Absurdistan

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.

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Why the Estonian State Doesn’t Love the Red Army

Yesterday saw a historic event. Three ministers of the Estonian government, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo, and Population Affairs Minister Urve Palo, did what none of their predecessors had ever done. They laid flowers at a memorial to a controversial statue that officially is dedicated to all fallen soldiers of World War II, but for decades was for one army, the Red Army.

Discussion in Western media of the controversy in Tallinn often boils down the Estonian experience into words like “mass deportation”, “repression”, and, of course, “occupation.” News oulets like Reuters have been softening their take recently, describing the Estonian experience as “what they see as an occupation.” But what does this all mean, and why did it take the Estonian state 16 years to lay a wreath at a memorial for long dead men?

Most readers here know of the pact that Hitler and Stalin signed in 1939 that lay the foundation for the war that broke out later. What essentially happened is that two former empires decided to scrap the results of the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles and conspired to reconstitute their former empires. Estonia fell into the Soviet sphere, and after about nine months of a mutual assistance pact, where the USSR agreed not to interefere in internal Estonian political affairs, a coup was organized in June 1940, and a pro-communist government was dictated by Moscow that petitioned for membership and was accepted into the USSR.

The Estonian state, meanwhile, was liquidated, and by liquidated I mean imprisoned or murdered, between the date of occupation in 1940 and the winter of 1942.

Among the first to go was President Konstantin Päts (pictured). He was arrested on July 30, 1940, by the NKVD and deported to Russia. He lived out the last days of his life in a psychiatric hospital in Kalinin, where he died in 1956. In 1990, his remains were reburied in Estonia.

Otto Strandmann, a former prime minister and head of state, (pictured at right), decided to take his life rather than surrender to the NKVD Soviet Secret Police. He committed suicide on Feb. 2, 1941, when the NKVD came to arrest him. He is buried in Tallinn.

Aado Birk, a former prime minister, was arrested in June 1941, and sent to Sosva prison camp where he was sentenced to death, but died before his execution on Feb. 2, 1942. This was an immense price to pay considering he had only served as an interim prime minister for two days in 1920.

Former prime minister and head of state Ants Piip was arrested by the NKVD in June 1941, and sent to a prison camp in Perm, where he died in October 1942. He was 58 years old.

Juhan Kukk, another former head of state, was arrested by the NKVD in 1940. He died in a prison camp in Russia in December 1945.

Karl Akel, left, was not so lucky to find himself in a prison camp. Akel had served as Estonian head of state for nine months in 1924. For this crime he was arrested in October 1940, and shot by the NKVD on July 3, 1941.

Jüri Jaakson, who served as head of state in 1924 and 1925, was similarly arrested, sent to Russia, was tried and executed on April 20, 1942 in Sosva.

Some Estonian political leaders slipped through the cracks though because no one knows whether they were shot, or if they merely died of disease or hunger in a Soviet prison camp.

One such man is Jaan Teemant, who served as head of state in 1925-1927 and again in 1932. For his crimes, he was imprisoned in July 1940. Nobody knows what became of him after he was arrested by the NKVD.

Another man for whom no ending is known is Jaan Tõnisson. Tõnisson played a central role in the founding of the Estonian state and served as prime minister and head of state on several occasions. He was arrested by the NKVD in December 1940. After which no comprehensive data is available, although some say he was shot in Tallinn in July 1941.

Finally, Kaarel Eenpalu, who served as head of state in 1935, was arrested and deported to Vjatka prison camp in Russia, where he died on January 28, 1942.

But don’t worry. The Soviet Union tried to kill all of Estonia’s prime ministers and heads of states, but it didn’t get them all. So there is a happy ending to this tale of suffering and murder at the hands of Moscow.

That is because August Rei, right, who served as head of state in 1928 and 1929, escaped to Sweden before he could be shot or sent to die in a prison camp.

Rei was appointed prime minister in duties of president by the last legal respresentative of the Estonian state, Jüru Uluots, in January 1945 in Sweden. Rei lived a long life, and remained in his position until his death in 1963 at the age of 75. In 2006, his remains were reburied in Tallinn.

Because of August Rei, the Estonian state did not die in 1940 or 1941 or 1945. Estonian independence that was restored in 1991 was not the foundation of a new country, but the restoration of an old one. Gold that the Estonian government had deposited in a safe place in 1939 was transferred back to the Estonian state after 1991 upon which it based its restored currency, the kroon.

