pühapäev, detsember 14, 2008


It happened on Friday morning in front of the national library on Tõnismägi in Tallinn. The wintery air was crisp, the heavens a lucent grey.

And out of a black car stepped a familiar, medium-sized older gentleman wth impeccibly groomed white hair.

It was Arnold Rüütel, the third president of the Republic of Estonia, and, at one time, chairman of the supreme soviet of the Estonian SSR.

I read somewhere or another that Rüütel was referred to as the hõberebane -- the silver fox -- for his well-coiffed ambiance and political savvy. Maybe some British expert like Anatol Lieven wrote it somewhere. Anyway, I tipped my hat to Härra Rüütel, who responded with a kind acknowledgement of my presence.

For some reason, a sizeable proportion of Estonian males begin to resemble Santa Claus in old age. Rüütel was one of these jolly fellows. He looked as if he might have had a sack of toys stashed somewhere and some gingerbread up his sleeves. With a wrinkle of his nose, Rüütel was on his way, saying, "noh, noh, jah, jah!"

I approached our car and told my abikaasa about my experience. "I saw the silver fox!" I said. "Who?" she answered. "Arnold Rüütel!" I responded. "Oh," she shrugged, reading a newspaper. "That's nice. Will you bring another box from the car?"

Throughout the day, I encountered a similar lack of enthusiasm as I related my Rüütel encounter. I couldn't understand why nobody cared. This was Arnold Rüütel. He had danced with Dubya; he had told Gorby to stick it. He was the silver fox. Our friend stopped by and I told her, slightly fudging the Estonian.

"Kas sa tead, et ma nägin hõbedane rebane täna hommikul? [Do you know that I saw the silvery fox this morning?]," I said, hoping for some response.

"You mean the silver fox," she replied dryly. "Rüütel," she said, spitting the word out. Then she shrugged and changed the subject.

Later I told Epp's cousin Jaanus about the encounter at the dinner table:

"Jaanus, do you know who I saw this morning?" I asked.

"Who?" he asked earnestly.

"The silver fox!" I exclaimed.

"Where?" he asked enthusiastically.

"In front of the national library," I answered.

"You saw a silver fox in front of the national library?! That's incredible," laughed Jaanus. "I didn't even know we had silver foxes here in Estonia. I wonder how one wound up in the center of Tallinn!" he continued.

"No, not a silver fox," I said, "the silver fox. Arnold Rüütel."

Jaanus suddenly looked disappointed, scratched his chin, and looked at his wife. "He's called the silver fox?" he said, laying his utensils beside his plate. "I never heard that before."

His wife Lemme also looked puzzled. "Silver fox?" she toyed with the phrase. "I never heard him called that before either." And then Jaanus and Lemme shrugged and changed the subject.

15 kommentaari:

Oop ütles ...

Once upon a time, a friend of mine visited Sweden. It was a long, long time ago, indeed.

One evening, his local friends were watching TV. "You know," they said, "Some young boy called Mart has become your prime minister!"

"Oh yes," he answered, looking for a beer in the fridge, "It's probably Laar, I know him. Last summer, we went fishing. He never got a fish, but he's a pretty good storyteller." And he tried to find a bite, too.

"No way," his friends answered, disappointed in his rotten ethics and downtrodden character. "You probably made it all up. No one goes fishing with the prime minister!"

You'd never imagine the bloody nerves some people have, eh?

Dasanjos ütles ...

Well, that's Estonia!
You see the TV stars and your Estonian friends say, ah, I know him/her, she is my school mate, etc...
At least your Internet friends still think that seeing the President is amazing! Cool!

Kristopher ütles ...

Part of the charm for me is Rüütel's voice, it's mellifluous with the tones of someone maybe 30 years younger (he's 80).

For a great clip of Rüütel in action that perfectly encapsulates why he was successful, watch him meeting Gorby in The Singing Revolution.

I don't think of savvy or cosmopolitanism; rather, he is known as "radish" in my circles -- i.e. red only on the outside.

I guess Santa Claus also is red on the outside.

Doris ütles ...

ehm... well, Kaisa Oja went to my parallel class... Not that we actually talked... ever... but still.

Anyways, I mainly think that Ryytel's "problem" when he was president was his age - he just wasn't quick enough to respond to everything. Other than that I quite agree with both descriptions Silver Fox, yes, but Radish is even better :) Besides, you have to be very cunning indeed to survive in the Communist Party while being a Radish ;)

Vello ütles ...

Amen, Giustino.

I once stood in a reception line behind Arnold and his wife (after his presidency). Arnold just milled around chatting with everybody until someone in front of him decided that the former president should probably not have to stand in line. They moved him to the front and there ended my brush with greatness. Didn't get to say one word to him.

I told all my family and friends about it and they weren't impressed. Most asked how I sneaked into the reception.

From up close it seemed he did not use any gels or holding formulas on his hair. Could not say the same for his wife, though.

Jim Hass ütles ...

It seems to me that Estonians are as unimpressed with their politicians in Estonia as they are when they live in Chicago, which may are describing as "the only eastern European city ruled by Irishmen" or "the largest city of Eastern Europeans outside of Eastern Europe".
Most of the folks from Eastern families are practical, but skeptical people who relate to the Democratic machine to survive, yet expect little, remaining unimpressed by glad-handers and backslappers.
Men like Lennart Meri and Valdus Adamkus come to mind as great chicagoans.

Rainer ütles ...

