Estonia’s Second Line

Does it ever seem to you like Estonia’s politics are controlled by a handful of powerful individuals, yet at the same time there is an impressive “back bench” of political players that never seem to rise to the top?

It does to me. For some time now Estonia has been dominated by three men, Mart Laar, who recently assumed the helm of the union of Res Publica and Isamaaliit, Edgar Savisaar, the focal point of Keskerakond, and Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, who stepped into the vaccuum left by Siim Kallas when he moved to Brussels. With the exception of Ansip, both Laar and Savisaar go back at least 15 years in Estonian politics, and it is highly likely that both could regain control of the country several times before the retire.

But what of the other politicians with promise? Are they destined to play a game of musical ministerial chairs ad infinitum? I have to say I was a bit disappointed that Jaak Aaviksoo, the former rector of Tartu University, did not assume the helm of the IRL, when the parties merged earlier this year. I fully understand that Laar – who has had plenty of experience in politics – may have been the more pragmatic choice, but at the same time I was hungry for new blood as I am sure most people are.

And I wonder if a change in party leadership, if Rein Lang, for example, became head of the Reform Party, or if Siiri Oviir ran Keskerakond, would make a difference. Perhaps we would have a better idea about what exactly these parties stand for, beyond who leads them. It is my personal hope that the elections of 2007 will shake the Estonian political process up a bit. I welcome the Rohelised and whatever defections they might bring from parties as diverse as IRL and Eestimaa Rahvaliit. Hopefully a new balance can be achieved that moves beyond the current electoral see-saw.

Seething Bitterness

It’s hard to get a sense of the Russian point of view on Estonia, but quite a few media sources publish Russian news in English, among them Regnum.Ru, which dedicated a lengthy editorial not about the NATO summit in Riga, but about Estonia’s “ethnocracy”:

“One could argue that Estonia has definitely earned the visit: by continuous criticism of Russia in all respects and its active support of the so-called “new democracies” of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldavia,” writes the author, Sergey Artemenko.

“All this is to outline the essential: the easily imaginable joy with which Estonian politicians waited for the proof that, “if anything happens,” the US will not betray Estonia and will not let the events of 1940, when Washington without emotion gave up the Estonian republic to Stalin, be repeated,” he writes.

In recent weeks, the Russian media has had a subtle change of heart over the occupation issue. Prior to Bush’s visit, they almost uniformly mocked the history of the Baltics as recognized by every country in the world except Russia by hiding it in scare quotes. It was “the occupation” or “the so-called occupation.” But since the release of once classified documents by the SVR, the media have invariably recognized that Estonian sovereignty was removed by Stalin. It hasn’t become official yet, but it’s quite a change.

In an echo of what has been to date Baltic history, Russia’s media now freely writes: “In June 1940, Russia accused Estonia of forming a conspiracy together with Latvia and Lithuania against it, and issued an ultimatum, demanding among other concessions that more Soviet troops be allowed to enter the three countries.

In the following month, local communists loyal to the Soviet Union won parliamentary “elections” in all three countries, and in August these parliaments asked the Soviet government for accession to the Soviet Union. As a result, the three states were formally annexed.”

With this final tidbit of history now being processed by Russia’s media, if not its political elite, Regnum’s Artemenko reacts to President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ statement that Russia is “not a priority” for Estonia with jealous hyperbole.

“For the president made it clear that there is no such country as Russia, and problems in relationship with it should not concern the great Estonian democracy, “whose task is to support countries who have chosen the way of independence and democracy and who do not give in to the pressure from some of their neighbors,” Artemenko writes.

Moreover, he is not only displeased, or at least ironic, about Estonia’s changing status and relationship with Russia, but with his fellow citizens’ views on Estonia as well. For Russia’s politicians, he mocks the idea that relations can be normalized with Estonia. “Something else is surprising – the devout striving of a number of Russian politicians and diplomats to pretend that relationship with this country can be normalized. How many more “Bush visits” are necessary to convince some “doves” in the State Duma and foreign ministry that Estonia is not going to fix good neighborly relations with Russia and, especially, respect our national interests?” he writes.

