Tuesday, March 06, 2007



Building on success

Mar 5th 2007
From Economist.com

Estonia needs a brighter government


SUCCESS stories are rare in eastern Europe, and badly needed. That, perhaps, is why Estonia usually gets a good press—and why the elections on Sunday March 3rd were both important and worrying.

In the 1990s it was easy to make the case that economic reform had been something of a disaster in the ex-communist world. Had not the “Washington consensus” of fiscal stabilisation, privatisation and price reform left millions destitute, while enriching the spivs? Well, Estonia showed that sound money, fast privatisation and free trade could work pretty well. The economy has been growing at a breakneck 11%; unemployment is negligible.

It was also easy to make the case that post-communist countries were hopeless laggards when it came to reforming the machinery of government. While the modern world was going digital, eastern Europe was where you found rubber stamps, typewriters, carbon paper, telexes, and long, long queues.

Estonia disproved that, too. It can claim almost to have invented “e-government”—the idea that citizens deal with the government online, at their convenience. Sunday’s elections were the second in Estonia to allow voters to cast their ballots online. The internet is integrated into everyday life in Estonia in a way that visitors from most other countries find tantalising and admirable.

Estonia also showed that a small ex-communist country could stand up to Russia and survive. That seemed a long shot in the early 1990s, when Russian troops were still refusing to leave, and when international pressure on Estonia to adopt Russian as an official language, and to give automatic citizenship to anyone who had moved to the country during the Soviet occupation, was intense. Around a third of Estonia’s population was made up of such migrants and their descendants, stranded by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Estonia’s tough stance has worked. Most of the non-citizens have learnt at least some Estonian; a third of them well enough to gain citizenship. Dark predictions of ethnic strife have proved groundless.

So Estonia looks more secure and more prosperous than at any time in its history. Yet its friends, and many of its citizens, are dissatisfied. Politics is a dismal mess. Corruption—in a country where the public sector was once remarkable for its honesty—is growing, and the famed innovative edge is blunting by the week. Reform has stalled in most areas, and the labour market is becoming unbearably tight for many businesses. Amazingly, some construction companies are even importing Finnish workers: they are expensive, but they are skilled and conscientious. The state-run education system is ossified, the private sector flimsy and low-grade.

In the face of this, the past government proved not just uninspired, but sometimes silly. The prime minister, a cheerful but not terribly impressive ex-mayor called Andrus Ansip, has inflamed tensions with both local Russians and the Kremlin by picking a fight over a Soviet-era war memorial. The so-called “bronze soldier” is an obnoxious relic of the occupation to many Estonians. But it is revered by many local Russians, and Mr Ansip’s sudden and urgent desire to have it moved from central Tallinn looks cynical and irresponsible. Still, Mr Ansip is popular. His Reform Party did especially well in the election, and now claims 31 of the 101 seats in parliament (up from 19). The freemarket opposition party of the country's flat-tax guru, Mart Laar, polled disappointingly.

The one real bright spot is Estonia’s president, a Swedish-born, American-educated heavyweight called Toomas Hendrik Ilves. He recently vetoed the law on the bronze soldier, keeping it out of the election campaign. In a speech for Estonia’s independence day celebrations, he lambasted corruption, complacency and stalled reform, attacking the “indifference, callousness towards fellow human beings, arrogance” and worse of his fellow citizens. The real enemies of Estonia, he said, were bad habits at home, not bullying behaviour from abroad.

Mr Ansip will now have to decide whether to work with his current coalition partner Edgar Savisaar, a brooding figure demonised by Estonian conservatives for his friendly ties to Russia. But the lesson of the vote is that every ex-communist country from the Baltic to the Black sea lacks a government committed to reforms and, sadly, even Estonia is no longer an exception.


Unknown said...

Tsk, tsk, tsk! Mr.Lucas! You are getting ahead of yourself:
1."in the 1990s it was easy to make the case that economic reform had been something of a disaster in the ex-communist world" - this is absurd, I really don't know for whom you're writing: pretty much every one (except, perhaps, central parts of Kongo)knows it has, largely, been a stunning success - if at some expense!!
2.You seem to be denouncing as "irresponsible" and "cynical" A.A's "urgent desire" to have an "obnoxious relic of the [Soviet] occupation" removed from the center of Tallin-the capital (I think we do agree that 'many Estonians' which you quote as seeing it that way are a majority , do we not?)...and the rationale for this is that "it is revered by many local Russians"? Could you perhaps elaborate a bit on this so that to dispel the (nonsensical, I am sure) supposition that if 'Estonians' and 'Russians' were substituted with, say, Czechs and Germans, you would be lambasting a government of independent Czech Republic for their hysterical urge to remove the giant Wehrmaht trooper (which many oversensitive and backward-looking Czechs see as the reminder of Nazi Protectorate) from the center of Prague, because of its offensive potential to the feelings of a German minority...? (for all those unfamiliar with history, let me just add that the former occupation lasted from 1941-1991 and the latter: 1938-45)