Justin, most people, especially the younger ones, simply don't like Rüütel all that much. And why should they? He wasn't much of a president and he definitely did not tell anyone to stick it. It seems you have misconceptualised him a bit.

Giustino ütles ...

He wasn't much of a president and he definitely did not tell anyone to stick it.

My love of irony aside, Rüütel did tell Gorby to stick it.

Time, April 16, 1990

Mikhail Gorbachev does not like waiting. After trying several times to reach Estonian President Arnold Ruutel by telephone last week, he was in no mood for small talk when he finally got through late Tuesday evening. The Soviet President told Ruutel that he had "lost his temper" over the Estonian parliament's decision two weeks ago that declared "the state supremacy of the Soviet Union to be illegal" in the republic. What exactly did that mean? Gorbachev demanded. If the Estonians no longer recognized the Soviet constitution, what law was operating? Ruutel had a ready response: Estonian law.

Anna ütles ...

Interesting, that he's called the Silver Fox. I've never heard of that before either. And the response you got from your Estonian friends doesn't surprise me the slightest. Estonia is so small that everybody knows everybody (as you've probably noticed), so when "ordinary people" see a "famous person" on the street, it's nothing to go all crazy about. I was coming back from Vienna once and there were at least half of the government members on the same plane, sharing the airport bus on our way to transfer with the rest of the passengers (mostly Estonians flying to Tallinn). Nobody even blinked an eye.
And yes, Rüütel wasn't much of a president, more like a puppet with bad oratory skills.

Oop ütles ...

Well, kids still have that enjoyable sense of wonder. As I walked along the Viru Center with my teenage daughter, she suddenly clasped my arm and whispered: "Did-you-see-did-you-see-did-you-see?" - "See what?" - "Urmas Paet! The foreign minister!" - "Hmm. Yeah, I noticed. Bad hair, I wonder if he slept well tonight. Not much of a politician." She made a frustrated, unarticulated noise at me.

I guess it's our children who get to design the future, though. Should I be worried? Dunno.

oHpuu ütles ...

Rüütel, yeah? I saw him once taking a photograph of the honourable representatives of the Nuxalk Nation at a conference. the honourable representatives sat in the first row and Rüütel came in front of them and took the photograph with his cheap camera. he behaved just like a tourist, I thought, not like a statesman whose role he was playing at the conference. it seemed a little rude. although, I believe, everyone who has some experience wearing some non-Western festive garb has become used to almost everyone who wears Western festive or non-festive garb behaving like a tourist. although that was ten years ago and back then everyone did not have a digital camera. and Rüütel's wife used to work in the room next to me once. I think that was ten years ago, too.

and one good man once took some conference guests on a tour on Toompea Hill. the conference was about Roma (=Gypsy) education in Europe. and Ilves happened to pass in his car. the car was driven by a chauffeur, as is the custom. Ilves ordered the car to stop and shook hands with the good man. through the window. the conference guests were amazed. a cheap trick, actually. but very efficient.

oHpuu ütles ...

and, Oop, do not be worried. the sense of wonder will disappear in 2d6 years. besides, I for one do not believe in the existence of the person your children claimed to have seen. it was an illusion.

Waffa ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Waffa ütles ...

Well, i just love your posts :)
(they are coming with RSS feed to my Estonian Facebook page)

Anyway, Rüütel might couple of times to have been saying something "interesting" but for most of hes time hes was as much a soviet puppy as you can be.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CTNadxMP20 well.. some say : vaata, ta julges sinist lipsu kanda - kuid nad unustavad, et ta ei olnud ainuke inimene nõugokude liidus kes sinist lippu kandis :D

but yes.. he is way better then Savisaar, who is one of the only politicians who is still openly supporting red-army and favors russians to Estonians (like he congratulated these veterans personally who bombed and killed most of the people in Narva, also the ones who bombed Tallinn). He has done openly so many criminal things with hes party - but no one seems to be able to touch him.

I think Rüütel lost hes last respect for most Estonians when he was president for Savisaar & lets not forget things like "Head Võidupüha" xD

Just in case, in the future before you say to people next time "Heyy, väga lahe, ma nägin täna Ninasarvik(ut)! :))) " you my want to make it sound this way that people don't misunderstood you :P

Savisaar / Ninasarvik:

ontark ütles ...

Yes, that's what our society is like. Noone is that famous to be remembered when you meet them. I just saw Savisaar a couple of days ago at a students' fair in Tallinn and I thought, what the hell..let's just try to keep away from him then..(although I did notice how short he actually was:D).

But then again I remember myself as an 11 year old boy who had come to an art exhibition with his class and quess who was the only other visitor there? our President Lennart Meri, just for a couple of weeks left in Kadriorg. We were thrilled to meet him. We were before each given a task to draw a picture similar to something on the walls and then we all asked for his autogram on these drawings. I remember the joy when the president asked about my picture and smiled when I replied. He signed it and all the other paintings and then he had to leave. No he didn't mind talking to random children for 20 minutes, he just stopped his tour for us.

I don't know if this joy was because I was still a young boy, or because Lennart Meri was a person to be remembered. What if I met with Ilves or Ansip? Maybe I would be a little proud, I'd remember the meeting, but not for Rüütel propably, I'd see him as a figure from the TV, not as our foreign President. To be remembered in Estonia takes more than your occupation. Fame and respect is something that is only given to few.

PS - I still have that drawing, waiting for its time to be worth more than just my sentimental value. One day, when I become famous (don't laugh), it will have our president's autogram and mine as a little boy. Besides, I don't think I could ever sell it.