reede, jaanuar 23, 2009

christmas trees on fire

Politics is a dirty business. Politicians are perhaps attracted to it both by their patriotic idealism and earnest hope to serve their communities as well as the lifestyle of catered lunches, expensive rides, and ability to expedite favorable real estate deals.

In Estonia, Minister of Social Affairs Maret Maripuu has announced her decision to resign. She is the first minister of Ansip's 2007 government to leave office under pressure.

A pretty basic DPA Article* about the resignation highlights some of Estonia's identity issues towards the end of this Age of Globalization. "It is absolutely unfitting that in a country seeking world renown as an e-state, attempts have been made to block the transition to the payment of pensions via bank accounts, which is absolutely the norm in the Nordic countries," Maripuu is quoted as saying.

The same article goes on to discuss "Eurobarometer survey showing Estonians trust their government much more than is the case in the other Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania, despite the social security payments mess and an economy that has been in recession for months. At 48 per cent, the Estonian government's trust rating remains well above the EU average of 34 per cent and three times higher than Latvia and Lithuania's figures."

Despite these differences, most international English-language news coverage of the recent riots in Latvia and Lithuania has shocked me by the lack of basic knowledge about Estonia. There is a general meme descending in the pages of usually reliable media that the economic crisis is going to undermine political stability in basically any formerly communist country you can name drop in an article.

Bulgaria? Hungary? Estonia? Romania? Stankonia? -- They're all the same boat, whoever they are. Except old Europeans Iceland and Greece have also been rocked by protests and pepper spray too. Icelanders even burned a Christmas tree this week as they attempted to storm their parliament building. Could it be the end of times?

While Iceland becomes the next Latvia, Estonia is still grasping for its inner nord to find its way through the hard times. Experts like Andres Kasekamp and Marko Mihkelson inform us that Estonians are much more practical and restrained; not given to bouts of domestic unrest. Let's hope that Estonia's committment to the ideals of the Swedish absolutists and their Finnic abhorence of standing in close proximity to other individuals will keep them off the slopes of Toompea for the time being.

*An earlier version of this post erroneously attributed the article to Reuters.

18 kommentaari:

Doris ütles ...

I think it helps that the opposition, the media and even (late, but still) valitsus itself has over the past year and a half publickly and repeatedly told the people that things aren't good and are going to get worse before they get better. It also helps that thye're making a big shebang of making the best of the recession by joining the Euro - it gives the message that things aren't COMPLETELY in the potty. Plus, there's the news here and there saying that there will be slow recovery over 2009, and we'll be on the upward swing by 2010 (also one of the reasons KERA is being so vocal now - if they can dissolve the current government, they can look really good when things do start going uphill again, so what that it has already been predicted during the current government)

and of course, we've already had some riots, and post people have probably come to the conclusion that looting didn't really change anything. To other people just the fact that the riots took place was a big shock - I think even to people generally associated with "the rioters" (yes, I mean russians) and perhaps they don't want to rock the boat any more than it's already rocking *shrug* and maybe I'm wrong.

Giustino ütles ...

I think you are right, Doris. Rioting is so 2007.

LPR ütles ...

After all is said and done, we will all look back at this recession thing and give out a collective happy sigh a la 'these were the good times'.

We all got a lot of exercise (burning, looting, fighting) and kept up with our diets (no money to gorge ourselves with junk food).

I am talking about year 2020.

So as we enter this exiting time, let us not forget to congratulate ourselves.

Lingüista ütles ...

I'm curious about whether the looming economic crisis will have some effect on the relations between Russians and Estonians in Estonia. Will both groups be equally affected--or will there be grounds for one of them to claim that the other is having preferential treatment, etc.? Or will the economic woes have no effect on ethnic policy?

Aleks ütles ...

The basic article you linked to is from dpa, not Reuters. And not to tout my own horn, but my own article makes it abundantly clear why not all eastern European countries the same. In fact, it points out the case of Estonia.

The situation has remained calm in Estonia.

"Estonian political culture has always been calmer and more level-headed than in Latvia or Lithuania," Andres Kasekamp, director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute in Tallinn, told AFP.

koidumaa ütles ...

The story you quoted was from DPA not from Reuters. please fix your postiung.

Giustino ütles ...

The story has been updated. All is still calm here in Estonia.

Giustino ütles ...

The basic article you linked to is from dpa, not Reuters. And not to tout my own horn, but my own article makes it abundantly clear why not all eastern European countries the same. In fact, it points out the case of Estonia.

I know, Aleks. I think reading all the different arguments can be a bit confusing given the implicit assumptions available within each.

For example, one assumption is that, if something happens in Riga, it could effect Tallinn, because they are both "Baltic states," which is supposed to mean something. Except, as you noted, Tallinn was calm.

Another assumption is that post-communist states are more unstable than other European states, because they are all "former communist" and thus irresponsibly run. Except for the case of responsible, Nordic Iceland.

And then you have the experts saying that Estonians are different and it can't happen here. Except we had riots here two years ago.

