Thursday, May 03, 2007

Estonia twists in the wind

Unlike the last piece, this may be freely quoted, reposted, or otherwise used.

I am not just worried. I am cross.

First I am cross that the Russians think they can blockade any country's embassy like this. I remember our vigil for Politkovskaya--it had to be across the street from the Russian embassy in London in order not to get on their nerves. Russia always insists on the most pedantic interpretation of the Vienna convention when its diplomats (and "embassy officials") get caught drunk driving, shoplifting etc. But when they want to throw their weight around--against a country that has already suffered so hugely at their hands in the past--then they ignore all the rules and just go ahead.

I am cross at the Estonian government too. I asked Ansip when he was in London--a couple of months ago--"Are you really sure you want to do this? You have no diplomatic support abroad; it is incredibly divisive at home." He blathered on about extremists, public order etc. I asked him "Can you name one politician in any other country who has come out in public support for moving the statue". He couldn't name one.

What makes me so angry is that these nitwits take Estonia's hardwon reputation for granted, rather like the decadent children of first-generation immigrants do with their parents' hard-earned fortunes. Do he and his colleagues have any idea how long it took to persuade people that Estonia was a proper country? That the language and citizenship laws were justified? That the economic boom was real (and not just "smuggling")? That NATO and EU membership was justified? And because of all that credibility in the bank, he feels he can go and squander it, just to get a few extra votes for his ex-komsomoltsy.

I am cross with parts of the Estonian media for their casual treatment of another asset built up so painfully over 15 years: harmony between people of different backgrounds. The "honest" coverage, implying that the "Russians" have shown themselves in their true colours, as habitual looters and hooligans, is outrageous.

I am cross with Savisaar for exploiting the riots in one way, and cross with his opponents for trying to make him the scapegoat for the whole thing. I can see a danger that Estonia becomes another Poland, leading with its chin in fights it can't win, alienating its friends and delighting Russia.

Should Ansip resign? Probably. I like the guy personally, but this is a disaster. What stays my hand is the feeling that if the bronze soldier hadn't been the provocation, the Russians would have found another one. The way things are now with the Kremlin, it was only a matter of time before the storm broke.

I am cross with the the looters, of course. The Estonians have treated the Soviet-era migrants with incredible generosity, restraint and patience. What an outrageous way to behave! I am cross with the local Russian-language press, which as far as I have seen has failed to publish pictures of the looting. I am cross with the Russian elite in Estonia which has not condemned the riots.

I am cross that when there is so much going on that is really important, both in the region and the world, everyone is wasting so much time about what is in the end just a rather bad statue.

I am really, really, cross with the feeble response from the EU and NATO. Why the **** can't the EU ambassadors come round to the Estonians and show some solidarity. I bet if you had 24 ambassadorial limos pushing their way through the crowd of Putin-jugend the police would take a bit more action. Why not call all 24 Russian ambassadors in the other EU capitals in to receive an identical protest? And do the same in the other G-7 countries. Talking of which, Russia's membership of the G8 and Council of Europe should surely be on the line now.

With the exception of Estonia's president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who has said and done all the right things, this is a story of grotesque self-indulgence, mixed with appalling moral cowardice.

Who will put Humpty-Dumpty together again?

Two pieces from this week's Economist, with similar thoughts in a more measured form, will follow later today.


Giustino said...


You are right in that this "statue" issue would have probably surfaced somewhere else.

But the thing is that bad leadership was bound to surface in Estonia, and if you are going to have a screw-up PM, you'd probably go with Ansip over Savisaar (which was the contest in the last election).

For years Estonia has taken a non-stop propaganda beating from Russia. And the EU looks the other way, but nobody ever tells them to just shut up.

No one is ever forceful with Russia because, more than ICBMs, they appear to be capable of growing hysterical over anything -- even the movement of a statue to a military cemetery.

Think logically, for this is how Estonians think. They moved a statue from a square to a cemetery. Big deal, right?

Wrong. You see, it serves the purposes of whipping up anti-Estonian hysteria among Russians, which keeps Russians in Russia thinking about other places OTHER than Russia.

What I don't get is why countries with huge economies, like the UK, like France, like Germany, don't just call it like it is. Why is Germany, a wealthy and influential country of 80 million people, afraid to standup to Russia, a country of 140 million people, and say, "We are the EU, Estonia is part of the EU, quit meddling and shut up."