I’d like to interject and ask Mr. Artemenko what exactly Russia’s interests are in Estonia. Russia’s Baltic fleet is based in Kaliningrad, and it has to sail between two old NATO partners – Denmark and Norway – to get out of the Baltic Sea. Russia is building a gas pipeline to Germany. Russia has its own large Baltic ports. So, why, except to satisfy some kind of 19th century geopolitical greed, would Estonia (pop. 1,3 million) be of any “national interest” to Russia? The fact remains that Russia has NO NATIONAL INTEREST in Estonia. But that’s beside the point. Mr. Artemenko goes on not only to point fingers at pragmatic “doves” in the State Duma but to shame Russian businessmen in Estonia, who are becoming “Estonianized.”

“Whatever tales the Russian businessmen say of their influence in Estonia, they will remain fairytales for naïve audience,” Artemenko writes. “All the “influence” and the work of Russian business in the country end with gaining profit and an Estonian citizenship or residence permit, and, consequently, with the Russian businessmen turning into law-abiding Estonian citizens who will not dare to resist this state.”

How one is able to sustain such quiet rage for 15 years is beyond me. Especially over a country like Estonia. It’s just silly. Why waste all your type on something like this?

Bush in Tallinn

I have been alive for 27 years and, of the five presidents I have known first-hand, George W. Bush has not been my favorite. Historically, also, I have to say he would rank near the bottom of my list, somewhere between James Buchanan, who wrung his hands while the Civil War erupted, and James K. Polk, who presided over the “Manifest Destiny” mania that added the northern part of Mexico to the US.

But the presidents I do like have been loathed by many for public and personal reasons. Thomas Jefferson, who imagined a nation of intellectual farmers engrossed in direct democracy at the state level, was staunchly opposed by Alexander Hamilton. Woodrow Wilson, who was the first to imagine “peace without victors” was denied his League of Nations by Henry Cabot Lodge. And Bill Clinton, who I felt did a fair job of representing America, warts and all, was embroiled in controversies related to his personal life.

So it must be said that, while Bush is unpopular at home and abroad, he is still the president of the United States. It would have been swell if Warren G Harding or Calvin Coolidge had managed a trip to independent Eesti in the 1920s. But neither of them – both of whom were also greatly criticized – never made it. It’s a pity too, because the visit of an American president is a great opportunity for a country to introduce itself to America, much like the visit of a British monarch was a great opportunity for Estonia to be seen and heard in the UK. That kind of exposure could have worked wonders in the past.

Tomorrow, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Bush will hold a press conference. Bush will most likely make statements that are cryptic and short [during his recent visit to Vietnam he said: “We’ll succeed unless we quit”] but Ilves, who is among the better orators in Europe, will also hold the podium. He will be seen – and heard – on the news worldwide. I don’t know what he will say, but I do know that it will be unprecedented exposure for an Estonian president.

So the bottom line must be seen as this. Whatever your thoughts on Mr. Bush, any supporter of Estonia can only see this visit as a success for a country that gave Condaleeza Rice anxiety just 16 years ago. In the first Bush White House, such a visit would be seen as a pipe dream. Today, it’s no big deal. And even the Finns are jealous. And please, somebody give W. some Vanilla Ninja kohuke!

Russia Fesses Up Ahead of NATO Summit

That’s Harry Hopkins there, with Winston Churchill – the man who loved Ireland so much. According to the Russian SVR, they occupied the Baltics, but only with the approval from Britain and the US.

The SVR statement says a secret memorandum from the British Foreign Minister in 1942 describes the Soviet presence in the Baltics as “exactly in our interests from a purely strategic point of view.”

It also quotes an agent’s report from the United States in 1942, referring to a presidential aide identified only as Hopkins — apparently Harry Hopkins, a close foreign-policy adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“If the Russians want to have the Baltics after the war, then they will get them, but he does not think the Americans will say this publicly,” the report says, summarizing Hopkins’ position.

This is supposed to take the wind out of the sails of the Riga summit, but at the same time it confirms the truth – that the USSR occupied the Baltics because it saw them as a threat. Willingly joined? See ya later Soviet history 🙂

Today, I applaud the Russians. Open your archives more! Inquiring minds want to know!


Elagu eesti!

