laupäev, september 30, 2006

Calling All Experts and Academics

Are any of you more than just armchair Baltic and Nordic thought leaders? Do any of you teach or regularly comment on Northern affairs? If so please privately e-mail me. I am working on a personal project that requires your assistance.

reede, september 29, 2006

Did Mart Laar Sell Guns to Georgia?

Things are heating up over in Georgia. It's hard to know when the Russians are playing hardball and when they are just screwing around with their neighbors. It's also difficult to fully grasp the issues the Georgians are addressing - Georgia is a little known entity in the US and Europe. We have a hard enough time finding Estonia on the map, let alone South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov on Friday accused Georgia of seeking a military solution to end frozen conflicts in its breakaway provinces of Abkhazia aand South Ossetia.

Ivanov also said several new members of NATO were fueling current tensions by supplying Soviet-bought arms to the Georgian government.

Remember to take this all in the context of possible NATO expansion to Georgia and the big meeting in Latvia in November. Also, I have heard that Ivanov is a contender for the Russian presidency in 2008. Funny how he is the one doing most of the talking here.

But don't worry, there's more, lots more:

The Russian defence chief also lashed out at the "younger generation" of NATO nations which he said were delivering Soviet-era weapons to Tblisi.

Some new NATO nations had violated an international system of end-user certificates by supplying old Soviet-produced arms and ammunitions to Georgia, he said.

These young NATO nations were in breach of "world practice" on arms deliveries, said Ivanov, adding that "serious members of NATO" agreed with his analysis.

Ivanov refused to name the countries involved in the arms trade, saying people could "come to their own conclusion."

Hmm. Former communist country, new to NATO, selling arms to Georgia, who could it be???

Mart Laar, 45, a former Estonian prime minister credited with turning around his country's fortunes after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been working since May this year as a special adviser to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Laar was hired for a year to coordinate economic reforms and offer wider transition advice.

It seems almost too perfect to put Laar, guns, and Gruusia together, though. I also wonder if Estonia a) has the leftover Soviet weaponry to sell, b) has the capacity to transport arms shipments to Georgia in the first place, c) sees it in its interest to sell off its own vital military resources when it has so little to begin with.

Given that Russia enjoys singling out the Baltics as the archvillains of the universe, something tells me that the arms didn't come out of Tallinn or Riga, and came from a more sensitive and formidable new NATO member, perhaps Poland or Hungary. Russia wouldn't be able to resist publicly shaming Estonia.

I'd place my bets on whomever has the secret CIA prisons in Europe. Because whoever had the resources to transport people to and from southwest Asia, certainly has the ability to transport weaponry.

teisipäev, september 26, 2006

Mõnus Pilt

Yeah, now that that's over it's probably high-time we got back to learning some Estonian.

Let's try out some new words I learned this summer.

1. Rauk - translation "geezer" - Marguse isa on üks tõeline rauk. Ta on nelikümmend aastat vana!

2. Kaitsema - translation "to defend" - Keskerakond kaitseb teie õigusi.

3. Nõudma - translation "to claim/to call into question" - Mõned eesti poliitikud nõuab hüvitist venemaalt.

4. Väitma - translation "to argue/to allege" - Tarmo väidas et Pauli uus pruut on tegelikult mees.

5. Ametniku - translation "clerk" - Elo töötab linnaametnikuna.

and finally

6. Ilves - translation "lynx" - Kas sina oled kuulnud? Üks hirmus ja vihane ilves sõi Villu hobust ära.

pühapäev, september 24, 2006

Latvia is Just Alright with Me

The woman who cuts my hair is a Latvian. She's really nice, and, I have to say - her country gets a raw deal. For starters, Latvia consistently polls as the greatest enemy of the Russian Federation. Estonia came in fourth after Georgia. We've been lucky to have things work out ok here at my blog, but things can get downright dirty at Aleks' place -

And if sneering former colonial masters weren't enough, Latvia gets broadsided by its Baltic brothers on a frequent basis. The Latvians are often the butt of jokes. In Estonia, if you are stupid, you are loll nagu lätlane (as stupid as a Latvian). I have also sensed that Lithuanians regard their northern neighbor as sort of a foolish country.

But compared to Estonians, all the Latvians - not that many, but how many do you need for a big, fat American-style generalization? - I have met have been softer, more pleasant people. Estonians are so puzzling that its hard to tell what emotion they are having, if they are having an emotion at that moment. They are like a nation of poker players, if you get what I mean.

Plus, if things have been hard for Estonia, Latvia's always gotten it just a little bit shittier. For some reason, even though most countries in the world could care less about some boggy land of Lettish people, Russia and Germany both have been so enthused about occupying and colonizing said land that they were willing to expend thousands of lives and considerable amounts of hard currency - not to mention effort - to try and do so. And yet Latvia survives, limping along here and there, but still running.

So to all Latvians, today I'd like to say Prieka!

laupäev, september 23, 2006

Welcome to Kadriorg

I would like to think I am a reasonable man. I may not be, but that still doesn't help me from trying to be as unbiased as I can. Call it my nervous journalist's tick.

But before I was a journalist, I had a love of politics. And, let me tell you, the last ten years have not been the best in the US. If you grew up supporting the Democratic Party in the US, it's been ten long years of disappointment since Clinton won the second time - and even that wasn't that thrilling. So, let me just say that I am used to being very disappointed with the outcome of elections.

I therefore awoke this morning early believing in my gut that Villu Reiljan and Edgar Savisaar's political effort to get Rüütel reinstated another five years had paid off. That everything had gone according to their plan, and that even though most Estonians favored one candidate, the valimiskogu would do as their party leaders told them and choose another.

Today, though I was pleasantly surprised to see that the members of the valimiskogu made the decision as individuals and not as party loyalists, and that the kind of democratic freakshow that played out on August 28 - where parliamentarians refused to even vote on a presidential nominee - was not repeated.

I have heard bad things about Toomas Ilves and good things too. But whatever some may think of him, I do think that he really cares about his country and I do think that he really wants to be president.

Now he has that opportunity.

reede, september 22, 2006

One Future, Like it Or Not

This is my official election eve post, and I'll try to sum up a lot of big thoughts in a few modest paragraphs. Such is the Estonian way.

When I think of Arnold Rüütel, the first word that comes to mind is not 'president', and it's not 'ex-communist', and it's not 'old' - it's 'midwife'. The presidency of Lennart Meri - though I was not paying attention at the time - seemed to prevent a clear break with the past. But coupled with NATO accession, EU accession, and citizenship and language reform, the years since 2001 have necessitated a figure like Rüütel, that is popular among the havenots and - to an extent - accepted by the haves. Rüütel has, in this way, played the part of a mediator in society, cooling the passions of warring factions with the finesse of the ex-communist bureaucrat.

