esmaspäev, mai 23, 2011

in the land of the soviets, 5. osa

Well, this is getting to be a little like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, isn't it? What's next? Blog posts in 3D?

So many things have happened in recent weeks that I haven't discussed on this blog. Microsoft bought Skype for an exorbitant sum, making the front page of The Financial Times and causing much "We've made it!" rejoicing among Estonians, but eliciting grumbles from this writer, who desires not to see his lovely Skype cluttered up with useless Microsoft applications that don't work.

Another Lennart Meri Conference took place, which I did not attend as a) I was in Moscow at the time and b) I was not invited on account that I am nobody. "And you, who are you?" That's the thing about that conference. You have to be somebody. You can shake hands with the greats but then you notice their eyes lowering to your name tag to see what country or think tank you represent. Then when they see you are unlikely to write a blurb praising their genius on the back of their forthcoming book, they turn away and flee to the nearest person, who hopefully might be somebody.

Time is money.

Anyway: highlights of the conference were the fact that Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves sat on the floor during one of the sessions (because he's a man of the people!) and gave a great keynote speech, which was covered with gusto on The Economist blog, Eastern Approaches. The main thrust of the speech was to "lambaste the prejudice that the secure, rich countries of the western half of the continent manifest towards the east and south alike," according to the blog. The full text of the speech can be found here. Do not read it on an empty stomach. It involves turkey and fish soup.

It's interesting to see the Estonian leadership assume the "voice of the East," when during the 1990s it often seemed keen to separate itself from that East, appearing innately Nordic, when it came to European Union enlargement, and staunchly Baltic, when NATO enlargement was involved, but never the cursed former Soviet. No, Estonia was formerly Swedish in those days (and now is Swedish again, according to some critics).

To be honest, Western Europeans are known the world over for being self-satisfied windbags who are thoroughly convinced -- in state-run schools, perhaps -- that they are the zenith of mankind, the crown of creation, and that some horrible stitch up in history has given the trigger-happy Americans, the barbarian Russians, and the labyrinthine Chinese the keys to the future. The attitude is noxious and deserves to be lambasted. But there's one problem. The Estonians do it too.

In this aspect, the Estonians are deeply Western European. Even when it comes to the "Lazy Latvians" referred to in Ilves' speech (he didn't call them that, someone else did). What is the national sentiment toward Latvia, apart from jokes that they have six toes (maybe a dig at inbreeding, much like the anecdotes about the "fish-faced Finns")? An acquaintance of mine just got back from Latvia yesterday, where he complained of the indigenous people's slowness in accomplishing anything. Things there went kuradi aeglaselt, he said, "fucking slowly." Estonians complain about getting shaken down by hungry cops in Riga, forced to pay so-called "traffic fines." The association is clear: Latvia is a sketchy, Eastern European country.

And why hasn't Latvia reformed/performed as successfully as Estonia? It's hard to find a reason without falling prey to so-called "Orientophobia." Not that Estonia is so great. In a recent interview, Ilves claimed that there are no oligarchs in Estonia. "We don’t have oligarchs in this country," he said. "Estonia, I think, is the only country in the post-Soviet area that does not have oligarchs."

This is true, in the sense that no one in Estonia actually uses the term "oligarch" to refer to influential local businessmen. But such influential local businessmen do have a lot of power, and can make life easier or more difficult for you. Then again, such influential local businessmen exist in every country I assume. Certainly they exist in my home state of New York.

But what does all of this have to do with Russia? Here is an interesting fact for you. Throughout most of the past century, the most popular names in Estonia have been Russian names. This is not because of the enormous size of Estonia's Russian minority. The Estonian Statistical Office recently reported that 75 percent of babies born in Estonia last year were born to ethnic Estonian parents. And yet the top names given to children in April 2011 were Darja and Maksim.

This is not a new phenomenon. In an Eesti Ekspress article, I learned that the number one name given to males in Estonia in the 1920s was Nikolai. For girls it was Maria. In the 1930s, the top names were Vladimir and Valentina. In the 1940s, Vladimir and Valentina ruled, only to be replaced by Vladimir and Tatjana in the 1950s. The 1960s were the decade of Sergei and Irina. The 1970s? Sergei and Jelena. Only in the 1990s and the 2000s have "Estonian" names returned to top the list: Martin and Kristina in the 1990s, and Markus and Laura in the 2000s. Not that there is anything particularly ethnically Estonian about those names. They might as well belong to German or British children.

