Thursday, May 03, 2007

news article on Estonia from this week's Economist


Bronze meddling

May 3rd 2007
From The Economist print edition

Russian hypocrisy and heavy-handedness towards a former colony

CLUMSINESS on one hand, unprecedented bullying on the other. That is the story of Russia's reaction to Estonia's decision to move a Soviet-era war memorial and 12 unmarked graves from a prominent position in the capital, Tallinn, to its international military cemetery.

Handled better, the move might have ruffled fewer feathers. But Estonia's prime minister, Andrus Ansip, first raised the issue for party advantage. He wanted his Reform party, founded by zealously free-market ex-communists, to pinch some patriotic votes from other centre-right parties in the March parliamentary elections. His country is now paying a colossal political, social and diplomatic price.

After the Estonian authorities sealed off the monument last weekend, hundreds of people, mostly from the 300,000-strong ethnic Russian population, rioted in Tallinn. They attacked the main theatre and the Academy of Arts, chanting “Fuck Estonia”, and “Russia, Russia”. Secondary-school pupils unfurled a banner outside parliament reading “USSR forever”. The supposed aim was to protect the war memorial—a bronze “liberator” that Estonians see as a symbol of their country's decades-long enslavement by the Soviet Union. But the main activity was looting. Dozens of shops were raided. The police, initially overwhelmed, made 1,000 arrests. One man was stabbed to death—in a row with another looter, Estonia says.

The rioting was not wholly spontaneous. Russian embassy officials had previously met leading protesters in curious places such as a botanical garden, according to pictures leaked by local spy-catchers. After the riot, another front opened: state websites were swamped by attacks from computers with Kremlin IP addresses.

That was swiftly followed by a blockade of Estonia's embassy in Moscow by protesters from Kremlin-run youth movements; they have attacked it with eggs, stones, paint and deafening music, ripped down the flag, and jostled the ambassador. They now threaten to demolish the embassy on May 9th, a public holiday that marks Soviet victory in Europe. Estonia has protested. So has NATO, mildly. Russia says it has stepped up security and blames Estonia for “stoking tensions”.

Then on May 1st Russian oil and coal exports to Estonia stopped, pending railway “repairs”. Freight transit through the country is lucrative for Russian business. But like other threatened boycotts, the move will not hurt Estonia much. Previous Russian sanctions have forced Estonian firms to trade chiefly with the West. Still, gas supplies are truly vulnerable, while the thriving tourism industry is nervously counting cancelled bookings.

Russia's rhetorical onslaught has been ferocious. Ignoring the looting, media there claim that “anti-fascist schoolchildren” trying to stop Estonians “demolishing” the memorial were “tortured” by the “inhuman” police. Russia's foreign minister said Estonia was behaving “disgustingly”. A delegation of Russian politicians, invited to see that the monument had been moved, not demolished, called for the government's resignation before setting off. On arrival, they repeatedly insulted their hosts, while demanding that “political prisoners” be freed.

This has scary echoes for Estonians. In 1940 a Soviet delegation issued similarly phrased demands. Weeks later, Estonia was wiped off the map. The protests also sit oddly with the ruthless way that entirely peaceful and purely political protests are squashed in Russia, as well as with the often casual treatment of war memorials there.

Estonian nerves are jangling. The riots punctured the illusion that local Russians were integrating smoothly. Meanwhile a country that was for long a European darling has been left pitifully exposed by its allies' muted and belated response.


Dima said...

Support Estonia!

Red said...

"His country is now paying a colossal political, social and diplomatic price." - What are you talking about!?? Who are you getting your information from?

Same with the 'cancelled hotel bookings' - the hotel that got its windows trashed during the looting only reported one cancellation for the weekend right after the events and even that was said to have been due to the country-wide temporary ban on alcholic drinks...

Your piece is much better than I feared but I will remain with what I said in my comment posted to your earlier piece on your blog.

David Phillips said...

The orchestrated denial of service attacks on Estonian Government and Parliamentary web sites may seem like a side issue in the debacle. It is more important than that. As the Internet (count the web, email, cellular, social media - including usenet - and Europe's new television standard IPTV in this mix) forms the major technology by which Parlaiment and governement maintains contact with constituent and citizen, limiting access is a major attack on the State itself.
Estonia is small enough for the impact to be muted but for a country like France, Germany, the UK and Poland the effects would be akin to a cyber tank on the front lawn.

Lauri said...

working myself in the hotel business, edward is correct in this one - russians are cancelling bookings massively.

