Russia Shoots Itself in the Foot … Again

A Russian Duma committee head is now demanding that the Estonian government resign, according to several news reports.

This is humorous in that Russia — and no country — has the right to demand that a sovereign nation’s leader step down.

But it also underscores that it is very much a political goal of Russia to not have the current Estonian government in office. Instead they would probably like to see Edgar Savisaar, who they have decided is the most capable of assuming power in the country, in the PM’s spot.

Earlier Russian efforts to affect internal politics in Estonia have failed because they have worked with fringe groups like Night Watch, whose leader Dmitri Linter could go to jail for five years for provoking the riots in Tallinn last week. Linter is set to suffer the kind of fate Tiit Madisson, the Estonian radical nationalist, found himself in in 1996 for attempting to ovethrow the Estonian government.

Moreover, parties that toe the Kremlin line, like the Constitution Party, did abysmally in the March 2007 elections. They got less votes than their predecessor parties got in 2003 and that’s with an ever increasing number of naturalized ethnic Russian citizens AND a Bronze Soldier controversy.

The only strategy now seems to be to support Savisaar. Former Estonian PM and historian Mart Laar has likened the arrival of the Russian Federation in Tallinn to the arrival of Stalinist lieutenant Andrei Zhdanov, who dictated the membership of the communist government in 1940 to then President Konstantin Päts.

Well, if you are going to use history as a club, you couldn’t pick a better metaphor.

Meanwhile, the poor Estonian embassy workers in Moscow are barricaded in their embassy and still can’t get out. We are all waiting for you to act normal Moscow. Still waiting.

The Silent Victor

There are a lot of unpleasant feelings out there in Estonia right now. Most people I think are angry at the violent marauders that broke windows and looted shops since Thursday.

Why? Because we all live here too. And we’re not necessarily very political people. We have small children. Or we are old. We have to go to the store to buy food. We have to go to the Apteek to buy medicine. We want to live our lives in peace, and thousands of drunk 17-year-olds destroying our home is revolting.

But the extreme dislike for the rioters has now spilled over into politics. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip is the focus of those who are maddest — in every sense of the word — over the removal of the monument. They want him to resign. It’s their stated goal and, surprise, surprise, it’s also the goal of the Russian government, who would rather work with their good pal Edgar Savisaar.

But the thing is that Savisaar is equally hated at this moment. People’s stomachs turn as they watch him go on Russian state TV and apologize to the Russians on behalf of Estonians. Who was he again? The Mayor of Tallinn. No one will form a coalition with Keskerakond now. Not even Reform party. So he too is marginalized from the debate.

But surprisingly silent is Mart Laar, the head of Isamaa-Res Publica Liit, yet holding no official capacity at the moment. Laar of course supported the removal of the statue. But he’s not the face man for the removal and therefore no ire is directed against him. It’s Ansip they want, not Laar. At the same time he is encumbered by the slime that follows Savisaar wherever he goes.

In short, I am begining to think that Laar will benefit most from this.

Dry Spell

I went to the supermarket here at about 5.30 on Saturday hoping to get a snack while I worked in the office. While I was standing on line, I noticed the enormous amounts of alcohol being purchased by individual Estonians on line.

“Christ, what a bunch of drunks, I thought to myself.” Then I purchased my food and moved on.

At 5.45 I received a call from my wife, who informed me that if I wanted to buy any alcohol to drink until May 3, I should go to the supermarket now, because the government had placed a nationwide ban on alcohol sales until that date. This sort of explained the behavior I saw previously but, still, how can you drink two cases of A. Le Coq in a just a few evenings. It didn’t seem possible.

When I ventured back into the store it was even crowded than before with last minute boozers stocking up. I decided to buy just a few beers, and because these kinds of bans don’t happen everyday, a nice Saku Gin Long Drink. I had a cold and I thought the grapefruit inside would do me good.

In line with me were the most unsuspecting drunks you ever saw. Two guys that looked like 19 year old chemistry majors stood in front of me with a whole cart filled with enough booze to make you sick just by staring at it. They laughed when they saw my expression. “Nii palju,” I said to them. “Jah,” they replied sheepishly.

Another guy in front of me had two huge cases of Saaremaa õlut, which is one of the most alcoholic beers in Estonia. It’s basically like drinking beer with a shot of vodka mixed in. I couldn’t fathom this one guy needing all that beer until May 3.

But you never know with these Estonians.

New Policy for Itching for Eestimaa

I am a human being from the United States. Some of my greatest heroes are the men and women of the US that fought so hard against authority for the right to say what was on their mind. These ideals go back to very founding of the city that has harbored most of my family members, New Amsterdam, presently New York, which was founded on Dutch virtues of tolerance.

At the same time, I am deeply connected with Estonian society through family, and, as the ‘editor’ of this blog, I cannot permit comments to be posted that are racist in nature against Estonians or other nationalities. As much as I hate doing this, I will remove any comments that call for violence against the citizens of this country, or their total extermination, as nationalists of other countries tend to say while getting themselves hard on the Internet. This blog’s role is to further discussion, not to further hate speech.

I am disappointed that it has come to this, but I think it is ultimately the best choice at this time. And it’s a great excuse to take myself too seriously 😉

Coming to Terms with a Dark Chapter in History

Now that Mr. Controversial is gone, and the opinion pieces in Estonian newspapers will move from “What should we do about the Bronze Soldier?” to “Did we do the right thing with the Bronze Soldier?” it’s time to start asking ourselves a very serious question — what should go there in its place, and how can the Estonian state foster a true understanding of that conflict among all its citizens.

