kolmapäev, september 12, 2012

letter from sweden

It's lonely at the top.
These poor Swedes. They are so self deprecating. The king? An idiot. Their beer? Nothing special. But Mariestads is a fine brew, it does the trick, and the king hasn't started any wars, so ... why are they so down on themselves?

"I don't understand these Swedes," an older British man confided in me years ago. "They seem so pleasant, even happy, they are industrious, cooperative, good team players, never complain, and then one day they wake up and decide to kill themselves."

"It's because they finally figure out that everything is controlled," said my friend Erland, a Swedish chef who happens to live in Viljandi. "They ask themselves, 'If the state controls everything, what's the sense in living anymore?'"

Entertainment, I might answer. The big scandal in Stockholm these days revolves around a the appearance of a few mysterious one-crown coins that feature the profile of King Carl XVI Gustaf.

Yet these were not your average coins. Instead of the usual "Carl XVI Gustaf Sveriges Konung" ('Carl XVI Gustaf Sweden's King'), the text written around the image of the King's head on the coins read "Vår horkarl till Kung," which translates roughly into English as "Our whorer of a King."

After much public discussion and high-tech analyses at the Swedish state bank, the defacer of the coins came forward to acknowledge his work as art, and to claim that he has committed no crime. As the coins were never in circulation, and they were real coins, the coin artist argues that he is not guilty of forgery. The Swedish authorities know not what to do. They feel he has done something wrong, but they are not sure yet what it is. "The king can charge me if he likes," says the defiant coin artist.

I heard this and other lamentations during my savage and tragic sojourn into the capital of Scandinavia. Savage you say? Tragic, how so? Well, for example, I did not notice that my hotel in Uppsala had a shared shower when I booked it. Early in the morning I tiptoed down the hall to use it, while it was still relatively clean, in nothing but my bathrobe. I had grabbed my room key before I left, of course, and inserted into my pocket. But things were not as they seemed. To my horror, I discovered it was not my hotel key but my train ticket from the night before. And so my fellow lodgers might have heard a dripping wet half nude American man standing in the corridor at 6.20 am mutter something to himself along the lines of, "Oh my God, I am so fucked!"

I hid in the janitor's closet until I came to my senses, and then called the front desk from the hall phone but got no answer. I stepped out into the staircase while another door shut behind me, locking me out of my own floor, then descended the cold stairs barefoot. Luckily, there was someone on the first floor vacuuming in the lobby. A trio of Indian businessmen sat around sipping coffees but didn't seem to notice me, as such attire is common in their country. The Swedish woman understood at once the problem, and we returned to my room, where I was let in, and thanked her many times with all the takk skal du have and takk  så mycket I could muster. Then I opened up the room window, let the cool air pour in, and stared out at the sun rising over the Uppsala skyline, wondering how an idiot like me had managed to score a career, a wife, and three children.

Skyline? Well, actually, in Uppsala there is no such thing. Only the spire of the Domkyrka could be seen from afar, the same church that guided me to my hotel room the previous night. I had bounced around with my luggage from the train station up the hill, no urge to use a cab, as I wanted to see the city. It did not disappoint. The glistening waters of the canal. The spectral Swedish ladies ghosting by on bikes, silent, golden heads forward. The faces of the young and beautiful students laughing behind the cafe windows. The darkness of night, the perfection of the ivy hanging on the fences, the moonlight on the red-tiled roofs, the yellow glow of life through the ancient windows. The silence of a university town, punctured by the lone cries of inebriated happy students. This was Sweden as I imagined it, first encountered it, never forgot it.

In some ways, it reminded me of Estonia, yes, but it was better kept, cut and trimmed, more controlled, less hostage to the architectural whims of well-connected businessmen. To stare at the so-called skylines of Uppsala and Tartu is to see it all, lovely buildings, but few taller than three floors, surrounded by lush forests and the lull of distant streams. But there was no Tigutorn in Uppsala, thank God.

Amidst these ponderings, I made it back down to Stockholm, a city that claims to be the "capital of Scandinavia," but that's not saying much. I mean, what's the competition? Oslo? Copenhagen? Reykjavik? A certain Estonian word comes to mind here, provintslik, provincial. Reykjavik isn't really a city, it's a town, and so is Tartu for that matter, or Turku, or Bergen. These are big towns, not cities. But they must be called cities, because even if Sweden is as long as India, there are few people there, and those who do live there fulltime don't make a lot of noise. So houses become villages, villages become towns, towns become cities, cities become regions. You've read Astrid Lindgren's books, so you know how good the Swedes are at make believe.

Yet at least they get the joke, the joke of themselves. For all of their self loathing and introspectiveness, their dumb king and unexplained suicides, the Swedes of all northerners seem to have noticed long ago that people abroad confused them with the Swiss or, once in a while, the Swazis. When it dawned upon them, I do not know, but they decided that something must be organized, so some time in recent history, a new construction was born, a "Nordic Council."

What a splendid name it was. One could see them, sitting around at some ice hotel, warmed by their sled dogs, talking in vowel-laden sentences about, well, important stuff, like the latest coin scandal, or, "Did you see what the Estonian president wrote on Twitter?" The Estonians were off limits in the 1950s, but the Swedes did manage to pull in the Danes and the Norwegians, the Icelanders and the Faroese and the Greenlanders. After Stalin died, they even pulled in the Finns. It was their antidote to irrelevance. Their main university city may have lacked a skyline, but they weren't about to be outdone in any category by the West Germans or any other fictional continental nationality.

Nej! They were Swedes, the top of the world, the pinnacle of mankind! Not only did they live long and prosper, but they were all magnificently blonde. And under the auspices of the Nordic Council, the Swedes could siphon talent from adjacent countries and former territories and claim it was in their own collective self interest to send their biggest brains to Uppsala! Genius.

There is still much competition and finger pointing though.

"The Finns are really macho, they think that all Swedes are gay," a Swedish friend informed me during a boat trip in the archipelago. "My friend actually is gay but he works at Nokia, and he is too afraid to tell anybody. He says it's really awful, they are always trying to set him up with girls."

Our Finnish friend smiled when he heard this but said nothing. Then they turned on me. "How is the homosexual situation in Estonia, Giustino?"

I was now in a position to influence people's opinions about my wife's country. Of course, I just wanted to say that it was wonderful, and Estonian gays are the most content of all Estonians. And, from my perspective, it is rather tolerant. At the same time, Estonia still seems to be stuck in "don't ask, don't tell" land. It's your own business, so don't discuss any of that gay stuff with me! What people don't realize is that all of Estonian sexuality is like this. Nobody talks about sex, but people seem to do it quite often. Every month brings news of new babies. And yet if you actually came upon the mothers and fathers, few would openly express their desire for anything. I don't think an Estonian man has ever pulled me aside and said something like, "Hey now, that Kadri Simson is really sexy." If nude photos of the presidental pair were to surface, people would yawn and turn the page.

"But which is the country where they introduced a bill to make homosexuality an offense?" the Swede asked on the boat. When I answered "Lithuania," he pulled his jacket tighter and shuddered.

"You know, we in Sweden consider Estonia a Nordic country," he said. "But Lithuania ..." he furrowed his brow and didn't finish his sentence.

Only then it occurred to me that I had been writing a blog about Estonia, "the world's only post-communist Nordic country," for more than seven years.

Still, I did not raise the issue. It was just a statement that was handed to me, and I did not know what I should answer. Should I thank them, or agree? Should I protest? Could I honestly try to pass Riga off as the "Capital of the Baltics" without making them laugh, not to mention embarrassing myself? No. In the end, I just smiled and nodded, that's what they thought, and since they actually were from the Nordic countries, who was I to argue with them? I wouldn't dare mention it front of the Lithuanians though. The very coupling of the "N" word and Estonia produces sad, sorrowful faces down south.

Yet, as different as Sweden and Estonia are, I have to say that I could see where the Swede was coming from, for, after spending much time among the Swedes, I felt like I was talking to the Estonians. Other than their beer and their king, the Swedes complained about their marginalization, their isolation. Their best and brightest left to the UK or the US, they said, where they were paid much higher salaries, compensation they could never get in their home countries.

But at the same time, the Swedes exuded that inner steely confidence, that resolve. They had an innate belief that they could do better, that they must do better, and because of this faith, they would do better. They were relentless in their pursuit of making things better, all things, infrastructure, healthcare, sandwiches. And many of the Estonians I know are the same way. They are never content.

As our boat stole away into the night, I did wonder that if these northerners thought of Estonia as a fellow country, then how come it didn't have a place on the vaunted Nordic Council? Surely that schemer Carl Bildt has known that it is to Sweden's advantage to steal away Estonia's best talent under the guise of Nordic cooperation. So where is Estonia's invite to the ice hotel?

106 kommentaari:

LPR ütles ...

I wonder how these sensitive topics are discussed in other cultures? What can be more important in a persons life than sex and money? Yet, we do not discuss it.