And there's the Scandinavian countries that are also scared of doing anything ferocious because "being Scandinavian" to often means going "aww shucks" anytime a country loses its freedom.

So you've got wealthy and influential Scandinavians and Germans that are scared of their own shadow.

It's pathetic. Whatever happened to the countries of the Vikings and the Teutonic Knights? Did they all succumb to electronic music and late night television?

Kristjan said...


I stopped reading halfway through. You're writing absolute drivel.

Kristjan said...

God damn it, I wish you'd just shut up!

Kristjan said...

Is it so difficult to call someone in Estonia for a consult?

Kristopher said...

You quit reading and that's you went back to your own blog and penned your masterpiece?

A good time to explore the national mythos, in an archaic 19th century style, in Estonian. Definitely.

Kristjan said...

No, I penned my masterpiece earlier.

mikk said...

Couple of thoughts from Tallinn.

Threre are people who say Ansip-nacionalist or Ansip-fascist. They are totally off the mark. He is not nationalist, he dont recognize nationalism when he clashes with it on street. I even think that Ansip´s ignorance about these feelings is part of the problem. He is not able to see that kind of irrational feelings in society. He may listen pro and contra argumets regarding the statue, but he doesnt hear emotions behind that. For him it is just a piece of metal. "We move this to another place. Problem solved," is his way of thinking. And that kind of ignorence is part of Ansip´s problem.

Second thought. I knew that Russian press is not free. Press freedom index puts Russia on 140th place. But until now I did not understand how deeply it is not free.
I remeber when couple of years ago Vladimir Pozner, prominent talk-show host in Moscow, was visiting Tallinn and described censorship in Russian media as a self-censhorship. He said that there is not so much direct interference from governement, but journalist know themselves, what to write and what to not write.
Last week I saw how ORT, leading TV channel in Russia worked in Tallinn. They were filming „protesters” and were making many replays. Action-cut, action-cut. Director was not satisfied: „Not enough emotions.” Then somebody got brilliant idea: „ Let them fall down on their knees.” Wow, truely Hollywood.

Kristopher said...

I saw no need to take down the statue, of course. Estonians are master semioticians; surely they realize that a symbol can have many meanings. Otherwise, how can anyone work in the Foreign Ministry building in clear conscience -- it was built to house the Communist Party, for God sake. It's an ugly, banal symbol of the occupation.

But I think it is dismaying that some Estonians have sounded downright hysterical as if it is 1939 all over again. If we have so little faith in NATO and the EU, what is the point of being a member? We know that Russia is a country that resorts to cloak and dagger violence against enemies of the state, but whatever is going on at the embassy is still more of an annoyance.

I am not naive about the hairy hand of the Kremlin, but if Putin is manipulating events (not that there are any investigative journalists left in Russia to prove it), it doesn't look like it's a precision operation so far. What, the Russian government wanted the mob to tear the Swedish ambassador's flag as well, for good measure? I doubt it, that was just overzealous youth getting carried away on the spot. Have the propaganda attacks against Estonia have been even remotely sophisticated? No.

The way this will really start hurting Estonia if it stays in the news any longer. It is silly for the Foreign Ministry to issue a statement every time a Duma member says something outrageous. That is what Russian lawmakers do. Of course Paet should not have met with the delegation, why would he? He is FM, they are a bunch of senators. Is the Estonian press going to run a headline every time a Russian company reneges on a contract? I thought Kalev had long turned to the West.

Russia wants this to remain in the news. It wants this issue to be positively priapic by the time May 9 rolls around. But if we take it easy, any new real provocation from Russia at that point will look unprovoked and outrageous. If not, it will be part of a continuum of escalation and seem more natural.

Kristjan said...


It is 1939 all over again. But this time we're fighting back, and we will win.

If we can all refrain from doing things which are stupid. ;-)

The government so far has.

jerzyswastebucket said...


Kristjan said...

If you pose a question, I can answer it.

Kristjan said...

If you're asking what I think you're asking, the answer is that what happened in Tallinn was a attempted coup d'etat organized by the Russian Federation. It failed, and now we are mopping up.

jerzyswastebucket said...

1. This blog has very inconvenient login system. Maybe you consider switching to something more user-friendly?

2. About Estonia. I understand your comment was very quick and not well thought of.

Estonia never got anything by bowing to Russia. In contrast, it got independence, NATO and EU membership by directly opposing Russia. 17 years of experience tells that it was the good conduct.

