Pyrrhic victory
By Abdul Turay

Published Postimees 23 October 2009

Tallinn let out a collective howl of anguish this Sunday night. Everybody knew what the results of the local elections would be, yet still people didn't want to believe it was true.

It was a resounding victory, an absolute triumph for the Centre party, or so it seems. They got an absolute majority in Tallinn, 53.5 per cent of the votes, better than last time round.

Overall they did better than even recent polls have predicted. The Centre party won 31.1 percent of the popular vote. If this result was reflected in a general election it would make the Centre Party the large single party in Riigikogu.

At least as far as Tallinn is concerned I was wrong about one thing. Savisaar is not “almost” the champion of the silent majority. He is simply the champion of the silent majority

Tallinn is the big prize and as mayor Edgar Savisaar will continue to be a major player in national affairs. In a highly centralised country like Estonia it means that in terms of real power and influence he is second only to Ansip.

Many people were personally upset by the result. I am sure readers know co-workers who came into the office scowling. Maybe you were one of them You have probably read stories about the campaign for Tallinners to register as residents in other parts of Estonia, of the vomit that was deliberately thrown in front of City Hall this Wednesday, of the half-joking plan to tear down Lasnamae and deprive Savisaar of support.

But things could be worse. They actually are worse in other countries.

The Centre party could be running the whole of Estonia. Actually I'll rephrase that, the Centre party “would be” running the whole of Estonia, but for one thing; the party list electoral system.

I touched on this in another article but I will go into a bit more in detail here.

There's a country not that far away where one party rules with an iron fist and has done for the past 12 years. The ruling party has an absolute mandate to do what ever it likes. The opposition can and do complain , but they can do nothing because most of the MPs are from the ruling party. This country has no written constitution so the ruling party could in theory turn the country into a totalitarian state with one piece of legislation.

The majority of people didn't vote for this party. They got only 35.3 per cent of the popular vote at the last election, only 3 per cent more than the main opposition party.

We have put up with this system in the UK because it's the way things have always been. The last time we had a government which most people voted for was 1945 when the Labour party won 51 per cent of the vote on progressive political platform.

Most English-speaking countries operate a first past-the-post system. In each constituency the candidate who gets more votes wins the seat. Other parties may come second, third, fourth all over the country and not actually win many, or any, seats.

In the US this system, which they inherited from its mother country, is the reason why there are only two parties. In Britain there are three parties, but in practice more like two and a half. At each election we have a Mexican stand-off with two adults and a midget. The midget always loses.

In Estonia seats are allocated to parties on the bases of the proportion of votes that they got. This system encourages lot of parties, political deal-making and coalition governments as we see.

But here's the rub, the electoral system in Estonia was designed to stop people like Savisaar. And stop him it will. One of the purposes of proportional representation is to prevent populist leaders, promising bread and circuses sweeping to power. We can call it the tyranny of the silent majority .

The party list system in Estonia, also called the d'Hont system, was invented by American founding father Thomas Jefferson. It's used for congressional apportionment. Jefferson hated demagogues and populist leaders.

Thanks to PR in order to get leadership of the nation, Savisaar needs to work with other parties. He knows that.

Last week Savisaar offered a collaborative agreement to the other mayoral candidates. The offer was rejected. For once the cynics are wrong, I believe Savisaar is for real. He really did want the other candidates to sign the document. He must have known the offer would be ignored but he thought it was worth a try. It also explains his overtures to the People's Union of Estonia this week.

You'd think that after such a triumph Saavisar would get on with the business of running Tallinn, safe in the knowledge that at least in the capital he has a popular mandate.

Not a bit of it, he is thinking ahead to 2011. He likes to be mayor but he wants to be Prime Minister. More accurately he craves to be Prime Minister

Here is a prediction. In the months and years to come as the 2011 looms, you can expect more of the same. The Centre party will keep making public offers of co-operation with other parties and the other parties will continue to rebut them. Unless one of the other parties caves in, it will build into a crescendo.

You can sure that if the Centre party gets the most votes in the next General election, Savisaar will accuse them of being undemocratic, if he still has no deal.

Certainly PR has it’s flaws. It means people are not voting for individual candidates. It means that people with no credentials or background, other than a skill for brown-nosing, get elected. It encourages a culture of political deal-making behind closed doors. It makes political parties put forward candidates who are young and attractive, but have no intention of serving in public office.