Unknown said...

continued from the prev. post
3.Than, just when everything in Estonia seems doomed for the keen reader, comes a beackon of evangelical hope:
"The (...)bright spot is E.’s president, a heavyweight called Toomas Hendrik Ilves." who told the nation that "The real enemies of Estonia (...) were bad habits at home, not bullying behaviour from abroad" and identified bad habits as his country-men's "indifference, callousness towards fellow human beings" and "arrogance"... a true sage, is he not?Alas, his (and yours) re-education effort seems to fall on deaf ears around here...
"Still, Mr Ansip is popular. His Reform Party did especially well in the election" - you sigh the same concerned sigh you utter as you shake your head over Poles' immaturity manifesting itself in their still supporting the weird Kaczynski twins.
More light, please! Questions below are NOT RHETORICAL so try to answer specifically with verifiable arguments. Avoid phrases like "I think" "it looks" "it seems" "it is possible to make the case" etc in the sentences of your argument.:
a.)Q:do you see any connection between the occupant army's monument in the downtown capital of the formerly occupied land, the 'enemy from abroad' and the word "bullying"?
A:Yes, I do.../No, there is no connexion...
b.) Q.: what exactly do you see as 'cynical'in a country's prime-minister's decission to remove the said monument?
A.: The p.m's decision was cynical because...
c.)Q.:would you agree that the reverse behaviour - p.m's dismissal of his nation's majority (as we have agreed in the previous post) sentiment and leaving the monument where it is can be described as 'indifference"?
A.: Yes, that would be 'indifference'.../ No, it would not be 'indifference'
d.)Q:In semantic terms: is there any relation between being 'indifferent' and 'cynical'?
A.: Yes, there is.../ No, there is none
and the last one:
4.Q.: If - let us say -a child wanted to know what "arrogance" means, and it would be given as an example an instance of a man who continues to maintain to know what is good and what is not in spite of millions of other people saying unanimously that they see it the other way 'round - provided that, admittedly, it is an understated one, would you say that it could pass for a working definition of the word "arrogance"?

Anonymous said...

I would add to Kuba that the issue of the Bronze Soldier came forcibly into the public's awareness on May 9, 2006, when it witnessed an astonishing revival of pro-Soviet moods, and a clash between ethnic Estonians and ethnic Russians waving Soviet flags.

Clearly this issue needs to be resolved before May 9, 2007. I believe the statue needs to be moved to a less-prominent location - which has also been the plan of Mr. Ansip's government.

Secondly, Mr. Lucas, your interpretation of the "lesson of the vote" is surprising to me. In my opinion, the elections showed that reform-minded parties enjoy the support of 2/3 of the Estonian electorate, and backward thinking populists the remaining 1/3. I think there is cause for moderate optimism regarding the composition and ability of our next government.

Kristjan in Tallinn, Estonia

Unknown said...

I have had to cut my comment into two parts to make sure you will not shut me out by means of your handy "length restriction" – I am apologetic for that, unfortunately, as it is, almost each letter you type on Estern European topics (the ‘divorce’ piece was fine), makes me type another in order to rectify your brew so that no-one would ever come to question your expertise or good, friendly intentions – not to mention spaced-out suspicions as to your hidden agenda along the lines following the ancient qui bono guide
I can see, however, the bad side-effects to my effort – hence this piece of humble advice: if you want to cut me short - cut yourself shorter - that will save both virtual space and real time…
Qba “u-know-i-am-in-ur-corner” Chmielewski

Unknown said...

...that, of course goes to Mr. E.L -

Edward Lucas said...

Wow, thanks for the feedback, Kuba

I am glad you think economic reform in the post-communist world has been a stunning success. I was thinking of the doom-laden commentaries that we used to see in the 1990s (eg Mr Grzegorz Kolodko, former Polish finance minister, and Janine Wedel's work on Russian privatisation). Remember all the scandals with "tunnelling" in the Czech Republic, the Gerashchenko era at the Russian central bank? There were a lot of mistakes and a lot of controversy. My point is that Estonia is a handy "good example" where the policies have worked.

The "Bronze Soldier" is a weird issue. I would understand if a Isamaaliit govt had tried to remove it. What seems odd is the ex-komsomoltsy of Reform suddenly getting all patriotic. I also think Ansip's rhetoric justifying the move because "the majority of ethnic Estonians don't like it" is odd given that Estonians and their friends have been trying to explain to the rest of the world for the past 15 years that Estonia is not an ethno-nationalist state.