Red said...

Duh! Of course Russians are (as if they are a major contributor to our tourism revenues). What about the tourists from the rest of the world, what's going on there?

Don't think there has been a major setback. Our hotels could use some extra capacity for the coming summer months when they are always over booked...

Edward Lucas said...

Dear Red

Russians are indeed a significant part of Estonia's tourism revenues, particularly in the upmarket segment. When I stay at the Schlossle there is always at least one other Russian guest, and sometimes several. As I argued in one of the other pieces, Estonia has a dangerous tendency to take hardwon success for granted. Saying "our hotels can use some extra capacity" is a good example.

The diplomatic price is indeed colossal. Does it not strike you as ominous that it took nearly a full week before any big western country or organisation said anything in support. For those days, Estonian officials were on the phone desperately trying to get their "allies" to make statements, and not getting very far. Only when Russia overplayed its hand (as it often does, luckily for you) did the EU and NATO complain, and even then not very loudly or crossly.

A worrying aspect in all this right now is Estonia's own attitude: smug, self-righteous, deluded.

irina-borissova said...

edward, I respect you for saying this.

Kristjan said...

Edward, you're starting to be truly offensive now.

Kristjan said...

I wonder if Kuba was right about you after all.

Kristjan said...

I have now suggested this to KaPo, just so you know.

Kristjan said...

I also told Mart Laar.

mina said...

"smug, self-righteous, deluded"

Should we be afraid of the tanks now? Or should we get finlandized to please our " really really not so smug, self-righteous, deluded" neighbor? I agree that the wisdom is needed but how do you imagine making Estonia to call the Russians liberators or humble itself before Russian re-emerging chauvinism and extreme nationalism?

mina said...

And I can assure you - Estonia and Estonians are worried. Who wouldn't be when living next to such a good and polite neighbor and having that numerous minority.

Kuba said...

E.L is a natural - perfectly flexible spineless thing!He must really be precious to his owners; no vertebrate ca do what he does, I mean, just take a look at this little paragraph where he sheds crocodile tears over Europe's insensitivity toward Estonia, on the same stale breath he blames Estonia for Europe's failure to sympathize with it and - as if that was not enough contortions - he actually puts the blame for Russian fifth column looting and stabbibg on whom?...on Estonians! That is a patented snake who brazenly poses as Estonia's best friend at the same time still, (oh, so spontaneously!)saying of himself and Estonians 'we' - On top of this wriggling concerto off, it must be said that he is, of course, full of shit when he says that there was no support for Estonia;
a)Poland's President L.Kaczynski phoned Mr.Ilves to express Polands unconditional support to Estonia in this strife - he did so unequivocally and without hair-splitting as the first head of state (Finland, I think was also quick to do that.
b) they then talked twice more in consecutive sequence - the fact important and rare by itself.
c.)Further support came from our head of national parliament on our national holiday, 3rd of May,which adds gravity to his words that "Estonian friends should treat this [Poland's vow to back every country that finds itself bullied] as Poland's all-serious commitment" quote is literal and these is not a mild and small talk and Mr Dorn knows what he says.
d.)Further still, European Parliament has a foreign affairs commission and as its boss Polish representative -Jacek Saryusz-Wolski has made official his statement voiced as in his capacity of the Europarliaments commision's president excerpt from which, I shall translate here verbatim - "totally unprovoked large-scale anti-Estonian attacks, perpatrated by Russian authorities, including numerous instances of outright interference in Estonia's internal affairs are unacceptable and contradictory to civilized principles underlying relations between states of law." - pretty straight up in their gob.(show me any other political heavyweight in Europe that talks as plain on Russia)
e.)Then, he was pronouncedly backed by J. Solana, and
f.) U.S.A ,on their part, did not beat about (nomen omen) bush in letting Russians know that they will not have it.
Is it enough international support for three days for you Mr Lucas? Or were you just spreading white lies to achieve what the master in your style J goebbels once said that a lie repeated thousand times becomes a functional truth - in hope that this drilling will one day leave a mark in public opinion and at least some people will believe that Russia was "provoked" and the 'real' problem is "smug, self-righteous, deluded Estonia" - and the like spaced-out ying-yang of yours - something you had better not try peddling in this part of the world any more !

Red said...

Ed, it's like you are in the same boat with all those businessmen that have business interest with Russia and are now rolling their eyes - these are the types we lost our first republic for as well...

Yes, the Russian tourists have been one of the quickest growing segment but nothing substantial. It's the same situation as in transit trade - everyone thinks it's awfully important but then realise it's maybe a mere 1,5% of the GDP. But that's beside the point.