For those of you that are interested in this interesting term “occupation”:

Hague Conventions of 1907. Specifically “Laws and Customs of War on Land” (Hague IV); October 18, 1907: “Section III Military Authority over the territory of the hostile State”[1]. The first two articles of that section state:

Art. 42.

Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.

The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.

Art. 43.

The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.

Nordic Council Contemplates "Re-branding" Estonia

When I first changed the tag line of Itching for Eestimaa to: “a blog about the world’s only post-communist nordic country” many anonymous posters came out of the woodwork to verbally cap me in the knees for suggesting that Estonia, neighbor of Latvia and Russia, would have any business selling itself as Nordic rather than Baltic.

Yet, it appears that the Nordic Council is open to such ideas. Tomorrow the council will meet at Tallinn University to discuss how the Baltic Sea region can best be marketed to outside investors during a talk called “Regional Branding – An Asset in Times of Globalisation.”

Estonia’s Minister for Regional Policy, Jaan Õunapuu, and Per Unckel, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, are keynote speakers. Other speakers will be Director Ole Frijs-Madsen, Baltic Development Forum and Director Liisa Hakamies-Blomqvist, from NordForsk.

Bengt Streijffert will talk about the Øresund Science Region between Denmark and southern Sweden, while Katri Liis Lepik will talk about Helsinki-Tallinn Euregio, as examples of the development of smaller regions. The day will conclude with two speakers from Estonia. Jaak Aaviksoo, Rector of Tartu Universitet, will look whether Estonia has an Estonian, Nordic or Baltic identity. The last Estonian parliamentarian, Mark Soosaar, will discuss whether Estonia belongs to today’s global world – with a look to the future.

In my experience as a member of the media that is routinely dealing with regional commercial initiatives, I think it is best to brand your markets from both a large regional-level and then a smaller, local level. So in the case of Estonia, acknowledgement of its membership in the Nordic market would be key for attracting investments – and I think it has been so some regards. But at the same time, promoting specific regions, like Helsinki-Tallinn is also key. For example, I have noticed that Scotland has been able to attract investment and interest by focusing in on its local competencies (which in the case of some industries means Edinburgh and its academic resources) rather than trying to compete solely as a UK market.

However, I think this “local branding” approach tends to favor more unexplored markets. Therefore, in Estonia I would like to see less focus just on Tallinn and more on growing other areas. Increasing investment in Tartu would benefit not just Tartumaa, but also neighboring counties. I also wonder if regional branding has to, in fact, be regional. For example the University of Tartu has many strong ties to the University of Turku and the University of Tampere. Could a “Tampere-Tartu” meme – for example, in pharmeceutical discovery – also work within the context of Nordic regional development?

These are all good questions for the Nordic Council, which apparently is begining to examine ways to sell the post-1991 Nordic market to the world. That will not only benefit Estonia – because the “Nordic” brand means both safe and competitive, but it will benefit the traditional Nordics, which are not growing as fast as Estonia and are reevaluating some of their taxation policies to create new opportunity.

Alternative Routes to Citizenship

There’s a great story about Russian speakers in Latvia in this week’s St. Petersburg Times, and I think it illustrates some ways in which Baltic naturalization policies have failed, particularly in Latvia. It has also got me thinking about solutions to the problems that come with statelessness. But first, an excerpt.

The last Russian tank rolled out of Latvia more than a decade ago. But Inesa Kuznetsova, 75, a resident here for more than 50 years, has little doubt where she calls home.”My address isn’t a city. My address isn’t a town. My address isn’t a street,” says the dressmaker, who arrived from Leningrad during World War II. “My address is the Soviet Union.”

Kuznetsova’s address is, in fact, Bolderaja, a largely Russian-speaking neighborhood on the outskirts of Riga, where a former Russian naval barracks sits empty and signs in the supermarket are in both Russian and Latvian. Here, she inhabits a parallel universe that has little to do with Latvia. She watches a Kremlin-funded television station, eats Russian food, and has no intention of learning the Latvian language — “Why the hell would I want to do that?” — though she says her grandchildren are being forced to do so.