I agree that the local pro-Kremlin lot (Klenski et al) have used the soldier as a focal point for rallies etc. But I still think the best thing would not be to stir the pot on this one. Ilves was right to veto the law, and the majority agrees with him. As Ilves pointed out in his excellent recent speech, the real scandal is not that the Bronze Soldier is still there, but that Estonians' attitude to their own history is still so uninformed and unthinking. A proper memorial to the victims of the occupation would be a fine idea.

If Lennart Meri did not see any need to move the bronze soldier (and I discussed this with him on several occasions) I find it odd that Ansip suddenly finds it so necessary.

I do not quite understand the question about cynicism and indifference. Democracy does not mean that the majority is always right, and it is surely reasonable for commentators to have opinions. If you don't like them, don't read the Economist and don't look at the website. There are plenty of other places (eg BHHRG or Neil Clark) where you can read alternative viewpoints.

by the way it is "cui bono" (dative)

Finally, I agree that the result is encouraging in that it shows 2/3 of voter going for reform-minded parties. I just wish the tone of the campaign had been a bit less banal and self-indulgent


Peter Pigeon said...

I see that Cicero take a more upbeat view.

Unknown said...

First, a positive message: yes, Edward, its 'cui' and its Dative! Well done! Now, that your irritation fumes have been ventilated, let's proceed to the point, which, you say, you have difficulties with: the questions I put where to indicate a complete disarray in the basic notions that you show through your writing and persistent reluctance to give straitforward answers - I think that is obvious now. By the way: I confess to have been collecting the most amusing parts of your writing for my private entertainment - in this you have proven prolific - I would like to thank you for that; from the current exchange of posts I shall gratefully preserve gems of "I discussed it with Lenaart Meri many times" alongside "I find it suspicious that ex-Komsomol is all of a sudden patriotic" (that will fit just fine with the previous ones, esp."I devoted half of my life to fighting for freedom of the captive nations of Eastern Europe (and parts of Asia)outside Soviet embassy in London picquetting (...) and fundraising(...)" - I'm laughing even now, sorry Ed and thanx again - you may be annoying at times with your wishy-washy way of thinking but you are hilariuos, I give you that...
until your next b*&^#@t!
keep warm,

Unknown said...

...and one more thing: Grzegorz Kolodko, whom you quote as a scientific source is, to use your expression "nuts and incompetent" which is "my impression shared with many Poles"...

Edward Lucas said...

I don't agree with Kolodko, but as a former finance minister he is just one example of the many who think that reform in Poland was mishandled in the 1990s. There are many others. Indeed there is something of a consensus among leftwing and liberal economists that the IMF's medicine inthe early 1990s was disastrous. That is why Estonia is such a useful counterexample.

I am happy to give straightforward answers to questions that I understand.

I am now rather less gloomy than when I wrote the Estonia piece (which was actually meant as a curtain-raiser, and had the results added in haste on Monday morning). It seems to me highly positive that Savisaar's party has been in effect sidelined: two-thirds of the population voted for parties that believe in a Euroatlantic orientation, more reform (of sorts) and a continuation (broadly) of the policies of the past 15 years.

If we get a three-party anti-Savisaar coalition, I will be delighted, and if it actually does something I will be even happier. My worry is that the financial bubble will pop before a putative new govt has a chance to take any of the necessary steps. But we'll see


Unknown said...

What reforms do you want? Estonia already has had 15 years of successful if traumatic reforms.

Estonia also has a flat tax (some people's wet dream). The real issues are the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the frayed to nonexistent social safety net, which are mostly due to the unfettered reforms and the flat tax.

Also, I don't know what country you are talking about here:

"Corruption—in a country where the public sector was once remarkable for its honesty—is growing, and the famed innovative edge is blunting by the week."
- the public sector has never been remarkable for its honesty; it is probably better now than ever
- how's the edge blunting, we just had the first freakin' e-lection in the history of the world?

Oh, the answer is here:
In a speech for Estonia’s independence day celebrations, he lambasted corruption, complacency and stalled reform, attacking the “indifference, callousness towards fellow human beings, arrogance” and worse of his fellow citizens. The real enemies of Estonia, he said, were bad habits at home, not bullying behaviour from abroad.

You want us all to be NICER! A regressive taxation system combined with otherwise total nice-itude towards our fellow human beings!

Maybe also suggest better table manners? I've heard Estonians could be better with the ol' fork and knife.

Anonymous said...


I don't think Ansip sees the Bronze Soldier as an ethno-nationalistic matter, nor do I think he has ever described it as such. I think what he is referring to is the Estonians' dislike for anything that seems as the glorification of Soviet occupation. And there has been a lot of that around this statue in the past year.