The question before the valimiskogu is now whether Estonia needs five more years of that, or if it needs a bold, new, more European direction. In Toomas Hendrik Ilves they will no longer have a president that knows Russia in any personal capacity. Ilves does not speak Russian, and is unique among Estonians of his generation in this way. It seems trivial, but considering that an increasing number of young Estonians - the post-Soviet generation now entering the workforce - are in Ilves camp, Russia is as foreign to them as it is to him, he may ultimately wind up making - sooner or later - a better figurehead for independent Estonia than Rüütel could.

As the metaphor implies, Rüütel is the midwife, coaxing the new Estonia into existence. The questions is whether or not Ilves' direction is the baby everybody wants.

Opinion polls suggest that they do, and the fact that a political majority echoes those polls - uniting the far right of Isamaa with the Euroliberals of Reform and the Social Democrats - plus the fact that the Center Party and People's Party forbid their own electors to vote in parliament - reveals that this emerging direction is not the Soviet-style top-down, do-as-I-say model. Instead, it has genuine grassroots support, and a diversity of economic support - The Economist basically endorsed Ilves in its recent issue.

The central figure in this is the party unity of Keskerakond and the personal aspirations of Edgar Savisaar. Savisaar has shown himself as someone who is capable of speaking to Russia in a language they understand, of well-known political acumen (some call it trickery), and most of all of uniting Estonia's large and diverse Russian-speaking minority under an Estonian party led by one of the leaders of the reinstatement of independence, rather than separatist Russian people's parties.

While it can be said that Savisaar represents some Russian business interests, I think it would be wise to accept that he is not the enemy of the Estonian republic. In any fight, he is a man who you would want on your side. And his patriotic rhetoric shows that even though he coddles Russian interests, he acknowledges that none of his efforts will bear fruit unless he speaks to the national Estonian interest.

So Estonians who despise Savikas and Reiljan must know this - in any new Estonian order that emerges from the election, Savisaar will be present, no matter what.

Still, the problem with his model is that it is top-down, rather than bottom-up. What that means is that eventually his model will breakdown, because political movements in a democratic society - or any society - cannot be sustainable if they are top-down.

From that viewpoint, those who support Rüütel, and by association Savisaar, must accept that the coalition backing Ilves would find another point man if he wasn't there, because their coalition is one of ideas, not just based around a personality. The polls and parties show that Estonia is a Northern European state that looks West. That's where its capital comes from, that's where its TV shows come from, that's where its intellectual ideas come from (the modern tax system is based on ideas promoted by Americans, for example).

Like it or not, these two movements in Estonia must eventually embrace one another. While they duke it out in the political arena, the reality is that Estonians have consistently chosen their direction since they were given the choice in the mid-80s. They chose independence, they chose Mart Laar's government in 1992, they chose the EU and NATO in 2004, and it is likely that, whether tomorrow or in 2011, they will choose Ilves, or someone like him to lead them.

Estonia clearly has shown it has one future, like it or not.

Learning about the Baltics

I recently borrowed three books through interlibrary loan about our beloved Baltic countries and I am have been tucking into them on my rides to and fro NYC via the Subway system. It's a nice change from the previous books I read this summer, which is sadly over. Over the summer I read a lot of Stephen King books - Bag of Bones, From a Buick 8, The Gunslinger, and (the most eerie) 'Salem's Lot. I also managed to finish a book by Sir Ernest Shackleton called South! about a group of Britisher explorers trapped on an ice flow in Antarctica.

But now it's back to the real books. Most were written in the post-1991 period and, I have to say, it's sad to see how few books have been published since on the Baltics. They seem trapped, in the Western reader's mind, in 1991, unless of course you are familiar with NATO and EU accession. The best books by far deal with the formation of the Baltics. What's cute is that even when the definition is narrowed to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, they can't manage to neatly clump these three countries together into a common narrative.

Despite the intentions to promote a common pan-Baltic history, Lithuania is nevertheless fished out of the mix from the start. Latvia and Estonia were both fiefdoms of the Teutonic Knights, and so it's easier to deal with their individual responses to common conditions in chapters, while separate sections must be devoted to explaining the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth and the great king of all Lithuanians Mindaugus. Lithuania really does seem like it is a central European country, not just because of its Polish connections, but because of the interest that France had in the region via the Franco-Polish alliance of 1918. In Lithuania, unlike Latvia and Estonia, the elite were Jewish, Polish, and Russians - not Germans.

The formation of Latvia is really interesting because it was more industrialized so there was a greater connection to Bolshevism. They also seemed to have more of an anti-German edge following the 1905 revolution- I guess the Baltic German elite was especially harsh towards the Latvian people during their rule. There are also documents supporting the grotesque plans of the Reich to colonize Latvia with Germans. And this was in the 1910s, when Hitler was an art student! It has echoes of Stalinist population transfer, especially in Kaliningrad.

At the same time Latvia was also the most important for the Bolshevik Russians and their Soviet government. From what I have read, it was their hope to retain Latvia as a Soviet country in 1918 so they could set it up as a model Western Soviet country and then export their ideology to Germany and Scandinavia. Lenin doesn't come across as an arch villain in the formation of the Baltic either, when compared to the Germans. He seems to have viewed them as a way of exporting Bolshevik ideals through Western conduits - a sort of ideological electrical adapter, before they had such things.

From this, you can see why Latvia is still seen as somehow "betraying" Russia in its current independence and Western orientation. [In current opinion polls, Latvia is seen as the greatest enemy of modern Russia]. Because there was genuine support for Bolshevism in Latvia and the Latvian Red Riflemen played a prominent role in the October Revolution, Latvia was seen in Moscow as a kindred nation. Latvia's current Western reorientation then, in the eyes of current Russia, is a total rebuff to their great civilization. It shows that they are suffering from intellectually bankruptcy. Ouch. You can see why the Russians are bitter about Latvia these days.

The big player that these books omit is Finland, which should be included as much as Lithuania should be included. So many Estonian decisions were based on Finnish decisions - the decision, for example, to pursue full independence rather than national autonomy - is attributed to the Finnish decisions to do the same.

So the books wind up discussing Finnish internal politics at length even though they categorically try to separate them for the sake of it being a "Baltic"-focused history. The biggest douche bag in the history books though is Konstantin Päts. Unlike some would claim he wasn't your garden variety fascist. He was more of a presidential despot. And he made some huge mistakes which cost Estonians their independence in 1940. He foolishly attempted to deny the Vaps - the paramilitary force active in the 30s - a seat at the table. He actively suppressed strong Estonian nationalists, like Jaan Tõnisson. And the Constitution of 1938 only prolongued the denial of democratic forces in the country.

If Päts had been wise enough to include his political adversaries in government, even at his own personal expense, then Estonia may have been strong enough to stand against Stalinist Russia. It just goes to show you that many heads are always better than one.

