When Estonia undertook its rebranding campaign at the end of the ’90s to change its image from the tired “former Soviet republic” to a positively-transforming Nordic country, all of its neighbors chuckled.
The Finns that paid attention perhaps suffered their own identity crisis, pondering the distinction between Scandinavian and Nordic, and if the Swedes thought that Estonians weren’t Nordic enough, could it be that Finland was really Baltic!?!?
The Swedes that paid attention perhaps were irked that some poor country full of Finnic bog people that only figured out what to call themselves in the middle of the 19th century could aspire to be as cultured, wealthy, and perpetually morose and neurotic as they are.
Meanwhile to the Latvians, Lithuanians, and Russians, Estonia’s attempt at inserting the word ‘Nordic” into every promotional booklet printed about the country reinforced their image of Estonia as a land of pompous asses, who dared to think that they were as good as Sweden, the greatest country on Earth (TM).
One can imagine many boots kicking fervently downward as Estonians tried to crawl out of the muck of post-Soviet identity in the international marketplace. It was only American and British guidebook authors, like travel guru Rick Steves, that realized that, ‘yeah, Tallinn is only 80 km from Helsinki, I better put it in my Scandinavian travel book’, or Lonely Planet that realized that ‘yeah, Tallinn is part of the Scandinavian experience, we should include a small segment in Scandinavian Europe‘ that gave Estonia’s rebranding strategy legs.
But the real testament to what has happened in Estonia is the prevalence of Swedish and Finnish capital, which total 70 percent of direct foreign investments in this land of barn swallows and corn flowers. This doesn’t seem to be changing. Despite European Union membership, German and British and French capital is not drifting to these quarters.
Estonia is too small and too far for serious investment when dollars and pounds can flow into larger, closer markets like Poland, Hungary, or the Czech Republic. For the Finns, Swedes, and to a lesser extent the Danes and Norwegians, Estonia is attractive because it’s a market they can dominate with relative ease.
Used to managing multinational corporations, Finnish and Swedish businessmen probably find the Estonian market to be a breeze. They can take a quick ferry there or fly there in an hour or two. And since the people are as wired and as … Lutheran … as they are, they make easy business partners.
Not to mention that so much of the money flowing here is spent by Scandinavians and Finns. It’s spent on summer houses, or on food and beverage businesses that are actually owned by Nordic capital. It’s spent on the tourist industry. Swedes build spas for other Swedes in Estonia. I mean there are people in Estonia that are handling telephone inquiries for confused Swedes. It’s not that easy to get Indians to do the same job, so Estonia is an attractive choice for this brand of outsourcing.
Also, in the Nordic market, 1.3 million is a lot of people. That’s more than 1/9 of Sweden, 1/5 of Denmark and Finland. If they could own everything in this market too, and make it eventually as wealthy as they are, then that would be a legitimate longterm investment.
What I am getting at here is that the Estonian market is less foreign than it is an active player in the northern European economy. With that comes the financial security of being connected to a comparatively stable system, but the other questions about what markets lie beyond Stockholm and Helsinki and Oslo and Copenhagen? How can Estonia become not just a regional player but attract capital investments from elsewhere in Europe and, indeed, the world?
And, again, why would anyone else want to come play in the Scandinavians’ backyard? It’s “their” market. It’s within “their” sphere of influence (ha ha). These are questions that should be answered as Estonia moves forward. Without trying too hard, Estonia has become — or regained — a position in the Nordic community. What will be the next steps, and how will this relationship develop?