neljapäev, aprill 23, 2009


Our refrigerator now contains four round küüslaugujuustud -- garlic cheeses. It's mahe toit -- natural food, bought directly from this year's maamess.

We bought four of them, because if we had bought only two, they'd be gone in two days. With this investment, we managed to secure enough of our favorite cheese to last possibly a week.

The word mess in Estonian means something like "fair." Maa is "land," but it's also "earth," and it's also "ground" and it's also "country," so a maamess is a "landearthgroundcountry fair."

What does that mean? It means tractors and animal feed and forestry equipment and local cheeses and meats and vegetables and robotic masseurs and women's magazines and insurance companies and folksy newspapers and even political parties.

The patron political party of this year's maamess, as well as the countless other öko festivals and gatherings we have attended in recent years, is Erakond Eestimaa Rohelised -- the Estonian Green Party.

Founded prior to the 2007 parliamentary elections, the party used to seem like the brainchild of leader Marek Strandberg. Our well-meaning friends in the Estonian Social Democratic Party (SDE) advised us that the Greens would quickly implode following the elections; they were supposed to be the new "Res Publica" -- the ill-fated vehicle of Juhan Parts & Co. that merged with the smaller but more tenacious Isamaa Liit in 2006.

But the Rohelised did not implode. They still poll rather well. They have followers too -- men and women, young and old, estophones and russophones -- who don snazzy green t-shirts and stand in booths at gatherings like maamess to talk with possible voters. And I have to say that I like them, even if I am not sure what they stand for, other than eating organic cheeses and scoping out new tractors, because "greenness" is very appealing to Estonians.

Case and point, when we went to deliver two boxes of Roheliseks Kasvamine - "Growing Green" - a book authored by mu kallis naine, the guard at the gate waved us through: "You don't have to pay!" he smiled. "I am green, like you. We are on the same side!" I can imagine this social movement catching on because the devout brand of liberalism sold by the Reform Party doesn't look as appealing during a global recession, and the left-leaning populism of the Center Party isn't convincing because their leader is rather unattractive, yet thinks he can win votes by plastering his face all over Tallinn.

Estonia's two biggest parties are both money parties. They buy billboards and revolving signs and new brands of kohuke snacks. This kind of advertising does not convince me. Beyond Reform and Center though I am pretty content with the choices. The conservatives in IRL are an obstinate, history-obsessed bunch of professional Estonians, but I do not doubt that they love their country. The social democrats can be eurofriendly poseurs, but I share their concern for their fellow impoverished, drunken maarahvas. There are a lot of people living in squalor in Estonia. This is the truth.

Finally, there are the Greens, whose soothing öko colors strike me as the most Estonian of all. The Greens are not as well-financed as Reform or Center, so they actually have to do grassroots work to capture some votes. This kind of grassroots work is an essential component of a healthy parliamentary democracy. It is ideal that you go to a country fair to talk with politicians, rather than choose between the slogan printed on every Tallinn city garbage can and the promises displayed at every Tartu bus stop.

My only question is, if the Greens hang out at country fairs, where do the social democrats and conservatives hang out? Are there young co-eds in red SDE t-shirts canvassing at the local Taara punkt bottle return to reach the down-on-their-luck losers of neoliberalism? Do the representatives of IRL adorn folk costumes and hang out in the history sections of Rahva Raamat and Apollo bookstores next to the latest works of their party elders?

In some ways, I hope they do, because Estonian political parties are among the least trusted institutions in the country. A little more face-to-face time could go a long way; much longer than any kohuke, bus stop promise, or revolving sign.

7 kommentaari:

Unknown ütles ...

Giustino, do you really love Estonia that much or is there a possibility that you have entered a very potent phase of denial? No offence is meant by this comment, I'm merely curious. The government (in fact most governments lately) seem to be steering Estonia head first into a maelstrom and the people don't seem to mind...

P.S I'm an Estonian and I love this country and its people, as individuals, very much. It's the leadership and the lack of a will to change things that bother me.

P.P.S I work in the media industry and believe me we've passed the point where I could simply be called a cynic or a pessimist.

Giustino ütles ...

The government (in fact most governments lately) seem to be steering Estonia head first into a maelstrom and the people don't seem to mind...Well, what are their choices? They are basically stuck between liberal purism and economic populism. Who do they choose? I feel the same way. I don't particularly like Ansip, but there is no reasonable alternative to this government. The Social Democrats have 10 measly seats in the Riigikogu, and I have no faith in the competence of the Center Party. So you are stuck with Reform. That's the parliament the Estonian people voted for in 2007, for better or for worse.

Now, at least you can have some dialog with your parliamentarians. The average Estonian has a much greater likelihood of influencing their country's politics than the average American. You are one of 1.3 million. I am one of 300 million.

Rein Batuut ütles ...

It's so easy to say that someone else (ie the government) is to blame. It sort of takes away the stress of trying to change things yourself. In a way, people feel better during a recession when they are certain that it's not their fault. It's like "ah well, we're pretty bad off but it's not up to us to change it so we might as well do nothing". Slavery is in the mind, not chains.

LPR ütles ...

When I heard this, I was thinking of all the foreigners coming to estonia and claiming to like it so much ...

What is Runnel trying to say?

Kristopher ütles ...

Seems to me universities could be a good seed bed for the two less plutocratic parties, IRL and SDE.

Re the maelstrom, we've agreed on a constitutional democracy and you can't just go revolting every month. And cynicism/apathy is just shooting yourself in the foot, like being paranoid that Rainer Nõlvak actually wants to set up a political party and deciding not to take part in the mõttetalgud - that's the wrong reason for not taking part. And Estonia shouldn't necessarily need a new protest party, the current choices should be sufficient, so I agree with the post.

We like organic food, but I'm confused -- why is cheese more often than not seasoned. You go into an ökopood in Tallinn and there are like 15 varieties of lambajuust ürtidega but it is still hard to get talupiim on demand.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Kuuslauagu juust rookib.

Unknown ütles ...

The post is definitely good and my comment may have been a bit out of context here, I admit.

Now, a philosophy that says it is not wise to blame the guy who set your house on fire, but rather yourself for not building it out of fireproof formula racing suits is redundant. The government is not to blame for cutting payments into the second pillar of pensions, but it is to blame for saying that there will be no recession when Lehman Brothers was already sailing gently down the stream.
Ansip is, in this respect, a lot like Bill Clinton who could sit in front of you and say in the most convincing voice imaginable: "I am not here; what is here if not a there without a t?" (not my joke unfortunately...)

And of course, everyone thinks about themselves in this life, which actually is only normal. But there are degrees to which extent you can take that attitude in a democratic country.

Giustino said:Now, at least you can have some dialog with your parliamentarians. The average Estonian has a much greater likelihood of influencing their country's politics than the average American. You are one of 1.3 million. I am one of 300 million.

I do believe that is an illusion. Estonian electoral procedure really only allows you to vote for election lists that parties themselves put together and later redistribute votes as they please. But I think the bigger problem here is that Estonians don't seem to want to get involved. And it's a long way from being interested in what the people you elected are doing to rioting on the streets.
Minu Eesti is a noble cause trying to achieve that what the democratic system (it's execution) hasn't in Estonia, but it will probably fail because the focus of the event is being shown through a mirror of populist political parties and even more populist media. No one in Estonia goes into politics to actually make policies.

The mentality of slavery is definitely lingering here, but so are the habits to rule according to the principles that made the Soviet system here "work"

The euro will not come in January 2011 only because Ansip said it will...

Finally, bitching and moaning about how bad everything is, is indeed pointless... if it doesn't start anything...

... and it won't xD