Kind of interesting.

neljapäev, september 21, 2006

Four Days of Freedom

There is a reason the memory of World War II is so alive in these first years of the 21st Century. And that reason is that very soon, the adult memory of that era will be wiped from the planet by mortality. Soldiers of age 20 in 1945 are 81 years old today. Every day more and more disappear. What we are left with are the memories of children who suffered across the globe through an adult world in complete chaos. When people look back at the Second World War, all adults - from Michigan to Moscow - should feel shame. We are charged with protecting our children from danger and ensuring our children a peaceful and safe upbringing. But the promise of a happy and sane life was not enough to keep Germans from marching on Paris, Japanese from marching on China, or Russians from marching on Tallinn. It's perhaps one of the most embarassing moments in humanity.

In those terrifying moments though, there were the attempts of men to do the right thing. And on September 18 in Estonia, one such attempt was made by Jüri Uluots to save his country and preserve the rule of law before Stalinist Russia took it back four days later. As explains -

On September 18, 1944, as Nazi occupation forces started to evacuate the remaining Estonian territory that they held, and Red Army troops were closing on Tallinn, Jüri Uluots, as the Prime Minister acting as provisional President, appointed a new Government headed by Otto Tief [pictured], the Deputy Prime Minister acting as Prime Minister, who was also Minister of the Interior.

The Government also included Johan Holberg (Minister of Defense), Hugo Pärtelpoeg (Finance Minister), Johannes Pikkov (Minister of Transportation), Rudolf Penno (Minister of Commerce and Industry), August Rei (Foreign Minister), Juhan Kaarlimäe (Minister without portfolio), Arnold Susi (Minister of Education), Kaarel Liidak (Minister of Agriculture), Voldemar Sumberg (Social Minister) and Johannes Klesment (Minister of Justice). In addition, Oskar Gustavson was named State Comptroller; Helmut Maandi, Secretary of State (Head of the Chancellery); Endel Inglist, Deputy Secretary of State; Jaan Maide, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces; and Juhan Reigo, Head of Internal Defense. Two issues of the State Gazette and a governmental declaration were issued in the name of the Government of Otto Tief. Soviet troops conquered Tallinn on September 22, 1944.

And what happened to Estonia's government after it had been 'liberated' on Sept 22, 1944 by The Soviets?

Rudolf Penno and August Rei had left Estonia by the time they were appointed to the Tief Government. Johan Holberg, Johannes Klesment and Helmut Maandi succeeded in escaping from Estonia. Kaarel Liidak went underground in southern Estonia in April 1944, managed to evade detection by both the SD as well as the NKGB, and died in 1945. The NKGB and counterintelligence operatives of the Leningrad Front of the Red Army imprisoned the rest of the members of the Tief Government. Jaan Maide, Juhan Reigo and Endel Inglist were sentenced to death and executed in 1945; Oskar Gustavson was killed while trying to escape from interrogation in 1945; in most cases the rest were sentenced to prison for 10 year terms. Otto Tief (died 1976), Arnold Susi (died 1968), Juhan Kaarlimäe (died 1977) and Richard Övel managed to return to Estonia; but the others all died in Russia. Voldemar Sumberg was freed from prison camp in 1960 and remained in the Kemerovo oblast in Russia, where he died. In 1969, Juhan Kaarlimäe was arrested again for some time. The other government members who returned to Estonian were kept under surveillance by the Soviet secret police.

Tomorrow, there may be some commotion over these events. Some individuals, residents and citizens of Estonia, will attempt to lay flowers in commemoration of the fall of the Estonian government on September 22. Others may carry around an Estonian flag and beat their chests to remind people that Estonia was occupied in 1944. What may be forgotten during these events is what actually happened for four days in Estonia in 1944. The Estonian flag flew from Pikk Hermann, just as it does now, and a few grown-ups tried to restore some type of normality to their country before it was overrun by deportations, executions, and terror.

Humanity doesn't have the greatest track record, but it's nice to know that once in awhile we try.

An Estonian Statue of Liberty

Just in case anyone forgot that the hero of the Estonian national epic was the son of Kalev, or Kalevipoeg, Jüri Ratas and the rest of the gang in Tallinn want to make sure that very tourist is reminded each time they enter and exit Tallinn harbor, from the Baltic Times, subscription only.

TALLINN - Tallinn will hold an international competition to design a giant statute of the mythical hero Kalevipoeg in the city’s bay. The statue will be a striking landmark, located 100 meters from the coastline with a height of 21 meters. The Tallinn City Council, which has commissioned the statue, hopes it will join a list of internationally famous landmarks, such as Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer and New York’s Statue of Liberty.

I have never read Kalevipoeg and have some doubts about his heroism because typical hardass Estonians have told me it's all fake and stolen from Karelian mythology. Through my contact with Estonians I am aware of the existence of other old Gods like Taara and Uku, as well as real folk heroes like Lembitu, but Kalevipoeg didn't come up too often. Plus he cut his legs off with his own sword in the end. I hope that's not a metaphor for the Estonian nation.

reede, september 15, 2006

The peculiar predicament of Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Imagine you were a foreigner not in one country, but in two countries, and maybe then you can begin to understand the peculiar predicament of presidential aspirant Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

One of the chief criticisms of Ilves is that he is a foreigner. He is not 'really' Estonian - ie. he did not spend his entire life there. That much is true. He was born in Sweden to Estonian refugees. There are thousands of these *Estonians around the world, from Australia to Canada. Most of them left, raised families in their adopted homes, and never looked back except for a vacation. In this way they are no different than any immigrant community.

But on the other side of the equation, many, like Ilves have returned. And those on the outside did work extremely hard to maintain Estonian visibility during the Soviet period. And when the wall came down, they came back. He came back. And he now lives in Viljandimaa. He renounced his American citizenship in the early 90s, and went onto serve the Estonian state.

Yet when he speaks English he speaks as an American. And his mannerisms and demeanor seem out of whack compared to the less-animated posture of the young person that is a product of the Estonian school system. He is Estonian, yes, this much is true. But when he looks into the camera, he smiles. When was the last time you saw Edgar Savisaar muster a big grin? Even Rüütel is incapable of the full-figured expression of joy. Rüütel is capable of looking happy or bemused, but that big dopey smile Ilves let slip every now and then? That's pure America.

But as American as Ilves is, he really isn't an American. Could Ilves pass as an American with his eurocratic style in any town in the USA? How many real Americans are fluent in a tongue other than English? How many of them would be willing to give up their citizenship to return to the lands of their ancestors? How many have served as the foreign ministers of a small European country thousands of miles across the ocean? How many of them have a foreign wife and foreign child and sit in Brussels and worry about Estonia all the time? Not many. There may be some in Washington, DC or Boston or elsewhere. But are these people genuinely American, or are they of that strange international breed of humanity which knows no true nationality? My money is on the latter.