I do agree with you that Ansip has made the most of this affair to score cheap points with Estonian nationalists, but I don't think he should be blamed for bringing this issue out of its coma, so to speak. It woke by itself - with a little help from the Kremlin, no doubt.

I think you may well be right in that it would have been better if "the pot" had remained "unstirred", but things being as they are, I don't believe it is politically possible for Ansip to leave the statue be, now - keeping in mind also the intense pressure from the Kremlin to do just that.

Also, in his brief time in office, President Ilves has already been successful in lifting the nations self-esteem somewhat (the speech on the anniversary of the Treaty of Tartu was, indeed, superb), but has not yet got anywhere with improving the nation's understanding of its own history. This is another contributing factor to the Bronze Soldier's likely relocation in the near future, I believe.

Edward Lucas said...

Hi Priit and Krksr

Thanks for your very reasonable comments.

I realise that not everyone likes the flat tax, but the Economist does and so do I. It seems to me that its possibly regressive effects are more than compensated for by the effect on economic growth. This is open to empirical scrutiny and as the years go by, the answer seems to me increasingly clear.
Taxes everywhere are getting flatter, even in Scandinavian countries. Flat tax is a convenient and sometimes misleading label, lazily applied. But I think it has served Estonia well.

Corruption: yes it is getting worse, and mostly in the ministries controlled by the centre party and the rural league. This is all public knowledge--i just read about it in the Estonian papers. I think Estonia was lucky in the early years to have a remarkably honest civil service. That has frayed.

The innovative edge _is_ blunting. Nothing much is happening on e-govt (Ansip is not interested). The innovation council hasn't convened for nearly two years. Skype and the other software houses are howling because of the labour mkt restrictions.

I agree that Ansip is under political pressure to do something about the statue, and the Kremlin's tactics as always are disgustingly provocative. However, I do think he has handled it badly. I asked him when he was in London: "Can you name me any politician from any party in any other country who has come out publicly in support of Estonia on this issue". He couldn't--and clearly hadn't even thought about the issue from that point of view. By handling it in this way he sent Estonia's friends diving for cover, and gave the Kremlin an easy propaganda target.

Many thanks again for the feedback


Unknown said...

Edward, it sounds that you are really advocating incremental policy steps (finessing labor market regulations and dealing with corruption). Yet your article's thrust is about the lack of some kind of large scale reform (which remains undefined and inchoate).

Estonia has had 15 years of radical reforms -- perhaps it is time for consolidation and building rather than another tearing down and rebuilding effort? It is, frankly, arrogant, to suggest that a country is in some way lacking because it is not engaged in a permanent reform effort.

Further, Estonia is in fact still drafting many of its laws -- some of the Soviet Code is yet in effect. These changes impact people's every-day lives, and, as a lawyer, I'd probably call them significant reforms.

Finally, I do not particularly care what the 'trend' of flat tax around the world might be -- an unjust trend simply means that the injustice is spreading, not that the trend has any particular worth. However, given the Economist's literal slobbering over Estonia's flat tax over the last decade or so, your article's impact is somewhat incongruous: Message To Estonia: Flat Tax is Good But You Should Also Respect Fellow Human Beings And Be Nice.

Unknown said...

...don't you think that if people from the countries you write about do not recognise them in your rendering, as is repeatedly the case with you - something might be wrong with you?
The same goes for 'arrogance'- more and more see your treatment of these issues as arrogant and yet you ignore all that completely sticking by your every word as if it were golden!
Your words are not golden - they are tin; show me one place in all your writing where you actualy have come up with even tiny bit of reasonable argumentation in favour or against anything - that would actually bear mark of your own mental effort! ...None! Still you are vocal about pretty much everything in an authoritative voice scolding governments, lambasting prime-ministers, admonishing whole nations...You think this...disagree with that...Yes, on the face of it, it might look like a journalist's job - very well, but only as long as you are ready to throw some substance behind all that posing! and you just fail to do that: instead you quote your high profile conversations (apart from being pretentious - it's unverifiable)or undisclosed sources spraeding vicious gossip (as in the case of Polish government)or on the other hand, you talk of 'trends', 'wide agreements', alleged opinions of some unspecified groups or institutions but never ever do you produce undisputable, verifiable data...but what can we expect from someone who wrote once to me in response to my objections as to the complete inadequacy of his survey on POland saying that "it is sad, but journalists are rarely experts in the subjects they write about" ...and this once - I agree completely

expect more of me as I intend to continue to draw public attention to your crooked practice.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

Priit, I am afraid it is too late to question flat tax in Estonia.