Only as a grown up, I've discussed it with my brother. Both wondering about the lack of conversation and ensuing troubles we both suffered in terms of making/keeping money and strange relationships with the opposite sex.

Had there been church in our lives, maybe we'd have gained more info from there? Must be easier nowadays, just google and add images if you wish. All the self help you'll ever need, all at your fingertips.

Marko ütles ...

Families are different, and thats what this will come down to. In my home we always debated current affairs, politics of the day etc. at the dinner table. There are also families out there, who just sit down and eat. Same with sex. I was actually shocked as i found out later at school that talking about sex can be uncomfertable to some people.

And when talking about attitudes towards gay people, i can only speak about my own experience. All in all, people are accepting. And did so even when being gay meant imprisonment. In close knit families and communities people look out for each other. Thats how its always been. Discrepancies only arise when you bring state in to it. As it stands the view of the state is rather backward on the matter, hopefully it will change but i wouldnt hold my breath.

Temesta ütles ...

"As it stands the view of the state is rather backward on the matter, hopefully it will change but i wouldnt hold my breath."

But in a democracy you would expect the state more or less to reflect the attitudes of society?

Marko ütles ...

Yes, Temetsa, you would. Mind you, back in the 90s attitudes were much more liberal. I was a teenager back then and was thinking that its just a matter of time. But now, some nearly 20 years later im not so sure anymore. We have seen some really strong anti-gay rethoric being expressed in media by some opinion leaders and it seems that large sections of society are more in line on the issue with Poles and Serbians, rather than say Swedes or Islanders. Im not sure how we got here, nevertheless, it seems to be the case. Who knows. I might not be the best person to ask either, as ive been away from Estonia for nearly a decade or so. But thats how it comes across through media etc.

Maire ütles ...

I want to recommend you to read "Swedish Mentality by Åke Daun: http://www.amazon.com/Swedish-Mentality-Ake-Daun/dp/0271015020
After to have read this you will not have some questions about swedes :)

Temesta ütles ...

I don't want to pick on you but again you are underestimating the Poles. :) I know Poland quite well and the last decade has seen some remarkable changes, especially in the bigger cities. In 2011, for the first time, an openly gay politician was elected into the Polish parliament. And, even more revolutionary, the first ever transsexual MP in European history was elected in Poland.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Oh well, to my mind, Swedes don't think that they are the best in the world, they KNOW it. Their middle name is superiority complex (but unlike some, often much larger countries they really do have a lot to feel superior about...)

As for gays, I don't find Estonia very enlightened at all. The Soviet curse, I suppose.

Marko ütles ...

Sorry, Temetsa, my intention was not to offend. Just replace Serbia and Poland with more politically correct Northern Ireland and American bible belt, and youll get the picture:).

Nope, Stocholm Slender, it has very little to do with Soviets. Its homegrown and its recent. Might have something to do with internal migration. All these country folk moving to bigger towns and taking their village mentalities with them. At the same time, pushing the native townies out of the picture. Add lack of adequate legislation, poor standards of tackling down homofobic bullying at schools - and we arrive at Estonia as it is today. Lack of positive role models is another big one. There was a bit of a scandal in Estonian media couple of days ago, where one MP made a vile reference towards gay people on TV, in reference if it would be possible for (male)gays to have children, what skincolor their kids then would have. Thats the politest way I could put it, by the way. Now, it did not come as a surprise to me, as this guy is off his head. But what did surprise me, was the reaction. Only two MPs commented on the matter, theres 101 of them. One saying that he should be ashamed of himself and other, that this is a free country and if anyone has problem with that, they are free to take it to courts if they so wish. And that was it, believe it or not. Thats not very Scandinavian way of dealing with it, is it? And these things pop up again and agian and again, and nothing gets ever done about it, actually the opposite seems to be happening. Language used gets coarser, this in turn attracts wider audiences and that in turn fuels certain sentiments in many working class communities. Its a catch 22, and I feel really let down by the state. No easy solutions tough.

Temesta ütles ...


I was not offended, for me it's just about knowledge. You can't expect foreigners to have a fairly accurate image of Estonia and at the same time think in crude stereotypes about other countries. This is not directed to you but to all readers here. I notice that many Estonians don't like the stereotypes attached to their country but at the same time they are often quite ignorant about other countries/nations.

Ok, enough preaching now. :)

Marko ütles ...

That wasnt what I meant. It just the way our minds work. Sometimes I forgot that Im commenting from Britain, and many my fellow commentators here are from East of Berlin. We bring those countries up as to highlight an issue. In Britain, when speaking about gay rights, you just mention Poland and everyone knows exactly what you mean. In Estonia, you just have to mention Southern US, and again everybody knows what the chat is about. Its not that im bashing Poles in Britan, or Americans in Estonia. Its just an illustraton, to keep people focused.

Oh, and i looked into that scandal i mentioned earlier. And surprise, surprise. The station who aired that controversial tv program is owned by Norwegians. So, I suppose we are getting more Scandinavian afterall. Its just, its the kind of Scandinavianism i wish that have stayed in Scandinavia proper.

LPR ütles ...

to Marko

One would expect that Peeter Vosa is some kind of a non-representative of "average Estonian", but that would be wrong. This IS the prevailing level of "kodueestlaste" intelligence.

Don't believe me? Scan thru the commentaries and veendu, et seis on ikka nutune. If this guy is the opinion leader and a member of the parlament no less, then the the country is ... huh, I do not want to curse ...

That's why I do not live there. Period.

Here's the banter:


Marko ütles ...

Indeed, but one is also not supposed to give up. Just think of the ones before us, the ones that fled from the Soviets. Just think about the coverups by the Allies, and how it must have felt for the Estonians in the West. They got through it, and so will we. One way or another. What people like you and I posess, is the ability to think outside the box. We were all brought up under the same circumstanses, similar families, same culture. Even Mr Vosa. Yet, some of us have what it takes to question, to doubt, to try to figure it out and perhaps even help to turn the tide.

Trust me, even talking about it in blogs like this will make a difference. If theres even one guy who reads in here and starts to think, hang on, maybe I got it wrong because these guys here actually make sense. Then we have done our bit already.

In a small society like Estonia we can not afford taboos, halftruths, coverups, lies, corruption, Mr Vosas humor, you name it. And first step to tackle these is to talk about. I wish everyone just talked more.

LPR ütles ...

Pff. I could go on and on with my grievances about the Estonian idiocracy, but I save everyone from witnessing me desperately beating this dead horse of the issue. What IS important to me is to watch foreigners like Petrone and Vikerkaar dealing with it. I never developed a coping mechanism like they seem to have. I tend to fly off the handle when faced with all sorts of low behaviour by these supposedly "my people". I am bad at "tuima panema". I think if I lived in Estonia, some random kantpea would have killed me by now in a random meaningless barfight somewhere.

For me, watching it with amazement and disgust from a safe distance is the best solution. In a way it is sick - like rubbernecking on a highway looking at a bad accident and its gross aftermath. It could have been me. I could have been Peeter Vosa or someone like him. Or worse, like the clueless people he shows on his program.

Temesta ütles ...

I would like to see that the European Union would be more involved in these issues, instead of only caring about budget deficits or the amount of certain chemicals that fish in restaurants can contain.
But probably that is too utopian.
You can get a fine if your economic policy is not ok, but if you vote laws against gays like Lithuania, there are no consequences.

LPR ütles ...

Just to illustrate the all this is not "just in my head" and I am not making anything up ...

Here it is, talking about my sweet home town as it is today ...


Marko ütles ...

Well, LPR, on top of all that imagine if you would have been gay too. Yet people like that exist too. Im one of them. Hit the bottle at 16, dropped out high school, drugs, dodgy friends. You name it. And then I moved away. Took me many years to get my life back on track. I think a gamechanger for me was establishment of a solid relationship. In all its right. Yet the same very thing for so many people with my backround is, if not denied, then deffo discouraged.

I feel a lot stronger now. In fact, Im returning to fatherland next year. Why, you may ask? I just cant let people like Vosa win. I have still got family there.

Meanwhile, in other news, on a more positive note. A study was recently published, showing 54% support for civil partnership, 24%against ant 24% were not sure. Also president Ilves stepped up his mark and expressed solid support for the Estonian gay community. And in relation to Vosa, there is far more popular openly gay presenter in ERR(just check the raitings).

LPR ütles ...

Civility is what is lacking there and people get caught up in the dark undertows.

It takes an exceptionally strong person to stay sane under such circumstances. I am definately a weakling, I could not survive there. I'd become violent, I am sure.

Watching otherwise normal looking person like Vosa to engage in such jackassery and lowbrow humor, makes me gringe, for I know that under different circumstances he'd act completely normal. Among other things, he himself would come out of the closet (pink sweater, diamond earrring, colored hair) and stop making fun of defenseless and blind. He'd be compassionate. Instead he is cruel. He hates himself, singing pederallalaa etc. Pure self hatred right there.

He is yearning for civility and finds none. So he goes nuts.

Marko ütles ...