Likewise, I don't know any case when East European nation was helped by glossing or overlooking part of it's sad history. Every case, like untreated wound left to infection, problems exploded later. So my only concern is why Estonians didn't sort their monuments earlier.

I would also calm, because Russia after threatening moves always accepted the inevitable. They gulped Estonian entry to EU and NATO, why go mad about a monument?

The case of Estonian monument tells more about Russia society. Russia again dangerously glorifies own imperial conduct.

Another blog pointed cleverly (and sadly) that Russia didn't react so strongly to e.g. Estonians restricting citizenship to non-Estonian speakers. That should awaken any Russian patriot -Putin's Russian empire didn't care particularly about it's people, more about strengh of the country.

jerzyswastebucket said...

@ Kristjan - it was just test of the blog. :-/

Kristjan said...

I would add to the previous that I think we should all understand by now that appeasing evil regimes is not a good course of action.

Aleksejs Nipers said...

I must agree that situation on the streets of Tallinn and with EE embassy was not normal.

Surely, EE has their own right to do what they want. So the question is only about what they want – there is always possibility for different actions. For example to put near “Aljosha” another monument as a symbol of occupation – yes, fascism is bad, but we have to remember about Stalin crimes as well.

I like the way of Rīga, which decided that about monuments must decide not politicians, but professionals in history and art. So that shifted this issue from political agenda a little bit.

Edward Lucas said...

Thanks for all the comments. I am sorry if this blog is cumbersome to use. I am grateful for all suggestions about how to organise it better.

The idea that this was a putsch in Tallinn is a self-indulgent fantasy. I have witnessed putsches. They involve tanks, people seizing radio stations. This was a provocation, not a putsch. If you exaggerate, you will have no words left when it gets more serious.


Kristjan said...


Aljosha has already been moved to a war cemetery, where he stands proudly and beautifully.

Please see this blog entry for a photo, if you're interested.

Aleksejs Nipers said...

I know that and it is ok. What is done is done.
My note was quite theoretical just to show that there is always possibility for different solutions.

Giustino said...


It's an open secret that the Kremlin supports Edgar Savisaar in Estonia. Rather than being expansionists, these day Moscow prefers a loyal stooge and believes that Edgar is their man.

I *could* see how muscular Russian pressure followed by calls for Ansip's resignation *could* lead to Ansip's resignation, which would mean one thing: Prime Minister Savisaar.

BUT, the behavior of the marauders, who I have taken to calling the Sprite-Hugo Boss Liberation Army, and Russia's nasty behavior turned everyone to support Ansip.

I agree that he is largely behind this. I also don't like seeing 17 year olds yelling "CCCP Forever" in the streets of Tallinn. However, this government has held up in spite of all the pressure. Which is pretty good if you ask me.

irina-borissova said...

I've read all of our comments and I see a lot of frustration here. It is definetely more painful topic that we could expect.

Does somebody see any reasonable solution other than blaming everybody around?

Kristjan said...


As I see, Estonia no longer has a problem. Esto-Russians have more-or-less realized what a vile manipulation it was that was done on them, and that the Estonians are not the children of Satan after all.

The question now is what happens to the Russian Federation.

Giustino said...

"Does somebody see any reasonable solution other than blaming everybody around?"

Here's how it can end, Irina, and I am from New York and Italian-American just for the purposes of identifying myself.

1. Russia attends the May 8th dedication of the monument in the Estonian military cemetery. Both sides lay flowers together.

2. Russia signs the border treaty with Estonia. Russia has nothing to lose by signing it. Estonia has no land claims. Everyone knows this.

3. Estonia -- and the EU -- dump a crap load of money into integration in Estonia. I am talking about free Estonian language courses, greater incentives, et cetera. Maybe they should review the current citizenship tests. Launch New Deal-like construction projects to get inner-city Russian-speaking kids into the Estonian countryside where they can get decent jobs, do something, AND fix all the crappy roads.

4. Russia's state-run media finds another country to pick on constantly and critique. Maybe its own?

5. Estonia and Russia ignore each other for awhile and work mostly through the EU. Because besides this monument and the border treaty, they actually have little to talk about these days.

Let Russia worry about Iran and Chechnya. In the meantime, Estonia can continue to modernize its economy and become "another boring Nordic country."

The end.

irina-borissova said...

great plan!
#1 is the most important and sensitive now, I guess.