Even the Centre has essentially given it up. If you followed this campaign you'd notice that the left - being realistic - demands stop on income tax cuts, not anymore raising taxes. Even Centre's assymetric tax means second tier at 26% instead of today's 22%. I think it is impossible to disagree that in a World where the reach are frequently taxed 30 and even 50% more than the poor 3% increase is nothing than a show. Despite all this Reform achieves unprecedent victory with both record breaking mandates and personal votes count for its leader in parliamentary elections throughout history since 1990s.

By the way if I vote I never do it for tax cutters. But abandoment of proportional tax in Estonia is so profound that it is puzzling that you, obviously politics aware raise this issue in Estonian context. You are right, the people are tired of reforms. But then, Reform is obviously not seen so much reforming, is it? I'd not call doubling pensions and even lowering tax at 1% annual rate that very challenging.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

Or was it "the rich" in Ingaleze?

Krystal said...

Unfortunately the article is right in regards with innovation policy - the topic has been vented quite often in Estonian newspapers. The problem is rather, that you have picked out a sore spot to touch. Estonians do not like foreign criticism of our affairs, we seriously think that the world does not understand. Sometimes we are right and sometimes not. An even worse spot to pick was to touch the issue of the infamous Bronze Soldier - there will probably be more hurt and angry comments about it to come.
I wondered though about your statement that corruption is growing - what is it based on? It seems to me rather that the police have become more effective in dealing with it and therefore more cases have been discovered.
And for the last - if you read Estonian, then it would probably be interesting for you to read the translation of your article in "Postimees" - the translation flaws have caused quite a little storm on the comments page.

Edward Lucas said...

I hope I am wrong on corruption. It is always hard to know if more police investigations are a sign that corruption is growing or that the system is working. It seems to me that these land scandals involving the environment ministry are new, and so is the level of municipal corruption.

Of course it is up to the Estonians in the end to choose their government, and Ansip is certainly not the worst prime minister (indeed I have written nice things about him in the past). But I think that Estonia has to make a big jump to get away from being a place that is good to make cheap mobile phones in, and towards a knowledge-economy hub in the region. Ansip's govt showed absolutely no interest in reforming universities or in liberalising the labour market for highly-skilled outsiders which are key aspects of this.

I did read the Postimees translation and thought that it must be my bad Estonian but now I see that there are some mistakes!

thanks for all the feedback


PS Kuba--it's a free country. You you don't like the Economist worldview (freemarket, atlanticist) or our tone (superior/condescending). Fine. Go read something else.

Giustino said...

Hi Edward,

Though you briefly touched on it, the country is in real need of some pragmatic reforms. If you had stretched out the sixth paragraph a bit more - where you called the state-run school system 'ossified' - it would have been of great benefit, though I realize you have spatial constraints.

I have to say that one of the reasons why I have sort of fallen out of love with the Estonian rightwing has been its obsession with history, and, especially, trying to legislate history via sense resolutions - declaring certain days days of mourning, declaring certain soldiers to be freedom fighters.

That seems like it is more of a job for historians than politicians. Politicians should be more involved in things like school reform, rather than legislating the past.

Ilves is right that the "problem" of the Soviet monument is not the monument itself - it's just a war monument, afterall, there are many scattered across Estonia. The problem is that there is a certain segment of the population that lives in a total bubble. They read only Russian state-informed news media. They think that Reformierakond is "fascist organization" (to quote from one lady interviewed on ETV the other night).

Living in Estonia you'd have to think that they are totally nuts.

What Ansip, I guess, is trying to do is burst that bubble. But Ilves is saying that there are different ways to approach doing it. Ansip wants to yank down their totem pole. Ilves wants them to read more.

NOW, considering the Soviets yanked down all of the Estonian republic's monuments in the years following World War II, and yet the republic survived, underground - flags hidden away in barns, monuments hidden in the countryside - perhaps the "tear down the monument" strategy is a flawed one.

Maybe wider access to information is the solution here. I think that in approaching this situation, it's best to have multiple viewpoints rather than the "us versus you" perspective. Which is why an informed historical debate is probably the better vehicle for dealing with this situation, as opposed to the idea that removing a Soviet memorial will immediately solve the problem.

Anonymous said...


Please note that the government has shown no initiative to tear down the monument -- the idea is to move it away from the centre of Tallinn to somewhere in the town's outskirts.


Giustino said...


I use the term "tear down" in a figurative way. I don't mean it like they are just going to demolish it and dump it in Tallinn harbor. I know that they want to move it to a cemetery. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

But I think Ansip was a bit too hasty in reaching his decision. He's the prime minister, not the man on the street. When I saw footage of the scuffles at the monument last May, I similarly wanted that sucker out of there.

Right now, I'm more inclined to support putting a new memorial to the Estonian founding fathers that were snuffed out by the NKVD in 1940-41 near the site.

Building something new seems preferable to tearing down something old.

Anonymous said...