I won't go in detail about the Centre party campaign, enough has been written about it already. I'll simply say it was crass, unscrupulous and wrong.

Through this campaign Savisaar may have succeeded in doing the impossible. He has alienated his opponents even more than they were already alienated. He might just have scuppered any chance of co-operation between his party and other parties and therefore his own chance of getting what he craves..

After he triumph over the Romans at the battle of Heraclea the Greek general Pyrrhus is reputed to have said: “One more victory like that and we won't need any more defeats.”

In the months and years to come people may look back on the Centre Party's triumph at these elections and decide that it was a pyrrhic victory.

Abdul Turay: The man who annoys Estonians
Interview by Priit Pullerits
Published Postimees 14 November 2009

He came here like a breath of fresh air. Some say he is showing us how the world sees us. Others question how he dare say something about us.
A year ago, a black man shocked Estonia when he wrote a couple of sentences in Postimees which enraged the nation.

“Suppose in three or four years, Russia decided to try its luck and attack Narva. We can be certain the United States and the whole West will condemn it publicly. But don't rule out the possibility that the United States and NATO are actually doing nothing, because the President's wife is privately thinking:
'Ah... Estonia, isn't that the little small-minded white country, to hell with them.'”

Curiously this do not lead to Turay becoming a pariah, quite the opposite. Through his work he has become an opinion leader (though he himself does not agree with the title). His opinion pieces have become eagerly anticipated and he is not cheated these anticipations.

In this week's column he decided definitively to settle the question why Estonian women prefer foreign men.

Namely, he argued, Estonian women prefer Estonian men after all.
Who is this black man who dares to talk so vigorously to a white society?

He was born and raised in England (Ed note: Britain), studied history at University in London, worked thereafter on the newspaper the Hong Kong Standard and in Taiwan on the China News. After returning to Britain, he went into public service. He led projects and wrote speeches (Ed note: and letters) for ministers.

Last year he came to Estonia together with his Estonian spouse to be Editor-in-Chief of the English-language newspaper The Baltic Times.

But soon he put that job behind him because the paper's owners refused to pay some of their employers.

Now Turay teaches at The Old Town Educational College; and he writes in addition for Postimees and Web sites.

How much courage do you need to come from a foreign country and start to write opinion articles here?

Quiet a lot; I am always nervous: do I have the authority to write about something? I am not Estonian, I don't speak Estonian particular well, I can read, but I need a dictionary. How can I write about economics or politics, if I am not an economist? So it needs courage.

Do many people listen to what you write?

Indeed, they listen but that doesn't mean that they always agree with me. A lot do not agree, but they at least think.

Sometimes it appears that you are tying to be provocative. Is that so?

No, I am just trying to be honest. It's said (Ed note: quoting Malcolm McLaren) that if you write something that doesn't annoy anybody, then you are doing something wrong.

Some people get annoyed simply because I am writing, and I can't do anything about that.

However there must be another reason why there is a turbulent reaction to your writing, What's your opinion?

Maybe the reason is this. As Barbi Pilvre(lecturer and political analyst) has said, in Estonia the same group of people are writing all the time and even if they write something very smart and special, people don't react because it's done by the same writers. I am different, I write in a different way and I have different things to say; that can be interesting.

How do people here relate to Foreigners?

If you are a foreigner, then it is automatically assumed that you are a tourist. People come and ask money from you almost every day. I have notice this more and more after the recession began.

Estonians are provincial, but the whole World is becoming like this. This is somewhat worrying. You'd think because of globalisation it would be the other way round. I am noticing also Britain (Ed note: he wrote England but I would have said Britain) is more provincial than 10-15 years ago. If you look at the British press for example it is all about local figures. Twenty years ago the picture the media painted was more international.

How do you feel walking in Estonian streets? Is it odd or different?

I am used to it. I grew up in a town where everybody was white. And if you are a child then you don't think this way. You can't see a white world, but only the neighbourhood, where you live, and if you are the only black child then you are used to this. That's your world.

But you notice that you are stared at sometimes?

Adults pretend not to stare, but children really stare. There is a big difference in how Estonian children and how, for example, Chinese children behave. Estonian children are just curious but Chinese children are sometimes afraid.

