Securing Energy for the Future

There’s been some evolution in how the Baltic Sea states are dealing with the Russian-German pipeline agreement, whereby Russian will provide central Europe with energy, bypassing more traditional conduits through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, prompting protests from those governments, especially Poland and Lithuania.

According to the Nordic Council, increased energy cooperation was a focal point of a joint meeting of Nordic and Baltic prime ministers this week in Copenhagen:

Energy co-operation across the Baltic Sea was an important theme at the meeting of Nordic and Baltic Prime Ministers, 30 October. The Baltic countries are busy emerging from their ‘energy isolation’ thanks to power cables to Finland, Poland and Sweden.


The issue of the power cables from Estonia to Finland and from Lithuania to Poland and Sweden was also discussed at the meeting. The Baltic States want to break their isolation as far as energy is concerned – and may even build a new nuclear power plant together.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also offered a ‘European’ integration solution to the ‘pipeline dilemma’ facing the Baltic Sea countries during a meeting with Polish PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed Monday she would push for Poland and the Baltic states to be linked to European Union natural gas and electricity grids in order to supply energy in case of future cut-offs from countries such as Russia.


“We agreed to discuss energy supply … in the sense that we create a common European energy market in both electricity and natural gas supply and that naturally Poland and the Baltic states must have access to the European gas markets,” said Merkel.


Merkel admitted that fully connecting Poland and the Baltic states to EU energy grids, especially the gas grid, would be “difficult” but that she expected initial decisions to be made at an EU summit hosted by Germany next March.

I am not sure how this all going to work out, but it’s nice to see some solutions in the pipeline.

Estland versus Estonia

So I went to the post office the other day to mail a letter to Estonia. Sometimes the employees of the United States Postal Service know that it’s in Europe. But then there are the others who think it’s another oddly named city in the State of New York, like Astoria or Fredonia. I have to tell them it’s in Europe, and sometimes I wish Estonia used it’s ‘other’ official international name – Estland – more often.

See, you can tell that ‘Estland’ is a country. The -ia suffix just makes it sound like a province, like Bavaria, Wallachia, Carpathia. Sure there are some provinces with the -land suffix, but over all, it could help Estonia stand out just a bit more if it wasn’t just another tiny piece of land in a sea of Eastern European “ia” lands. The “land” suffix puts you in competition with Iceland, Finland, Greenland, Poland, Holland, and Switzerland. Not a bad category to be in.

Of course, there’s no sense in doing something so frivolous as renaming your country for the sake of a guy at a US Post Office. But it could make my life just that much easier …

When Estonia was ‘Eistland’

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It’s kind of funny to think that the best name Estonians could come up with for their people until the mid-19th century was maarahvas – the country people. Because if you look at the saga of Olaf Tryggvason, an early Norwegian king who lived in Estonia for some time, the name Eistland is clear to see. In fact, the Icelanders who use the language of the sagas today refer to Estonia by its 1,200 year old name – Eistland.

In some historical references, the term “Estonian Vikings” is used to describe the Eistlandic activities on the Baltic seas during the era of Norse invasions. But really, I think the term ‘pirates’ better suits the situation. Here’s the text from the original Heimskringla sagas, which includes the saga of Olaf.

Þar skildist Ólafr við móður sína, ok tók við honum Klerkon, eistneskr maðr, ok þeim Þórólfi ok Þorgilsi. Klerkon þótti Þórólfr gamall til þræls, þótti ok ekki forverk í honum ok drap hann, en hafði sveinana með sér ok seldi þeim manni, er Klerkr hét, ok tók fyrir hafr einn vel góðan. Hinn þriði maðr keypti Ólaf ok gaf fyrir vesl gott eða slagning; sá hét Reas, kona hans hét Rekon, en son þeirra Rekoni. Þar var Ólafr lengi ok vel haldinn, ok unni búandi honum mikit. Ólafr var 6 vetr á Eistlandi í þessarri útlegð.

Olaf Tryggvason (c. 960 – 1,000 AD) was the great-grandson of Harald Fairhair – the first King of Norway. Due to some typical Viking blood fueding, Olaf had to escape to Novgorod where is uncle was in service to the king. However, he didn’t get there on time.