I do understand you better now, and I know that your view is held by many moderate people in Estonia, including my mother. :)

But I want it gone. Why should we have such a depressing array of monuments in the centre of Tallinn? What good can come from reminding people on a daily basis that their history is sad and full of lost conflicts? The memorial for all the people the NKVD snuffed should be in Moscow, not Tallinn. Like there is the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

Should it be our problem that Russia is unable to deal with its past? I think not. Ilves is, of course, right in that moving the monument does not solve the underlying problem, but on the other hand, it would give a clear message that there is no place for Soviets in the modern Estonian Republic. I think it is important to get that message through to the Russian-speaking youth in Estonia, for the sake of a better future for all.


PS. I guess Kristel was right.. :)

Ulrika said...

Olen Edwardi kolleeg The Economistist ja pean ütlema, et keegi teine lääne ajakirjanikest ei anna sama head, positiivset ja erapooletut ülevaadet Eestist kui tema.

Anonymous said...


Eks üldiselt teavad kõik, et Edward on Eesti sõber, aga see viimane artikkel, mida me siin kommenteerime, ei ole ehk tõesti kõige õnnestunum. Teatud määral tuleb nõustuda isegi Kubaga, et see meenutab rohkem programmilist ärapanemist, kui tõsist ajakirjanust.

Lisaks hindab lugupeetud ajakirjanik minu arvates Ansipit natuke liiga madalalt ja Laari natuke liiga kõrgelt. Ilvest aga, õnneks, täiesti parajalt. :)

Giustino said...

Ma arvan, et see on tegelikult tervislik Eestile kui me räägime kooli reformist ja muust. See positiivne kriitika on ka hea. See oleks jama kui iga artikkel eestist on positiivne.

Anonymous said...

Jaa, nõus! Samuti ei tee paha korruptsioonist rääkimine - on siis seda tegelikult rohkem või mitte.

Ma mõtlesin seda Pronkssõdurit puudutavat teksti - see läks minu meelest veidi aia taha.

Edward Lucas said...

suur aitäh, kallid eestlased. Aga palun kirjutada inglise keeles.

(Govarite po chelovyecheski, pazhaluista!)

Unknown said...

"PS Kuba--it's a free country. You you don't like the Economist worldview (freemarket, atlanticist) or our tone (superior/condescending). Fine. Go read something else."
I AM ATLANTICIST to the core and I am pro-market, the latter of which I do not even consider a worldview; just as some laws of physics or mathematical principles are not a worldview but the foundation of basic sanity - this is not what I have problems with!

I had been an enthusiastic Economist reader for over ten years and within that period Poland was commented upon many times and different facets of political life were discussed. I agreed or disagreed, had minor objections - but it never even crossed my mind to go public with them - everything was within limits of honest and descent journalism.

It had been so until I read your survey on Poland (March 2006)which was not only full of minor inaccuracies in facts, embarassingly shallow analyses - that would not have stirred my reaction - but its 'theses' were based on deliberate manipulation of truth and information distorted beyond recognition into simple lies! You than topped it off with a derisive, sneering mock-conclusion with a wink of an eye to the rest of the world on those prickly and backward Poles! It is hard to discuss anything when you get offended at the start!

Issue that I have, then, is personally with YOU as in the long correspondence you have rejected every occasion to correct it, providing 'it-is-so-because-I-think -so' answers, proving your arrogance and cynicim which cannot be hidden beyond The Economists style.
Moreover, you continue this low techniques, as in your recent text in which you publicized what you call your 'views' distorting current reforms of secret services in Poland and which, again was nothing but a pack of impudent black lies proliferated in broad daylight; then, again, you go into denial, as is usually the case with your type of offenders.

to every-one that may read it:
It is is not the matter of worldview differences! Imagine: when you find out that one of the people you barely know goes around your circle of friends and even visits complete strangers to spread slanderous lies that you are a paedophile with no proof, would you say that it is a matter of different worldviews?...

So, no, Edward, I don't think I'll go away - I think I'll stay.

To Estonian friends on this site: please, look closer who you are actually dealing with ...for a start, take a step back, read the article itself once again, forget all that has been said in the posts and try to imagine you are a foreigner from, say, France and all you know about Estonia is what E.L is giving you - than you may apply the same procedure to each and every text on any CE country and you might see whose purposes it fits best, complete it with the article on the alleged antiAmerican ism in this part of Europe and tell me if you would call the man behind an atlanticist....

I am not personally motivated - my views on this or that do not matter - I have not revealed them even once since I write here - I act out of conviction that given the raw geo-politics and the range of E.L's reception - his act must be revealed for the sake of our region

Anonymous said...

The article is correct - about lack of innovation, about corruption. Fortunately, I hope, it's gonna decrease with Kesk's loss. Where's Elmar Sepp BTW?