And so Ilves sit on the way station of nationalities. His parents were Estonians. His wife is an Estonian and his child is an Estonian. But he, he in the eyes of *some*, is not an Estonian. He is not American. He is something else.

neljapäev, september 14, 2006

Estonia's Heavy Hitters Come Out to Back Ilves

Remember the 2004 Presidential Election? John Kerry assembled an army of American culture warriors to support his bid to unseat George W. Bush including John Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, and Dave Matthews Band?

Well, the campaign for Toomas Hendrik Ilves is enlisting similar weaponry to take on the deeply entrenched power of Arnold Rüütel, a 78-year-old gentleman who looks aloof and borderline senile in Tallinn, but takes on the aura of an old fashioned country boy in rural Estonia.

According to The Oiko Times, a Greece-based Eurovision-focused online newsletter, Ilves is looking to draw on some heavy duty firepower to propel him to victory in the Estonian valimiskogu on Sept. 23.

Estonia's 1996 representatives Ivo Linna & Maarja-Liis Ilus have promised to sing as part of what has been called a new 'singing revolution' - as Estonia's electoral college prepares to elect the country's next president.

The concert is scheduled to take place near the Opera house on September 23rd. However they are still waiting for final permission from the City Centre authorities before it gets the official go-ahead. According to the Radio Uuno morning program one of the organisers, Jaan Elgula, has said that the concert is part of the campaign to support Toomas Heldirik Ilves, one of the presidential candidates.

The list of performers is impressive. Besides Ivo and Maarja other Estonian famous singer will sing too, like Tõnis Mägi, Ultima Thule, Untsakad, Justament, Juhansons, Chalice, Siiri Sisask and Rein Rannap.

I guess the logic follows that if Toomas 'Heldirik' Ilves is good enough for Chalice, then he is good enough for 'Mats Hobusega' - the average Estonian. The only problem is that the average Estonian probably doesn't know Chalice too well, although he is probably familiar with Ivo Linna (pictured) and Tõnis Mägi, who is supposedly seen as very handsome among the maarahvas.

Earlier this week, some other cultural figures, including Jaan Kaplinski and Jaan Kross, endorsed Ilves. But that doesn't mean that they will count much. As Villu Reiljan told Postimees, they should just go write some books or something and mind their own business. Let the kingmakers make the king, Kivirahk. Get out of the way!

Anyway, Bon Jovi didn't pay off for Kerry in 2004 no matter how much people liked 'Livin' on a Prayer.' Still, it is yet-to-be-seen how Ilves' gambit will play out.

teisipäev, september 12, 2006

"The only post-communist Nordic country"

As you may have noticed, I have changed the subtitle of my blog to remind readers that Itching for Eestimaa is about "the world's only post-communist Nordic country." I thought about what exactly that means and why I chose to pay homage to a speech by foreign Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves from 1999, and it came back to the dilemma that Ilves and I, both - at least at one point - Americans, have found ourselves having to do. Explaining to others what exactly Estonia is if it is not just another Slavic country in East Europe, like most of the other countries that end in "ia" - Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, etc. etc.

The first comparison most reach for is Finland. Most people have heard of Finland. They are aware that it is cold there and that it snows a lot and that the people like skiing and taking saunas and are quite often blonde. And that's not a bad way to get people started on understanding a peculiar mostly unknown nationality.

In the global media though, and in most International Affairs curriculi, and in Estonia as well, Estonia is known as a Baltic country or state, or sometimes even republic. This is frequently confused with Balkan - which is very different but similar sounding. Baltic means some basic things to people - formerly Soviet, small, on the border of Russia, on the Baltic sea. For the history buffs they might know something of the Teutonic knights, or the Baltic German manor houses that once dotted the land. But while this appelation helps describe geopolitical location and common history, it doesn't really say much about the Estonians as a people.

And what can be said about them? They are on the quiet side, on the blue eyed sandy haired side. They like to drink - they drink beer and vodka and both. They eat a lot of fish and potatoes and use the Internet like it was some third undiscovered side of their brain. They like berry picking and hiking through bogs and their folklore is filled with menacing woodland trolls and centers around the distressing and violent tale of an Estonian guy named Kalevipoeg. They have names like Signe and Hannes and Heiki and Tuuli and Juhan. And before you know it, you aren't discussing Estonians anymore. It seems like you are talking about Icelanders or the Faroese or Finns. You are talking about a Nordic people - and that's when they ask you.

"Are Estonians Scandinavians?" You would like to say yes, because that would be so easy to file away these people in a well-known drawer of humanity. But you can't, because the Latvians will tell you that the Estonians should get back in line and remember that Riga is the capital of the Baltics, and the Lithuanians will accuse then of thinking too high of themselves, and the Finns will look down their noses and snicker at the concept that their backward cousin wants to join the Arctic Circle club, and the Swedes - well, we won't even go there.

But regardless of what others think, you are still at a loss to describe the basic culture of Estonians. And that's where the N word comes in, Nordic, because you really can't think of a better word to describe them. It leaves enough wiggle room to make sure you won't insult Scandinavian pride, but it also allows you to easily characterize a people for those who wouldn't know Tallinn from T'bilisi.

What better way to describe the absurd and slightly disturbing cartoons of Priit Pärn, or the heavy morality of Tammsaare, or the forbidding poetry of Gustav Suits. How better can you explain why the characters in Õnne 13 rarely smile then ask someone if they've ever seen an Aki Kaurismäki film? It's just too easy to reach for the magic 'N' word and wave all the questions away.

And because this blog deals greatly with what exactly Estonia is and what is going on there, I too couldn't find a better way to sum the country up for others. I hope you don't mind.

esmaspäev, september 11, 2006

Days to Remember

I once stood in a Manhattan office building on the second floor listening to a group of music journalists discuss the plans for the coming three issues of their popular music-oriented magazine. "You're really going to hate the September issue," one of them said to the group. "It's going to be the tenth anniversary since Nevermind came out, and we are going to do a special on Nirvana."

Everyone groaned. But they knew it had to be done. This was 2001, and, yes, Nevermind would be 10 years old that autumn. But Kurt's death had been so regularly discussed and recycled and discussed again, you would of thought it was somehow connected with the assasination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963. He had graced many a cover of many a magazine - usually when the magazine had no better news to run.

Cobain suicide-intrigue had become, sadly, the equivalent of playing A Christmas Story the weeks before Christmas on TV. It was a pop culture ritual - one we all knew the words to, but still managed to read on - hoping for another nugget we hadn't quite digested the last time.

