the cyclops

One can look at Tallinn in different ways. Some see a city that has been multicultural and market-oriented since at least the 13th century. Others see it as the capital of Estonia. The incumbent ran his campaign with this first perspective. The challenger ran his with the second. And I don’t think the opposition’s campaign was ever about winning. It was about doing what the conservative party enjoys doing — sticking it to Savisaar. Maybe a few of them were disappointed that Eerik-Niiles Kross lost, but most knew that bringing down the Cyclops of Lindanisse was a political impossibility, yet delighted in watching Aeneas storm his beaches and fling rocks at him anyway. It’s a shame, because Tallinn needs new management. Any person who has scaled the ruins of the Linnahall at the foot of Old Town, stepped over its rubble and weeds and graffiti to greet a friend coming off the boat from tidy Helsinki on the other side, has felt those familiar pangs of shame. Too much of the city looks like that. Neglect, poor planning, asshole capitalist architecture. The city suffers from its leader’s myopia. The Cyclops wins an election and he thinks that it’s because he is doing such a swell job. But it doesn’t feel that way. Savisaar’s city feels slower and lethargic. Its free transportation leads nowhere. And yet a challenger who can match his rhetoric of inclusiveness and optimism is nowhere in sight.
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solidaarsus puudub

Solidarność was the message of the red letters scrawled across the pin pinned against my chest in college by a Polish girl with a Bible-thick collection of indie rock band compact discs. I had never given much thought to Gdańsk trade unionists, but I had already been marked as one of them. These days you never hear the term, either in Polish or English, and if you do hear it in Estonian, solidaarsus, it sounds hollow, because anything tangentially connected to altruistic impulses was thoroughly discredited by the Fall of the Soviet Union. But the hyper-individualistic “investors’ state” of tech-savvy marketing and start-up worship that was grafted onto the bones of the ESSR is still heavy on the skin and light on the meat. We are told that it is natural and Estonian to derive sinister pleasure from the failures of one’s neighbor, and if he should succeed, we are told that it is natural and Estonian to envy him, and to surpass him, if only to delight in his come down.

It eats away from the inside, turns the warmhearted cold. While no narcissistic writer could be expected to produce white papers of concise, pithy, logical thought and policy suggestions, we might expect a sort of temperature-reading of the national mood. The thatcherite-reaganite posturings of the middle aged have acquired a musty, dangerous smell. They sit lit up under fresh slogans like week-old tuna fish sandwiches beneath electric lights on ferry cafeteria shelves. The cheesy populism of the Edgar-led side moves clumsily, like an unfrozen woolly mammoth feeling its way across the ice for the first time in ages, accompanied by an orchestra of younger people’s derision and snark. Political life sleepwalks through elections and, “Did you hear what he said? Did you see what she did?” Every somnolent step is one closer to no holds barred parody.

In the freshly assembled honeycomb bee-colony towers of the northern cities, the young man is tossing screens back and forth with his thumbs and deciding on the cultural origins of the night’s savory meal. Japanese, Hungarian, Azerbaijani? Fling! He flings a screen aside and Skype chats with his friends and then his phone buzzes and his doorbell buzzes, too. He must now decide on a vacation destination for the coming dreary doldrums. Lanzarote? Limassol? 

In the towns along the less traveled highways of the south, the red paint is peeling, the window glass broken, the ancient curtains dance within the cracks. An old man sits on a crumbling cement stoop, helping himself to his morning juice. Bear Beer, black label, 7 percent alcohol, 2 liter bottle. He undoes the cap, places the plastic to his dry-skinned lips. The wind picks up some more and the curtains dance, just like the ghosts do, all across the parish.