Edward Lucas said...

Thanks for that Lauri. Good question about Elmar Sepp. Maybe the changing winds in Estonia are blowing his fortunes, political and otherwise, elsewhere.

Kuba: you are welcome to post what you like but I think it will improve the argument if you are a) brief and b) specific. Your accusations that I represent a monstrous conspiracy against the ex-communist countries is a serious one and deserves precise factual support, not endless wordy generalisations.

I am glad you too are a free-market atlanticist and long-time Economist reader.



Anonymous said...

Dear Edward,

As I already mentioned in Estonian, I have to confess that Kuba's words strike an unpleasant chord with me. To be honest, it seems quite bizarre to me that you would write as you do about the Bronze Soldier.

More specifically, you seem to imply in your published text that Ansip invented the problem out of nothing to gain popularity, you seem to misrepresent the essence of Ilves's veto on the "Law on Forbidden Erections" a little, and you quote from Ilves's Independence Day speech, which was rather dull and didn't really deal with the statue.

You also draw a surprisingly pessimistic and strange conclusion about our government being among those not committed to reforms, when, of course, you know that the composition of our new government is unknown just after the elections, at the time of writing.

It all seems strange to me because I know how well-informed you are of Estonian affairs, and I know that you are a friend of Estonia, as I said.

Please comment.


PS. There is a small mistake right at the beginning of your article - the election day was Sunday March 4, not March 3.

Edward Lucas said...

Hi Kristjan

thanks for your comments. As you'll know, I'm normally a strong defender of Estonia in spats with Russia. But I do think it is important to pick fights carefully, and not to isolate the country on peripheral issues. Sometimes--as with the language and citizenship laws--the issue is so important that it is necessary to press ahead even without international support. But on the Bronze soldier, I feel that the issue was cooked up by Ansip who wanted to steal some votes from Isamaaliit. Reform has never cared much about these issues in the past.

The article does sound rather odd in its reference to the new govt, which is because it was originally written as a curtain-raiser to run over the election weekend, not as a results analysis. The paragraph about the results was stitched in at the last minute and on reflection I would have included more material about the possibility of a coalition excluding the Keskerakond.

I can see that read in the days after the election this would look a bit unbalanced, but that's just a quirk of internet-age journalism.

I thought Ilves's speech was rather good and my original draft included a rather longer quote from it. He has also dealt with the Bronze Soldier issue in more depth in previous speeches, rather well I think.

Ansip is certainly not the worst prime minister Estonia has had, but in the last government his overwhelming aim was to keep the coalition together, rather than to innovate. Estonia has to run to keep up, and recently it has been losing its edge: sad, but true.


Anonymous said...

We will see, if Ansip was just b**lsh****ng with Aljosha or was he serious. Take it easy, fellow estonians - better ask yourself, where's the progress? Free wifi zones are not innovation, we'd need something else.

Giustino said...

It's funny you call Savisaar "brooding". Most people here seem to think he resembles Benny Hill.

Unknown said...

"Your accusations that I represent a monstrous conspiracy against the ex-communist countries is a serious one and deserves precise factual support, not endless wordy generalisations."
You've said that! I never formulated it that way, I just would like to turn attention to how and what you write - I have been observing it for a year now and I see a consistent pattern; one thing to say about it is that you throw mud in your widely-published writing and then use your blog to diffuse the onslaught of criticism by weasling your way out of the most outrageous assumptions or diluting them with your assurances of highest regard for the people you slandered and respect for the causes you distorted. You want to talk about factual support? Ok. Let's go one at a time. Give me factual support to this:
"Mr. Macierewicz* has turned the military intelligence in Poland into a private spying service for the Kaczynskis**"
*former dissident, now the head of the military intelligence
**The President and the Prime Minister of Poland
Did you or did you not write the above and what FACTUAL support can you give to back it?

Edward Lucas said...

Hi Kuba

I did write that. I have excellent sources for it that for obvious reasons I will not discuss publicly. I still believe it to be true, not least because other people in Warsaw have told me that I got it right.


Unknown said...

Just as I thought...excellent sources that cannot be revealed...you still believe it to be true...other people ...have told you that you got it right. - this is your idea of substance to back serious accusations.. I rest my case.

Let me just point out that in your article you wrote:"Mr.M has turned etc." and not "I believe it to be true Mr. M. has etc" and you failed to mention that your belief in this respect is firmly based on assurances from other people that you got it right...

Edward Lucas said...

Hi Kuba

Like I said, it's a free country. That's the way the Economist works. We do not practise American-style attribution. That makes the pieces snappier to read, but you have to trust the writer. Clearly you don't, but I suggest you read the NYT, WSJ or some other American paper instead. They would have written the story saying something on the lines of "current and former intelligence and government officials in Warsaw and elsewhere, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the nature of the subject, say that..."