Once I was standing on a Hong Kong train platform and there was a woman with a child staring at me behind his mother's shirt. I started to fool with him slightly, I pulled faces, but his mother said that I shouldn't do that as the child was afraid. This has never happened here. In Estonia children are simply curious they are not afraid of anyone.

What was the most difficult to get use to in Estonia?

(He thinks for a long time) I don't like Estonian food especially. Obviously there is a reason why there are no Estonian restaurants in the rest of the World (laughs). You put sour cream on everything. I am not a big fan of Estonian food. There is not also a lot of variety of cuisines.

You have tried blood sausage?

Yes of course, In Britain there is something like this. We call it Black Pudding; and I don't especially like it.

What do you feel is strange of peculiar in Estonia?

Estonia are balanced, they rarely speak or express their emotions. But all the same they tell you all sorts of confidential thing which people from other cultures won't, even if you know the other person well. You can get closer to Estonians than with people from other cultures, where you do not talk about certain things for years. Therefore you have many open relationships with Estonians.

I was married before and I only discovered certain things about my wife after three year, which I didn't know. But I know similar thing about Estonian friends although I hadn't even known them so long.

You have written opinion pieces about Edgar Savisaar(Mayor of Tallinn, leader of the Centre Party) Mart Laar(Leader of IRL) What is your political viewpoint?

In Britain I was a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, which is the same here as the Centre party. I would define myself as an Adam Smith Liberal. Estonia has two party in the position of the centre, the Centre Party and the Reform Party

Even the right-wing IRL is more close to the centre than the equivalent party in Britain. Estonian politics is more grey in tone. There isn't strong opposition to the European Union or to membership of the Euro from the right, whilst in Britain the right-wing is strongly against the Euro.

So it is difficult to say what party I endorse. In any case, I am not a social democrat. In the long run socialism would be the best idea but then you need some type of “Star Trek” technology, like making water out of thin air, to make it work. Until we have this technology, socialism can't function.

Which way would you vote in parliament if you could vote?

For the Reform Party or IRL(Ed note: I can vote)

Interesting because the IRL embodies Estonian patriotism. Explain!

The IRL stands for liberal and conservative values. When I was young I was a Conservative, but the British Conservative party in the past 20 years has moved from Pro-Europeanism to Euroscepticism.

In Estonia, The IRL is both pro-Europe and pro-Estonia. They don't see a conflict between patriotism and internationalism. In Britain patriotism mean this that you must be against Europe. Therefore I have difficulty in supporting the Conservative party.

When it come to the question of the Reform party, they have made some mistakes when in government. I am not especially endorsing the Centre Party. They don't even have an ideology, except for populism and people know this. Even those who vote for the Centre Party know this. They do not represent anything other than getting back into power.

Have you noticed stress between Estonians and Russian?

The whole world saw this two years ago

Can Estonians and Russian reconcile?

This is a difficult challenge. The problem between Estonians and Russians is similar to the problems in Northern Ireland. The difference is it's a lot worse there and it's been going on for centuries.

The Protestants were originally a different ethnic group. They were brought there from Scotland to crowd out the Irish majority group. They looked different, they had a different language, different names. After four century the two group are very similar, the names and language are similar, but the conflict is still bitter. They don't live in the same areas, they don't talk to each other

I went to a school where there were Protestants and Catholics and there was conflict even there. One Protestant kid told me that he had nothing against Asians or Blacks, as long as I wasn't Catholic.

So it is difficult to say how to say how the problem between Estonians and Russians will be resolved. I don't have a solution for this. I don't believe anybody does.

Furthermore the emotions to these questions are too strong. So if anybody makes a proposal then he gets shouted down. And even if something is undertaken, it doesn't mean that this problem would be resolved. Look at Northern Ireland.

Despite the huge number of Russians, there is not especially much ethnic diversity in the Estonia. Would increasing diversity be beneficial?

The question is not whether Estonia needs more cultural diversity. Cultural diversity will come if you have a successful country. If diversity doesn't come then it's because the country is not successful. The Europe Union has a lot of countries that are already diverse, so this will happen also in Estonia if there is something here to attract a computer specialist or a doctor, for example a good salary. When people don't come its because there is nothing to attract them.

With success comes diversity, there is nothing that can be done to stop it, except leaving the European Union and if you did this you wouldn't get any more EU money, which is a bad outcome.

Is it good, when people of other background come here, or is it a risk to Estonia as the Estonian population is small?