I think its a fair point you make in your last post. And i think you might be spot on on Vosa. I firmly believe that we are reflection of our environment. And when you change the environment, then what we reflect changes also. But I think you go a tad too far in your generalisation. You leave out a tiny, but very important, detail. Our backrounds and experiences in life can be greatly different. You cant just compere the worst in Estonia, to the best in America, or vise versa, as Giuostino sometimes does. Whereever you live in America, im sure just a couple of hours drive away theres a place, a community, that feels exactly the same way about America, as you do at the moment about Estonia. Just venture out a bit and speak to the people who live in trailer parks or inner city overcrowded working class communities. Im sure you will see many similarities to the experiences you had back in a day in Estonia. And these people are just as real and harsh and politically incorrect as Vosa is. But enough of this.

Back on a topic. What do you guys think of the Swedes? Cocky little things, arent they? I suppose we are similar, but I think further integration with them can be a bit thorny journey.Estonians are very proud people, in my humble opinion, and I think if we would even join the Nordic Council we would still feel as if we are of somesort poor relation. Nah, Id rather stand on my own and beat the odds, as we have done so far, and very sucessfully.

LPR ütles ...

America and Estonia do not lend themselves to easy comparisons.

One thing I want to mention, and I know Christine will like that, is when I hear Estonians say, Americans lack culture, is that, you can have culture and lack civility, but if you have civility, you'll always have culture.

Even a low life here knows how to say "hello" or "excuse me".

That is civility. A building block of culture.

There is no dismissing it.

Marko ütles ...

What? Maybe in Paide, or Tyri, but most of Estonia is very civil. I have toured the Nordics and Estonia with my British partner and our friends. And most of them say that you get more politness on a Kopli tram, than in central Helsinki or Stockholm. Then again, Brits are very good at spotting these things. With all due respect, I wouldnt even mention America and culture in the same sentence.

What I find is that Estonian expats are often very scarred by their previous life, so they stop recognising all that is good about Estonia. They only notice the bad things. And its not fair. The fact that you yearn for these things, speaks for it self. It is inbuilt in you, and it is in your favour and people will respect that. Its one of those positive things that you have given to your newly adopted homeland. And they should never forget that it is Estonian in origin. Youre a decent guy, and thats all that matters.

LPR ütles ...

You've never met anyone from American cultural elite, I am sure. If you had, I am sure you'd be more measured with your pronouncements.

Maybe one day you will. Then you'll see. I rest my case until such time.

LPR ütles ...

Then again, I've been out of bounds myself. Remorse, remorse ...

Temesta ütles ...

Before I moved to Estonia, I was a bit afraid that interactions with unknown people in daily live would not be nice. I read and heard stories about rude and uncivilised people. But actually here it is much better than in Belgium. If I want to cross the street, I don't have to throw myself in front of the cars to make them stop, most of the time they already slow down if they see you approaching the zebra crossing!

LPR ütles ...

Some guys got all the luck, some guys got nothing but the pain ... as Rod Stewart used to sing.

You must be one of these lucky ones, Temesta Not my experience. We all live by our experiences.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Marko, certainly a grim example. Finland is way behind Sweden, but there has been an amazing amount of progress in the last two decades. I would not have thought that things could change so quickly. In that respect I find the quite prevailing Estonian attitudes rather archaic, like Finland would have been, say, 30yrs ago.

Marko ütles ...

Indeed, but you are missing the point. Its the Scandinavian TV channels who cash in on hate speech in Estonia. Nothing like that would have never been allowed on Estonian National Broadcaster. And being a gay man I would say that me and my partner get a lot more unwanted attention in Helsinki, than in Tallinn. Tallinn is pretty much like an average town in Britain, where as in Helisnki people do stare at you on a street. Thats just my personal excperience of course.

And you should give some credit to the Estonian gay community. Given the circumstances, I think we have done really well. But even that doesnt matter too much. What matters is how a person feels about it. Out of ten, on how unrestrictive society comes across on day to day living for a gay person, I would give Estonia seven, I would also give seven to Britain as there are huge reginal variations on the issue, but I would give Finland only six, as there something passive-agressive in their attitude.

stockholm slender ütles ...

Well, that may well be. I can only say that I find the current openness about homosexuality in Finland totally unprecedented. We have openly gay politicians, an easy majority of mp:s voting for sexual rights (marriage law is only a question of time), many well known personalities openly and casually gay. The streets and internet forums are another story, but I think even among the majority population attitudes have generally shifted towards healthier values. But of course we are far from perfection. (I'm not sure though if I would recommend Tallinn over Helsinki for a gay couple or see London on par with Tallinn...)

Marko ütles ...

Well, Im a gay person who has lived in all of these places you mention. In Tallinn for example if we would go out for a meal, we would be treated as a couple, where as in Helsinki they would treat us more as if we were friends. That sort of things. Even if you do have more gay visibility in mainstream media in Finland, Tallinn feels somewhere I can see myself actually living without having to prove anything. You forget that many gay people just want to live normal lives. To have an opportunity to have jobs where its your ability to do it counts, rather than working for someone who wants to have a gay person at the front desk just because its somehow become fashionable and is good for business. Thats what I meant by passive agresiveness. And thats why Tallinn comes across as a more normal place to live.

But this is all very subjective at the same time. A lot depends on an individual, of course.

stockholm slender ütles ...

That is good to hear - as the popular perception of the ex-Soviet bloc countries is somewhat different, both regarding general societal attitudes and in cases of gay visibility and activism. Anyhow, the situation in Finland has improved considerably and I would say that in this process high profile people are of value in clearing space and gaining acceptance to very recently harshly persecuted sexual minorities.

I have always thought that these issues are the current bellwether as regards the strength and health of the emancipatory trends in the Western societies. Sexual rights are the front of the struggle at the moment. In addition several dear friends belong to these communities, making all primitive ignorance particularly unpleasant.

I would not expect anyone to have a particular duty for personal activism, though everyone definitely has a perfect right to normal, regular life untouched, at least very centrally, by controversies in issues of sexual identity - and I think I might live to see something approaching to this within my lifetime in Finland. It's good to see, witness progress.

Rainer ütles ...

"...the popular perception of the ex-Soviet bloc countries is somewhat different,both regarding general societal attitudes and in cases of gay visibility and activism."

That is what I always say - people (want to) know far too little and presume far too much when it comes to "ex-Soviet bloc", giving rise to all kinds of stereotypes and prejudices which are reactionary and bigoted in and of themselves.

Marko ütles ...

Thats it, Rainer. I think when we speak about gay rights in Estonia, we talk about rehabilitation of gay members in our society. Lets not forget that no anti gay legislation has ever been passed in democratic Estonia. It was the murderous regime of Stalin, who first introduced it in Russia and then later occupied Estonia. What gay community in Estonia is trying to do is to roll back to the pre war attitudes and bring it up to date through a very liberal constitution. Thats a very different situation to Finland, or Britain where their societis have evolved to the level where Estonia was in 1920s. And its important to know that.

And in that sense Estonia is not like the ex soviet bloc at all. We are often slumped together tough, and through reversed psychology some more sinister members of society try to raise some political profile for their own benefit. But still, support for more equal rights for gay people is getting higher and higher. And why is that? As I said, general public is rather liberal. I have met a 65 trans person who lived a normal life as a member of opposite gender, marked on his birth certificate. All the way through Soviet occupation. How did he managed, you might ask? Community support was there. He wasnt being told about to the authorities. Its not to say that everyone had such a lucky escape, but Estonians in general look after their own. Always have done.

Now, I know things are not ideal at the moment. But they are getting better by the day. And the last thing we need on this, is some sort of competition with the Finns for the international rankings. Thats what this is not about. Its about Estonian gay people, living in Estonia.

All in all, things are not too bad in Estonia. Id say their at the same footing as they are in Britain.

LPR ütles ...

"Don't do unto others what you do not want to done to yourself" - as simple as that. For me it covers the gay rights and discrimination issues. Be civil.

My beef is with islamists. Here is where my tolerance is tested mightily. I'd say, I have extremely little tolerance for intolerance and extremism. Which makes me an extremist.

Oh, well. You have to kill to live. So I think this is necessary evil. Samuel. P. Huntington predicted it and now we are living it. Clash of the Civilizations.

stockholm slender ütles ...

I don't know, this does sound, in part, like some sort of wounded national pride. I'm not interested in competition in these matters, but in progress. And it would seem, despite anecdotal evidence, that the absence of gay and feminist battles of the 60's and 70's have left a different and clearly less progressive mind set to former Eastern bloc. I don't really know how one could argue against this observation, however tolerant and/or blind the local communities can occasionally be.

Giustino ütles ...

One point though is that Estonians are not really open about sex, that is, not open about any kind of sex, so it's hard to gauge public attitudes toward gay relationships in particular, because nobody around me discusses relationships, period. I would put it this way:

In Estonia, everybody is having sex, but nobody is talking about it.