Kuznetsova calls it an “insult” that residents who arrived after 1940, when the Soviet Union occupied Latvia, must now take a naturalization exam to become Latvian citizens. She has not done so, instead pinning her hopes on a new “Russian occupation” of Latvia.

Obviously Kuznetsova’s dream of a reoccupation of Latvia, which I guess would force Vaira Vike-Freiberga to flee one more time while Einars Repse finds himself escorted to a Siberian psychiatric hospital, is scary. And it’s not just scary to Latvians. It’s scary to Swedes, who are haunted by memories of Baltic refugees, and scary to NATO commanders who have sworn to defend the boggy meat in the Baltic sandwich, as City Paper puts it.

But beyond the shock factor, by reading this article I have come to this conclusion. One reason that people like Inesa Kuznetsova still think they belong to the Soviet Union is because they have not yet been invited into Latvia. If Inesa had the right to vote, would she pay more attention to who her president was and what parties were in the Latvian Saema? Maybe she would, maybe she wouldn’t. But she would be forced to accept that she had a genuine relationship with a new state. Latvia. Today she is still stuck in the gray, and will most likely die that way. But for those who would look to prevent the kinds of attitudes that would welcome the destruction of their own homeland, perhaps citizenship could ease the mental transition.

Now Latvia is in a different situation from Estonia because Estonia has naturalized more than half of its non-citizens. There’s still about 9 percent left of the total population to go. Therefore, you could call Estonia’s citizenship policies successful, though they are controversial. But I am considering the idea that granting long-time residents of Estonia – perhaps only people that have been born there, and this INCLUDES those born after 1992 as the current law dictates – citizenship may in the long-term prove beneficial to the survival of the state. By eliminating a subcaste of discontents and by virtue of citizenship forcing them to join in the Estonian dialog, you can basically end that debate.

People in Estonia, and more understandably in Latvia, are worried that by granting citizenship to people that arrived illegally in the period between 1945 and 1991 and their descendants that they will be appeasing the Soviet Russification policies of the 1960s and 70s that led the nationalist backlash that resulted in the reinstatement of independence.

But I think that, at least in Estonia, without the support of Soviet or imperial Russian bureaucracy, this is something that is not to be feared. The false dichotomy of the 1960-90 period, where Estonians rapidly declined as part of the population and Russification policies were enacted at the federal level, is over. The Estonian language is the language of the majority, and in a state that is split 70/30 does it make more sense economically to teach the language of 30 percent to the 70 percent or vice versa?

Politically, those who would suffer the greatest would be right-wing politicians from Estonian people’s parties like IRL. The knee-jerk reaction is that KESK would be able to rely on its ethnic Russian supporters, but I don’t think that’s true either. Surely, the non-citizens of Ida Virumaa would, if granted citizenship, also be inspired to vote for a party like Reformierakond, that wants to make Estonia one of the five richest countries in Europe. Or maybe they would prefer to vote for the Social Democrats or the Greens. Just because KESK has a better ground operation, doesn’t mean it owns the ethnic Russian minority, because beyond being of Russian descent, they are also Estonians. They live there and have a future there, and perhaps they have more to worry about than a dead country their fathers belonged to.

I honestly don’t think that the government will change its policy. It doesn’t have to because the current one is moderately successful. But in light of information like the article about Latvia, I thought I would take the time to discuss other options. What are your thoughts?

Eire and Eestimaa

For those of you who are “new” to Estonia and are English-language speakers looking for a good reference point, I suggest that you view Estonian-Russian relations the way that you may be apt to understand Irish-British relations. Like the Irish state, the Estonian state is founded on an ancient folk culture as opposed to your typical “Treaty of Westphalia”-inspired nation state, which usually had a king or queen presiding over an empire. And like the Irish state, the Estonian state’s drive for independence was initiated by terrible administration by imperial rulers and historic grudges that go back centuries.

In regards to the Second World War, therefore, it is important to remember that just as some Estonians welcomed the German troops following the destruction of their government, annexation of their land, and mass deportations, the Irish people remained neutral, and were not exactly saddened when London was bombed during the blitz. Some Irish privately saw it as just rewards, just like some Estonians may be sympathetic to the Chechnyan cause. And just as the Germans looked to exploit Estonia’s fear of Russia, the Germans similarly looked for partnership with Ireland. German occupation and British occupation were discussed as equally loathsome in the Irish Dail. And Ireland’s neutral posturing went to the point that Eamonn de Valera, the Irish president (pictured), sent his condolences to Germany upon Hitler’s death.

