kolmapäev, aprill 16, 2008

a conversation with flasher t

There's a funny thing about Estonian blogger Flasher T, author of the lively Antyx. Everyone knows his real name is Andrei, yet they prefer to call him "Flasher."

I recently sat down with "Flasher" to do a non-blog related interview but decided to share the contents with you because Flasher is so damn articulate. Enjoy:

Where were you born?

What is your family background?

My mother’s family comes from Irboska [part of Estonia before WWII, now part of Russia]. My father’s side is Yiddish, and comes from the eastern part of Germany via Riga, Latvia.

How often do you go to Latvia?

Approximately once or maybe twice a year for last few years. I usually visit Riga and the surroundings.

Have you ever been to Lithuania?


Have you ever been to Russia?

Yes. I have been there twice in my life, twelve years apart. The same place as well, St. Petersburg.

How would you describe the relationship between Russia and the Baltic States at the moment?:

Tumultuous. You have to differentiate between Russia as a nation and Russia as a state. As a state, Russia has a useful target in that Estonia won’t get particularly offended because it has the sense of security offered by EU and NATO membership. On the other hand, Estonia doesn’t have the immediate means to retaliate, so Russia has a tool to use in its internal politics almost without any fear of consequences.

I think by default, it likes Lithuania more because Lithuania never had a problem with citizenship, but I think Russian internal propaganda against the Baltics impacts all three countries equally and the average Russian who knows little about Estonia has the same attitude towards Estonia and Lithuania.

As a nation, it has a vague idea of the Baltics as something unspecifically hostile. Statistically, there's a percentage of Russians that are so dissatisfied with state that they will do things because the state tells them not to. And there's a percentage of Russians who are so politically apathetic that they don’t care. Those two percentages are where the bulk of Russian tourism in Estonia comes from.

How would you describe the relationship between Russia and the Baltic States ten or twenty years ago?

It’s always been there because Estonia has always had the combination of nationalism and practical superiority, superiority on an everyday level of creature comforts. On the one hand, Russians are provoked by Estonians’ dislike for them, and on the other hand Russians are practically offended by the fact that even in the Soviet days, life in Estonia was a lot better.

The Russian writer Mihhail Veller tells about how he came to Tallinn and came to work at a newspaper during the Soviet era. He recalls how he was drinking cognac in the lobby of the press house and he remembers seeing the bartender tell one of the regulars that there was a call for him and handed him the phone over the bar. He was stunned by this because it seemed like such a Western thing. In Estonia these things seemed so natural, but in St. Petersburg it wouldn't have happened that way.

That was the Soviet time. Now we have the issue that Estonia has evolved so much more efficiently than Russia. So average Russians are probably offended by the fact that Estonia did not need Russia and that Russia in fact held them back.

But why is your opinion different from the average Russians'?

My viewpoints are not representative of general Russian population. I don’t have a deep Russian identity. I don’t identify myself as a Russian. I speak Russian because that is the language my parents spoke, but my roots are in Estonia, I was born here and I grew up here. I have had no cause to significantly distrust or dislike the Estonian state, and from about the time when I started to develop my own judgment I have been significantly annoyed by Russian propaganda, and not just central propaganda as it applies to Estonia, but just Russian propaganda and the unseemly aspects of the Russian mentality that have been shaped by that propaganda.

How do you think the relationship with Russia will develop in the next couple of years?

I am hoping it will stabilize. Logic dictates that at least for the next 3-7 years, Russian officialdom will not have a desperate need for a scapegoat and at the same time Estonia has shown itself willing and capable to actively fight for mindshare in European politics. I think Russia will probably consider that it will be simpler to look for scapegoats somewhere else, such as Ukraine, Georgia, or the Balkans.

How would you describe the relationship between the Baltic States themselves at the moment?

I think they slightly resent being lumped together but see the logic in it and don’t significantly mind.

How would you describe the relationship between the Baltic States themselves ten/twenty years ago?

In 1988 we had a common enemy. In 1998 we had a common goal. At this point I think the Baltic states are more than ever before in a position to establish their identities independently, not just as Baltic states.

A substantial part of that is that Estonia associates with Finland and Sweden, and Lithuania associates itself with Poland. I think a cute example of Baltic relations is Tallink, which invested massive amounts of money into a new fleet to do the Tallinn-Helsinki and Tallinn-Stockholm route, but has also bought the Riga-Stockholm route and uses its old dilapidated ferries there.

What are the causes for the change in this relationship?

There isn't a significant need to stick together. Before it was us three against the world. Now it is us 27 against the world. And us 27 have a lot more at stake. The overriding necessity has diminished so the three countries have an opportunity to create their identity which they would have always been happy to do had the need not been there. Because they don’t have that much in common, other than that they are all in the same spot and they are all rather small.