Yes some people are worried about this. But I think that Estonian culture is very strong and will live on. You have preserved your own language despite 800 years of occupation.

The challenge is can you take it to the next level where people who are not from the Estonian population, speak also Estonian and have themselves become Estonian. This is a difficult task, because nobody wants to lose their own roots and origins.

Under what condition would you yourself become Estonian?

Then if I feel that people take me for that, if they are feel comfortable with me and dot want to eat me [after writing something] Estonians don't have a civic sense of national identity. It's difficult to be adopted here. People won't take you as Estonian.

It's harder to become Estonian than to become British or American.

But if you stay here for 10 year do you hope that you'll start to feel more Estonian?

It got to be so, if I stayed here for 10 years and my children come from here.

I've heard you are Moslem?

I am not religious. My parents are Moslem but I was raised with the Anglican faith. I can't really call myself a Moslem because I don't even know the rituals.(Ed note: I went on to say that Islam is a compassionate, humanist religion which has been misunderstood in the West. But they didn't publish this part of the interview)

Say what keeps you here?

My spouse probably.

And you've not had enough of it yet?

(Laughs) yes a woman is enough motivation to be here.

What does your spouse do?

She works in government service. She is modest and I must honour her wishes. She doesn't want attention or her name made public.

What do you plan to do here?

I have certain goals, but firstly I must raise some capital. These plans can change as my mother's health is not the best. If it gets worse it could be that I must go back home. This is not difficult because I am on leave from my work in the UK. My place there still exists but I don't get a salary now.

Would you like to stay?

Yes I would indeed, until my Estonian gets better

Do you feel that you want to do something after your writing. You will still be of value in Estonia because your writing is anticipated?

Yes some people expect it, but not everybody.

Looking back on Abdul Turay's opinion pieces.

But one thing is clear for anyone who cares about Estonia; we should all do whatever we can to make sure the bank don’t go bust and stop Putin’s gang from coming here, even if it means living on potato peels. (Let's eat potato peels)

Now Ansip must realise that it was a mistake to hold up Ireland as a model for Estonia to follow. (The hairdresser who ruined Tallinn)

What is clear is that Laar is in a bind. If he is truly a believer in the free market he would go to the people and say: “Look, if I get back into power, I will do nothing... doing something will only make the situation worse, we must take the pain.” (Laar's dilemma)

There is more to Edgar Savisaar than Estonia's answer to Brad Pitt though. He is more of a cross between the aforementioned Hollywood star, Richard Nixon and Jesus. (Savisaar: Estonia's sexiest man)

The electoral system in Estonia was designed to stop people like Savisaar. And stop him it will.(Pyrrhic victory)

I hope I don't sound to dumb in stating the obvious. Estonian women prefer Estonian men and it is normal and natural that they should. (Black men and Estonian women: the truth)

Black men, Estonian women: the truth

By Abdul Turay

Published Postimees 11 November 2009

Well that got your attention; the headline I mean. Any story on this subject, the technical term is miscegenation, is bound to get punters. The yellow media, women's magazines and reality TV shows are obsessed with the subject. Not a month goes by without some publication writing about it. Anne and Style, for example, recently ran a long feature about mixed couples.
Most of these stories are muddle-headed and wrong. There's paranoia in this country that there is an army of dark-skinned men form Turkey, the tropics, some place south, who are going to make off with the nation's women. It's never going to happen. I'll explain why in a minute.
Seriously, I think there are more important things to think about and worry about. I worry about feeding my family. I worry about other people being able to feed their families, so I write about politics and economics.
But the press won't leave me, or any other black person in Estonia for that matter, alone.
A women's magazine contacted me once to join a round table discussion about foreign men and Estonian women. I told them I wasn't interested.
A well-known T.V. presenter asked me to go on her show to talk about foreign men and Estonian women. I told her I wasn't interested.
A journalist asked me about foreign men and Estonian women. You can guess my answer.
Since the issue is out there and because there is so much nonsense that's been broadcast and written about it, I have decided to set the record straight. I am hoping against hope that this piece will be the definitive story on the subject and the press will henceforth steer clear of it.
I hope I don't sound too dumb in stating the obvious. Estonian women prefer Estonian men and it is normal and natural that they should.