I remember where I was when Cobain blew his brains out. I had just come home from school. And as I switched on the radio and tuned through the stations, I found it a tad eerie that every station was playing Nirvana. Then I found out that Mr. Cobain was dead. I really didn't like that feeling. In the early 90s there was something of a pop culture/rock/youth renaissance. And he and his band really made that happen. So that night I couldn't help but think to myself how shitty it was that "our" poet - the guy who always managed to make things a bit more interesting - had killed himself so brutally.

But as the years went on, I became immune to talk of his death. He was just a singer, sure. Those feelings concerning his death were dark, yes. But how many times did I have to read about it over and over again. How many times did I have to look at a newspaper stand and see his agitated blue eyes peering back at me, saying "I'm not dead yet."

And slowly all conversation about his death turned me off. I just didn't want to talk about it. Talk, in a sense, made the feelings cheap. Ordinary. Dull. Why would I want to relive the same feelings over and over and over again. What good would it do? It was 2001, right? Not 1994. I was 22. Not 15. It was the present. Not the past.

Today on my way to work I passed many magazines and newspapers that have commemorated the attacks of 9/11 on their covers. But instead of acting to memorialize the dead, they seek to help you, dear reader, for the umpteenth time, relive the horror. One paper was black and just had the times the planes hit - so you can look at your watch and think deeply about the pain and the horror those planes caused people. Others showed smouldering buildings about to fall - so you could remember an action so heinous happened right here, in our busy seaside town.

For those of you who really just want to live September 11, 2006 just like September 11, 2001, CNN is airing the full coverage of the event on its website "free, in real time." You can also rent Flight 93, the television film about the events now. It was just released on DVD.

About 3,000 people died here that day. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the people the tsunami carried off in 2004, but it's much easier to deal with an act of nature than a coordinated act by individuals. Those people that died here are still dead and always will be. Down the street from my home someone lost a son - a firefighter. His mass card is laminated and stapled to a tree. I think about that guy and how he died everytime I pass that tree. It doesn't matter if it's September 11 or May 9 or January 22, I see that guys face and I think about him and the people like him.

Maybe for some other people things like yellow newspapers peddling grief and destruction and television news programs immortalizing things we know too well ad nauseum are part of the coping process. But to me they just seem to be making a buck off people's interest in death. Deep down, it's some sick, cheap rollercoaster ride. On the surface it isn't, but deep down it tickles something in people that keeps them coming back. It's like watching the Zapruder film in the Oliver Stone film JFK. People watch it over and over again and never get tired of watching their executive get shot in the head.

Can you imagine if, in the Civil War, Americans had video cameras? And every anniversary of some horrific bloodshed, like Gettysburg, they showed footage from the battle, in real time, just so you could relive the excitement of watching armies of grown men massacre each other? Or how about if they embedded reporters at the storming of Omaha Beach in World War II, with cameras on their helmets. Just so you could relive the terror and carnage in the comfort of your home.

It sounds sick, doesn't it? It is.

pühapäev, september 10, 2006

She wants to meet 'regular Estonians'

According to a report in Postimees, when Queen Elizabeth II visits Estonia on October 19 and October 20, she won't just want to meet with the debonnaire Arnold Rüütel (should he be reelected). She'll also want to meet the people of Estonia, you know, the real nitty gritty populace.

Elizabeth only has two days in Eestimaa, but I am sure she can pack a lot into them. If she really wants to get a flavor for Estonians, I am sure that we can discuss ways to connect Her Majesty with everyday Estonians.

For the Tallinn experience, Her Highness could visit a nail salon and inhale fumes for an hour and a half, then get whisked away to the tanning salon for some rest & relaxation. Then later she can dine on dry reindeer meat at Olde Hansa. She can follow that by getting drunk and spray painting the Union Jack all over the Pronkssõdur.

For the country experience, may we suggest a date with Enn at the neighborhood pub in Võhma. They can dine on fried herringas or fried pelmeenid, and, of course, kartulisalat. I'm pretty sure the evening would conclude with a unisex nude sauna, some Gin Long Drinks, and maybe a nude swim in nice boggy Estonian lake. And maybe some berry picking/potato digging.

And that's just for starters. There's a lot of ways Elizabeth II can get to know everyday Estonians. Does anybody else have any suggestions for her itinerary?

neljapäev, september 07, 2006

Bush and the Border Treaty

Bush is coming to Tallinn:
TALLINN, Estonia U.S. President George W. Bush will visit Estonia before a NATO summit in neighboring Latvia in November, Estonian officials and the White House said Thursday.

Bush will stop by the Baltic country on Nov. 28 for talks with Estonia's Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and President Arnold Ruutel, officials said.

Ruutel's office said the 78-year-old head of state invited Bush to visit the country of 1.3 million on his way to the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, on Nov. 28-30. Estonia joined the alliance, as well as the European Union, in 2004.

The former Soviet republic is a close U.S. ally, with troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A White House statement said the president's trip would underscore NATO's role in "fostering a Europe whole and free."

It said the visit would highlight "new allies that have successfully transitioned to free-market democracies, contribute to the war on terror and offer lessons learned and expertise to others pursuing liberty."

The United States never recognized the incorporation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union in 1940, and has kept close ties with the three countries since they regained their independence in 1991.

I am glad they referred to Estonia as a Baltic country rather than the dreaded "Baltic republic." Still, they managed to work "former Soviet" in there. It's also "former Swedish province of ..." too. I wonder if that was common in the eighteenth century...

Anyway, no matter what you think of him, Bush will be the first US president to visit Estonia. Clinton has been there, but not while he was in office. None of the presidents from Wilson through Roosevelt made it there the first time around.

What does it mean? The US is an important country of 300 million people. Bush is among the most high profile of world leaders. That's a lot of free publicity for a small northern European country.


In other news, Estonia and Russia are still at an impasse over that pesky border issue.

A deputy Russian foreign minister said Thursday that Russia insists on resuming negotiations on a border agreement with Estonia to avoid any future territorial claims.

Vladimir Titov said Russia was seeking further talks to prevent a situation when Estonia could make territorial claims against Russia using a border agreement that the two sides signed. Estonia ratified the agreement but Russia refused to follow suit after Tallinn inserted some new provisions.

"The problem is that they [Estonians] included provisions in the ratification law that can be seen as legally entitling them to make some territorial claims on us," Titov said.

The two countries signed border agreements on May 18, 2005, and the Estonian parliament ratified the documents on June 20, but with additional demands linked to the 1920 peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Estonia. On September 6, Russia notified Estonia that it was revoking its signature from the treaties because the 1920 document was no longer valid.

Titov said more than a month ago Russia had proposed including a provision "that all the previously signed agreements and treaties in bilateral history outlining the border line are invalid."