How do you think the relationship will develop in the next couple of years?

I don’t think there will be any cosmic shift. There might be a few misunderstanding between Estonia and Latvia because Latvia has decided on a course of appeasement towards Russia, where as Estonia is still pissed and not to let Russia get away with anything. Lithuania is content to keep its head down and figure out its own problems for awhile.

Can you explain where the Baltic States differ from each other?

It comes down to influence. Lithuania and Latvia are quite close, Estonia is ethnically different. Latvia has a stronger German heritage than Estonia. But Estonia has this concept of the good, old Swedish times. Estonia wants itself to be thought of as part of Scandinavia. I think Latvia understands that they can’t pull that off. Lithuania has its two religions, Catholicism and basketball. Even if it doesn't wish to be, Lithuania inevitably turns out to be a client state of Poland in the same way that Estonia is a client state of the Nordic Council.

Do the identities of the native Russians differ from the identities of the native Baltic people?

The difference is in taking responsibility. The key significant between proper locals is that they have a sense that this is their country and they are responsible for how things work in it, whereas local Russians, their biggest difference and the source of their problems is that they don’t feel in charge here. They don’t feel like it’s up to then to change things or that they could change things.

Would you say that the Baltic States can be seen as a region where the people have the same identity?

No, of course not.

Can you explain where the Baltic States and Russia differ in terms of identity of the people?

On the more general level, Russians perceive the space relevant to them as far greater. Estonians are essentially interested in their own farm and maybe their own country. Most Russians aren’t even interested that much in their city. They are primarily interested in their country and its place in the world.

On any level that is really important, Estonians don’t care whether anybody likes or fears Estonia in the world, as long as their pigs are healthy. This goes a long way to explaining differences between Estonia and Russia – levels of street cleanliness, levels of corruption, relations with authorities. This does come from Soviet propaganda, but it was also there historically. Russians have a sense of if they don’t do it, somebody else will. Estonians have a sense of if they don’t do it, it’s not going to get done.

What are the main areas where Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania should cooperate?

Lobbying of common interests in EU internal politics. The rest of it we can handle, but EU internal politics is a place where interests are similar to a large extent and we could benefit from acting as united front.

27 kommentaari:

Colm ütles ...

Thanks for posting this. It was all very interesting.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Do not ask how the future of Estonia will be.
Flasher IS the future. ;)
Thanks for sharing.

Kristopher ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Giustino ütles ...

I had to explain Flasher's background in class. I don't think people understood how there are other minorities in Estonia other than "Russians".

This is particularly funny because a significant chunk of our friends are not "pure" Estonians. One is half Hungarian, for example. I wonder how I would have presented her to the class. "The interviewee is a half Estonian half Hungarian who speaks Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian ..."

LPR ütles ...

We need more russians like Flasher. (I know, I know, he is not really russian, etc., etc.)

But it is a national security issue, folks. This guy should be cloned ASAP by an executive order from the President.

One day I'll meet him. I'll seek him out. It would be very nice to talk to somebody who is so intelligent and fair minded. A breath of fresh air.



Rainer ütles ...

Where was or is this "non-blog"-interview to be published?

Anonüümne ütles ...

The whole point of course IMO is that Estonia (at this point) would be about the least likely place to encourage such eugenic ways of thinking -- or even require people to pigeonhole themselves as a member of one nationality.

Giustino ütles ...

Estonia is moving from ethnic nationality to civic nationality, while retaining the national language.

EU membership actually plays a subliminal role in this as does increasing urbanization. Estonians used to be more connected to the land and have local dialects. Now they are more urban and generally speak the 'kirjakeel' -- official language.

There is a tremendous gap between, say, my wife's grandparents' generation and her own. I mean most Estonians born in the '20s still had German names!

Anonüümne ütles ...

"Estonia is moving from ethnic nationality to civic nationality, while retaining the national language"

Interestingly it's the young Russians who also speak Estonian who are the biggest gainers from this situation. I read a day or two ago that Urmas Paet said that bilingual young Russians are actually better positioned on the Estonian job market than their ethnic Estonian counterparts. So I would have to agree that if the tide is turning that way, a civic rather than ethnic identity is slowly taking over.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-). I will add in my blogroll =). If possible gives a last there on my blog, it is about the Massagem, I hope you enjoy. The address is http://massagem-brasil.blogspot.com. A hug.

Ain Kendra ütles ...

Flasher is sometimes writing also here. What is his attitude to Estonian language?
What kind of problems he thinks are important here. And his opinion on integration? What, if, how etc.
Giustino is learning estonian - through family ties.. But opinion on integration - and parallels around the world?

Giustino ütles ...

You should ask Flasher on his blog.

My perspective is that Estonia more or less has the right outlook on integration: one multicultural state that uses kirjakeel as the main vehicle for inter-communal communication.

