kolmapäev, august 13, 2008

becoming europeans

The conflict in Georgia has had its impact on the Estonian political debate.

While the situation has prompted Isamaaliit-hosted, pro-Georgian rallies, like the ones this week in Tallinn and Tartu, it has also allowed some other political players, like former prime ministers Edgar Savisaar and Tiit Vähi, to urge a quieter approach.

The ambiguity in the real Estonian position was driven home by Saakashvili himself, who, whether it be for pure marketing purposes or not, described Georgia in an interview as the "only former-Soviet country" that has embraced Western liberal democracy to such an extent. He was of course thinking about Georgia in relation to Kazakhstan or Armenia. But I couldn't help but wonder that, in Saakashvili's mind at least, not only was Georgia eclipsing Ukraine in its orientation, but that Estonia didn't even register.

Could it be that Estonia is no longer a "former-Soviet republic"? In some ways, yes. I tend to see the discourse in this country as that of a country stuck in the halfway house between two empires. On one side, Estonian nationality is strongly based on identification with the Swedish empire of the 17th century. I know most people see the Swedish influence as minimal, but hear me out.

More recent ideological framing, like Samuel Huntington's thesis, is based on an older juxtaposition of absolutist protestantism versus absolutist orthodoxy that reached its heights during the 17th century. That's why this country is happy to have monuments to Gustav Adolph and Karl XII, but not to Peeter Hirmus. In this way, identification with the nordic countries and Europe in general is not about choosing one civilization over the other, it's about choosing civilization, period. The fact that 70 percent of FDI comes from Stockholm and Helsinki is seen as the way it should be.

On the other hand, a lot of Estonians feel that what happens in Tbilisi, as far away from Tallinn as Barcelona, matters for their future. They feel that they sit on the same formerly tsarist tectonic plate, and whatever happens to Georgia will eventually happen to them. They still, in some corner of their minds, feel they are subjects of the tsar.

Yesterday our niece asked when the Russians are coming. This concept is burned in every Estonian's psyche. That one day, they and their mistreated conscript army will rain rape and disaster on the pastoral spirit of Eestimaa. But what if they never come? What if this is it? What if, from here on out, the future is not predicated on what happens in Tbilisi, but on the fact that this crisis interrupted President Ilves' summer French immersion course?

The somewhat awkward diplomatic situation the country found itself in underscores this shift. On one hand, Estonia had to show unequivocal support for Georgia. If Russia's plans for Tbilisi -- regime change -- had been realized, it would have been a disaster for reform efforts in that country, let alone the larger ideological and security implications.

When I think of Georgia, I don't think of Mikheil Saakashvili. I think of all the Georgian students I have met who base their entire future on securing some kind of Western-oriented career. To replace Saakashvili with an illegitimate client of Moscow would be a blow for their future. Those Georgians who packed the square in Tbilisi needed to be shown that they were supported, and that the West would not sit idly by while their country was swallowed by a larger neighbor.

On the other hand, the deal brokers were not Estonians. Instead it was the French EU presidency and the Finnish presidency of the OSCE that led the European mission to end this war. And that is the catch. Even as this country becomes more and more European, to the extent that gets hard to imagine troops at a check point outside of the SAS Radisson, it is also hard to imagine some Estonian politicians going to Tbilisi and then flying to Moscow to secure a peace agreement.

Is this country ever going to get to that point? Or is it playing the role it should play? The Finns negotiate the ceasefires, the Estonians make the international condemnations? What's a new European to do?

16 kommentaari:

plasma-jack ütles ...


What was the point in talking to the Russians again?

plasma-jack ütles ...

"People are fleeing, there is a mood of absolute panic. The idea there is a ceasefire is ridiculous," Luke Harding, guardian.co.uk's correspondent said.

Russia denied any advance, however Georgian authorities claimed that about 50 tanks and armoured vehicles were near the strategically important town of Gori.

Harding, watching villages near Gori burn, said witness had told him Russian military, including at least 25 tanks, had moved from the Russian-controlled South Ossetia into the villages.