The purpose of this history lesson is not to sour the memories of the soldiers of the Red Army that defeated Germany 62 years ago this day. It’s to explain to those that are willing to read, why exactly the Estonian state was not content to allow a memorial to the army that supported these actions in Estonia stand beside its national library and the church where it buries its leaders.

Furthermore, it’s to underscore the humanity and restraint the state has taken in dealing with its past. Ansip, Aaviksoo, and Palo no doubt have relatives that shared the fates of Jaakson, Tõnisson, and Akel. But that terrible past is no longer an obstacle for the state as it observes what are essentially international holidays. Therefore, the laying of the flowers yesterday at the military cemetery in Tallinn at the foot of the Bronze Soldier was more than a PR stunt for the purposes of reconciliation. It was a moment of coming to terms with history.

Tomorrow it all ends

In May 1968, several gentlemen climbed the steps of Helsinki’s Tuomiokirkko and unveiled several red flags featuring a golden hammer and sickle.

These were the flags of the USSR, a country that had attacked Finland only 29 years prior and had annexed most of Karelia and along with it Finland’s second most important city Vyborg, displacing 400,000 people and making one out of every eight Finns a refugee.

However, those men, as loyal as they were to a country that had often been hostile to Finnish independence, were left to wave their little red flags and talk of communist solidarity. And one by one they died, and with them, their cause.

Such is the strength of liberal democracy. Rather than using the resources of the state to crack down on opponents, the liberal democracy sets the ground rules for appropriate dissent, allows opponents of policies to make their voices heard, and then, depending on internal politics, either uses those voices for political gain or ignores them.

According to Kommersant, tomorrow’s great provocation will be again organized by Night Watch and with the implicit consent of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Estonia. It will again take place at Tõnismägi, which has become symbolic of the loss of Soviet space in Tallinn’s city center.

The future participants of the rally are asked to wear read, which will remind Estonian police of the red flag, which they see as one of the symbols of occupation. Raising red flag at a rally might be punished by arrest. Young Russians want to tickle the authorities’ nerves with red clothes.

What should the Estonian response be? To let them wear red, of course. Let them lay flowers, let them sing Communist songs. And when their moment of irritating the authorities is over, roundly denounce them for what they are: Communists. They may not consider themselves such, but if you are wearing red, and singing songs of the USSR, then I think it’s fair game to be called a Communist. And once they become known as young Communists, they will become even less politically relevant because Communism is a corpse.

Do not call them “Russian scum” and do not call all assemblies by forces hostile to the Estonian government “hooliganism”. But always remember to put each and every act in the proper European context and let liberal democracy do the rest. Rioters are rioters — as they are in Budapest and in Paris. Communists are communists, as they are in Rome and Berlin and London.

Finally, Russian nationalists in Estonia are cowards, because they are too afraid of their motherland to venture back there. Those that burn Estonian flags and chant “Rossija” are cowards because, inside, they prefer the good life of Tallinn, with its exquisite shops and charming architecture, with its growing economy, to the shantytowns that lie across the border. So, by all means, Russian nationalists should be called on this fault in their character. One good turn deserves another.

In the end, the strongest society is the one that is the most tolerant of its dissidents and puts their actions in the proper context. Whether they be young hooligans, young Communists, or displaced Russian nationalists, a liberal democracy is elastic enough to handle them. If the government stays true to these principles, tomorrow should go off without a hitch.

A Funny Thing About Time

Since the end of the Second World War, the USSR, and its successor countries, especially Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, have celebrated Victory Day on May 9.

Although the Germans surrendered to the Soviets on May 8 in Berlin, it was already early in the morning (12:43 am) in Moscow. And so, due to this time difference, those who celebrate the Soviet victory celebrate on May 9, not May 8.

At the same time the German surrender to the British and Americans occured towards the end of May 7, but hostilities were agreed to cease at 23:01 Central European Time on May 8. And so, the Americans and Europeans recognize May 8 as Victory Europe Day.

The Estonians’ predicament is as interesting as always. You see, the Soviets set Estonian clocks to Moscow time when they reconquered this small land in 1944. That is, in Helsinki it was 11:43 pm when the Germans surrendered to the Soviets, but in Tallinn it was officially 12:43 am.