Winston Churchill attacked Irish neutrality during the war, which led de Valera to make the following comments in response:

Mr. Churchill is proud of Britain’s stand alone, after France had fallen and before America entered the War.

Could he not find in his heart the generosity to acknowledge that there is a small nation that stood alone not for one year or two, but for several hundred years against aggression; that endured spoliations, famines, massacres in endless succession; that was clubbed many times into insensibility, but that each time on returning [to] consciousness took up the fight anew; a small nation that could never be got to accept defeat and has never surrendered her soul?

Mr. Churchill is justly proud of his nation’s perseverance against heavy odds. But we in this island are still prouder of our people’s perseverance for freedom through all the centuries. We, of our time, have played our part in the perseverance, and we have pledged ourselves to the dead generations who have preserved intact for us this glorious heritage, that we, too, will strive to be faithful to the end, and pass on this tradition unblemished.

By looking at the way Churchill and de Valera both interpreted history, and therefore the way both leaders saw their countries and neighbors at the same exact moment in time, you can begin to understand why Estonian lawmakers have such a hard time explaining themselves to Russian law makers and vice versa.

Like the Irish under de Valera, Estonians see their history within spans of thousands of years, while England as we know it is not even 1,000 years old yet. What may be the most important moment in one country’s life – perhaps the Russian victory over Germany – is only a wrinkle in time for another culture. I think that anybody that is an outsider to Estonia and is trying to understand the country and its history, can find a worthy metaphor in Irish-British relations. Most metaphors are imperfect, but if you are looking for a baseline, this one could work well.

Party at the SAS Radisson!

Not only is George W. Bush coming to Tallinn on November 27, he’s bringing 1,000 of his best buds with him, many of whom will stay at the SAS Radisson hotel where there is enough space. The Baltic Times reports:

US President George W. Bush, who is scheduled to arrive an a state visit to Estonia on Nov. 27, will be accompanied by nearly 1,000 employees of the US government, newspaper Eesti Paevaleht reported.

To support the historic visit by President Bush to Estonia, up to 1,000 officials of the US government will be working in Estonia to help their Estonian colleagues, spokesman for the US embassy Eric A. Johnson told the newspaper.
He said the US government opted for the Radisson SAS hotel in Tallinn primarily because of the capacity it offers.

“Radisson SAS was one of the hotels of Tallinn that met our requirements in terms of space,” the spokesman said.

Usually when you get 50 Americans in Tallinn, it’s a recipe for trouble. But 1,000?! Estonians will be lucky if nobody dies bungy jumping off the top of the SAS. And giving Bush’s recent electoral troubles, I’m sure he’ll take advantage of a nice hot sauna and the abundance of low-price (non-alcoholic, of course) vodka during his stay.

To make sure nobody drives a Tere! Piim truck accidentally into the lobby of the Radisson, security precautions are being taken.

News agency BNS, reporting on the preparations, says that approaches to hotel Radisson SAS in the centre of Tallinn where the US President and persons accompanying him will be accommodated, will be blocked by concrete blocks and heavy lorries.

Already in August concrete blocks were ordered at several construction materials firms. It is supposed that a protective concrete belt around of hotel will pass a number of streets and sidewalks will be blocked by metal protections. For the period of the US President’s visit to Tallinn two large parking spaces will be closed in the city centre. Residents living in the vicinities of the hotel will be allowed to pass the security posts after they will show there IDs to security guards.

Great Moral Dilemmas of the 21st Century

I know all of you are sick of reading about World War II memorials. It’s sort of played out, but it seems like the Bronze Soldier disease has spread from Tallinn to Moscow, where officials and analysts are now weighing in on the issue like it would make a big difference in their life whether the Bronze Soldier was there or not.

As Interfax reports today, Moscow Theological Academy professor and deacon Andrey Kurayev thinks the Estonian authorities should ‘go all the way and pull down not only monuments, but everything that the ‘occupant’ empires built in their country.’