Who to believe?

Giustino ütles ...

I'm curious about whether the looming economic crisis will have some effect on the relations between Russians and Estonians in Estonia. Will both groups be equally affected--or will there be grounds for one of them to claim that the other is having preferential treatment, etc.? Or will the economic woes have no effect on ethnic policy?

That depends on who gets laid off. From what I have heard from the fellows in management I know, people all across the country are losing their jobs, and mother tongue is not a factor.

Martin-Éric ütles ...

This whole level-headed answer to any situation that presents itself is why my belief in Estonia's future is MUCH more positive than for any other Baltic country. It's not just that the Estonian economy is more stable, it's also that Estonians are not prone to panicking at the first sight of bad news.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Surely Iceland is an extreme case - Estonia seems to be holding so far fairly ok. I guess bit more serious attitude towards regulation and oversight is needed for the markets in the future (and, no, it does not mean that Lenin would be coming back), but one would not really expect ethnic Estonian riots even if the downturn does get nastier.

Btw, an excellent Icelandic blog in English below - strange things happening in Norden of all places...

stockholm slender ütles ...

And the link as an actual link...

The Iceland Weather Report

LPR ütles ...

I was about to say that the only way Estonians know how to riot is to engage in mass orgy of choir singing, then I remembered Lihula monument removal and the red crane incident. How bad was it? Did 'goryachie estonskie parni' get out of hand there? Could it happen again under the right circumstances?

I'd assume that Estonians are more hotblooded than Icelanders. Who knows.

Lingüista ütles ...

Hotbloodedness is sometimes in the eyes of the beholder--people who seem to be quite phlegmatic may actually be doing crazier things (away from the public eye) than it seems. (For myself, I thought this idea of voting with a mobile phone was as adventuresome as it gets...)

All in all, though, it would seem the policies of the Estonian government (and banking system) were more pragmatic and restrained than those in Latvia and in Lithuania. It would in fact seem -- would you agree? -- that Estonia looks like the best candidate for surviving this crisis well in the whole ex-Soviet Union space (including Russia itself). In fact, one might even throw in Eastern Europe (with the possible exception of Poland and Slovenia) and maybe even a few Western European countries (obviously Iceland).

stockholm slender ütles ...

And now the Icelandic government collapsed under the pressure of people power - strange times... I certainly would see Iceland being in a class of its own, I don't think that the banking sector was anywhere as important and as hubristically managed as there. Latvia of course sounds very alarming - when reading independent accounts it seems that the political process there is utterly corrupted and dysfunctioning. But this is clearly not the case in Estonia: the parties are quite established and reflect the will of the population. Perhaps to have such strong opposition in the shape of Edgar and Keskerakond is not such a bad thing. It certainly is a stabilizing factor to have a significant parliamentary opposition that can hold the government accountable within the constraints of representative democracy. This mechanism doesn't seem to functioning in Latvia.

matude ütles ...

I agree 100%.
Iceland can't be compared to all the post-soviet block countries in such easy manner.

And yes, Savisaar is definitely an important balancing figure in Estonia's politics. For he is the one man who has managed to get most of the Russian minority to vote for him. If it hadn't been Savisaar, then who? Probably someone "more Russian" than "Estonian", if I may express it in such way. Not sure if many Estonians would like or are even ready for that yet.

I am actually very surprised that Estonian Russians have yet to step up on any serious political level. There are a few Russian oriented parties, but they are all divided by different opinions. There is no truly strong "Estonia's Russian minority" party, not to mention parliament seats.
Even the Bronze Soldier incident was not enough to make them unite under one goal.
What to make of it all? - I'm not sure. Is it just a matter of time when our Russians form a strong party or if it hasn't happened so far, will it ever?

One thing's for certain, people give Savisaar less credit than he deserves. He plays an immense role in balancing the differences between Estonian-Russians and Estonians. In the post "Knives out" somebody even said he's not a patriot; I disagree. I believe he knows exactly what he's doing and he is amazingly good at it.
Savisaar truly is one of the best politicians in Estonia, just too bad my opinions (and methods) differ from his so severely.

About Estonia being the best candidate to survive the crisis. It's certainly seems that way at the moment, yes. But my very cautious Estonian mind says not to hurray yet. The worst part has yet to come.

Anyway, there will definitely be no rioting thousands of people throwing rocks on the streets, that's for sure. And if I see first sings of such energy building, I promise I myself will organize a song-festival type of peaceful protest. :D
To give people the chance to calm down and express their discontentment with the government in the most powerful Estonian symbol, which is a national song-festival. That would probably make the government feel ashamed, for being put into the same category with occupants by the people of their own nation and therefore force them to step down.

Doris ütles ...

awesome idea! you gather a bunch of people and sing innuendo at the Riigikogu building. That would definitely get the idea across to them :D

it could even be Russian songs, for that matter.

Lingüista ütles ...

Like "Kalinka" and "Katyusha"? :-)