Estonia's basic position is that the preamble of the border treaty does not affect the border treaty's content and therefore there is no need for further border talks. Russia though, seemingly paranoid about land claims from Tiny Estonia, won't sign it. There are some undercurrents about the Tartu Treaty of 1920 and the Occupation - Russia says that the Tartu Rahu isn't valid and that the Occupation was a liberation - but aside from that I wonder who will have the good sense to put this thing to rest.

I could see, for example, Estonia passing a document that renounced its title to the land in the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920 not covered in the current agreements. But, as Postimees pointed out in an editorial recently, who knows what displeases and pleases the Russians. Why should Estonia have to twist and turn so that Russia will sign its name to the border treaty. And now that Estonia is in the European Union and NATO, what difference does all this make?

kolmapäev, september 06, 2006

9/11 Stories

I am now soliciting stories about individual reactions to the 9/11 attacks for a story that will appear in Postimees next week. Please free to add your stories - with knowledge that the content may be published - in the comments section.

The date was not September 11, 2001. It was July 4, 2000. And I was in lower Manhattan dragging around a video camera to chronicle Operation Sail 2000 - a big party where big boats circled the tip of Manhattan and big drunks from all over the Big Apple drank a lot of big beers. I was there from early morning to late evening and, after the big fireworks display, I proceeded to follow the masses to the nearest subway stop to get on the train home. Unfortunately, the subways were packed with people. Festering with humanity. And I had to pee. Bad.

It seemed like I oscillated from east to west as I walked up the island in search of a new subway station. I didn't know this part of Manhattan that well as I was pretty lost. Finally I found a large building that was still open. It was next to another very large building and everything in the vicinity seemed tremendously huge. I did my business in the bathroom there and came out. It was then that I looked up. And looked up some more. In fact, I couldn't really see the sky here. It was like being in one of those large fictional cities of the future you see in movies. "So this is the World Trade Center" I thought - feeling like an explorer catching his first glimpse of the Sphynx. "Wow."


I spent the summer of 2001 commuting between Manhattan, where I had an internship at a magazine, and Long Island, where I held a job in construction. I was in New York three days a week until August 1, when my internship abruptly ended and the department I was serving was downsized (ie. everyone I was working with got fired). I then waited for a few weeks before I was scheduled to begin my study abroad program in Copenhagen, Denmark.

At that point, I expected some things out of Denmark. I anticipated drinking a lot of beer, for example, and perhaps the ability to have relations with several nice looking Danish women. And ... I think that's about all I expected. Actually I was very happy to get away from sterile Washington, DC and out of the new George W. Bush-ruled United States. I really didn't like George W. Bush. Despised him in fact. Some people, during the Clinton years, seemed to have an irrational hatred of Clinton. I had something like that for Bush. We have a habit of electing southerners president - because southern states are even more provincial than northern states and refuse to even vote for a northerner for higher office. But Bush's Texas drawl just annoyed the ever loving shit out of me. I couldn't watch a minute of one of his speeches. I didn't need to anyway, as he rarely said anything worthy of discussion and still hadn't mastered the art of reading from a teleprompter.

So I had high hopes for Denmark, but they were shattered within a week or two. I found myself sandwiched in between preppy American students, whose conversations seemed so boring I couldn't really take part, and then when I did, I was ignored because whatever I said did not register with them, and Danish students, who looked like they worked for hours on their hair, listened to the worst music ever made, and seethed discomfort with the loud, rude American students - those students whose country sold weaponry to the Israeli Defense Forces to use on helpless Palestinian children. The immense amount of social pressure I felt weighing down on me, along with the reality that I had signed myself up for three months in a quiet Scandinavian city, brought me to go to the independent city of Christiania and buy some really good hash cookies.

I had never done a drug like that before. It was truly a psychedelic experience. A new plateau of consciousness. Not necessarily a good one - more like a rocking boat on a stormy sea. But when the ride was over I found myself content to be alone more often and not worry about those social pressures. So I sat in the computer lounge a lot. And I was sitting there in the computer lounge on September 11, 2001, when someone said ...

You know what they said. They said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Like everyone on planet Earth, I shrugged my shoulders. We all thought it was a little plane. Not a big plane. But there were two big ones. And both buildings collapsed. The immense sickness I felt in my gut was nearly too much to bear. I went next store to the bar and drank three or four shots of vodka, hoping to numb to uneasy pile of disgustingness at the bottom of my stomach.

My brother worked in Manhattan. Not in the trade center. But who was I to know where he was at that particular moment. An image of him, lying in a pile of rubble with his chest blown open and his guts spilled out everywhere came to me. I tried to keep it away, but it was there. He was there, his eyes glassy and fish-like, gasping for air and dying. I couldn't be around people. I even walked to the administrative building at our "campus" (really just a few buildings in Central Copenhagen) and hid in the toilet there - there where I could get some peace.

I called my father. He seemed sad but calm. He kept said that "a lot of people were in the towers" and "thousands of people are probably dead." I asked about my brother and he said that he didn't know where he was. How could he not know! The event had just happened. He called me back pretty soon afterwards and told me that all of our family was safe. And in a way, that was all I needed to hear. I could live with the deaths of the faceless, but I couldn't live with the deaths of my flesh and blood. It was selfish but true.

That evening I went to my dormitory and settled down to watch Paula Zahn on CNN quote FDR and watch the towers fall over and over again. I kept waiting to find out who did it. But that wouldn't come for at least two more days. The fellow Danish students were generally concerned for us. The image that remained in my head was the people jumping from the buildings. Everything about their deaths seemed so cold and forbidding. Here they were in a cold, gray, steel high rise of a building, surrounded by gnashing metal, and jumping in the still September air to their deaths in the wreckage below. There was something so dark ... so clinical about it. That's all there was. Just a leap and a death. And it was over for them. It was over for so many people. It was - for me - a passionless death. It was someone holding a gun to your head and telling you to commit suicide.

On the wall of the train station the next day was written a new word. A word I came to know quite well. It was "jihad" written in black magic marker. It meant "holy war." I was scared. There were people that sympathized with this act in my community. People that could look at me and see right through me. Who saw my death as justifiable, just because of the country on my passport. I couldn't fathom this mentality and it frightened me. I usually thought myself open minded. I wasn't, for example, shocked that people out there hated the US. But I couldn't understand how you could just mercilessly and purposefully kill random individuals and call it acceptable.

And because I couldn't understand that, I was frightened by it. And the thing is, I never thought of my people as "Americans." To me we were - and are - just people that happen to live in the US. What did all these people really know about our policies in Israel, for example. In what way did they actually contribute to whatever it was that fueled the hatred that led to widespread massacres of innocent lives? The whole thing just didn't make sense. When I found out it was teams of young men that carried out the strikes against us - two words came to mind "useful idiots."