The point is that for a fear of risking no matter how important piece of trade with Russia we just can't take the risk of finding out what Russian secret services have been cooking for us. And cooking they were.

And I can't believe you're presenting our allegedly depleted diplomatic capital as a too great a price to pay - if that sort of a situation is not where we can use our diplomatic contacts then where the hell can we!??

Kristopher said...

I don't see anything controversial about the points made in the original article.

Kuba's post was too incoherent for me to understand what side he was on, but I take it many commenters here would argue that the move to take down the statue comes at much lower political, social and diplomatic cost?

If that's the case, there are plenty other Soviet relics in Estonia that, like the Bronze Soldier, are an offense to both aesthetics and historical truth. So why are we stopping now?

Kristopher said...

Maybe the EU will even pitch in if there are more riots. I mean, they have deep pockets.

Maybe they'll even send peacekeepers.

Kuba said...


do not take your failure to understand for my incoherence, please;

What I wrote referred to the below -quotted frag. of E.L last post, which I had found illogical, ridiculous in argument, untruthful as to the facts, defeatist and - lats but not least - nauseaating in its brazen cynicism. Read for yourself, them my comment again and see if it's gotten any clearer:
"The diplomatic price [of the bronze soldier affair] is indeed colossal. Does it not strike you as ominous that it took nearly a full week before any big western country or organisation said anything in support. For those days, Estonian officials were on the phone desperately trying to get their "allies" to make statements, and not getting very far. Only when Russia overplayed its hand (as it often does, luckily for you) did the EU and NATO complain, and even then not very loudly or crossly."

and this iddy biddy little darling piece of E'Ls diagnosis:
"(...)A worrying aspect in all this right now is Estonia's own attitude: smug, self-righteous, deluded."

Now, tell me; where is the coherence in your agreeing with the E.L and your "why are we stopping now [in getting all teh other monuments sidetracked]?"?
1:22 PM

Giustino said...

A worrying aspect in all this right now is Estonia's own attitude: smug, self-righteous, deluded.


This "Bronze Soldier" crap has been at the center of a PR war for a year now. Now it's basically over. After May 9, when all the little Russian Nazis come out to play, it will be over.

Why? Because life really isn't so bad for Russian-speakers in Estonia. You can get all customer service in Russian, you can read your Russian version of Postimees, and need I remind one that Narva, as bad as it is, is a stunning metrpolis compared to Ivangorod, which is a shanty town.

"Smug, self righteous, deluded"? That sounds like the boys and girls who looted the local R Kiosk in Tallinn last week. Or the idiot in Jõhvi who brought out the handgrenade.

The EU did its job, albeit slowly. The EU needs to realize that in the future things like this are going to happen. Russia has never shed its Stalinist ideology. And Putin has built the new Russia on the foundation of that ideology. There are teenagers running around in the streets of Moscow epitomizing Hitler Youth, that don't get the irony when they call people "fascists". Look in the mirror, kids!

All the EU has to do is threaten not to buy. The Russians think they have the upperhand because they have all the alleged natural resources to sell. But the EU simply has to threaten not to buy. That's your trump card.

Threaten an EU member? No Nord Stream. Why wouldn't that work? Do you think Russia really wants to build a pipeline through the Gobi desert and do business with the Chinese? I am telling you. Tell your EU buddies. Rekindle your inner Vikings, Romans, and Legionnaires. Tell the Russians that they are arrogant, manipulative dicks and mean it.

They know what they are anyway. It won't come as a shock to them.

Edward Lucas said...

I find it baffling that Kuba, Red, Kristjan and others don't see the plain facts about Estonia's diplomatic isolation. Listing the countries that have supported Estonia (Finland, Sweden, Poland, Lithuania) only highlights the rather more important ones that haven't (Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy). Plus the EU and NATO protests have been weak, mainly dealing with the blockade of the Embassy in Moscow, not the broader issue.

It is fatuous to say that Estonia doesn't need Russian tourists. Surely the more the better: then they can see what a fine country it is, and also how their own media and government have been lying to them.

I do not think Estonia or Estonians are "smug self-righteous and deluded" but I do think that some of the arguments advanced here and elsewhere can be fairly categorised this way.

Giustino said...


How do you think the EU should react?

Let's go over what happened here. The Estonian government -- for cynical and altruistic purposes -- moved a controversial war monument to a military cemetery.