There are a million and one reasons for this, the underlying principle is it's more comfortable for anyone to be in a relationship with someone who speaks the same language and shares the same culture.

What it boils down to is an Estonian woman can joke with an Estonian man with something like: “How many times do I have to wash the same man's socks?” and not have to spend 20 minutes explaining what she means.

Not only are Estonian men, in my opinion, tall and good-looking, at least compared to the foreign men I see around Tallinn, with the type of looks that are popular in the Mediterranean, but they have skills that Western men don't seem to have. An Estonian guy knows how to be a “man”. He can put up a shelf, he can chop wood.

Of course some local women date foreigners. Part of the reason appears to be that there aren't enough Estonian men to go around. But some women like what foreign men have to offer. Foreign men can appear sophisticated and urbane. Foreign men in Estonia are by definition travelled, women like that.

But actually, the best way to appear sophisticated and urbane is not to be a foreigner. The best way to appear sophisticated and urbane is to be an Estonian guy socialising with foreigners. There are two guys in a club, a black guy and his Estonian friend, who gets the interest? who gets the girl? Think about it.

The number of Estonian women who are even remotely interested in foreign men is no more than in other countries and a lot less than most. The figures back this up. In the U.K. an estimated 30 per cent of all black women, my sister included, are married to or living with white partners. Could you imagine if 30 per cent of all Estonian women had Russian-speaking partners or vice versa? And Estonian and Russians are the same race.

What this demonstrates is for people to get along what matters is culture, not race.

All those black women, like my sister, share the same culture with their husbands. They speak the same language, have grown up with the same TV shows, have read the same books and played the same school yard games.

And what about black men in Estonia? I know a lot of anecdotal tales about foreign men in general and black men in particular who are complete failures with Estonian women.

I knew of one guy who was over here playing basketball. As a professional sportsman earning a good salary by Estonian standards you'd think he'd have no problem getting women. Think again. He could never get any woman to commit to him. He was looking for love, he was getting brief encounters. He felt exploited. He was frustrated and angry

“I really hate Estonian women,” he said.

I knew another basketball player. He was a real nice chap. His girl dumped him anyway, when the right Estonian guy came along. She gave no warning and no explanation, just “goodbye”. He was fairly philosophical about the experience; which was big of him because he had only stayed in the country for that girl. He has now left Estonia.

And there are others with even less success. Take a friend of mine, let's call him John Doe. He's 28, American, articulate, attractive, a graduate student, highly intelligent, and to make life really easy for him, white. He's been in Estonia for over two years. In that time he hasn't dated a single woman, not one. He said he found it difficult to have any kind of meaningful dialogue with Estonian women. He found it especially hard to talk to those women who hadn't spent any time abroad.

Just to demonstrate how farcical all the stuff that is usually written in the press about this issue is; let's get back to the women's magazine and their round table discussion. They did eventually rope in somebody to take part. And who was this expert on Estonian women? you've guessed it, John Doe.

There was the women's media asking John Doe why more and more Estonia women are picking foreign men as partners, not realising the real story was right under their noses, namely: “How come there are all these foreign men living in Estonia now who can't get near a local women?”

So what happens when an Estonian women through accident or fate does end up with a foreign men.

Simple, they Estonianise them. It is universally true that foreign men with Estonian partners all develop a keen interest in Estonian language and culture. I don't know a foreigner who has been with an Estonian woman for any significant period of time who doesn't have a passion for Estonian culture. With some people it can become an obsession, but that's a subject for another article.

You'd think that an Estonian woman married to a Dutchman or American would chose to live in the United States or Holland. Salaries are higher there after all. However often the couple chose to live in Estonia. If you've ever wondered why, now you have your answer. It’s part of the process whereby those clever Estonian women customise their men folk, combining the best of Dutch or American with the best of Estonian.

Any guy with an Estonian woman will eventually learn how to chop wood or put up a shelf.

Not everybody adapts though. Take our dumped basketball player. After two years in Estonia he wouldn't have known who Mart Sander was, if he came up to him and smacked him in the face.

Things are looking up for John Doe though. He's met a blond, chatty, waitress in Vapiano whom he really likes.
“Why don't you ask her out?” I said to him over dinner.
“What do you know about her, do you even know her name?”
“Yes of course I know her name, it's Opi ...em... Opilane,” he said. (Ed note: Õpilane is the Estonian word for student or trainee)