I wiped the word "jihad" off the wall with my hand and later boarded a bus to the north of Denmark. In a town called Aalborg my friends were busy seducing some local girl but I just couldn't put on my party face. All I could talk about was the death. Maybe it was less real for the Californians and Georgians and Tennesseans on my trip. But for me, for that week, I couldn't really do anything. I couldn't even listen to music. All I could think about was the death. Up until that time, I was on a messageboard for leftwing activists from Washington. They were busy preparing to protest the forthcoming war on Afghanistan. I was so disgusted. 9/11 had hurt so many, but it hadn't damaged the academic left's desire to organize a protest to something - whatever that was.

One of my friends, a guy who also was active in activist circles sent me a letter sympathizing with me. "Those kids are idiots," he said. "We need to find whoever did this and blow them to pieces." And I even managed to listen to all of George W. Bush's speech on September 12, or was it 13th? I can't put it all together in my head now, it's all a bit blurry.

I'll never forget the face of my friend standing on the shore near Skagen though, in Denmark. He looked up at me and said simply "I'm scared." I had images of being drafted into service and being sent to fight some Biblical war. I even thought of staying in Denmark should someone try to force me to do anything. Whatever the case was, the idea of the government taking possession of my life didn't suit me. I was an American, this much was true. But I would always be myself first, without a nationality or a loyalty. My very heartbeat and breath seemed more important that anything at that moment. It could be seen as cowardice. Sure. But that's how I felt.


On the Saturday after the event, I put on music again. It was a sunny day. I opened the windows in my room and, for the first time in a week, the grayness of death had escaped my mind. I could go on. Some people in my dorm avoided the topic altogether. They refused to even discuss it. It was too much for them. For example, a new TIME magazine sat on the table in the communal kitchen and one fellow student, and American, refused to to even look at it. "Look, I just can't deal with it," he said.

Others, the Europeans, played with ideas. A German student reminded me of all the people that had died in Vietnam, felled by US bullets. "No country has a clean past, not even Germany" I mustered. "What has Germany done in the past 50 years," he responded. "Nothing," I said. "But what about the past 60 years." He was silent.

The Somali in our dorm was usually friendly to me. One day he and the German both toyed with the word "jihad" again, playing on my American paranoia. I don't recall exactly what they said, but I think it has something to do with the Somali conspiring to kill me. I couldn't find it funny.

And there were lots of Muslims - or people from Muslim countries - in Denmark. You could see them down at any nightclub on a Friday night. The guys would be slick in black clothing, and they almost always had blonde Danish girlfriends. I almost never saw a Muslim woman though dancing with a Danish guy. This, to me, always seemed strange. They seemed invisible. But maybe I don't know what I am talking about. If they were there, I didn't notice them.

These kids seemed integrated. But at every falafel hut there would be men with beards reading newspapers in Arabic. Their world seemed so different. They came to live here in Denmark, but they probably only spoke enough Danish to sell you your falafel sandwich. They didn't seem like the kinds of guys who would share a beer with you. They didn't even seem to look into your eyes. I remember one guy was reading a newspaper in Arabic with the photos of the hijackers. "What did it say?" I wondered. "What is he thinking." It seemed like there was a wall between us. Something that could not be bridged. I remember cooking sausage in the communal kitchen and the Somali student covered his plate so that the smoke from my sausage wouldn't taint his food.

On a lighter note I remember sharing some food with Pakistanis at the kitchen table. They were of this subpopulation - conservative and cut off. I was a sore thumb to them, an American with bad manners who hadn't shaved that weekend. But we did share some some good food. And nobody got their head chopped off.


As the month rolled on we attacked Afghanistan. It took a whole month to assemble a nice coalition. And in the end we had no Osama bin Ladin. It was he I wanted. He I wanted to be taken alive, put on trial, locked in a cell with Manuel Noriega and forced to eat pork sandwiches everyday. But they couldn't find him. Later, when I returned to the US in December, the drum roll for the war in Iraq had already started. The focus went elsewhere. Public enemy number one took a backburner to Saddam Hussein. It was all quite surreal.

Back in the US, things seemed to be actually the same. I was expecting something different, but other than a lot of funerals and a lot of American flags displayed I was glad to see the whole place hadn't gone to hell. I went to visit the trade center site with my parents - to see where this big thing had actually happened. On the blocks around the trade center site there were gentlemen selling souvenirs - commemorative books and flyers and anything you can imagine that would capture that special "moment" for you and your coffee table.

A huge crowd of people were gathered around the gaping wound in the earth, and I distinctly remember a small kid asking his father if there were any "dead people in there." But being there, actually looking at the ground, reminded me even more that it was something that happened. It was something in the past. A past event. All we could do now was look at this hole in the ground and think about it. And where could our thoughts lead to? Anywhere.


Today, nearly five years later, Osama bin Ladin is still at large. We never caught him - can you believe that? Can you believe the most powerful country on earth lacks the political or moral or actual will to reach into the caves of Pakistan and pull that squirming, self-appointed prophet out by his beard?

The US hasn't been attacked for five years, but it doesn't mean it won't be attacked again. All we New Yorkers can do is sit and wait. Will the authorities protect us? They can't even decide on a building design for the new trade center site. I'd personally prefer that no World Trade Center-like building goes in there. But who am I? Just a little peon on the Internet.

Because of the surreal turns that have taken place since 9/11 it's hard to figure out exactly what has happened since and what has to do with 9/11 and what doesn't. Is the Iraq War part of the response? Bush says "yes" but Bush's advisors had been planning the military removal of Hussein even prior to his presidency.

There have been other attacks too - in Bali, in Madrid, and last year in London. Each time the same images come back to haunt me. The grayness of death. The finality of mortality. The purposelessness of slaughtering innocents. In December 2001 I attended a rooftop party in lower Manhattan. Standing there looking at the absence of those two buildings, I couldn't help but think of how stupid those men who killed themselves and 2,900 others were on that day.

They thought they could change the world in an action. They thought that they could provide a cause and provoke an anticipated effect. But they didn't. They didn't accomplish anything. Their efforts were worthless. Their lives, useless. And in the end nearly 3,000 people were irrationally murdered for the selfish purposes of confused and sick individuals. There was no logic. There was only chaos and then more chaos.

How could anybody be so foolish?

Historical Revisionism

The photo to your left is one of Nazi German and Soviet Russian soldiers sharing a chuckle in Brest-Livotsk in September 1939. They are sharing a moment because they have just finished dividing Poland under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed that August. The Soviet Russians and Nazi Germans were allies under that pact. They were allies until Germany reneged on that pact when it invaded the USSR in 1941.

However, in Stalin World, the Soviets and Nazis were always enemies. Mortal foes. It was fascism versus communism and communism triumphed. This is the interpretation of this period of history as espoused by the Council of Russian Communities in Estonia, who sent a letter to Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and Jüri Ratas this week requesting that they allow people lay flowers at the memorial to the Soviet soldiers who took Tallinn in September 1944.