In America, everybody is talking about sex, but nobody is having it.

Temesta ütles ...

Could an openly gay politican become prime minister or president of Estonia? Could he gather enough public support?

Rainer ütles ...

"And it would seem, despite anecdotal evidence, that the absence of gay and feminist battles of the 60's and 70's have left a different and clearly less progressive mind set to former Eastern bloc."

This once again proves my point regarding ignorance and presumption. The fact that those battles did not occur in Estonia in the 60's and 70's doesn't mean they did not occur later on, namely in the 90's.

"In Estonia, everybody is having sex, but nobody is talking about it."

In my circle of friends and colleagues sexual issues are widely discussed. This once again proves that we exist in some kind of parallel realities. Maybe there's a possibility that the Americans tend to see Estonians as verbally copnstipated prudes, whereas the Estonians think that Americans are a bunch of oversexed horndogs. Who's to say?

stockholm slender ütles ...

Oh well, I guess we can't settle this argument in any way conclusively. I don't think Moscow equals San Francisco or Warsaw London or Tallinn Stockholm, but this might be just "Western" arrogance and ignorance, as you put it. In any case lets hope for more progress for sexual and gender rights in all countries!

Giustino ütles ...

In my circle of friends and colleagues sexual issues are widely discussed. This once again proves that we exist in some kind of parallel realities. Maybe there's a possibility that the Americans tend to see Estonians as verbally copnstipated prudes, whereas the Estonians think that Americans are a bunch of oversexed horndogs. Who's to say?

Keep in mind that, being a parent, I spend most of my time in close proximity to small children, so I guess the setting is not conducive to that kind of talk. But the coarse humor I learned growing up in New York is *not* socially correct in most situations I find myself in in this country. And the only men that share their fondness for certain females with me are foreigners or väliseestlased.

Oh well, I guess we can't settle this argument in any way conclusively. I don't think Moscow equals San Francisco or Warsaw London or Tallinn Stockholm, but this might be just "Western" arrogance and ignorance, as you put it. In any case lets hope for more progress for sexual and gender rights in all countries!

Gender "rights" can be gauged by looking at the laws of a given country, but progress and tolerance are harder to measure. For instance, in the so-called West we like to think that if there can be a Pride parade that goes off without a hitch, then that's tolerance and progress.

I myself find some of the "Pride" parades in really poor taste. I even understand Pullerits when he complains about guys in thongs or transvestites at these events. I mean, Pullerits doesn't walk around in a thong at the Postimees office (thank God), though he should have every right to without getting beat up by the copy editors. But when Pullerits had the gumption to question it, all mighty hell rained down on him from San Francisco to Osaka. So the message is clear -- if I clap along and pretend I think it's all great, that's "tolerance" and "progress."

I can think of other examples. Like when I was in San Francisco and saw big posters promoting gay marriage. They featured women, one of whom was dressed as a groom, the other as a bride. I found this very confusing. Weren't they two brides? I know the gay guys both dress in tuxedos ... And these were put up by the city government. What can I say? I didn't disapprove of the posters, but they didn't make me joyous at the sight of "progress." I mean, take two women, dress one up in a tux, the other in a wedding gown, marry them in a city office, and call it "progress?" Okay fine. If a TV crew had interviewed me about it, I would have said it was all great though and not asked any questions.

Anyway, here I will sound like a conservative, which is hilarious, but in some ways, I think we have really just switched straitjackets in the so-called West, in my opinion. What was once not tolerated is now tolerated, what was once tolerated is no longer tolerated, and we are expected to not ask questions, only to clap louder, in the name of progress, naturally. Meantime we are all still waiting on that elusive cure for cancer ...

Could an openly gay politican become prime minister or president of Estonia? Could he gather enough public support?

Could a woman become prime minister or president of Estonia? Could she gather enough public support?

Marko ütles ...

Why do you guys compere Tallinn to Moscow, but not Prague? Or Berlin? Both so called Eastern cities aswell.

I was walking around Kensington , London, the other day and thinking about some of this stuff. Sure, there are not these kind of gay-money areas in Tallinn but you dont get them in Helsinki either, or Edinburgh where I stay now. In fact Edinburgh is pretty much like Tallinn. We are all mixed.

I accept the comment about straightjacket, a lot of gay people share that view. But dont you think that Pullerits goes a tad too far? Or maybe its the style he is writing in, or coarse language he uses.Dont like that guy, as its weird to be known solely by building his career on writing gay themed articles with negative undertone.

Gay president? Who knows. Islanders done it, and they are pretty much like us. Female president? Dont know about that. Latvia and Lithuania and Finland all had one. Do we have anyone of that calibre? There could be few, so who knows. Its a tricky one if you think about it. Estonias male president has shown great support for the gay community, where as Lithuanias female president saw now problem in legislating against us. In Lithuania it would be illegal to even have conversation like this. So no, I think persons gender or sexuality is not of paramount importance for public office. And for that reason Im also against gender or sexuality quotas (there are some bad apples among gay people too).

Temesta ütles ...

"Could a woman become prime minister or president of Estonia? Could she gather enough public support?"

If Latvia and Lithuania (Lithuania also had female prime ministers) can have a woman as president, then certainly Estonia could, no? :)

Temesta ütles ...

"So no, I think persons gender or sexuality is not of paramount importance for public office."

I don't think it is about gender or sexuality being important, rather about it being not important.
The prime minister of Belgium is gay, and in discussions about him being a good candidate, this fact was totally irrelevant, or as relevant as the fact that his haircolour is black. I think that's nice.

LPR ütles ...

Well said, Temesta. These things should be decided by talent and skills, not hair color.

Just don't color your hair pink while in the office.

So it is kind of relevant that you act professional and do not push your "orange hair agenda" into people's faces too much.

Troels-Peter ütles ...

As for Estonia and the Nordic Council, there is a reason why I see problems on the way.

Since most inter-European economical and labour market issues are being handled by the EU these days, the Nordic Council mostly has the role of a cultural organisation. And the working language is Scandinavian (three dialects).

As such it is similar to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (or the Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa).

It makes sense to have Canada and Belgium as OIF members since French is a minority language here, just as it makes sense to have Finland as a Nordic Council member with its Swedish minority language (and compulsory school subject).

It also makes sense to have Romania and half of Africa as OIF members since French is taught as a foreign language here, just as Iceland is a Nordic Council member with Danish as a school subject.

But Estonia where no Scandinavian variety is spoken except for 200 Swedish-speakers on Vormsi and Noarootsi, and where no Scandinavian is taught in the school system, doesn't come across as an ideal member. Delegates would have to bring interpreters to meetings and to have all the documents translated.

I know I'm not taking into account the major historical differences between the Nordic Council with its foundation in older history and culture and the OIF/CPLP with their foundation in colonialism - but all three are very centred on language, either as an objective in itself or as the medium of their other working areas.

Marko ütles ...

LPR, yes, you're spot on. If you're ginger, you're ginger. Problems arise only if you are told to colour them black, or blonde or whatever or refused to work at Macdonalds, as ginger hair and food dont mix. On that note, has anyone checked the Welcome To Estonia website under gay traveller section. I had a good laugh after reading it. Basically it says how tolerant Estonians are and then it advises you to keep away from Russian speaking areas, which is like half of Tallinn. And a cherry on the cake being - you should be okay, as long as you dont act flamboyant and dramatical. Which in English is the wider definition for being gay. Its like saying, gay travellers are welcome as long as during their visit they turn straight, lol.

And I should add this:

Vabana võid, käia püstipäi
Vabana võid, olla nii kuis näid

Theres no agenda in it, or have I totally lost the plot?

Giustino ütles ...

But dont you think that Pullerits goes a tad too far?

Of course. That's why I wrote "*I* even understand ..." Meaning that I usually disagree with him.

If Latvia and Lithuania (Lithuania also had female prime ministers) can have a woman as president, then certainly Estonia could, no? :)

Still waiting ...

But Estonia where no Scandinavian variety is spoken except for 200 Swedish-speakers on Vormsi and Noarootsi, and where no Scandinavian is taught in the school system, doesn't come across as an ideal member. Delegates would have to bring interpreters to meetings and to have all the documents translated.

Do Greenland or Iceland have a preponderance of Swedish speakers? Or the Faroese? There are a lot of people who speak Swedish in Estonia, Troels, either for historical reasons, but usually because they have studied or worked with Swedes. You are probably right that it shouldn't be a full member, but I could see it moving up to associate member, like the Greenlanders and Faroese.

Marko ütles ...

I agree with Troels. Nordic Council is like early EU. It has no intention to expand and EU provides us with necessary platform for further integration and increased trade anyway. Besides, there would be considerable cost attached when joining. What would be the benefits, reminds unclear. Estonians are Northern European people anyway, we do not need to buy a tshirt to express that. In fact its pretty vulgar, I think, to request this membership. We are not that kind of people, my dad would say. And I would leave it as that.

Temesta ütles ...