It's like in Italy, people speak Sicilian or Calabrese or Neapolitan or even Albanian or German -- but when they meet in Rome they speak the Florentine dialect, also known as the official language.

Did you notice how Urmas Sutrop was shot down after he remarked that the widespread learning of Estonian by non-native speakers was a threat to the language? People were up in arms. "How dare he tell us we can't speak Estonian!?"

We've come from "why bother speaking Estonian, it's a dying language" to "how dare they tell us we can't speak the national language?" That is progress.

Ain Kendra ütles ...

Well, what is integration? Is it only language?

Rainer ütles ...

Giustino, I ask you once again: Where was or is this "non-blog"-interview to be published?

Giustino ütles ...

Well, what is integration? Is it only language?

Integration means conceptualizing Estonia as a place where the people are linked together less by their ancestry but by their relationship to that place. In fact, ethnic identity should be subverted by 'national' identity.

We regularly deal with people with Russian, Ukrainian, Finnish, Hungarian, Jewish, and other roots. But it is never a factor in interpersonal relations beyond superficial curiosity.

That national umbrella should be expanded to cover the heads of more people in Estonia who stop thinking of themselves as ethnic Estonians or ethnic Russians first, but national Estonians first, family background second.

For some Estonian nationalists, whose discourse is based on "us" and what "they" did against "us" this will be a real problem. For reactionary Soviet remnants, it will be as well.

But if people with Georgian names and German names and Estonian names and Finnish names are all working together and use Estonian as their operating language, pay taxes to the Estonian state, and put their flag out on Feb, 24, then what more do you request from people?

I know plenty of "Russians" who are actually totally integrated. their discourse and their relationship to the outside world is determined by their presence in Estonia. Their President, like it or not, is Ilves, not Putin.

Where was or is this "non-blog"-interview to be published?

It was for a school-related project.

Ain Kendra ütles ...

Thanks Giustino for perfect answer. For me it seems fine - but - how to reach to this status? What is your opinion on school system etc - or - where we have to start - or - how long it all takes... Can we do something at all or it is all the matter of time?
And yes, it is not only relatively small bunch of 'nationalists' who believe that occupying nation has to go back.. - but more of mostly russian speaking not so small community.

Giustino ütles ...

Thanks Giustino for perfect answer. For me it seems fine - but - how to reach to this status? What is your opinion on school system etc - or - where we have to start - or - how long it all takes... Can we do something at all or it is all the matter of time?

Things are already trending in the right direction, especially since the "Bronze" night.

I gave the example of Sutrop -- he was publicly shamed for his off-the-cuff remark, not only by Estonian Russians, but by Estonians too.

Ilves also was criticized for his "speaking Russian = accepting occupation" comment by Estonians and Estonian Russians.

This shows that society is beginning to police itself over what is acceptable to say and what is not acceptable to say. And the kind of populist language that surrounded the Bronze Soldier controversy has been determined by a majority to be against the public interest.

There are reactive elements in society. But all they can do is writhe around and complain. Because they have no vision of the future, they are condemned to marginalization.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Wishful thinking

Giustino ütles ...


My children are not even half Estonian, but no one ever doubts their "Estonianness". My child plays with other children who have Swedish, Caucasian, and other backgrounds.

So, like I said, I have good reason to reject the "us" versus "them", "Estonian" vs. "Russian" dichotomy.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Giustino ütles... said

My children are not even half Estonian, but no one ever doubts their "Estonianness". My child plays with other children who have Swedish, Caucasian, and other backgrounds.

I am curious about what country Caucasions come from?
Do they come from Caucasia?
Where is that exactly?
Is there no need for PC-ness in Eastiland?

...and FYI the other day when
I spoke with Marta, she told me quite emphatically that she is still a New York Girl! : )

Ain Kendra ütles ...

Yep, that's interesting question.
Caucasian - meaning the person, who originates from Caucasus hills - the area, between Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

Giustino ütles ...

I think they have Abkhaz roots. Or Ossetian.

Giustino ütles ...

Look, integration is a tricky thing. I went to a very diverse school, and the Arabs dated the Arabs, the Jews dated the Jews, the Filipinos mostly dated the other Filipinos.

Everyone holds Finland up as an example of how masterfully theyäve integrated their Swedes, but go read Svenskfinland in English -- you'll see that nobody is ever happy.

The goal is not that everyone is friends and gets along. The goal is that society is able to function in a civilized manner.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Giustino ütles...said
Look, integration is a tricky thing. I went to a very diverse school, and the Arabs dated the Arabs, the Jews dated the Jews, the Filipinos mostly dated the other Filipinos.
It's the Noah principal, two by two, like unto like..

Pam Greenwood Phd. a scientist, and family member recently shared this with me.