The context is the Estonian Presidential Election, and how any barricade could effect the outcome.

“We do not exclude that in connection with Estonian authorities’ ban of any political activity near the monument, on September 22, acts of civil disobedience to authorities and clashes with police, which can result in victims from both sides and unpredictable political consequences, may take place.”

According to the authors of the letter, "they considered monument at common grave of Soviet soldiers to be monument in honor of all people, who died in struggle against German Nazism liberating Estonia. According to them, it is a considerable part of the 20th century’s common history, which may not be changed in connection with peculiarity of the current moment. Those, who do not respect their own history, do not have future, the statement’s authors stressed, categorically opposing to revision of outcomes of WWII."

But if you read up on the history of the Holocaust, that which the Nazis are most frequently condemned for (along with the territorial invasions), you'll find that it's first real euthanasia campaign started in 1939 while the Soviets and the Nazis were allies.

The Soviets had no problem shaking hands with a Nazi Germany that euthanised its own citizens. It wasn't an issue when they carved up Europe in 1939. The issue was territory and when the Soviets got their hands on this little clump of land on the Baltic Sea it took 50 years, a Baltic Chain, a Singing Revolution, and coup for them to give it back to its rightful owners.

Under the premise of spooky Stalinist history, everything the USSR did up until the very moment that Nazi Germany invaded the USSR in 1941 was just fine, including the partitioning of Europe. Because how can you condemn the actions of your enemy when you yourself abetted that enemy, shook hands with him, signed territorial agreements with him, and worked together to destroy both foreign governments and people?

Whose historical revisionism then is less rational?

teisipäev, september 05, 2006

Danes Foil Terror Plot in Odense

The Danes did something right this week. They caught a few young suicidal gentlemen before they decided to not only blow themselves up, but kill others in the process as some sort of political statement.

Danish authorities said they foiled a serious terror plot Tuesday with the arrest of nine men accused of preparing explosives for a planned attack in Denmark.

Investigators were not sure how advanced the plans were but said they decided to launch a pre-emptive strike Tuesday after keeping the group under surveillance for some time.

"The clues police found indicate that they were very likely planning an attack somewhere in Denmark," Justice Minister Lene Espersen told The Associated Press.

"It was the most serious matter I have had in my time as justice minister," she said. "Police went in and stopped the group as it was preparing an attack."

I have to say this is a triumph for their justice ministry. There is this idea out in the ether that Danes, Swedes - whomever - can't find the 'bomb' in 'suicide bomber'. Americans ridicule their justice system with its 'open prisons' (I've actually been inside a maximum security Danish prison - as a student! - and it was quite nice, almost better than my freshman dormroom). One wonders what fate awaits the potential bombers.

But it's great they could catch the young gentlemen before they proceded to blow themselves up for Uncle Osama. Why they do it is a mystery because it accomplishes nothing and only makes things worse for Muslim countries. Palestinian suicide bombers have been blowing their guts all over the place in Israel for years, but it hasn't won them much. Not only that, it gives the Israeli military a free hand to come in and bulldoze their homes and accidentally (?) spray bullets at their children. In other words, it's counterproductive.

Anyway, while terror has washed over Western Europe, coalition partners, like Estonia, most likely see themselves as immune to these kinds of plots which usually draw on suicide bombing 'talent' from local Muslim populations. Since Muslims have yet to discover Estonia (and they are not that great a presence in neighboring Finland either) it might be significant to forecast that Estonia is not high on the hit list. However, Odense - as you can see from the photo above - is not unlike an Estonian city like Haapsalu, Pärnu, or Kuressaare. So while the threat may not hit Estonia directly, it is nevertheless a very tangible and scary reality for Estonians.

I was in Denmark on September 11. We lived in a community with a large number of Turkish and Somali residents, and shortly afterwards I remember walking to the train and seeing 'Jihad' spray painted on the wall. God, I wanted to catch whoever had written that and just kick his ass. And it wasn't a vengeful anger. It was frustration with stupidity. "How could a young person be so dumb to buy into the suicide = martyrdom equation?" I thought. "Wasn't it abundantly apparent that God isn't on anybody's side? That you only get one life to live? That killing oneself is the marriage of idiocy and irrartionality?" I guess it wasn't clear to some people.

Just because a man dresses up in a nice white dress and gets a gleam in his eye and holds an old book and tells you about the will of God, doesn't make it so. Osama bin Ladin, and those who follow him and urge young people to murder themselves and others - are frauds. If Bin Ladin really believed what he preached he would have blown himself up ages ago. But no, he hides in a cave and tells others to do his bidding. It's a sick world. Better drink your Saku Originaal (or Tuborg) while you still can.

reede, september 01, 2006

Peter the Not-So-Great

Man, I have to hand it to Andrus Ansip. He knows his history:

TALLINN, August 31 (RIA Novosti) - The prime minister of Estonia reiterated his opposition Thursday to the building of statues of Russian tsar Peter the Great in the Baltic country.

Commenting on the plans of Narva's municipal authorities to launch talks with the Moscow-based Dolgoruky Fund for the Support of Compatriots on financing a statue of Peter the Great in the largely Russian-speaking border city, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said he saw no reason to be grateful for the tsar's actions in Estonia.


The Estonian prime minister said, "As a resident of Tartu, I do not approve of the fact that, on Peter's orders, Tartu was razed to the ground and its residents were deported to Russia. The same was done in Narva, although admittedly the city was not destroyed. But when in 1704 Narva was conquered, all old and sick people were dragged out of their beds and thrown in the river, and in 1708 all residents of Narva were deported to Vologda and Kazan. We have no reason to be grateful to Peter I for what he did in Estonia."

Ansip said Estonia should honor its own national traditions, and regretted that the government does not have the authority to ban the building of such statues, since such decisions are made by local authorities.

On one hand, a monument to Peter the Great is an improvement to any monument to Lavrenti Beria or Josef Stalin, you know, "great Soviet heroes." Peter at least has been dead for more 200 years. I have heard that Latvia has similar problems with the Peter the Great statues. On one hand the people that live in Narva are ethnic Russians and they like Peter the Great, no matter how many Chudes he managed to get rid of while he built up the city that bears his name (not enough they might concede).

But on the other hand, Peter was a malevolent imperialist prick. Just look at his sissy mustache. It's the mustache of an arrogant snob. What's an Estonian prime minister to do, welcome the statue? Besides, Peter the Great wasn't even born in Narva and Paul Keres, the famous Estonian chess player was. Doesn't Keres get priority over Peter the Great?

Anyway, I am glad we have some more monument controversies to talk about. Pronkksõdur was getting pretty stale.