It’s getting cold again, which means we renewed our subscriptions to Postimees and Eesti Ekspress — both for the pleasure of staying up to date on Estonia’s goings on and for our many fireplaces — this Tartu city house is heated by ahjud, let’s not forget.
Sometimes when I pore over the pages of Ekspress or Postimees, I recall the anecdote of the great Brazilian Caetano Veloso, who used to visit supermarkets not to stock up on groceries, but for the sheer aesthetic pleasures of being surrounded by mountains of glistening fruit and vegetables.
In Estonia I similarly cannot let go easily of banking advertisements, such as the one above, for a new card from Nordea. Must alati sobib, the seductive card holder whispers to you from across the pages, “black is always fashionable.”
I contemplate her black plastic bank card along with the reklaamid for various real estate deals and buckets of Rakvere saslõkk on sale at the local Selver with the voracious eye of a stranger. It is beginning to dawn on me that Estonianness is defined just as much by consumption of local and regional products as it is by song festivals or Kalevipoeg.
In fact, the way that the characters of Kreutzwald’s epic Kalevipoeg — which many Estonians cynically dismiss as a fraudulent imitation of the Kalevala — have again become relevant is as the motifs of various chocolates sold by AS Kalev. I may have not read one verse about Kalev and his wife Linda in Estonian, but I have devoured Kalev and Linda chocolates on many occassions.
For the uninitiated, there is whole universe of advertising containing Estonianness for you to become acquainted with over time. The cute ladybugs of EMT; the wholesome expression of the childhood character Lotte, who will sell you anything from cookies to bed sheets; the savory pop of anyone of Eesti’s young singers: Ines, Lenna, Liisi, Birgit; and the real life images of the living Estonian legends who come wrapped inside the advertisements in the guts of the media.
And now to the news. The Estonian media at this point seems to be asking a lot of questions, yet finding few answers. There are several ongoing debates:
Topic One: concerns the fact that Estonia’s entire financial sector is essentially owned by Sweden and Finland [see above reklaam]. Is it a cause for concern? Some, say jah, others say ei. Is Estonia’s banking sector still owned by Pekka Põder and Svensson as of me writing this? Jah.
Topic Two: concerns can Estonia improve relations with Russia? God knows, they keep turning this one over and over again, hoping to unpick the lock that will open the door to both respect and Russian ruble-fueled bling. Tiit Vähi, former peaminister and suurettevõtja, thinks Estonia should just remove its preamble to the stalled border treaty to make nice with Putin-Medvedev.
Vähi is also suggesting Swedbank’s Indrek Neivelt for prime minister. You know things are weird when the business community is conspiring to take over Stenbock House. Talk about a fifth column! These guys are assigning portfolios to one another in the sauna. Seriously. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet doesn’t think that Russia is ready to repair its relations with a bunch of chudes from across the lake.
As I crumple up these articles to feed them to the fire, I privately guess that maybe Russia doesn’t care that much about repairing relations with Eesti. And why is Estonia so eager to win the affection of a country that, as Pete Townshend would say, likes to fiddle about? Riddle me that, Härra Vähi.
Topic Three: There is a financial crisis going on — what has Estonia done wrong and what can this plucky nation of 1.3 million people do to fix it? The mustachioed EU Commissioner Siim Kallas has the answers here and here. Kallas seems to be fond of the word “reform.” Hmm.
Topic Four: Eesti SDE, led by Population Affairs Minister Urve Palo and Europarliamentarian Katrin Saks, thinks that Eesti Rahvusringhääling [Estonian Public Broadcasting] should put serious effort into bring Estonia’s wayward Slavic community into the Estonian inforuum* by creating more programming in vene keel. Perhaps a Russian version of the soap opera Õnne 13 is in order? Tolstoi 13? The Economist‘s Edward Lucas agrees. Isamaa-Res Publica Liit disagrees.
Topic Five: Olympic gold medalist Kristina Šmigun-Vähi is taking the season off to spend time with her baby. This will mean less skiing glory for Estonia but more mental peace and stability for “Suusa Kiku” and her offspring. In the long run, however, this extra motherly care could turn out to benefit Estonia, as skiing runs in the family.
As you know, it’s always hard for me to feed a photo of a young Estonian woman holding a baby into an ahi, but living in Estonia plus the successful integration programs spearheaded by IRL have made me more stoic and conservative with my feelings.
So, it’s only a matter of time before I will be able to watch the Nordea girl go up in smoke. And besides, it’s getting friggin’ cold outside and there’s a new batch of Estonian media delivered to our mailbox everyday, ripe for the picking, along with deals on sausages and fixer-uppers in Setomaa.