As you may have experienced, Estonia has been under a cyber attack in recent days. This means that websites, such as the foreign ministry website, have been routinely inaccessible as mysterious anti-Estonian activists attempt to cripple, but mostly annoy, regular joes like me that live in this country.
Meanwhile unofficial sanctions against Estonia have commenced. A cut in oil transit. A cut in regular transport. A closure of a train line connecting St. Petersburg and Tallinn. Unpleasant posturing by Russian officials, such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who claims that by moving a Red Army statue to a cemetery Estonia is rewriting its history.
Nobody in Europe listens to the rambling thoughts of Russia’s foreign ministry. After years of working side by side with Siim Kallas and Siiri Oviir, not to mention Toomas Hendrik Ilves, EU MPs predictably were not swayed by the “Estonia is glorifying Nazism” argument. One too many of them have been to Tallinn and gotten loaded in the company of Paks Margareeta and Pikk Hermann to buy the nonsense spewing forth from Moscow.
While Russia’s visceral reaction to Estonia doing something it told it not to do is alarming, it hasn’t cost us our heating or food here in Estonia. We are still living comfortably, watching the whole matter play out with detached bemusement. Before May 9 I was a bit worried that the modern day Komsomol that Russian state-monitored TV has been producing would do something rash, but it appears that they too are so awash in the luxury of stable Estonian life that they are unwilling to try anything smart with the police again, let alone Kaitseliit.
People that care about the Red Army got to lay their flowers on May 9. They got to sing their songs and wear whatever color suited them. And I have to say that images of the gathering at the verdant military cemetery did seem more appropriate than the mess that broke out on Tõnismägi last year. Vladimir Lebedev and Tiit Madisson did not meet. There was no more talk of occupation. In fact I think most people are tired of talking about the past, period.
In Estonia I think most people understand that the riots, while carried out by kurjategijad, were a symbol of general unhappiness on the part of the Russian-speaking population by their position in Estonian society. The problem stems from the fact that under the conditions of the USSR, Estonians had to learn Russian to get somewhere in the bureaucracy, but in Estonia it’s the other way around. I think that 16 years on, many in the institutions in the Russian community accept that they live in Estonia and will have to recieve some Estonian education in school.
On the other hand, perhaps it’s time for the Estonian rightwing, which has been driving the “Estonianization” campaign, to conceed that you can’t really legislate integration. You can put the tools in place, but you can’t just pass a law and make it so. So the idea that Russian language school instruction will be supplanted by Estonian instruction to the point that 60 percent of instruction is in Estonian is a fool’s errand for Estonia’s civil servants. Why not start with 30 percent?
Of course while all of this has been debated real integration goes in in communities across Estonia. In places like Saaremaa relative newcomers have had little trouble accessing the Estophone world. Obviously in places like Narva that’s harder, and perhaps it’s time to recognize that your policy for Kuressaare and your policy for Narva might need to be different. Recent developments, like making Postimees and Eesti Televisioon websites available in Russian is a welcome step.
I personally read Estonian newspapers. I am increasing my language skills daily. I can go to the insurance agency or the doctors and I have no need to use English. In fact it’s easier for me to use Estonian sometimes rather than try to do business in half English and half sign language. But that doesn’t mean that when I come home I don’t read the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. That’s why Estonians, who are suspicious of Russian language intrusions into the Estonian language space, should not fear things like a Russian-language ETV channel.
On the other side, it would be nice if Estonia’s politically awakened Russian-speakers could finally see that Russia only uses them as a political tool for domestic purposes. No one could speak with a louder voice to Moscow than they could. And they might be able to get a better deal if they spoke to the officials in Tallinn on their own rather than having the spectre of the Russian ambassador floating around them at all times.
Meanwhile, Russian nastiness towards Estonia — a land mostly made up of bogs, forests, 1.3 million stubborn people, and farmland — continues unabated. Some hope that Russia’s anti-Estonian campaign will end when there is a new election and Russia needs new faux foes to target for domestic purposes. I hope they are right.