The journey was not successful — in the Baltic sea they were captured by Estonian vikings, and the people aboard were either killed or taken as slaves. Olaf became the possession of a man named Klerkon, together with his foster father Thorolf and his son Thorgils. Klerkon considered Thorolf too old to be useful as a slave and killed him, and then sold the two boys to a man named Klerk for a stout and a good ram. Olaf was then sold to a man called Reas for a fine cloak.

Reas proved to be a better host to Olaf in Eistland than Klerkon. Together with his wife Rekon and son Rekone, they lived as a family unit until six years later when Sigurd Eiriksson spotted Olaf at a market and bought him back from Reas. Olaf later met up with Klerkon at a market in Novgorod and killed him with an axe. Later they had some beer. And all was right with the world.

For you Estonian readers, there is a version of Olaf’s tale available in Estonian here.

Interest Surrounds Bildt’s Investments, EU Aspirations

Carl Bildt is the latest member of the new Swedish cabinet to become immersed in the critical eye of the media, and — unlike the television fee scandals of two weeks ago — it appears that he may have a genuine ‘conflict of interest.’ It has been reported that Bildt, who appears to have been stereotyped as a rich boy from a wealthy part of Stockholm, has some investments in the Russian energy industry. At the same time, Bildt is possibly debating whether or not he should hang onto his post of foreign minister or assume a higher ranking post in the EU.

Kommersant reports:

Bildt is naturally interested in the success of his business, which means prosperity for Russian natural resources companies. His opponents say this is the reason for the excessively lenient policy of the Swedish foreign ministry towards Moscow.

Urban Ahlin of Swedish Social Democrats believes that Carl Bildt did not give an adequately stiff reaction to the murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Observers note that the new foreign minister is extremely cautious making any statements relating to Russia.

I wrote earlier that the appointment of Bildt was a good thing because he has a first hand relationship of Estonia and could be counted on to support Estonia internationally. Like many great powers, Sweden’s shadow is larger than it’s actual body. Here I am in New York buying IKEA furniture and driving a Volvo. Roads and plazas are named all over the US for Swedish diplomats like Raoul Wallenberg and Dag Hammarskjold – though none have been named for Hans Blix yet. It seems that Bildt might also be eyeing a similar international role, beyond Sweden.

As Sveriges Radio International reports:

There’s speculation that Sweden’s new Foreign Minister Carl Bildt may soon be moving on to a top job in the European Union.

The EU Observer says speculation is mounting that the union’s foreign policy spokesman Javier Solana may step down for health reasons. Bildt, along with the former prime ministers of Slovakia and Austria, is named as a top candidate.

According to the EU Observer, insiders say Bildt is not hiding his ambitions to obtain the top job. The foreign minister has recently come under fire here in Sweden because of his financial interests in the Russian company Gazprom, which might be a conflict of interest.

Investments aside, it could benefit Estonia – and the whole Baltic Sea region – to have someone who has personal contacts in these countries in such a post. What do you think – would Bildt as foreign policy spokesman change anything, or would it just lead to more of the same?

Citizenship an Issue … Again

The headline from Interfax reads: “Moscow to back Russians’ struggle for rights in Baltic States – Putin.” How is that news? I’ve been reading this stuff from Interfax and RIA Novosti for nearly two years now, and every few months they run the same headline with the same message.

President Valdimir Putin, addressing the World Congress of Compatriots in St. Petersburg, said: “I cannot fail to mention the well-known fact of mass denial of citizenship rights in Latvia and Estonia. There are about 600,000 so-called non-citizens there, who are permanent residents.”

The Estonian foreign ministry has replied — in English — by updating its tables on citizenship in Estonia. The last update was in April, during a similar anti-Baltic citizenship laws campaign.

According to the ministry, the number of stateless persons in Estonia is down to 8.8 percent of the total population, or 120,511. So far a little more than 4,000 people have received citizenship this year. Over the past five years about 5,900 people have been naturalized per year. So perhaps Ansip was right when he said that this issue would “disappear” by 2015. I don’t know – how do you think this issue will resolve itself?