"They asked villagers to hang white flags or handkerchiefs outside their houses if they did not want to be shot, they say."

The tanks had passed through the village of Rekha at about 11.20am local time. "Behind them (say eyewitnesses) is a whole column of irregulars who locals say are Chechens, Cassacks and Ossetians.

"Eyewitnesses say they are looting, killing and burning. These irregulars have killed three people and set fire to villages. They have been taking away young boys and girls," said Harding, watching smoke rise from another village, Karaleti.

Same thing as in Chechnya. With armed "volunteers" hanging around, you can expect killings, looting, rape on a mass scale. Let's just hope Gori doesn't turn into Srebrenica.

Kaisa ütles ...

You are right, jack. Anyone who speaks Estonian and missed it - I recommend watching the ETV special programme on Georgia - http://uudised.err.ee/

Makes for a very sobering, if nauseating (EVELYN BLOODY SEPP) viewing. I truly don't understand why Kaldre asked her to be there just to ask why Keskerakond opposed the parliament's resolution because it is obvious she doesn't have a clue about what is going on in Georgia and the only contribution she was ever going to make to the programme was to spew unbelievably stupid and embarassing comments about domestic politics.
I was pleasantly surprised by Mart Helme's restraint, though.

Indrek ütles ...

But I couldn't help but wonder that, in Saakashvili's mind at least, not only was Georgia eclipsing Ukraine in its orientation, but that Estonia didn't even register.

I heard two different persons (some kind of American analysts) on CNN say the same thing that Georgia is the most western oriented country of the ex-soviet countries.

On of them added "except for the Baltics of course".

I took this as a compliment. This means that Estonian (also Latvian and Lithuanian) identity of being ex-communist is slowly weakening.

Tom ütles ...

As an Irish person who has only known of Estonia intimately for 3 years, I fully consider it a European country NOT a "former soviet republic". I think the only people who see Eesti as a "former soviet" place are the Russians. Sure it is in the psyche of Estonians to fear the return of the Russians but I don't think can ever happen now. Yes the west has links with Georgia, but no proper ties. Estonia is an EU country. Any invasion is an instant issue for the entire EU, NATO and the WEST. I think Georgia over estimated how important it was on the world stage? USA has been very reserved in its response to the invasion. Georgia expected more support from the west. Georgia is NOT Estonia though. It also appears that Georgia was the "aggressor" in this war.
I just saw SKY news live and the Russian tanks are still moving south from Gori towards Tiblisi. They are now stopped 15km outside Gori? The Russian commanders say that they must teach Georgia a lesson. In Tiblisi the SKY news correspondent said he witnessed a car with the Estonian flag on it racing north from Tiblisi on an EU reconnaissance mission?
Yes Estonia is 100% European now but Estonia will not be on an envoy to Moscow or playing a French presidents role. It will take along time for old wounds to heal. The Russians also detest the fact that Estonia is now a western NATO country right on their door step.

plasma-jack ütles ...

So the Estonian ambassador is currently detained by Russian troops. In a territory where's no Russian troops, according to Russian generals.
Too bad blogger doesn't support graphic smileys.

Kristopher ütles ...

I think they're waiting for Nashi to get there from Moscow in buses. Then the troops can leave and Russia can make good on its promise while continuing to attack foreign diplomats.

Urmo ütles ...

"it is also hard to imagine some Estonian politicians going to Tbilisi and then flying to Moscow to secure a peace agreement."

I cannot blame you for the lack of imagination. Before this will happen, you will grow extremely old (grand grandpa level old). Or more likely, your eyes will not see it at all. Several generations in Russia need to come to pass before this will happen and if you look at the Nashi movement at the moment, the shift hasn't even started yet.

tommy ütles ...

Here an inscription a blog one of very likable girl from Poti this morning (15.8.):
"В городе бушует паника. Ходят противоречивые слухи, что мародёрствуют, пока ни один факт именно в Поти не подтвердился. Но люди очень обеспокоены. Боятся всех и вся. Несколько раз мне звонили иностранные журналисты, спрашивали, что у нас происходит. Отвечала то же, что и вам пишу, люди напуганы, танки проезжают, но никого не трогают. Уничтожали военные объекты.
Вот так"

stockholm slender ütles ...