However, since most would agree that the sun reaches Tallinn and Helsinki after it reaches Moscow, you can surmise that the Estonians prefer to celebrate this event now at the proper time on May 8, rather than May 9. You could call it revisionism. Or you could just say that the timing of the commemoration is reality-based, as opposed to ideology-based. Either way, Estonia now celebrates the “end of the war” — which dragged on into the 1950s in Estonia — on May 8, not May 9.

A big little country

This past weekend we finally got in our car and drove north from Tartu, all the way up the spine of Estonia to the north coast of Lääne Virumaa.

We started heading north along a road that would take us straight up through Jõgeva and Rakvere to our destination, but on a whim we decided to drive east to Peipsi Järv, which is really something of an inland sea., separating Russia and Estonia.

We traveled through Alatskivi, the former home of Juhan Liiv, who wrote the famous lines, “sügise tuul, raputab puud.” This was a picturesque area of rolling hills and forests and little lakes. I could feel the tension of living in a town stripping off my body as trees became often the only sign of life.

Then farther to the northeast, stopping in Kallaste, where we came upon a community that is partially Russian-speaking, but has lived in Estonia since the 18th century. My wife said they spoke to her in the shop in accented Estonian. Driving north along the shores of Peipsi, we encountered many of these villages of “Old Believers”. The homes in their villages are built closer together, and I see what kept them apart from the Estonians for so long — thick forests that separate their perches on Peipsi from the Estonians inland. These places feel isolated. They are literally stuck between forest and lake.

We headed north through Omedu, and other seaside villages. It’s amazing to think that Estonia is happening everyday here too. That while I was worried about the troubles of last week spreading to Tartu, the people of Omedu were perhaps worried about making some pickles or smoking some fish. And they do sell smoked fish on the side of the road. I have never been a lover of smoked fish but I have to say being so close to the wind and Peipsi made me consider changing my mind.

As soon as we hit Ida Virumaa the trees shot up tall and imposing. The soil was sandy and the forests were thick. Trucker traffic began to weigh down on the roads and we decided to turn towards Rakvere at Rannapungerja. Legend has it that some uppity Estonian peasants beat up some of Napolean’s troops in this small seaside village, an act that would foreshadow his stunning defeat at Waterloo.

The road to Tudalinna was mostly dirt. Cars take a beating in this country and dirt roads are marked in yellow on our map. By the time we arrived at a road that wasn’t made of gravel or dirt, my car was surrounded by a thick ribbon of yellowy dust. Heading across Lääne Virumaa my opinion that most of Estonia is made up of farmhouses and guys on tractors was reinforced. Finally we spotted signs of life, and the city of Rakvere began to emerge, filling my heart with joy at the sight of actual people living close together in dwellings.

Being in Rakvere was odd. Again I had that, “So Rakvere has also been living its life all the time here in Estonia?” sense of bewilderment. You see, Estonia looks so small on a map that you think that just by being inside of it you can sort of cover it all at the same time. For Tartu I use my eyes and ears, and for Tallinn I use Aktuaalne Kaamera and Reporter. But I hadn’t considered Rakvere before, and there I was, staring at its yellow teacups (later explained to be a modernist Lily of the Valley), wondering why it was that I had been to Viljandi so many times, but this was my first time in Rakvere.

One thing that is obvious about traveling in Estonia is that the money that has enriched cities like Tallinn and Tartu has trickled down to some places, including Rakvere, but that many towns are still huddled groups if 19th century wooden houses and crumbling Soviet-era apartment blocks. But these still are functioning communities, not just little enclaves of pensioners and alcoholics. Wherever you go you’ll see a couple of Estonian boys in a souped up car driving across a field. Or teenage girls walking down the road from the local Konsum eating jäätis.

North from Rakvere we headed into the deep forests of Lahemaa National Park. It’s called Lahemaa in that there are many bays, not ‘lahe maa’ in that it’s a very cool place. I’m still keeping my eye out for a place called Vahvamaa, let me know if it exists. Anyway, beneath the stars that night on the coast, looking at the Gulf of Finland and hearing the lapping of the waves, I have to say I felt at peace and a little strange.

The legs of the pines that stretch up to the heavens look solid and peaceful during the day, but at night they resemble the legs of giants, and I can see how nature has inspired the mythic race of Estonian giants, from Kalevipoeg to Suur Tõll to Leiger. I could imagine them walking through the forest on a night like that night, picking up and hurling the huge boulders that lie strewn along the coast.