The Honeymoon is Over

Remember September? Toomas Hendrik Ilves was elected president. Tõnis Mägi sang and it sounded good, even to American ears. News was so slow in Helsinki that they had to run Toomas’ face on the cover of the Helsingi Sanomat. And the media – which was totally biased in his favor, no argument there – showered us with photos of Estonia’s comparatively young president in his smart bow-tie and its attractive first lady who is, ohmygod, only 38 years old! Yeah, I remember that too. Being familiar with the Estonian media, I had a hunch they’d eat the Ilveses sooner or later for lunch, and this week the gloves, so to speak, came off.

The casus belli began with the arrival of Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, Queen of England and Vacationer of Scotland. The Queen’s arrival was symbolic of the fact that Estonia has become Ilvesland, just a “boring, Nordic country” where people pay for parking with their mobile phones, listen to their electronic music in peace, and the Queen occasionally shows up.

However, it was the first lady’s choice in wardrobe that got both Postimees and SL Õhtuleht to run two pieces where fashion designer Kai Saar declared Evelin’s choice in clothing to be a catastrophe.

Õhtuleht has a blow-by-blow account of Evelin’s fashion faux-pas, including the picture of her winter glove [seen above] with the following caption:

TALV TULI OOTAMATULT: Evelini kortsus kindad ja nendega toonilt röökivas harmoonias fuck-me tikk-kontsad.

Yeah, they said that Evelin’s gloves were too wrinkled. And they didn’t match her ‘fuck me’ boots. The article went onto generate 460 comments. Word battles also erupted over her figure. It grew so personal, one had to wonder if they were just setting the agenda for about a month’s worth of discussion in a Women’s Studies course.

President Ilves didn’t get off without his own small dose of public scrutiny. In his case, he committed the most grievous error. He stuck his hands in his pockets again.

But that’s all ok and there’s no reason to be ashamed of Estonia’s head of state. Everyone knows that it’s nearly impossible to top the outlandish outfits Her Majesty has worn over the years. And the British press has similarly shown her no mercy. The only difference is that the Brits didn’t elect her. They’re stuck with her just because the House of Hanover replaced the House of Stuarts back in 1714. Their head of state is hereditary. The next British head of state will be Charles. His duchess will be Camilla. In other words, there’s no reason to get too upset over some wrinkled gloves and fuck-me boots.

Western Europe Wakes Up to Putin

It looks like tiny Estonia won’t be the only country feeling the Kremlin’s heat from here on out. Unable to divide and conquer [ie: cite the oppression of Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia] the Russian answer to a semi-united front from the European Union appears to be to spread the criticism, to the farthest reaches of the continent. As the Guardian reports:

Mr Putin’s sarcastic anti-Spanish outburst at a dinner on Friday with EU leaders in Lahti, Finland, was accompanied by criticisms of Italy’s mafia problems.

His comments, first reported in the Guardian, made the front page of Spain’s El País newspaper yesterday.

Mr Putin pointed to the southern resort town of Marbella, where the mayoress and former mayor have been jailed and thousands of illegal homes face demolition, as well as other Spanish corruption cases.

El País said the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, had been “perplexed” by the comments. Italy’s Romano Prodi had been left “without words” when Mr Putin pointed out that his country had invented the mafia concept, the newspaper said.

In a way, Russia’s new “voice” towards Western European criticism is a positive for EU-Russian relations. Despite the support of Mediterranean EU chiefs like Jose Barroso, Javier Solana, and Romano Prodi, it has been my impression that EU-wide interest in the eastern flank of the country had more to do with fears of Polish plumbers than the EU-Russian relationship. Now EU citizens from as far away as Napoli and Marbella can indulge themselves in their very own “Putin experience.”

From what I gather, with Schroeder gone, Putin’s last ally in the EU is septegenarian Jacques Chirac. He was the one who advocated for a ‘light touch’ with regards to the Georgian-Russian issue. So perhaps we should all start thinking about the French presidential elections next year. The Chirac successor seems like a key piece of the puzzle in determining how the big players in Europe will react to Putinism, as does whomever succeeds Tony in the UK. The next two years should make for splendiferous blog postings.