Everything else will take time.

#3 - great comment about re-thinking citizenship tests. It is not a secret that Russian speaking population is being discriminated over there. If we talk about Estonia as a country, we need to consider all nationalities who live there.

#5 - is my personal best one. We need some "third party" to help resolve the problem without taking somebody's side but really playing "third" party role.

Thank you!

Kristjan said...


You can be sure that a basic knowledge of Estonian will continue to be a prerequisite to citizenship.

We do not discriminate. But we do protect ourselves from a neighbour who has raped us for three centuries.

And I still very much see the manipulation in your views. ;-)

irina-borissova said...

who manipulates me?

Red said...

Ed, couple of things.

First of all, why the hell should Estonian Govt seek prior approval from politicians abroad!?? You are not implying we are small and pathetic on our own!? Besides, it's now very clear that the diplomatic support is there and all over the place.

Was it really for Ansip to win a few extra votes? Even if it was purely for political gain at home he didn't just get few but loads - support for him is going to go through the roof.

It clearly shows you're great pals with Mr Mart Laar. If Pro Patria's Laar were in the office he would have jumped at the opportunity to win some nationalistic votes. And no, I am not a Reform voter (but not a fan of Laar's either).

Please explain what has happened with our reputation then. Because we moved a war memorial (symbolic or not) to a new more beautiful location and are now facing Russian propaganda's onslaught our reputation internationally has somehow mysteriously deteriorated? Judging by what I'm hearing from people I know abroad and what I'm seeing in the foreign media it's the other way around - we have finally stood up.

Another perplexing part of your piece for me is where you mention Estonian media and the ruined harmony between people. Yes, Estonian media might have gotten carried away a bit but hell, journalists can get emotional sometimes as well and current hysteria is riding on a high emotion which will soon subdue. But to give them some credit, you lambast them for making the implication that all Russians are looters but then take your aim at the Russian elite for not condemning the riots either - hey, that may confuse Estonian journos, too!

As for the harmony between people - this I think has actually gotten better because for the very first time we have had such a serious face off and it always helps to know where we exactly are in terms of integration... In other words, lot of steam has gotten out and soon we are on speaking terms again.

The main misgiving there was, as someone already noted, that the statue wasn't removed right after the last Russian troops left Estonia in 1994. But that wasn't Ansip's bad. Could that have been Mr Laar by any chance?

To conclude, I was actually looking very much forward to Economist's take on this but it looks as if I'm going to be a bit disappointed now.

Kristjan said...


It is the Russian state-controlled media.

irina-borissova said...

I don't read Russian newspapers here.
kristjan, I hope that everything will be resolved for the better.
I don't want to go back and forth...

Giustino said...

#3 - great comment about re-thinking citizenship tests. It is not a secret that Russian speaking population is being discriminated over there. If we talk about Estonia as a country, we need to consider all nationalities who live there.

The thing is Irina that most came illegally and Estonia decided long ago against amnesty for them. It was illegal because Soviet administration in Estonia was illegal, and therefore Soviet population transfer was illegal too.

Right now, only 9 percent of residents lack citizenship. That's less than 125,000 people.

My hope is that the government will look into why those people still, after 16 years, can't pass a basic language test (which are quite standard in Europe, see France, Germany, Finland etc.) and what is keeping them back from being full citizens.

But I am still not sure if that will solve anything. I keep hearing Russians talking of "fascists" -- are they crazy? The government might do something in poor taste, but it's legal and democratic, and if you don't like it, don't vote for them or carry a sign and protest.

Breaking windows and destroying shops are criminal activities.

Quite honestly, the Estonians show amazing restraint all the time. As a person with Italian blood, I just might have been out there during the riots beating some kids up because when you are a normal person in this country and you work and have kids, having teenagers chanting "CCCP Forever" destroy your neighborhood is enough to make your blood boil.

Kristjan said...

I don't read Russian newspapers here.
kristjan, I hope that everything will be resolved for the better.
I don't want to go back and forth...

OK. I'm sure they will for Estonia. I hope that Russia finds democracy as well. For a good example, they don't have to look far. ;-)

irina-borissova said...

you are just so angry and reluctant that it is very difficult to really communicate with you. Sorry, kristjan
I wanted to smooth things over at least here, in this blog.

Kristjan said...


I think you are under a very dangerous delusion. :-)

Kristjan said...

You just can't believe that I don't hate you. :-)