech rights at Tonismagi.

I know a hell of a lot about Estonian history, but that piece on independence was something new. And I'd never seen that after-photo of Pats.

Off topic, I'm not sure what that was I just saw performed on ETV in Parnu, but it kicked multiple layers of butt.

Now, for the penguin walk ...

plasma-jack ütles ...

It was this feeling which prevented Estonians from fighting Estonians in the twelfth century, when Letts fought Letts and Lithuanians Lithuanians.

Very nice, but completely wrong, at least according to Henrik.
The Omakaitse guys who wanted to shoot my grandfather were Estonians, not to mention the hävituspataljonid.

plasma-jack ütles ...

Jackson probably wanted to talk about thirteenth century anyway ;-)

Tomi Ahti ütles ...


Here's the first part of a series dealing with the history of Estonia from YLE. It's an interview of Ilves and unfortunately mostly a translation. (Why doesn't his accent sound more American?)

Kristopher ütles ...

Funny, in his interview with the Economist (find it on the Ed Lucas blog) Ilves sounds completely American to me.

Addressing the crowd in Vilnius a week or so ago, he had an odd clipped thing going on with his diction, might have taken him for a Swede or a 1st generation Estonian-American.

Giustino ütles ...

My wife says that his Estonian has definitely improved. he must use it all the time in his personal life (to speak to his wife, daughter, press officer, et cetera).

I think that if you use a different language often it will affect your English. It has happened to me somewhat too. I definitely speak with better diction here than I would in New York, where you can mumble just about anything and be understood.