I believe that the most accurate assessment of that conflict in Estonia is that World War II was one of the darker chapters in Estonian history. Estonia was swallowed up by two competing powers — an expansionist Third Reich and an expansionist Soviet Union. Both powers had ideologies that supported their expansionist efforts — the Reich’s ideology was based on ideals of ethnic German superiority while the Soviets’ was based on the export of Russian communism.

Both acted criminally in the 1940s. If they were alive today, actors from both regimes would warrant lengthy prison sentences in Estonia for crimes committed during that time. But they are not alive, and the purpose of this is not to lay blame at the feet of Germans and Russians today. Instead, it’s to put into context that there is no way in which the Estonian state will ever support one of these two sides.

So if there’s one aspect from that war that should be recalled in a central square, it’s not necessarily military sacrifice. Since most of Estonia’s casualties weren’t military, but were civilian, then I believe that the best way to commemorate the dead of the Second World War is to erect a monument that is civilian in nature.

Ethnic Russians lived in Estonia before the war too, you know. They were more than 8 percent of the population at that time. And they suffered just as everyone else did during those awful years. So a monument to civilian losses would be just as appropriate for them as it would be for the ethnic Estonian majority.

I also think that in order to dispell the growing macho infatuation of some youth, both ethnic Estonian and ethnic Russian, with World War II (to the point of dressing up in WWII-era uniforms), the new monument should be feminine in nature. Indeed, it should be a monument of a woman mourning the dead. I think that this is the most accurate depiction of the Estonian experience in the Second World War and it serves as a representation of what the final result of violence is — sadness and emotional torment.

That, in summary, is the Estonian experience of World War II.

Let the Spinning Begin

Now that the main event is concluded, it’s time for the spinning to begin. The Estonian Foreign Ministry fired off a note this morning that shows how the Estonian government is claiming victory and actively working to discredit the looters, who took all their anger at the Estonian government out by helping themselves to free booze.

Yesterday’s rioters found the police presence and the assembly of people to be a good reason to act destructively.

The rioters showed clearly that their real goal was to riot, destroy, break and loot.

These actions confirm that they have nothing to do with respecting and protecting the memories of those who fell during World War II.

Meanwhile, the Russians are considering — and probably will — sever diplomatic relations with Estonia.

Just a friendly reminder here, the Estonian government moved a monument from a central square to a cemetery. And the Russians consider that grounds for severing diplomatic ties. Will they take off their shoes and bang them on their desks when the vote is taken? And who will win this new propaganda war?

So many questions now exist that have yet to answer themselves.

Cirque du Tallinn

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia. It is its most populous city. Since the days of the Hanseatic League it’s been an important commercial center. And today it is in the headlines because of the governments plans to relocate a war memorial to a cemetery.

The weather today in Tartu was sunny and mild. Students floated by in ambitious haircuts and apparel, making the most of a day after a cold winter. Beer flowed freely in outdoor cafes. Young people relaxed by the fountain in front of Town Hall.

The same is probably happening in cities all over Estonia today. In Pärnu, the very city where Estonian independence was proclaimed in 1918, all was peaceful. The same in Kärdla, Võru, Põlva, Haapsalu, and even in the real heart of Estonia, Paide.

But three years ago, in a small Estonian town called Lihula, the Estonian government removed another monument, this time one to Estonians who had fought in the 20th Waffen SS to — as they say — keep the Red Army out of Estonia long enough to restore Estonian independence.

That removal turned violent. Estonian protestors threw rocks and bottles at Estonian riot police. Because, you see, they were insulting their dead. And insulting the dead calls for a hysterical response. As a sidenote, it was also the end of the honeymoon for the government of Juhan Parts.

As I look at what is happening in Tallinn, I think back to a quote I read in a story about Lihula three years ago in The Baltic Times:

“It would be good if the government erected a central monument for all the victims of the war, regardless of which side they fought,” said one student. “Why not show a mourning mother that is crying about her son’s death!” It would illustrate the cruelty of World War II – and that everyone was suffering from it.”

Nordic Breeze, makes you feel fine

Well, I guess Estonians believe that they have already ‘positively transformed’ and so it’s time for a catchy new slogan to sum up the post-EU, post-NATO Estonia.

One being offered is ‘Nordic breeze’, which to me sounds like an underarm deodorant or a new brand of gin long drink or a lite FM song by Seals and Crofts. Therefore, I am not too fond of this one.

I personally am interested in anything that mentions the forest, because whenever asked about their homeland, Estonians get shy and say something about the forest, as if it were a fetish of which they were ashamed.

Nägemist Yeltsin!

It’s a funny thing. Most of us the West liked Yeltsin because he seemed approachable and semi-normal. He could go to Katyn and unflinchingly apologize for Soviet war crimes. He knew the Stalinist state because his father had been arrested for sabotaging it. He didn’t want to see military action in eastern Europe because he had already lived through one and one was enough.

On the flipside, there are all those actions that are easy to criticize, and apparently many in Russia are not as enthusiastic about burying Boris as we were about burying that decent, just decent, fellow Gerald Ford last year.

But above all, he was smart to recognize and correct Stalin’s mistake of occupying the Baltics in 1940 and to withdraw the Russian army from countries that didn’t and still do not pose any threat to Russia. He may have been a bumbling drunk, but, in terms of the Baltics, he didn’t let nationalist pride get in the way of making the right decisions that have been ultimately beneficial for Russia.