So often I hear people talk about Estonia as if it were only Tallinn. But nothing could be farther from the truth. For a country the size of Denmark or the Netherlands, Estonia seems roomy inside. It’s a big little country, if such things exist.

Flasher’s Manifesto

I met up with Andrei of Antyx last week and found him to be a knowledgable person capable of holding court on a variety of complicated subjects, like the Six Day War, and other snapshots in history.

So I think all of you should go to his website and read a statement he produced following the events last week in Tallinn. Flasher is of Russian and Jewish heritage, but he’s 100 percent Estlander and he has presented his words as “the truth.”

As the famous Tallinn writer Mihhail Weller wrote, Estonians are not short of steam – they just have a bad whistle. A little more, and detained non-citizen marauders may start to be taken out past the Narva border crossing and left there. In my eyes, as a half-Russian, half-Jewish grandson of people who fought in the Second World War on the side of the USSR, they have already earned the suitcase-train station-Russia treatment.

Why the EU Wants the Našistõ Nipped in the Bud

With the issue of the Estonian government’s decision to relocate a Soviet war memorial to a military cemetery de facto concluded — though the repercussions will no doubt linger for years — the situation at the Estonian embassy in Moscow has become the new focus point of this contest of wills.

For six days activists from the Kremlin-endorsed Nashi youth group have harassed Estonian diplomatic officials, climaxing in yesterday’s activities where a press conference held by the Estonian ambassador Marina Kaljurand was stormed by dozens of the teens who are too young to remember the USSR.

Kaljurand was saved only by her bodyguard’s mace which kept the crowds at bay. Yesterday also her car and the car of the Swedish ambassador were attacked, prompting diplomatic protests from Sweden, the EU, NATO, and the US State Department for Russia to honor its obligations under the Vienna Convention of 1961.

Today even Finnish President Tarja Halonen weighed in, calling the situation “grave.” She will also meet with the EU presidency, currently held by Germany this week.

But why is the EU so concerned? I mean a ripped flag and marauding gang of teenagers are reprehensible, but it’s not like they’ve stormed the embassy just yet. However, I think that the EU has seen the “Putin Youth” as a problem for quite some time, and they are using this opportunity where one of their own, Estonia, is under attack, to settle some things with Russia.

As The Moscow Times reports, Britain has come under target from Nashi in the past as well:

The British Foreign Office in December appealed to the Foreign Ministry to end the harassment of British Ambassador Anthony Brenton by Nashi members after Brenton participated in a conference organized by the opposition coalition The Other Russia at the Renaissance Moscow Hotel.

In the weeks and months following the conference, Nashi members periodically picketed outside the British Embassy, demanding that Brenton apologize for promoting fascism, tailed his car and disrupted his speeches.

So the EU is quite aware that a Kremlin-endorsed youth group has the potential to cripple its diplomatic missions in Russia, and that the Russian authorities — as in the case of Britain and Estonia — have been slow moving and reluctant to reel them in.

The question for the EU is that whether the Russian authorities turn their Nashi attack dogs on any country that draws the ire of Russian state-owned television? And will their ambassadors continue to be safe when the hordes of Putin Youth are growing bolder — attacking cars, breaking up press conferences, physically threatening the safety of foreign diplomats.

Who will be next? Poland, perhaps? Or will it be the Czechs? Maybe it will be the Swedes if they have too many concerns about the pipeline deal? Or the Finns if they flirt too much with NATO? Russia has a very clear obligation under the Vienna Conventions. The EU will find out soon whether or not it has decided to ignore its commitments to that treaty too.

Attack on Swedes Draws Stronger EU Response

For several days now, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet has been using the EU card in his negotiations with Russia.

Now it appears the cavalry is on its way, but not just due to the fact that Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand was attacked this morning during a press conference by activists from Nashi, a Kremlin supported youth group.

Today, the youth group attacked the Estonian ambassador’s vehicle, ripping off its Estonian flag. But it later attacked the vehicle of the Swedish ambassador to Russia, Johan Molander, pictured, also ripping off his vehicle’s Swedish flag. The event drew instant protests from the Swedish Foreign Ministry, and — no suprise here — whether for the sake of Kaljurand or Molander, an EU delegation is on its way to sort things out with the Russians.

The issue here is Russia’s adherence to Article 22, Item 2 of the the Vienna Conventions of April 1961, which states:

The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.