"There is a theory about this in evolutionary terms - it equates love with the proportion of shared genes. Not too romantic, but it is likely that humans are wired this way too."
This would explain why most people are attracted to others who are the most like them and/or their family members.

viimneliivlane ütles ...

I’ve now read FlasherT’s blog and I found it much blander than your interview with him... I hope some of your approach wears off on him. However I would like to know if he has studied in the US. His English is excellent but well beyond the usual classroom-taught foreign language level. Also, he has Attitude which can only be gotten by breathing the air of New York or some other big American city. ‘Vaata minu täielikku profiili’ tells me the author’s Astrological sign and Zodiac year. Is the blog reader supposed to get psychic signals about the blog author’s educational background and travels from this?

In any case it’s very refreshing to have this clear-headed thinking going on as we approach the first anniversary of our very own Kristallnacht. It seems legitimate to call it that because the ‘have nots’ were looting the perceived ‘haves’ in an event separate from the planned event on Tõnismäe. The looting and burning was sparked off by but cannot be interpreted as a rational reaction to having a symbol of the Soviet Empire converted into a Memorial to War Dead by way of its relocating. I recall that last year after the events three European Inquisitors arrived separately but in rapid succession to charge Estonia with intolerance toward its minorities. No doubt on the one-year anniversary mark some questions will be asked about what steps have been taken.

I am not even sure that tolerance is an appropriate word in the context of Estonia. Estonians are exceedingly tolerant of all foreigners, having been forced to host them for centuries (some like to discuss all the mixed blood and arriving at the conclusion that there’s no pure Estonian). They feel themselves richer for it, having taken the best that each culture has to offer. Having the ability to discern the difference between good and bad is a learned trait (another area new and strange to Russians as they themselves are proud they didn’t let the Teutonic knights into their land – so Moscow will continue to tell us what is good). The educational institutions that the Swedish crown set up in Estonia are considered good. However, as far as the general population goes, Estonians will tell you wryly that the only thing ‘good’ about the ‘good old Swedish time’ was that when the master beat you to the ground you didn’t have to ask permission to get up before getting up. In a word, Estonians could teach other countries who never had these experiences what tolerance and the benefits you can reap from it are all about.

Why am I getting this theme of powerlessness in your interview with Flasher T when he seems so bright and a person capable of thinking things through? He feels powerless to effect change - there are two ways of effect change: through the legitimate channels of representative government or its violent overthrow. There has been a lot of overthrowing of governments in Estonia – it doesn’t have to involve violence – just go out and get involved in the process is the only advice to give young people.

Somehow it doesn’t even seem fair to discuss powerlessness among non-Estonians because the city governments of Tallinn and Narva are testing grounds for how well they are faring in this activity, given they lack the cultural background that comes from the concept of private property and the responsibility that goes with it (the Founding Fathers of America came from the ranks of farmers and people with a stake in the new nation, not from among the wretched and disenfranchised – always remember it’s about representative government). Watching the politicians of Tallinn and Narva at work I can’t dichotomize by ethnic background, but rather by kolhooz-era mentality vs. euro-think, no matter if their surname is slavic.

If FlasherT wants to participate more that’s good – he’ll find a way. But please tell me he believes in balance of power and doesn’t want Estonia turned into more Russia! What is it he wants to change – you’ve aroused my curiosity so please explicate – this could be the beginning of a brilliant new political career so please do interview him again.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Everyone holds Finland up as an example of how masterfully theyäve integrated their Swedes, but go read Svenskfinland in English -- you'll see that nobody is ever happy.
Thanks for the mention.

Finland is often held up as a good example of how minority policy etc should be carried out. (Often, in practice, it's not as glowing as the laws make it out.. hence the moaning! ;) ).

However, integration is not the purpose. For that, it would have to be accepted (in policy at least) that Swedish-speaking Finns aren't Finnish. And thus need integrating into the Finnish-speaking society. The fact is that we are Swedish-speaking Finns and just as native as Finnish-speaking Finns. We are just as Finnish. So, we don't need integrating as we are part of the society. Swedish is a native tongue here, just as Finnish is.

I find it often quite misleading when we are compared to the Russian-speaking people in Estonia who exist in the Republic of Estonia due to a very different process.

Kristopher ütles ...

Viimneliivlane -- I think if you delve a little deeper into AnTyx, you will find the answers to your questions and find that he has not, like some of us, been all that contaminated by the US. It's called the blog archive.

Far be it for me to be a blog critic, but the best part about the Itching approach is that IFE doesn't come across as opinionated, though we all know where G stands on most issues by now. That's hard to do, in my opinion.

AnTyx seems to have more concrete ideas about "quo vadis Estonia" and can be wonkish, which is a good thing.

And -- I look forward to AhTyx's interview with Giustino.