So, what does this all mean? One could hypothesize Estonian Russians are using far fewer names than their ethnic Estonian counterparts. And Estonians have a multitude of variations for the same name. From the root "Martin" comes Marten and Märtin and Märten and Mart and Märt and Marti and Martti. All of these get counted as different names. So if 10 babies are born, two of them are named Maksim and the other eight are named Martin, Marten, Märten, Märtin, Mart, Märt, Marti, and Marti-Mart, then Maksim becomes the most popular name in Estonia.

Can any great, horrendously formulated stereotypes be drawn from this data? Can the name-poor Russians be considered as collectivists for their habit of giving children the same names? Can the name-rich (well, sort of) Estonians be considered rugged individualists who dare to be different by tearing proper names to shreds and dancing all over them with tremas and tildes?

I just don't know.

13 kommentaari:

Rainer ütles ...

"Can any great, horrendously formulated stereotypes be drawn from this data? Can the name-poor Russians be considered as collectivists for their habit of giving children the same names?"

Here again comest to play the hallowed antiquity, methinks.

The Romans had only seventeen standard first names (given to boys, the girl's names were feminine versions of those of their fathers), and Russia has always fancied itself the Third Rome.

Giustino ütles ...

Also, Estonians used to give their children Russian names in more frequency. A lot of Estonian men in the first half of the 20th century had the name Nikolai. But if you gave your child this name today, it would arouse suspicions of its ethnic identity. And what to make of Vladimir Beekman or Olga Lauristin?

Meelis ütles ...

"Also, Estonians used to give their children Russian names in more frequency"
Only these Estonians, who were Orthodoxs.

Giustino ütles ...

A quarter of the population.

Kristopher ütles ...

Not to worry about the conference. When the president's flag flies at Ärma, no one bothers the president either with invites; the orders are he's to be left alone with his ideas and his recipes. Same goes for you or anyone else -- the VIPs probably figured you were busy on your own circuit.

And if you had gone to the conference without a nametag and sat on the floor playing a guitar, trust me, another parallel session might easily have spontaneously sprung up around you.

Timbu ütles ...

Nice speech by Ilves, but isn't he being too optimistic saying backgrounds don't matter? We in the Baltics had grandmothers who remembered living in a (somewhat) democratic society - other Soviets didn't have that advantage.

Meelis ütles ...

"the number one name given to males in Estonia in the 1920s was Nikolai. For girls it was Maria. In the 1930s, the top names were Vladimir and Valentina"
These Nikolais, Marias, Vladimirs and Valentinas were born in 1920s and 1930s, but not in Estonia. They moved to Estonia after the WW2.

Giustino ütles ...

Here are a few Estonian Nikolais:

Artists Nikolai Triik (1884-1940) and Nikolai Kummits (1897-1944) and
famous writer (from Mulgimaa, no less) Nikolai Baturin (b. 1936)

I am unsure of the official "Estonian" version of the name Nicholas. There is a church called Niguliste Kirik, so I would supposed it is Nigul or Nigol, but I have never met anyone with this name.

Rainer ütles ...

Nikolai actually isn't that Russian at all. There were Nikolai von Glehn, Nikolai von Dellingshausen, etc. German-speaking world is full of Nikolaikirche's (Niguliste kirik among them).

Nigol and Nigul are indeed Estonian versions of Nicholas/Nikolai, albeit rare. There is a Nigulapäev in the traditional calendar. I actually know a young guy called Nigol. Nigol can also be a surname. And there was Nigol Andresen, whom you probably have heard of.

Indrek ütles ...

I have a relative named Nigolas

TM ütles ...

in the beginning of the 20th century the name Nikolai wasn't just a Russian name but the name of the Russian tsar.

kärg ütles ...

You also have to take into account the influence of Russian orthodox church in certain parts of Estonia. The cemetery in my Võrumaa village is full of Estonian people called Nikolai, Olga, Jekaterina. Not to mention Setumaa.

Tarmo ütles ...

The reason why there were many russian names with estonian family names is because according to the law at that time (when Estonia got first independence) you had to change your family name to match some pattern, Estonia was a part of Russian Empire before 1917 and was called Governorate of Estonia and about 4% of population were russians.