I am begining to think that Russia’s reluctance to clear it’s openly endorsed youth group may have more to do with domestic politics. How will Russia’s leaders look when its most “patriotic” citizens are removed, perhaps violently, in order to protect the diplomatic mission of a country that has been subjected to a propaganda war for most of the last 16 years?

I can imagine Russian officials are figuring out ways out of this right now. One might be to attend the ceremony on May 8 in Tallinn, bite their lip, and recognize that this is over. Talk of integration issues can resume, and they need to. But as for this issue, it needs to be put to rest immediately. Perhaps the EU can talk some sense into Moscow.

Demographics and Estonia: An Overview

In light of last week’s clashes in the capital and the post-mortem spinning that began almost immediately afterward, many in the English-language readership have been given inaccurate depictions of what the demographic situation in Estonia is, and how this feeds into local, and international politics.

A Multi-Ethnic Country

To begin, let me make a broad statement. Estonia has been multiethnic for centuries. Estonians themselves are a distinct ethnic group, but the territory of Estonia has been home to a variety of other ethnic groups, most prominently Swedes, Germans, and Russians.

To complicate matters, the process of Estonian integration is also centuries old and predates any kind of “draconian” citizenship laws from the early 1990s. Most Estonians are not ‘ethnically pure’ Estonians. Instead, they have some ancestors from a variety of different countries.

Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand, who is holed up in the Estonian embassy in Moscow right now, is not an ethnic Estonian. She is half Latvian and half Russian by birth. Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar is also half Russian. Lennart Meri, Estonia’s second president, was Swedish on his mother’s side. And the blood lines between the Baltic Germans and the Estonians are notoriously intertwined.

To make matters even more complicated many of Estonia’s Soviet-era Russian-speaking community have also followed this established path of integration. They have perhaps married into Estonian families or simply “Estonianized.”

Two examples of this come from the same family. Estonian politicians Mihhail and Aleksei Lotman are the sons of the St. Petersburg-born semiotician Jüri Lotman. By ethnicity they are Russian Jews. Yet Mihhail is in the rightwing Isamaa-Res Publica Party, and Aleksei serves in the Green party in the Riigikogu. Hence, their ethnic origins have not precluded them from achieving rather prominent places in Estonian society.

Those that are of mixed backgrounds in Estonia are quite often multilingual. In addition to Estonian they know Russian and perhaps English. Those with ties to other minorities may speak Finnish fluently or Swedish. In fact, in the Noarootsi district in western Estonia, there is a Swedish-only high school. This is in an area where there are only 50 ethnically Swedish people living there.

Geographically Homogenous

Despite Estonia’s multiethnic heritage, the country is still rather homogenous. In 13 of Estonia’s 15 counties, ethnic Estonians comprise more than 80 percent of the population. This is the case of Estonia’s second largest city, Tartu, as well. As people watching the news last week saw, the main centers of the ethnic Russian population are in Tallinn and in Ida Viru county in northeastern Estonia. Estonia is 69 percent ethnic Estonian and 26 percent ethnic Russian. Most of that 26 percent are located in these urban areas.

Tallinn is an interesting example of how demographics can change rapidly in Estonia. In 1989, nearly 500,000 people lived in Tallinn. Last year, it was home to 396,000 people. Six years previous in 2000 it was home to 400,000 people. Of those 4,000 people that were lost in six years, the population decline was greatest among ethnic Russians.

While the ethnic Estonian population numbers about 216,000 people in Tallinn, the ethnic Russian population numbers about 144,000. In six years, the ethnic Estonian population declined by 1,000 people, while the ethnic Russian population declined by nearly 3,000. One could insert statistics from the 1970s here to show an inverse effect of ethnic Russian population growth, but I do not have access to those statistics.

It is my interpretation that rather than feeling stronger in Estonian society with the backing of a resurgent Moscow, Estonia’s Russian community in Tallinn is actually feeling weaker as the demographic balance shifts every year in the favor of ethnic Estonians. Hence, monolingual Russophones are encountering the reality of their minority status on a more frequent basis. This increases the frustration that led to things like last week’s riots.

Another factor is that Estonian politics are controlled by individuals that do not come from areas adjacent to large Russian minorities. Andrus Ansip is from Tartu. Mart Laar was born in Viljandi. And, as we all know, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves was born in Stockholm, though he never apparently pursued citizenship there.