The Intriguing World of Väliseestlased

When you are a foreigner in an unknown country, things can get interesting. And things have certainly been interesting for the thousands of brave souls who have left their “isamaa” to move to places like London or New York or even neighboring Finland.

Three recent cases showcase the interesting scenarios. One involves a young woman in Finland who is at the center of a political scandal involving the former party secretary of the right-wing Kokoomus party.

Harri Jaskari [pictured] recently stepped down amidst allegations that he was involved in violent behavior against a former Estonian girlfriend and perhaps acted as a “pimp,” whereby she assumed the position of “ho.”

The whole thing is so messy I feel guilty dragging you into it, dear readers:

[Jaskari] also gave a detailed account of his relationship with the Estonian woman who accuses him of violence and pimping.

The two had met in Tallinn in the spring of 2003. The relationship ended in early 2005, but the woman had left some of per property in Jaskari’s Helsinki apartment. Jaskari says that early this year the woman “showed up again”, and he gave her the key to the apartment so that she might move her things out.

In August Jaskari was contacted by police who told him that the woman was accusing him of violent behaviour, and that the police suspected her of selling sex, using their former home as a base. If Jaskari allowed her to use his apartment for such activities, it could be seen as a form of procurement.

Suspicions of physical violence concerned the time that Jaskari and the woman were together. He says that he had defended himself “in a few situations”, but would not go into detail about any actual events.

OK, that sort of made sense. But then the Estonian woman started changing her story:

A former Estonian woman friend of Harri Jaskari, who last week stepped down as party secretary of the National Coalition, was quoted as saying by Estonian daily Eesti päevalehti on Tuesday that the day after reporting Mr Jaskari to the police she had withdrawn her accusation that Mr Jaskari had procured women.

But the woman, identified only by a Christian name, continues to charge Mr Jaskari with assault.

“He throttled and beat me and chased me with a knife. The police often came round to our place because of it,” she told the paper.

“He is a pathologically jealous man.”

Maybe he is, may he isn’t. I have a feeling this is a toxic break-up being played out in the public eye. The details all seem a bit fuzzy to me.

Anyway, “Eva Roosmaa” – as she is identified in the Finnish press – isn’t the only at the center of an interesting situation. Here’s another young Estonian drawing attention to himself.


Just over a hundred players entered for this year’s U.K. Poker Open, sponsored by – Pacific Poker with a prize pool of almost GBP 300 000.

The grand prize of $134 000 was taken by Talinn, Estonia player Marek Kolk aka “The Maverick,” who has previously been “in the money” at a number of major world tournaments including the last WSOP.

It was a tough tournament – Kolk had to defeat a final table that included five other professional players of the calibre of Roland De Wolfe, Theo Dalton, Dave Clayton and Simon Zack, as well as online qualifier Alan Parkinson. Other notable players who competed include England rugby stars Matt Dawson and Austin Healy, Graeme Dott, Ray Parlour, and Eastenders star Billy Murray.

Finally, and this is my favorite case, Estonian Olympian Kaido Kreen was recently sentenced to three years in prison for stealing mobile phone parts from Nokia. He’s the gentleman to the left in the picture on your right. Luckily, no mobile phone parts fell out of his pocket during the game.

Kaido Kreen was a member of the Estonian beach volleyball team who competed in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Beside the 41-year-old Kreen, the court in Vantaa in the Helsinki metropolitan area handed down jail sentences to two more Estonians for the same offense, STT news agency said. Kaido Tamme, 36, has to spend two years in prison, while the third man whose name was not disclosed got one year.

According to the sentence, Kreen stole more than 600,000 euros’ worth of mobile telephone components from the plant in Salo between 2004-2005. Tamme and the third individual took the stolen components from the plant to Estonia. The court did not bring charges against the five other defendants.

How do you steal 600,000 euros worth of telephone components? How is that possible? I have to hand it to Kreen, he may be a criminal. He may be devious. But he must have some kind of skill set to rip Nokia off that bad. I have images of him loading up his car with spare batteries and next-generation Nokia telephone faces. But I am sure he devised a much more ingenious scheme involving espionage tactics and underground tunnels.

Someone should collect these modern day Estonian folk tales. I think younger generations will treasure them someday.