Estonia did already once apply for membership but didn't receive it? Don't confuse Nordic with Northern Europe. Nordic refers to a cultural/political region/unit, while Northern Europe refers to geography.


Troels-Peter ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Troels-Peter ütles ...

"Do Greenland or Iceland have a preponderance of Swedish speakers? Or the Faroese?"

Yes - only, their dialect of Swedish is called Danish. In those places it's a compulsory school subject.

My point being (I'm sorry if it wasn't entirely clear) that Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are dialects of a single language and therefore can be - and is - used as a working language.

Which dialect the non-Scandinavian speaking areas have a preponderance of is less important (for what I know they all might benefit from switching to Norwegian).

"There are a lot of people who speak Swedish in Estonia, Troels, either for historical reasons, but usually because they have studied or worked with Swedes."

Yes, I met a few, and I find it admirable how quite a few speak Swedish. I still see quite a gap, though, between this state of things and Finland, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands where Swedish/Danish a school subject for everyone.

"You are probably right that it shouldn't be a full member, but I could see it moving up to associate member, like the Greenlanders and Faroese."

I could imagine that too, especially if knowledge of some form of Scandinavian was to become more widespread. How I wish that the coastal Swedes hadn't left...

Troels-Peter ütles ...

PS: By "their dialect", I mean their variety of Scandinavian taught in school, of course. Their respective mother tongues are another matter.

Marko ütles ...

Troels, why would you even wish something like that to anyone? These people were fleeing the country to save their lives. It didnt come across very nice... I wish the decendants of original coastal Swedes and Baltic Germans would return as they are both equally important minorities to Estonia in a cultrual sense and first and foremost, because this is their country too.

But I dont understand one thing. Why are you guys trying to sell Estonia to Sweden? Why dont you and try sell Sweden to us? I havent still figured out whats so good about Nordic Council? I know that some exporters might find it easier to export, as the term Nordic is a kind of a brand name, that the Swedes are milking extensively by the way. But its not copyrighted and it is also our heritage, so why cant we just use it anyway? So, please sell it to me, as to an average Estonian.

Troels-Peter ütles ...

Yes, I know the history of the Estonian Swedes and why they left.

So maybe I should have put it: "How I wish that the conditions in 1940 had been different so the Swedes hadn't been forced to leave". Better?

As for selling Estonia to Sweden, I'm afraid I'm not the right person to ask. I'm a Dane with a quite limited knowledge of the corporative world. I know that Swedish companies are expanding there (which is selling Sweden to Estonia in a way, I suppose), but maybe you can enlighten me first as to what's going on?

"I havent still figured out whats so good about Nordic Council?"

I'm not sure there is something inherently good about it. It's just a council working in Scandinavian, and it mainly deals with cultural issues. Maybe others can tell what it looks like from the outside?

No, "Nordic" is not copyrighted, and I don't think anyone is trying to copyright it, certainly not the Nordic Council. They just go by their daily business in Scandinavian like the Organisation de la Francophonie does in French.

There does, however, seem to be some linguistic/historic consensus as to how far the Nordic sphere extends, and as far as I can see, Estonia is sort of on the edge here. So is Orkney-Shetland and the German Land of Schleswig-Holstein by the way, and they occasionaly use the Nordic brand.

Doing that and being a Nordic Council member are two different things, though.

If the Nordic brand is not used more in Estonia than it is, I don't think the reasons lie outside but rather inside Estonia. Are we dealing with an identity question here? Again, maybe you can enlighten me as to the degree of Nordicness of Estonian identity?

LPR ütles ...

Ahem, let me ask you guys this ... are Russians Nordic? I see there is a city up there on the map, called Murmansk ... are the inhabitants of that city not norsk? Is it about latitudes or is it about attidudes?

Marko ütles ...

I think yes, its to do with identity. Estonians are Põhjamaalased, and that settles it for me and many others. I remeber back in my early 20s I was on the night out in England and just met someone and somehow we ended talking about where I was from, and what Estonia is like as a country. I simply said its nordic, in reference to culture, the northern lights, the sauna, art and design, language spoken being related to the people inhabiting the high-north etc. Then this guy just asked me to say something in Estonian, like good night or something. And when I said Head ööd, then that was it. Sounds nordic to me, he said, and the matter was settled. For good. Thats how simple this whole issue is. You are what you are. Sometimes it just feels that some people in Estonia are a bit shy about it. Its as if they are waiting for approving nod from the Swedes. But they shouldnt, as Swedes have no monopoly on our heritage or what we think about where do we belong in this ever globalizing world.

So, yes, there are inner insecurities people should just get over with. And this, lets call it yearning, for the membership in the Nordic Council feeds in to that.

And I can also see that it was relevant in the 90s, as back then we could have really done with an helping hand even in terms of having a shoulder we could find some sort of comfort from. But it was not meant to be. And as of now, it has lost its appeal and I cant think of any practical reasons for joining. What would it give us, in real terms? More cultrual exchange? Theres plenty of that already. Only country that went the extra mile when we were in a bit of a need was Finland. Finns were there when everyone else decided to wait and see what happens. I think further integration with Finns should be the priority, and Scandinavians should be dealt with as we do with our Baltic neighbours. Close but not familiar.

With regards to the Swedes, well, general public is not impressed. They have managed to turn the term foreign investor, in to a bit of a dirty word in this country. Working for a Swedish company usually means low wages, bad conditions, attitude issues from upper management, in a word they have not managed to grasp our way of doing things. I would also put some of the blame on our own government. It is their job to make sure that our way of doing things, remains the right way of doing things in this country. They have allowed the Swedes to distort the market, and people arent over the moon about it, to be honest.

Marko ütles ...

I would also be interested about what Giostino makes of it all. I mean I was born and bread in Viljandi. I do not speak any Scandinavian. Yet, if I would travel thousand miles north from Oslo, I would be greeted by people I would not have too much difficulty to talk to. Speaking to a Sami would be like talking to a Setu or a Finn, just a kind of different Estonian dialect. Not to mention the Sami are the indigenous people of Scandinavian peninsula.

Its just theres something sinister about how they treat us Baltic-Finns at Nordic Council. Your kids, Giuostino, will be able to speak with original native Scandinavian people without learning their language at school, yet the Germanic Scandinavian settlers wouldnt consider them anything even remotely related or shall I say equak. Why do you want us to be part of such an organisation?

No offence, Troels. But I think you are right. In a year 2012, we are likely to be more different than we have ever been in a written history.

Troels-Peter ütles ...

That's quite interesting - and enlightening too.

I hope I'm not being too confusing when I sometimes refer to Danish as a kind of Swedish or vice versa. Basically we all speak aberrant varieties of Norwegian.

And maybe speaking Scandinavian is what the - pretty powerless - Nordic Council is about.It might be deemed exclusive, but not more so than the Organisation de la Francophonie.

And it's easier to define than Nordicness. At least I've heard several opinions on Estonian Nordicness here at Giustino's blog.

I don't question that one can feel Nordic without speaking Scandinavian. Many Finns are actually against Swedish as a compulsory school subject and don't feel less Nordic for that.

But when it comes down to practicalities there are many things one would not be able to in Scandinavia without it, i.e reading the literature (also non-fiction) without translation, reading the written media, using the Scandinavian educational systems, settling in Scandinavia to work without a language course - even participating in a conversation with more than two people.

So as far as I can see there still is a difference between a broader Nordic identity or heritage and the more practical Scandinavian Nordicness embodied by the Nordic Council.

Heritage might not be enough here. I think the council is simply concerned that it will not be undermined by language matters.

But yes, maybe some sort of associate membership?

Giustino ütles ...

I think the point of the post was that Sweden and Estonia are sort of in the same boat -- they are both relatively marginal northern countries, stuck complaining about the "brain drain" to the US, UK, etc. One way to overcome this marginalization would be to band together, which is kind of what happened with Skype - Danish, Swedish entrepreneurs, Estonian development team.

Another example of such regional synergy -- to use an overused word -- is "Purge" a book authored by a Finn of Estonian background about events in Estonia that won the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2010. It is sort of exemplary of the flow of ideas and history between different countries in the neighborhood. But if Oksanen had been born in Haapsalu instead of Jyväskylä, she wouldn't have been eligible for that prize. I think that's unfair.

The Nordic Council members certainly benefit from Estonian talent and ideas, but do they give Estonians the same opportunities they give each other?

I didn't raise the issue, by the way. It was just those comments from my Swedish colleagues that brought it to mind. I haven't thought about this identity stuff in some time, probably because it's not that important anymore. In the early years when Estonia was trying to "brand" itself as not being some post-Sov shithole (and parts of it still are) and position itself for EU membership, the "N word" came in handy.

Giustino ütles ...

Another quick story -- I was in a hotel in Helsinki recently and filled out a form that was available in Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic (and English). And I thought, Estonians are Finland's neighbors, one of the largest minorities, actually, and yet Icelanders (of all people) have the right to services in their native language, just because they are a member of the special club? Kind of weird. I imagine it would be easier to provide services in Estonian than in Icelandic in Finland.

