There is something about the word “Duma” that doesn’t sound right in the Estonian language. Perhaps it is that, at least to my ears, it resembles the word tuuma –nuclear. And what does a tuumajaam (nuclear power plant) generate? Tume energia — literally “dark energy.”
Yesterday’s display of dark energy came from the lips of Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma committee on international affairs.
Kosachev himself is an example of the weirdness of Russian political life. He is technically a politician, but he never faces off in a competitive election. So he’s not actually accountable to anyone. It’s not like it is in the US, where if you got tired of Sen. Alphonse D’Amato you could trade him for Sen. Chuck Schumer, or if you got tired of watching fake cowboy Sen. George Allen tossing footballs out to the crowds, you could part ways with him and vote for Sen. Jim Webb. No, Russia is stuck with Kosachev. He is only responsible to the chairman and CEO of Kremlin, Inc. — Vladimir Putin.
His speech, through which he tried to deplore the hypocrisy of the European community in its attitudes towards last year’s riots in Tallinn, came out all wrong:
“In Estonia when the defenders of the monument celebrating the conquerors of fascism were beaten by police, there were no open letters, or resolutions to the European Parliament, no condolences sent – only complaints that youths outraged by murder had interrupted the Estonian ambassador’s transportation.”
Is it just me, or is there something a bit chilling about the Russian usage of “youths”? It reminds me of another fellow that’s always on about the “youths” and their service to the cause.
The dilemma here really comes back to the Potemkin candidacy of “politicians” like Kosachev. And that is that the Nashi “youths” who harassed the Estonian ambassador’s transportation are a pro-Kremlin group founded by and funded by the state. They were working, like everyone else, at the behest of Mr. Putin and his “United Russia” party. How can their outrage ever be taken seriously? Who buys them their neat jackets and organizes their camp love-ins?
Then, of course, we must unpick Kosachev’s statement. Were his loyal “youths” beaten because they were “defending the monument” or because they were throwing rocks at police? I was in Tallinn the week after the show went on, and I witnessed first hand the huge damage to private and public property. In my opinion, there was probably not enough police presence in Tallinn during the first night of disorder. Perhaps Mr. Dmitri Ganin would still be alive had the politsei managed to seal off downtown. But that would have taken extra police muscle, and, as we can see, the police are expected to subdue drunken rioters hurling stones with soothing words and kid gloves.
How the police doing their job is equivalent to Russian state officials beating up Mari activists, I am not quite sure. But, in Kosachev’s mind, the Finno-Ugric World Congress was the place to remind the Estonian delegation that they were in Russia, an unfriendly country. Kosachev’s United Russia ventriloquism was on display the day previously where he said that Ilves’ speech to Finno-Ugric minorities was “incorrect” because he had mentioned the dreaded “i” word — independence. Note to Ilves, next time make sure Russia corrects your speeches before hand.
In any other country, Kosachev would just be another annoying lawmaker. But the fact that he is accountable to one man only, and therefore must do the bidding of that one man, means that refusing to listen to the insinuations of Kosachev is the equivalent of refusing to listen to the insinuations of that one man.
Some people think that Estonia’s Russian policies have failed because Estonia used the “i” word, or forgot to thank Russia for liberating its parliamentarians of the 1920s and 30s from their lives. But, please, let’s be serious shall we. This is a show. It is a show where Estonians can earn the respect of their constituents by walking out of an assembly, and where unelected sycophants like Kosachev can earn brownie points from their all-powerful boss/bosses.
This is not something that matters like missile defense strategies or access to oil and gas reserves. This is a row about nothing. Really, think about it, what are the Estonians and Russians mad at each other about? Statues? History? Attitudes? Language requirements for civil service positions? Preambles to border treaties? And this impacts our daily lives how? Exactly. Just as Seinfeld was a show about nothing that managed to stay on the air for nine seasons, the Estonian-Russian crisis continues to pump out juicy headlines about … nothing.
Everyone benefits and the only people it really hurts is the Estonian transit industry (to the benefit of Russian competitors) and the Estonian Russian minority, whose would-be perspectives are overshadowed by Russian meddling and Estonian obtuseness. Do they even have an opinion? Who cares! Let’s argue about “fascism” and how prominently monuments are displayed in the capital cities of foreign countries. Ah, Christ. There’s a good Monty Python sketch in here somewhere. I just know it.