There’s a funny thing about Estonian blogger Flasher T, author of the lively Antyx. Everyone knows his real name is Andrei, yet they prefer to call him “Flasher.”
I recently sat down with “Flasher” to do a non-blog related interview but decided to share the contents with you because Flasher is so damn articulate. Enjoy:
Where were you born?
What is your family background?
My mother’s family comes from Irboska [part of Estonia before WWII, now part of Russia]. My father’s side is Yiddish, and comes from the eastern part of Germany via Riga, Latvia.
How often do you go to Latvia?
Approximately once or maybe twice a year for last few years. I usually visit Riga and the surroundings.
Have you ever been to Lithuania?
Have you ever been to Russia?
Yes. I have been there twice in my life, twelve years apart. The same place as well, St. Petersburg.
How would you describe the relationship between Russia and the Baltic States at the moment?:
Tumultuous. You have to differentiate between Russia as a nation and Russia as a state. As a state, Russia has a useful target in that Estonia won’t get particularly offended because it has the sense of security offered by EU and NATO membership. On the other hand, Estonia doesn’t have the immediate means to retaliate, so Russia has a tool to use in its internal politics almost without any fear of consequences.
I think by default, it likes Lithuania more because Lithuania never had a problem with citizenship, but I think Russian internal propaganda against the Baltics impacts all three countries equally and the average Russian who knows little about Estonia has the same attitude towards Estonia and Lithuania.
As a nation, it has a vague idea of the Baltics as something unspecifically hostile. Statistically, there’s a percentage of Russians that are so dissatisfied with state that they will do things because the state tells them not to. And there’s a percentage of Russians who are so politically apathetic that they don’t care. Those two percentages are where the bulk of Russian tourism in Estonia comes from.
How would you describe the relationship between Russia and the Baltic States ten or twenty years ago?
It’s always been there because Estonia has always had the combination of nationalism and practical superiority, superiority on an everyday level of creature comforts. On the one hand, Russians are provoked by Estonians’ dislike for them, and on the other hand Russians are practically offended by the fact that even in the Soviet days, life in Estonia was a lot better.
The Russian writer Mihhail Veller tells about how he came to Tallinn and came to work at a newspaper during the Soviet era. He recalls how he was drinking cognac in the lobby of the press house and he remembers seeing the bartender tell one of the regulars that there was a call for him and handed him the phone over the bar. He was stunned by this because it seemed like such a Western thing. In Estonia these things seemed so natural, but in St. Petersburg it wouldn’t have happened that way.
That was the Soviet time. Now we have the issue that Estonia has evolved so much more efficiently than Russia. So average Russians are probably offended by the fact that Estonia did not need Russia and that Russia in fact held them back.
But why is your opinion different from the average Russians’?
My viewpoints are not representative of general Russian population. I don’t have a deep Russian identity. I don’t identify myself as a Russian. I speak Russian because that is the language my parents spoke, but my roots are in Estonia, I was born here and I grew up here. I have had no cause to significantly distrust or dislike the Estonian state, and from about the time when I started to develop my own judgment I have been significantly annoyed by Russian propaganda, and not just central propaganda as it applies to Estonia, but just Russian propaganda and the unseemly aspects of the Russian mentality that have been shaped by that propaganda.
How do you think the relationship with Russia will develop in the next couple of years?
I am hoping it will stabilize. Logic dictates that at least for the next 3-7 years, Russian officialdom will not have a desperate need for a scapegoat and at the same time Estonia has shown itself willing and capable to actively fight for mindshare in European politics. I think Russia will probably consider that it will be simpler to look for scapegoats somewhere else, such as Ukraine, Georgia, or the Balkans.
How would you describe the relationship between the Baltic States themselves at the moment?
I think they slightly resent being lumped together but see the logic in it and don’t significantly mind.
How would you describe the relationship between the Baltic States themselves ten/twenty years ago?
In 1988 we had a common enemy. In 1998 we had a common goal. At this point I think the Baltic states are more than ever before in a position to establish their identities independently, not just as Baltic states.
A substantial part of that is that Estonia associates with Finland and Sweden, and Lithuania associates itself with Poland. I think a cute example of Baltic relations is Tallink, which invested massive amounts of money into a new fleet to do the Tallinn-Helsinki and Tallinn-Stockholm route, but has also bought the Riga-Stockholm route and uses its old dilapidated ferries there.
What are the causes for the change in this relationship?
There isn’t a significant need to stick together. Before it was us three against the world. Now it is us 27 against the world. And us 27 have a lot more at stake. The overriding necessity has diminished so the three countries have an opportunity to create their identity which they would have always been happy to do had the need not been there. Because they don’t have that much in common, other than that they are all in the same spot and they are all rather small.
How do you think the relationship will develop in the next couple of years?
I don’t think there will be any cosmic shift. There might be a few misunderstanding between Estonia and Latvia because Latvia has decided on a course of appeasement towards Russia, where as Estonia is still pissed and not to let Russia get away with anything. Lithuania is content to keep its head down and figure out its own problems for awhile.
Can you explain where the Baltic States differ from each other?
It comes down to influence. Lithuania and Latvia are quite close, Estonia is ethnically different. Latvia has a stronger German heritage than Estonia. But Estonia has this concept of the good, old Swedish times. Estonia wants itself to be thought of as part of Scandinavia. I think Latvia understands that they can’t pull that off. Lithuania has its two religions, Catholicism and basketball. Even if it doesn’t wish to be, Lithuania inevitably turns out to be a client state of Poland in the same way that Estonia is a client state of the Nordic Council.
Do the identities of the native Russians differ from the identities of the native Baltic people?
The difference is in taking responsibility. The key significant between proper locals is that they have a sense that this is their country and they are responsible for how things work in it, whereas local Russians, their biggest difference and the source of their problems is that they don’t feel in charge here. They don’t feel like it’s up to then to change things or that they could change things.
Would you say that the Baltic States can be seen as a region where the people have the same identity?
No, of course not.
Can you explain where the Baltic States and Russia differ in terms of identity of the people?
On the more general level, Russians perceive the space relevant to them as far greater. Estonians are essentially interested in their own farm and maybe their own country. Most Russians aren’t even interested that much in their city. They are primarily interested in their country and its place in the world.
On any level that is really important, Estonians don’t care whether anybody likes or fears Estonia in the world, as long as their pigs are healthy. This goes a long way to explaining differences between Estonia and Russia – levels of street cleanliness, levels of corruption, relations with authorities. This does come from Soviet propaganda, but it was also there historically. Russians have a sense of if they don’t do it, somebody else will. Estonians have a sense of if they don’t do it, it’s not going to get done.
What are the main areas where Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania should cooperate?
Lobbying of common interests in EU internal politics. The rest of it we can handle, but EU internal politics is a place where interests are similar to a large extent and we could benefit from acting as united front.