I agree with Marko, it's tacky to want to be in some group just to prove to yourself that you are something that you claim to be (and indeed many people say that you are) ... but the underlying issue isn't about identity, it's about keeping a marginal region afloat among the world's big economies.

Troels-Peter ütles ...

The above was a sort of an answer to your 3.40 comment. This is to your 9.16 comment.

As for Sami being intelligible to an Estonian I'm afraid that you might overestimate it. Actually Sami itself is several partly mutually unintelligible languages, so I would hardly compare that to Scandinavian.

As for who is the original population in Scandinavia, we don't actually have any written sources mentioning Sami settlement in the southern part, and archaeology doesn't tell us anything. We can deduce that the Finnic languages probably came from the east and the Germanic from the south, but calling Germanic speakers settlers in the whole peninsula, if by settlers you mean speakers of another language settling Sami-speaking areas, is not supported by empirical data.

Anyway, that's of academic interest only (and need I say that language does not necessarily equal people?). As I said, I think it's mostly about the Nordic Council having Scandinavian as a working language and not wanting that undermined. Without speaking on behalf of it I'm pretty sure I can assure you that the Nordic Council does not have a sinister plan to treat Finnic language speakers badly.

Working in one language doesn't mean that an organisation sees others as less than equal, only as different.

More different than ever in written history? I don't know. How do you measure it?

Temesta ütles ...

But what motivation did the Nordic Council give for not taking as Estonia as a member? Was it only about Estonians not knowing Scandinavian languages well enough?

Troels-Peter ütles ...

"One way to overcome this marginalization would be to band together".

Yes, I can see what you mean. Now I'm wondering if that wouldn't actually demand a new organisation. Maybe some parallel organisation less centred on language. Personally, I would like to keep the language-centred organisation the way it is, but I can sure see the relevance of fighting brain drain as well.

As for Oksanen, yes that would have been unfair. But it might also be considered unfair to have a prize encompassing Finnish Finland instead of focusing on Scandinavian-language literature. No matter where you draw the line of an organisation, some end up at the margin and get treated unfairly. I'm not sure that can be different. If you accept Estonia, how about Latvia etc.?

In a way that also goes for Scandinavian countries benefiting from Estonian ideas. Everybody benefits from everybody else's ideas, and yet some form organisations with a narrower scope. I'm not sure how it can be different. Where to draw the line? It's a hard one.

If you found an organisation based on members having something in common, you will have to decide at some point how much they should have in common. In this case, language is important, so that's where they chose to draw the line.

One can call the Nordic Council and the OIF and the CPLP and the Commonwealth of Nations (or the EU for that matter) special clubs, or maybe one can avoid the somewhat sectric-sounding "club" and call them organisations with a certain limited scope. I don't think it's odious to have those.

Somehow they have to delimit themselves somewhere although they get impulses and ideas and literature from everywhere else. How can it be different?

They can make exceptions of course. The Commonwealth accepted Mozambique (a former Portuguese colony), for example, and maybe Estonia has some place in a Nordic Council context. But that might have to be a different Estonia, and that would demand public support from its people.

Marko ütles ...

Troels, as I said, I think you are right. From Estonian perspective, membership at Nordic Council should be last of our worries. Estonians are nordic anyway, so being a member of an organisation that does not necesseraly reflect our values is trivial if not waste of time and resources.

Maybe a pan-Finnic movement would do it for us, dont know. Even if they would ask us to join tomorrow, and that would be put on a referendum, Id vote no. Theres too much water under the bridge to put this one right. So just leave it.

Troels-Peter ütles ...

"But what motivation did the Nordic Council give for not taking as Estonia as a member? Was it only about Estonians not knowing Scandinavian languages well enough?"

The working language(s) sure had some weight, but it might also be due to historical reasons and - I think - considerations about a domino effect: "Then why not Latvia? Why not Lithuania?".

But I know too few details, although I'm old enough to remember the debate. I'm not sure how exactly it was formulated back then.

Temesta ütles ...

"The working language(s) sure had some weight, but it might also be due to historical reasons and - I think - considerations about a domino effect: "Then why not Latvia? Why not Lithuania?"."

I think the Estonians would have come up with enough reasons to keep Latvia and Lithuania out. :)

Temesta ütles ...

I haven been reading some material on the website of the Nordic Council and they put a lot of emphasis on the welfare state, they even call it the 'Nordic welfare model'. Maybe they think that the dominant discourse and practice in Estonia concerning welfare policy is too far removed from the Nordic model.

LPR ütles ...

Estonia ceased to be nordic after they imported all these Russians in. That is the real problem.

That is also why Latvia and Lithuania are not nordics. Much too russified. Bitter truth.

Marko ütles ...

LPR, that would be an advantage, not disadvantage. If the Nordic model would have anything to do with equality and solidarity, we would have been in from 1991. But it is not. And that makes it easy from Estonian perspective. I tought that we have put aside the historic rivalies and competition, but apparently not. Nordic Council has very little to do with cultrual values. They created their own common market in the 50s, and thats what this is about. Its a form of protectionisn and who could blame them? I dont. Its just the way the stir this all, belitteling and putting down - thats the side to Scandinavia we need to really look out for and keep away from.

Since the Viking age all the way through modern high tech economies, we and the Scandinavians have been fierce competiters. We fought over the same booty in the past, now we are also fighting over certain resources. Its about time we hit them back and stand up for ourselves. Nordic Council? Let them keep it and choke on it.

Giustino ütles ...

Estonia ceased to be nordic after they imported all these Russians in. That is the real problem.

Not unless you consider large enclaves of Somalis, Turks, Serbs and other nationalities domiciled in greater Copenhagen to have some intrinsic "Nordic" qualities. A Norwegian threw that in my face once. "What about all these Russians?" "What about all those Somalis?" I asked him. "Oh, but that's different."

As for Oksanen, yes that would have been unfair. But it might also be considered unfair to have a prize encompassing Finnish Finland instead of focusing on Scandinavian-language literature. No matter where you draw the line of an organisation, some end up at the margin and get treated unfairly. I'm not sure that can be different. If you accept Estonia, how about Latvia etc.?

"Purge" was written in Finnish by Finn of Estonian background. There was nothing Scandinavian about it. Nor is there anything Scandinavian about the official language of Greenland, Kalaallisut.

By this way of thinking, Icelanders have certain rights in Finland because their territory was populated by Norse (and Celtic) settlers, who are somehow connected to Finland through the Swedish minority because of [point missing] and Estonia is excluded though its islands were populated by the same Swedish settlers because of [point missing].

Look, all organizations have their idiosyncrasies, I accept it. The "ice hotel" I alluded to in the post was not necessarily the Nordic Council. I think it is more of the concept of "we" among the northern European countries. Estonia is part of the "we" that "we" need to look out for. Sure, we could have Uppsala fighting against Tartu and Turku, etc, etc ... but more tech and knowledge transfer would probably make the whole region more competitive.

Giustino ütles ...

An interesting point is the internal political make up of the Nordic-Scandinavian-whateveryouwanttocallthem countries.

I can see that the liberals in the countries -- the Independence Party in Iceland, Venstre in Denmark, the Moderates in Sweden -- would be keen to make free market Estonia part of their microcosm. But the social democrats, and groups farther left, would probably have been against Laar-era Estonia having anything to do with the union of welfare societies.

Temesta ütles ...

Sweden and Finland are already very competitive, at least according to the Global Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum. In the latest edition they occupy the third and fourth place, that is better than the United States, the UK and Germany. Of all the developed economies, Sweden has performed the best in terms of GDP growth since the start of the financial crisis. But the more co-operation the better.

Troels-Peter ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Troels-Peter ütles ...

"Nor is there anything Scandinavian about the official language of Greenland, Kalaallisut."

No, historically it's a border case as well in this context. I'm not sure the Greenlanders are that keen on being part of it.

"By this way of thinking, Icelanders have certain rights in Finland because their territory was populated by Norse"

I don't think I can follow that way of thinking either. And I really hope I did not give the impression of doing it. As for the thought that settlement history was important, I certainly meant the opposite.

As far as I can see, it's the fact that the working language of the Nordic Council is taught there that allows Iceland and Finland to be members (cf. OIF and CPLP). That's all. It't not about the past, it's about the present. As I said, heritage is not enough.

My longing for the Coastal Swedes was due to the thought that their presence could have made teaching of their language more widespread (Estonia IS an OIF observer). It's not the settlement history that's important, but the fact that Scandinavian is not available to all Estonians. At present.

Allowing only countries where the working language is available to everyone as members of the Nordic Council seems (to me) to be the most appropriate way to delimit it. The least idiosyncratic, if you will. Estonia would form an idiosyncracy – unfortunately. I wish it were otherwise. I would welcome the day where the Nordic Council accepted associate members.

"I think it is more of the concept of "we" among the northern European countries. Estonia is part of the "we" that "we" need to look out for."

I couldn't agree more. That's what made me an Estophile in the first place.