Hence, in the recent controversy, it has been Tartu politicians, like Ansip and Minister of Defense Jaak Aaviksoo, that have been making decisions that impact the lives of Tallinn residents, where Edgar Savisaar, widely considered to be more in tune to the feelings of ethnic Russians, since he technically is also one, has condemned their activities. You’ll notice that other Tallinners, like Reet Aus, a fashion designer whose grandfather actually designed the Bronze Soldier, have called the removal policy a bad choice. In this instance, you could think that cosmopolitan Tallinn is being held captive by provincial politicians. It is an argument that could be made, though I decline to make it.

Stereotypically, monolingual Russians feel like they are looked down upon by Estonians, while Estonians are quietly distressed by the longterm inability of Russians to adapt to the Estonian culture on their own and their continued admiration for forces that were historically hostile to the Estonian people, like the USSR.

Carrots and Sticks

Estonia’s post-1991 integration policies have both condemned and praised. One overlooked fact is that they have been working. Estonia’s stateless persons decline every year, and currently only 9 percent of residents lack citizenship, compared to 32 percent just 15 years ago.

Estonia’s politicians have employed a carrot and stick approach to goad monolingual Russians into integrating into Estonian society. However, these Russians that have yet to integrate see it mostly as stick and stick. Since they don’t have citizenship they cannot vote on the policies that effect them the most.

Estonian school reform is another hot issue. Dealing with a monolingual minority that has difficulty in obtaining high paying jobs and status in society has spurred Estonian politicians to endore a high percentage of education in Estonian at the public school level. This has created additional pressure on ethnic Russians in Estonia.

Again, it becomes complicated, because to succeed in Estonia, knowledge of Estonian is an asset, but since obtaining that knowledge is difficult, some monolingual Russians see it as a discriminatory hurdle to “weed them out” of political and economic participation.

Therefore it remains controversial, although some in the Estonian Russian community that have integrated openly call their kin “their own worst enemy” for not acknowledging some basic facts about Estonia.

To complicate matters monolingual Russian speakers receive most of their news from Kremlin controlled Russian media. Since 1991, Russia has conducted an anti-Estonian propaganda campaign aimed at discrediting the country in the international arena with a longterm goal of bringing it back under its control. I would not like to believe this, but after reading hundreds of stories in the Russian media, I can only conclude that this is the case.

In my opinion, Russian foreign policy generally views its neighbors through a 19th century lense of “spheres of influence” and seeks to control them as a matter of course, despite what value they may actually add in end. Russian nationalists also believe that they have a right to control territories that one belonged to the Russian empire in the 19th century. Swedish businessmen perhaps think similarly.

A Lack of Leadership

While Estonian Russians in Estonia are at the center of some distressing trends — a chauvanistic Kremlin, population decline, government pressure — they have yet to organize and work effectively with local authorities in a potent way.

Kremlin-supported parties in Estonia actually face declining support, even as more people naturalize. “Thought leaders” like Dmitri Klenski — who speaks Estonian, but spouts Stalinist history — get media attention, but cannot get elected.

Edgar Savisaar’s Center Party is an ethnic Russian stronghold, yet at the same time it hasn’t made the group any promises to reverse language laws or citizenship requirements. And, moreover, nobody is really sure of what this group wants politically.

Some want to become an official minority, with Russian as a state language. But there are ethnic Russians that oppose this too and put their kids in Estonian kindergartens to get ahead. There are even some who still think that Estonia “belongs” to Russia, and are waiting for the “red ship” to come and continue the slow eradication of the Estonian people.

Russification and Estonia’s Neighbors

As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that Estonia’s eastern Finnic neighbors that remained in Russia after 1918 have been largely assimilated into Russian society and have lost the characteristic that distinguished their ethnicity, their language.

Over the past 80 years the number of self-described Ingrians — a Finnic ethnic group residing in the vicinity of St. Petersburg for millennia — dropped from 26,100 to 300. As is noted here, due to the Second World War, “Physical extermination and russification had achieved their purpose: post-war generations of Izhorians have no knowledge of their native tongue.”

The example of their ethnic kin in Ingria has left Estonians with a deep fear of the same thing happening to their land. Some extreme Russian nationalists openly joke about the extermination of the Estonian people, or the death of Estonian as a “small, obscure” language, feeding this fear and reinforcing people’s support for the country’s language and citizenship policies.