He thinks they should start with the buildings of the Teutonic Order dominion time, proceed to the time of the Swedish rule, then to that of the Russian Empire, and finish with the Soviet period buildings.

‘As a result, Estonia will get rid of everything the foreign ‘occupant’ powers befouled its holy soil, thus setting up a unique European landscape reserve. The separate Estonian state would be able to develop its absolutely new life on this open field,’ Kurayev remarked.

Let’s be clear here – Andrey Kurayev is a jerk. He’s inferring that there is no organic Estonian civilization, which I think is a buried chauvanistic psychological complex of some in Russia today – that the “Baltics aren’t real countries, anyway.” Although Russian “culture” seems to be perpetually stuck in the 19th century – ballet, thousand-page novels, the Russian Orthodox church – there is still some belief that it is superior to the nordic pagan culture of the Estonians. They’ve got Swan Lake, and Estonia has Runo songs – that’s the crux of this attitude.

But that aside, Kurayev has a point. The “occupation” argument holds no water in the debate over the monument. You might as well pull down the huge “Stalin house” across from Stockmann. That building scares the crap out of me – it looks like a fossilized dump from a Soviet dinosaur – but people preferred to tear down the older house across the street for the sake of traffic. They think, despite Stalin’s indulgence in genocidal mania, that the house looks pretty cool and there’s a nice furniture shop and casino in the first floor anyway.

One argument that does stand up is that there are soldiers buried at the site. While one could argue that that impedes any attempt for removal, it can be rationally argued the opposite way. That if “radical nationalists” like Jüri Liim and Tiit Madisson really do managed to tunnel under Tõnismägi through the basement of the national library and blow up the memorial, sending Red Army femurs and skulls blasting through the windows of the Kaarli Church, who will be to blame then? Will the same “glorifiers of fascism” then have “failed in their civic duty” to protect the graves of the dead?

See, that’s why I like this topic so much. There is no right answer to any question. However, I do have some words of hope. I’ve been reading a pretty good book by Robert McNamara, the former secretary of defense under Kennedy and Johnson, and he notes that one of the key steps to ending interethnic conflict between warring peoples is common mourning for all dead – no matter what “side” they fought on. This is a shift in an outlook of revenge – ie. “your grandfather did this to my grandfather” – to one of common mourning for tragedy.

I think that if we apply this principle to the monument controversy, that the wisest course of action would be for both sides to jointly mourn the dead. What that means is that, if the statue is torn down, it is done so in a dignified manner with only the protection of the site in its interest. If it is left standing, then it should be used as a memorial to mourn the dead, instead of a victory celebration of one side over another side. The same should be applied to all war graves in Estonia, be they of German Nazis, Russian Soviets, or Estonian partisans. The term for this common honoring is “reconciliation” and it is a key step in securing a lasting piece between ethnicities.

But reconciliation doesn’t just call on Estonians to mourn the Red Army dead – the brothers, fathers, uncles, and grandfathers of many Estonians. It also calls on newcomers to Estonia to mourn the Estonian dead, including its political leaders who were murdered by the Soviet state. Sadly, it usually resorts to name calling. People use the words fascist and communist as if they still had some meaning in an era where
Russia is as drunk on capitalism as Estonia is. Obviously, both sides have to make some concessions to reconcile their differences. But the supreme question is – “Are those concessions worth it?” I think they are.

estonia: the newest nordic entrepreneur

Honestly, I get a little tired of reading about Estonia, the post-communist success story. At the same time, I have to admit that this year, 2006 has been an important year for a country that had a very rough 20th century.

The point was driven home last week with the announcement that Eest Energia had bought a 76 percent share in a Jordanian oil shale company and will carry out a feasibility study into processing oil shale there. Granted, it was a $250,000 investment. But it also happened at the same time that the Estonian founders of Skype invested $2 million in Clifton, a Tartu-based semiconductor start-up.

For many years it has seemed that Estonia has functioned as something of a Nordic colony. Swedish and Finnish direct investments have made up 76 percent of the total direct investments in the economy. Now it looks like Estonians are taking that capital and are becoming themselves entrepreneurs. So for the first time ever, citizens of foreign countries could be calling Estonians “boss”.