Meelis ütles ...

"That is also why Latvia and Lithuania are not nordics. Much too russified. Bitter truth."
Is Lithuania too russiefied? According to results of 2011 population census ethnic Russians made up in Lithuania only 5,8%.
But Lithuania is Catholic country, and therefore not Nordic.

LPR ütles ...

Meeting Lithuanians in the Russian army 1985-87 I was dumbstruck how "russian" they were. They all spoke russian without the slightest accent. That and their uncouth manners and led me to believe that there was little difference between a russian and a lithuanian.

I spoke with a lithuanian professor who advised Sajudis in the early 90s last night at a social gathering over at a friends place. He lambasted the corruption of the Lithuanian society that has not abated over the last 20 years. I just listened to the guy and did not bring up my personal observation of lithuanians being "russified" after he mentioned that they have less russians than Latvia or Estonia.

Nice guy. Said that the locals shut him out. That sounded familiar as valiseestlased have been sent packing from Estonia as well. They were not part of the local "maffia" and far too educated and well mannered. Võõrad omade seas.

Marko ütles ...

I have come across a number of Lithuanians, in my travels. And yes, they do consider themselves Russian people, but in a Ruthenian sense. They think that they are Russian like people. And whenI reveal that I am Estonian, I have observed two types of behaviour. Older people, the ones who grew up during the Soviet occupation, become very polite and apologetic. Its as if they are a bit ashamed or something. And they tend to speak to me, as they would any other Western person. But people of my generation, who have no personal experience of occupation, have asked me pretty bluntly, why are we speaking in English? As if I should address them in Russian. They can also be a bit irritating, in terms of being way too familiar and intrusive. But after a while, they too will distance themselves.

LPR, I believe that you are not alone. But its more to do with lack of social mobility. To be able to swap casts if one ever wished to. Its like in my family, one has to be born in to it, to be considered to be a full member. I always found it cruel the way they treated my mother, as if she was a lesser being. Cure to these things, in my view, is to talk about them.

Why did you feel that you were a kind of a stranger? Did you experience bullying or did you feel that you were made to act in a way, that conflicted with your inner self, by a wider society? Would you care to elaborate on the subject?

LPR ütles ...

It was just that I stepped out of the matrix ... started seeing things ... questioning ... too much to explain.

All I can say -

Arthur Schopenhauer made me do it ...

Marko ütles ...

Okay. But dont we all have these moments? And as I have observed my own family, there is a proper way of shutting the riff-raff out of your life. Even in Estonia. You just have to be firm. Like, when I decided not to have any form of racism in my inner circle, I just disconnected these sort of friends. Occasionally it may come at a cost, but hey ho. Thats life. In the end of the day, all that matters is what you believe in. If some people find it difficult to deal with, then thats their problem, isnt it?

Anyhow, I hope you found what you were looking for in the US. But not all people in Estonia are not that bad and maybe one day you will find it in yourself to forgive them, get closure and move on. Dont hate, it will harm you more and that would play in to their corner.

LPR ütles ...

Don't get me wrong. I do not hate. Why would you hate somebody who is deeply sick and perhaps dying. Dying from his/her own obtuseness and stupidity. I mean Estonia.

If Estonian elite has basically said "apre' moi - le deluge" that too is sickness. All kind of cynicism is sickness. Wait, I too am cynical and my jokes are cruel. So there you go. I do not pretend to be uncontaminated by all of it or to stand above it. I came from that chesspool of cruelty, and if I say I am healed, I'd be in denial.
Estonia is a dark and sick, sick place. Physically and metaphorically speaking.

I am glad I managed to crawl into sunlight by sheer willpower and intellect, but I keep watching over my shoulder because the horrors I've seen, I cannot shake them. I tremble. Hence, watch me trolling the Esto related sites. Constantly.

Like I said - I am sick. Like all of us.

LPR ütles ...

Btw ... I just picked up couple of "kodueestlased" from the airport like an hour ago and we had time talk on our way from BWI to Virginia suburbs. Guess what we were talking about? Uhuh. How effed up Estonia is. I did not have to say a word really ...

I just let them vent ... You let sick people tell their story. No need for me to pile on in any way You just listen.

And listen I did.

Leon Redbone providing the soundtrack to our ride and conversation. A night to remember.

Temesta ütles ...


Could you go into more detail about the things that are wrong in Estonia? I am curious.

Marko ütles ...

Temetsa, you are a newcomer to Estonian society. What are your experiences in relation to social mobility, glass ceiling, clickiness? Do you have friends in Estonia in all sections of society, or do you keep within certain class/group? Do you feel comfertable to talk to strangers when youre out and about on your own? Have you excperienced judgement or have some people looked down on you? Have you been dragged into something you never really wanted to be part of? Do you find it easy to walk away from people youd rather have nothing to do with?

Sorry, thats a lot of questions.:) But Im just as curious about your experiences as the ones LPR has had.

LPR ütles ...

Details? You want details. Hahah. You crack me up.

That would make me a writer. Maybe I should start writing in details? Not a bad idea.

Like Vello Vikerkaar. Write in details.


LPR ütles ...

Details ...
eh ...

here, help yourself to details ...


Temesta ütles ...

Marko, I will try to answer your question as soon as possible.

Bernardas ütles ...

Hi, I'm writing to you from Lithuania. I find this blog very nice to read and know about Estonian life. I have to say that most of Lithuanians don't consider themselves related to Russian people. Me and most of young people even can't speak Russian.

I just can't stay silent about the gay situation in Lithuania.
Actually we have never had a bill to make homosexuality an offense. We even have a member of parliament who is gay. There is also a member of parliament who turned out to be radically against homosexuality. And they never had a fight at work place :)

The bill you might be referring to is generally for protection of children from negative information in public media during day time, including propagation of physical and mental violence, drugs, bullying for sexual orientation, religion, race, nationality, agitation for early sexual relations as well as for homosexual, bisexual and polygamic relations.

There's nothing illegal about being homosexual in Lithuania.

Rainer ütles ...

"I just can't stay silent about the gay situation in Lithuania."

The situation in Lithuania must be very gay indeed :)

I don't mean to make light of the issue, it just was on offer as if on a silver platter.

Marko ütles ...

Well, the way it comes across, they are trying to silence a section of society. Its as if they are buying for some time, to let the next generation to sort it out. Conservatives introduced similar legislation in the 80s Britain. We all know now where it ended up, in the dustbin of history, that is. I mean, what sense does it make to crack down on homophobic bullying, by banning gay people to express their views on the matter?

Id rather put up with the filth and hatered from people like Vosa, Poder, Helme and Pullerits. And to have an opportunity to defend myself by expressing my own opinion on it. I think freedom to speak is too important for Estonians, thus you would never see something like that introduced in Northern Baltic. And despite people I mentioned earlier, Im a proud to be Estonian for the mere fact that in Estonia, we can.

Marko ütles ...

Estonia does many things differently than its neighbouring countries, if I think about it. For example when Finns banned begging and sent many Romanian travellers packing, I found it shocking. Again, nothing like that is very unlikely to ever happen in Estonia. We are not just that kind of people, I think. Its like, if you compare Britain and France. Both Western European countries, a lot of similar shared history and values. But very different approaches to certain social issues. While the French deport their Romanians and ban symbols of certain religions in public space, Brits do the opposite. They debate their migration policy, poverty related to migrants, social mobility and extending rights to religious minorities. Instead of banning begging, they are looking at ways of helping those people to enter jobmarket. So, you see, there are many ways at looking at these things and when it comes to Estonia, well its an exceptional country, if compared to its closest neighbours.

Temesta ütles ...

We should advise gypsies to move to Estonia instead of France or Finland.
I am very curious how the Estonian state would deal with this issue.

Marko ütles ...

Lol. But they made an official statement on it, after the Finns put them on the ferry and sent to Tallinn. I think it was on the lines of, dont be silly theire just people. It received wide media coverage, just Google it.

By the way, did you know that in 18 hundreds many travellers were allowed to settle in one parish in Northern Estonia. It was a type of a travellers safe haven in this corner of the world. They were given land and extended minority rights. I think the current Roma King in Estonia, comes from that historic parish and descends from those original Roma settlers.

Temesta ütles ...

I didn't find it on google, my Estonian is not good enough, but I believe you.
However, I know that the attitudes of the Estonian state and public towards immigration are not very positive. If businesses are restricted in attracting highly educated workers from outside the European Union, I doubt that an influx of poor gypsies from other EU states would be received with open arms.

Marko ütles ...

Oh dear. Temetsa, you need to chuck yourself in there. Learn some more Estonian. :). You sound like a really interesting person, it would be a shame if you couldnt share your thoughts with your Estonian friends, or worse not to be able to make new friends solely because language barrier.