Yeah well, at least Estonians probably are not likely to catch schroederitis like our ex-prime minister Paavo Lipponen who is going to be a "consultant" for Nord Stream. I wonder whether it is germano- or russophilia, or both. Or whether they opened the cash box or the archive door in the Kremlin... I think most of our politicians of the 70's are painfully well represented in the ex-KGB files. Hmm.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Embarrasing. I have suddenly lost a lot of respect for Lipponen, and I do (did) have a lot of respect for him.

It seems money talks. Even for social democrats. It's sad their principles aren't a little stronger than their feelings for their bank balances.

I still hope Sweden will deny permission for Nord Stream, but I doubt it somehow. Now the economy looks more fragile and Nord Stream is creating jobs in Sweden by offering construction contracts (e.g. on Gotland), it will be a harder decision for the Swedes to make. Creating the circumstances for jobb loses rarely make a centre-right government look good. Especially, in the context of economic downturn, they can look like they are adding salt to the wounds.

LPR ütles ...

It may turn out that in this mini war everyone turns out to be a winner:

1.) Medvedev became 'made' in a gangsta ritual way. Rooskie style.

2.) Shakashvili secured that US Treasury Department will keep pumping money into his clan's 'biznis', whatever that happens to be from hereon. Nobody's going to count. Just perfect.

3.) Bush will get to give his clansmen all these juicy security and energy contracts sprouting up all across the former Soviet block now. Poland just signed. Everyone else will follow.

4.) Military spending both in Russia and in the West will create tons of jobs. It is always the fire-brigade who benefits from the fires. Once in a while they gotta set some off to prove to the community why it is such a good idea they keep them around.

So after all is said and done - will be a total win-win for everybody.

Even the poor toothless villagers in those godforsaken valleys of kavkaz where all the action took place can now add yet another tale of survival to their 'gloriouos' history.

And the dead? Well, they are the true winners. They are in the better place than any one of us.

Remember when Bush said he saw into soul of Pooty-poot? He meant it.

Looking at the outcome it has been a love fest all along.

So give war a chance!

Kristopher ütles ...

It may turn out that in this mini war everyone turns out to be a winner

Not a bad analysis. I would add that the harbour at Poti had been privatized just before it was bombed but nothing had really built there yet with private capital. So a good time to start rebuilding.

Georgian nationalism may lose, though. The good nationalists. They're on the way out in the Ukraine, too, I understand. Yushchenko is a very lame duck. Long odds. Though I guess it is still hard to explain to many Westerners how "nationalism" and nation-state is a positive thing.

LPR ütles ...

Thanks Kristopher. This was my clumsy attempt to riff like War Nerd meets Jon Stewart.

Now that you mentioned nationalists - are you kidding?

Drama like this is perfect for nationalism. This is exactly that nationalism is all about. Some common experience, no matter how stupid ... don't you know? ... the rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air ... bla-bla-bla ... and our flag was still there ... bla-bla-bla.

This is powerful man. It makes grown men cry and ... smash babies heads and do other such patriotic things. Its all good you know.

So come on. War is always good for nationalism.

LPR ütles ...

(couple of Pino Grigio's later)

I am listening the golden oldies station and all of the sudden ... why is it that I keep hearing all these old estonian pop songs from the 70s and 80s in the english now.

... Naerata nyyd j2lle sa, nagu eile alles ...
... pisarad nyyd kuivata, naerata ...

It feels like the estonian pop stars of their day should be stripped of their star status.

Pour me another one. TGIF.

Pēteris Cedriņš ütles ...

Excellent post, Justin.

I took Misha's remark (made more than once, I think) in the terms Balts often use, actually -- that the Baltic states are not "former Soviet republics" but were occupied (not that Georgia wasn't, in 1921...).