Unknown said...

and although still untrue in itself - it would have been a lot more honest;
and no I do not trust the writer and thankfully - neither do I have to, as I know it is complete and utter @#!%^!

ps funny, how you always hide behind the Economist whenever things get too tight...

Unknown said...

Dear Edward,

Please receive my cheers and best wishes,

Of course I disagree with Kuba's bitter conspiracy theories. Still I think that your piece was too emotional and too hastily written. For example, I strongly disagree with your suggestion that there was some 'cynicism' in removing a rude, inappropriate and insulting monument to occupation from the centre of the capital city of an independent country. I have always called it not the Bronze Soldier but the Iron Blockhead (zheleznyi bolvan in Russian, or raudtola in Estonian) and wondered why our governments left it standing there for so long. We ought to smash it into pieces in 1990s along with Lenin's statues. Maybe there were some reasons for politcorrectness but I have not heard of such.

Indeed, taking Ansip's political record, it was a surprise to see him removing the monument. He collaborated with communists and later with Savisaar; he repeatedly cornered Pro Patria and supported the Centre Party. When guys like that make honest gestures I tend to become suspicious and start looking for sinister reasons.

However, in this case the Occam's razor suggests a much simpler explanation: Ansip might have merely been compelled to do what the nation wanted to be done but doing this in a bad way, at a wrong time and with possibly evil consequences (e.g., making Edward Lucas call the removal of the Iron Blockhead cynical). Most likely, Ansip was simply forced into it by the mounting information about Moscow's preparations for massive provocations. We have been watching this: with each year, more and more red flags appeared at the Iron Blockhead in May, more and more Russian fascists dressed in the Soviet Army's uniforms made a show of standing there in theatrical postures, etcetera.

Therefore I believe that the haste and the wrong timing were thrust on Ansip by Moscow's actions. We know that Putin needs such things like permanent local wars, hostilities with neighbours, frictions with the West, and the Great-Russian nationalist hysteria. We watch him damaging relations with his neighbours one by one (the enemy of the month, as Russian journalists have stamped it). He needs all this to pave way for his third term in office -- or, anyway, for prolonging the rule of the KGB in Russia.

You ought to have pondered on this when writing.

Valeri Kalabugin

Unknown said...

A brief addition:

As concerns to Kuba, I DO have a conspiracy theory. With his excessively unfriendly, unmotivated remarks he seeks to sow hostility. We shouldn't pay attention to him: most probably he is just another Putin's guy. That's his job.


Unknown said...

...another dimwit mistakes her ignorance and inadvertent reading for my 'excess' and what-not.
Clearly, you have not a slightest idea what I was talking about and I won't waste a second on shedding light onto your darkness, although it would be generally advisible for you to scratch the surface of whatever you might be commenting upon and learn about facts before you snap. Then it will certainly be easier for you to see the motivations.Meanwhile, it is you that is hostile toward me for no reason; neither do I know you,nor you me so its an insult for insult's sake. You butt in the middle of something that has been on for a year and bravely jump to conclusion, while I had every reason for saying what I have said to Mr E.L

Unknown said...


It is perhaps a good occassion to make a following remark:
every time I get snapped at over here - four or five times, as I recall, in ca. a year of my posting - has a striking similarity to the ones before it in that they are devoid of any argument (or counter-argument) whatsoever. What they are full of is creeping hostility thinly disguised in bigotted concerns either about my alleged un-cultured attitude (never specific, but far-reaching - as far as calling me a bum, for example) or outright questioning of my sanity or decency (paranoia/conspiratory theory,sheer unfriendliness.)Now, let me tell you why I say it is nothing but hostility.
It is so, because all of the instances I have mentioned are from the onset directed at downgrading my position in a discourse and betray total lack of interest in my explanations - I call such activity 'a contacticide'.
Persons, such as the ojne above, never listen to what I have to say about my reasons, neither are they interested in my argumentation. They never ever produce a single specific instance of wwhat they so firmly denounce - they prefer to start with the desert of indignant conclusions and they stay at that.
Interestingly enough, these names (except for one, perhaps) pop up on my occasion - they never showed up before and never come back disapearing in the moment when it gets to concrete or when proven wrong.
I am saying this as a mere observation as I really don't give a F#@*&k - I'll keep doing what I am doing i.e monitoring the excessive crap whether it is about Poland or Estonia or anything else that I have the notion about (don't expect my voice on Zimbabwe for example)- regardless of how many absurd accusations are thrown my way. The difference between my being sometimes hard on Mr.E.L and , say, Valerie calling me what she has is that I can produce substance behind it with detailed reference to specific instances - they fear facts as the devil fears hollywater