Ever since the first scuffles, reporting on the monument has been non-stop from the Russian side with all kinds of veiled threats should Estonia do anything Russia does not approve of.

So you have problem #1 right there that has existed since last year. Russia is trying to dictate Estonian domestic policy and influence its agenda.

Now, Ansip won reelection. He made good on his election promise and predictably local Russian-speaking teenagers went nuts and looted shops and oveturned cars.

Russia criticizes Estonia for the way the police handled the situation and sends a Duma delegation to Tallinn that tells the Estonian government to resign (!) and demands to see a local ringleader of a group that very much helped organize the events on April 26 and 27.

So you have problem #2, Russia is making irrational demands of a sovereign country and is attempting to intervene in a domestic issue of a sovereign country.

Finnish PM Vanhanen set the tone by declaring that Estonia's riots were an internal issue and that it was up for Estonia to restore calm and nobody else.

This I think was appropriate. Carl Bildt followed suit and backed the Estonian government.

It's not surprising that these two countries are Estonia's biggest investors.

Germany quietly applied pressure as well to thwart any more overreaction on the Russian side. You'll notice that Putin hasn't weighed in yet.

In my opinion, if other European governments, namely France and the UK want to do Estonia and favors they can start by simply and loudly reasserting their position that Estonia was illegally occupied starting in 1940.

This is European history that stretches back to that date. Neither of these countries recognized that occupation. Russia needs to know that that fact is not debatable in the EU. That the EU thinks accordingly. When Putin sits down, EU bureaucrats should unequivocally state that historical point.

The Russian media is already aware of it, as are Russian historians. It is time that the Russian policy makers acknowledge it, because it will go a long way in coming to terms with the past.

Once they get past that point, they can sign the border treaty, and Estonian and Russian relations will quiet down because other than that treaty and this statue, there is actually very little for them to discuss.

Right now, it seems like the EU is backing Estonia because underneath it understands its history, but that it is too afraid to simply come out and say it.

And frankly, Estonia has done a lot for a lot of institutions. It's troops are fighting hard in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's NGOs are working with Belarussian students. It's president and foreign ministry is playing a key role in reaching out to Ukraine and Georgia. It's not like getting a simple press release from the US State Department reminding Russia to stay out of Estonian affairs is a huge request for Estonia.

Tom Adshead said...

I would suggest that much of the Russian sabre-rattling is more for domestic consumption.
First, it's a way of showing Putin that they can intervene in other states, just like Putin perceives America to be intervening in Ukraine and Georgia. So Putin can feel like his former colleagues in the KGB are doing something.
Second, it's a way of tarring democracy as being un-Russian, un-patriotic.
Third, it handily points out that other countries also suppress demonstrations just as aggressively as Russia suppressed its own demonstrations the other day.
It's an old Soviet tactic - reports about how bad things are abroad are a way of distracting Russians from how bad they are at home. Much better that people get worked up over the dismantling of a monument, than they should start to protest about domestic issues.
But Russia won't intervene militarily in Estonia, just as they didn't in Georgia. The West will go on appeasing Russia, except that the moment the West actually reacts, Russia will climb down immediately.

Kuba said...

"I find it baffling that Kuba, Red, Kristjan and others don't see the plain facts about Estonia's diplomatic isolation. "

Leaving aside the isolated/non-isolated issue - even granting for the purpose of the argument that it has been so, what I really find baffling is the way that you throw this alleged fact into the "why-Estonia-should-have left-Bronze-Soldier-alone" category!
I mean, all else aside, where is the logic in that? You put the cart before the horse, don't you think?

Is it the same logic that has you say things you do not think and then makes you re-iterate them anyway, as here:
"I do not think Estonia or Estonians are 'smug self-righteous and deluded' but I do think that some of the arguments advanced here and elsewhere can be fairly categorised this way." ?

On a broader issue: the way that this whole affair should - and indeed must - be looked at is in black&white - it does not happen in life very often, but here it has:

Estonia good vs Russia-kaka

I skimmed the other day through spontaneous posting that has been stirred in Polish common folk by the Bronze Soldier adventure and found it reassuring that the vast majority of my country-men sees it likewise.
No hair-splitting in this one, if one thinks himself honest. Generally speaking, it is the matter of flawed thinking, if one claims otherwise - nothing else;
you cannot adjudicate with the axiom of 'balanced picture' in your head, because making it an underlying principle of your examination invalidates it instantly!You set out already knowing that 'balance' is what you are going to get at the end no matter what and if facts attest to the opposite - all the worse for the facts!