Back on the subject. These things can change over night, you know. When I was a youngster even the Finns subjected Estonian migrants to their immigration quotas. Seems unthinkable now, I know, but thats how it used to be. And it changed just like that. Obviously migrants are not greeted with open arms in any country. Even the ones that claim they do, like Australia and US, you will still find some pockets of resistance. That too, is only natrual. I think migration will be debated fiercly in coming years and gates will be if not opened, then widened for sure.

There has always been prejudice towards travellers all across Europe. And some might as well be self inflicted. But a persons wealth or creed are the last things we look at when we meet someone new in pub, for example. Why should that form a basis for popular opinion, or worse for policy?

Temesta ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Temesta ütles ...

I can assure you that I am very busy studying Estonian, it is just a language that takes a lot of time to master.

And in some aspects Estonia is more open towards immigrants (from other EU memberstates) than Belgium, for example. When my girlfriend moved to Belgium she had to find a job within three months, which luckily she managed to do, or she would have had to leave the country or marry me. :)
But, being a EU citizen in Estonia, having a job is not a precondition for receiving a residence permit (apparently there are no requirements at all). Now I also participate in the national health insurance and the töötukassa pays my language courses. So that's one thing less to worry about.

Marko ütles ...

Oh, thats nice. I might have to ask you for some tips, as we plan to move to Estonia next year. My partner, being English, would need all the help he could get. And me being never familiarised with the paperwork, tootukassa, bank accounts etc for another EU national. Any advice would be appreciated. Is there a website I could look in to?

Temesta ütles ...

The procedure for EU citizens is very easy. You register at your local government in Estonia and they will give you a paper proving that you are registered there. The only document that you need to register is a passport or identity card from your country of origin. With this paper you go to a police station (Politsei- ja Piirivalveamet) where you apply for an identity card. Within a few weeks you will get an email to inform you that you can pick up your identity card.
I could register at the töötukassa even before I registered myself as living in Estonia, my Belgian passport was enough for this. My konsultant informed me that I could apply for a language course and I could choose between some schools and programs. I didn't had to pay anything, the school and töötukassa arranged this with each other.
Health insurance you get if you have an Estonian id-kaart and are registered at the töötukassa. You ask your konsultant and he will arrange it.
Opening a bank account is also very easy. I did this before I was registered as living in Estonia.

It was really easy, no bureaucratic nightmare like when my girlfriend registered in Belgium. I don't know about any websites but I assume there must exist some information online.
Just ask me if you have more questions.

Marko ütles ...

Could you give me any details about language courses? Ive been trying to teach him, but its quite difficult, as we are in English speaking environment only. Got all the books from Amazon, mind you half of them ended up in a bin straight away as they were based on American English, so he actually had to translate American in to English and then to Estonian and it all got a bit too much :). We have got like stickers on everything in our house, and he does text me in Estonian and uses Google translate for Facebook and news. We even watch Kattemaksukontor together, lol. But its not enough.

Do they start teaching it from the very basic level, or is it more advanced? Does the teacher speak good enough English? What age group are other students in your class and what time of the day are the classes held?

Temesta ütles ...

Marko, you can email me at temesta8ATgmail.com and I'll provide you with details about language courses. :)

Mardus ütles ...

@Marko, LPR
"a far more popular openly gay presenter in ERR"

This presenter was outed at least twice: first with a photo in a gossip rag a few years ago, and then very recently when a female colleague who is not in her first youth anymore outing him live on tv. That was like Anderson Cooper being outed by Laura Schlessinger (or Ricki Lake, or something), and our presenter not having choice anymore in how to deal with the situation of his private life being divulged. Although I do recall him once really letting his guard down when interviewing an arm wrestler.

(Strangely, I am of opinion that Schlessinger and Lake both have quite a bit more class, even despite the former peddling conservative family values, for example).

As far as I know, our protagonist has neither confirmed nor denied his sexuality, and so it remains a matter of private life. I remember the incident received positive comment feedback at elu24 (didn't check Delfi).

Võsa seems like a combination of Bill O'Reilly or Jerry Springer for the hicks.

On Swedes and how it relates to standing on our own wrt to not being in the Nordic Council:
"Standing on our own" ended in 1940, and Estonia is now one of the most-integrated EU countries.

Marko ütles ...

Well, during the War, we put our money where our mouth was. We sent voluntary units to help the countries in question. And what happened to these men and their families? Whenever we have been asked to go the extra mile, we have done so. As it stands currently, with our demographics and economical situation, they expect us to take huge risks by accepting the extreme left as a political norm so that we could conform with their image and maybe only then they might consider us joining. But thats not what being a member is about, in my view. Estonia, in no doubt, will evolve to that direction anyway, but all in good time.

Meanwhile, we are nordic people. And not just the stereotypical herring-eating, vodka-drinking, sexual-deviant, nature-loving, sauna-obsessed way. Thats apparent to anyone anyway:). Estonian nordicness is not in the Ikea like brands. Its in our cultural DNA. And no Svensson, Fritz or Vassili will tell me who I am inside, no offence was meant.

Temesta ütles ...

"As it stands currently, with our demographics and economical situation, they expect us to take huge risks by accepting the extreme left as a political norm so that we could conform with their image and maybe only then they might consider us joining."

Extreme left? Are you serious? :) As an Estonian you should know what Extreme left really means, so I think it is strange that you just parrot right-wing rethoric about the welfare state.

Strangely enough, the economies of the Nordic (council) countries, with their high levels of taxation and high social expenditure, are the most healthy and competitive economies in Europa.

Marko ütles ...

Sorry, might have get carried away:). I do not position myself on the right-centre-left scale. But if I do not like any of their policies, I will say it out. And I do dislike extremes. I just think that, as people in economic sense, we are more like Germans and less like Swedes. The poor must be subsidised, but people should never made dependant on handouts. Its horrible what goes on in parts of Britain at the moment. Ive met people who have not been at work for three generations. Pumped up with methadone or cheap alcohol, locked away in their slum like estates. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose. But the desperation, misery and the share hopelessness is unreal. And it is very difficult to put right. You get less of that in Sweden, I must admit but the high living standard is relatively recent. Do be honest, I dont know:). I suppose you are right, but theres also a lot of wrong in that right. Do you know what I mean? Do you think we are smart enough to avoid the bad stuff and only implement the good?

And you must remember that Estonia has always been extremely capitalist in the past. We are a trading nation and our wealth lies with the trade. That also means a lot of ups and downs. As individuals, I think, we must accept that. There will always be boom and bust, in Estonia. How, then, do you build welfare state around that, while borrowing is not an option, and maintain that?

Temesta ütles ...

"I just think that, as people in economic sense, we are more like Germans and less like Swedes. The poor must be subsidised, but people should never made dependant on handouts."

Germany and Sweden are not so different in this. Benefits for long-term unemployed are comparable in both countries:

('Over a five-year period following unemployment, 2001-2010')

Also according to data from eurostat, spending on unemployment and housing and social protection is comparable: 2,7% of GDP for Germany and 2,5% of GDP for Sweden. The numbers are from 2009:

http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-SF-12-014/EN/KS-SF-12-014-EN.PDF (page 5)

It is also interesting to note that, in total (pension, disability, health care,...) both Germany (30,1%) and Sweden (31,5%) spend about the same % of GDP social protection, so the Germany welfare state is not much smaller than the Swedish one.

Maybe then the way they deal with the unemployed is different? In Germany benefits are still high in a European perspective, but I know that there's a very strict monitoring of the activities of the unemployed, and they can be forced to accept jobs. About Swedish policy I know less, but it has a centre-right government for a decade now, so I don't expect them to be so soft.

"How, then, do you build welfare state around that, while borrowing is not an option, and maintain that?"

Through higher taxation of the rich of course. In Estonia the income tax stays 21%, even if you earn thousands of euros each month. In Sweden the highest income tax rate is 56%, in Germany it is 47%. This is mainly an ideological choice. Well, it may not be wise to suddenly raise taxes to such a level in Estonia, but do you think that the Estonian economy would collapse if the highest earners would pay for example 25% or 30% (which is still very low in a European perspective) instead of 21%? But this flat tax has an almost holy status for the right in Estonia.

Concerning your remark about trade: both Sweden and Germany are also very dependent upon trade and they don't rely on borrowing for financing their welfare states. Sweden has had budget surplusses for twenty years and it's government debt has been decreasing fast and is now among the lowest in Europe. By the way, the Estonian economy was not so volatile because of trade. The huge recession in 2008-2009 was mainly caused by the sudden stop of the inflow of foreign money and the collapse of the housing bubble.

Temesta ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Temesta ütles ...

Clarification: It is not my opinion that Estonia should follow the Swedish or German model. I just want to say that it is not impossible or necessarily harmful for the economy , if the welfare state in Estonia would be expanded.

Temesta ütles ...

It is also interesting to see how, since the start of the financial crisis, the expenditure of the Estonian government as a % of GDP, is not so far removed anymore from Swedish levels (because of the decline of the private sector, tax increases, and the increased use of EU structural funds).


Look also at the significant difference with Lithuania. In terms of government expenditure, Estonia has certainly become more Nordic. :)