Freedom is the best solution
By Mart Laar
Published Postimees 18 July 2009

A response to the article “Laar's dilemma”

This week Abdul Turay asked how to get Estonia out of the crisis, if the basis of our success is in Milton Friedman and Austrian economy school principles. There is doubt about the two ideas and the two theories are caught up in conflict. Furthermore conservative policies have been replaced by left-wing ones.


Actually this has been talked about a lot. There has been a reversal of fortune. Now Friedman, the free market and low taxes get abused as people continually point to this as the reason as to why the crisis emerged. The world did the opposite in the 1930s and paid dearly for this. Now the great powers generally avoid protectionism and taxes have fallen more than they have risen. But it is government intervention in the economy that has grown, not doubt in the free market.


I didn't go ahead with my economic reforms in Estonia for five years on the basis of some sort of elaborate theories, but on the basis of common sense. Until a short while ago it was clear that the country was managing well and benefiting by holding a balance. It had become clear that people can organise their own lives better than the government can.


The government's task is to permit good conditions for free enterprise. But without firm watchful guidance of the government the invisible hand of the market can't operate effectively. It was because we forgot this principle that Estonia was left out of the Eurozone, which has been our biggest economic and political failure since independence.


But beating about the bush doesn't help matters. Therefore I have no choice but to answer Turay's question, how to restore belief in Estonia again? Economic success in Estonia as elsewhere relies on investment. But there in no chance confidence will be restored without belief in Estonian recovery and in her economy.


For this to happen we must keep the country fiscally stable. If we can't do this when the money runs out at the end of the year Estonia will be in the same situation as Latvia.


It is inevitably a necessary decision to cutback on the budget. We must in addition cutback on administrative expenses. Also social security expenditure, which was optimistically raised, must be cutback by at least 10 per cent as well.

Budget cutback aren't goals in themselves. If we can't put life into the economy by taking steps to keep away the explosive growth in unemployment then we'll have one budget deficit after another and Estonia won't get out of the crisis.


The tax burden has now risen to the highest level of all times in Estonia. Further tax increases are unthinkable. Budgetary consideration shouldn't reduce free enterprise – for farmers to get investment and support, enterprise needs to to stay alive. Money from the EU will also help out. An enterprise support package is passing through government, the last part of these proceeding must be a parliamentary priority.


We must activate concrete programs to fight unemployment. We need especially to take care in curbing the growing unemployment of youngsters, here the solution would be an additional support plan to help them to acquire higher education or vocational skills.


It will be impossible to keep or create new jobs in the workplace if money and investment doesn't start to move. At this very moment we need honest work out of the Government. Many thanks are due to Estonia's neighbours who have raised the ghost of devaluation causing uncertainty and postponing investment.


It is through privatisation that international investors will rediscover their interest and will come to our Estonian economy. This means selling unnecessary national enterprises and long term operational activities in rented form. In concrete terms this mean that the government's minority share in Eesti Energia must be opened for sale to the public. Tallinn Airport's operational activities must be sold in the long term. The government's majority shares in Eesti Post must be sold to strategic investors and Eesti Loto's operational activities should be sold.This should not be happening to fill treasury coffers but to revitalise investor interest.


And finally we need to tell the world, if we had a time of Mister NATO and Mister EU now has come the time for Mister Investment to get to work. Investors expect the government to have a concrete plan to get out of the crisis. Estonia has managed to cut its own budget but this in itself is not enough. Whether these steps answer Friedman or Austrian School theories I honestly don't care to say. What is important now is not theory, but getting Estonia out of the crisis.


Mart Laar is the Leader of Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica (Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit.) He was the Prime Minister of Estonia from 1992 to 1994 and again from 1999 to 2002



It's a Global Election

By Amy Goodman
First published in syndication across North America 21 July 2008

TALLINN, Estonia –

When I arrived in Estonia last week – a former Soviet republic that lies just south of Finland – everyone had an opinion on Barack Obama's speech in Berlin. The headline of the British Daily Telegraph we picked up in Finland blared "New walls must not divide us," with half-page photos of the American presidential candidate silhouetted against a sea of 200,000 people.

One of the first people I met in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, was Abdul Turay, the editor in chief of The Baltic Times, an English-language weekly that covers Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the three Baltic nations. Granted, he's not a typical resident for this country of largely fair-haired light-skinned people: Turay is a black Briton whose parents come from the West African nations of Liberia and Sierra Leone. And he is Muslim. While Estonia has no mosques, he notes with pride that the Quran has just been translated into Estonian, and to the publisher's surprise, it's been an instant best-seller here.

I asked Turay what Obama's candidacy means to him. "It'll open doors for me personally if he becomes president," he said. "It's a momentous thing to have a black president, given America's history. Some people say it's not a big deal, but it is a very big deal. The U.S. is a model for the world. If people see a black man can be president of the U.S., maybe they will see me differently. If he's special, I'm special."

As for Obama's politics, Turay says he doesn't actually think Obama's foreign policy will be that different from fellow presidential candidate John McCain's. He said he was surprised after reading Obama's first book, "Dreams From My Father": "He's almost talking about black nationalism. He's very liberal. He's very much a black politician, whereas today he's a politician who happens to be black." I asked him to explain. "I think that's a question for Barack Obama, not me," he said.

Turay marvels at the importance of the U.S. elections here: "There's more interest in the American election than in the Lithuanian election, which is right next door. It's a global election."

Estonia may be a world away from the United States, but it is intimately tied to U.S. foreign policy. When the U.S. went looking for other countries to join the coalition to attack Iraq and Afghanistan, to give the occupations international legitimacy, Estonia was a charter member – along with numerous other former Soviet-bloc countries of Eastern Europe. President Bush went to Estonia in 2006 to thank them. In 2004, none other than Sens. McCain and Hillary Clinton visited the Baltic nation together as part of a congressional delegation. The story goes that Clinton challenged McCain to a vodka-drinking contest, an Estonian tradition. McCain accepted. When Clinton's aide was asked about it, he replied, "What happens in Estonia, stays in Estonia."

Many feel the Baltic nations' participation in the occupations was quid pro quo for their membership in NATO. Estonia has paid a price, as its soldiers have lost their lives in both Iraq and Afghanistan – the latter a place where Estonian soldiers have died before, as conscripts of the Soviet Army when it invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

A decade later, Estonia was the scene of a nonviolent revolution. Singing has long been a national pastime, and song festivals, in which thousands come together to sing, are a tradition. In April 1988, this gathering turned into a vehicle for mass mobilization. In the Estonian capital, with the country's banned blue, black and white flag unfurled on the back of a motorbike, hundreds of thousands began singing the forbidden national anthem. The movement gained momentum throughout the three Baltic nations. In August 1989, 2 million people joined hands in a Baltic chain spanning hundreds of miles, from Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius, the capitals of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, respectively. Estonia and its Baltic neighbors won their independence in 1991, as the Soviet Union collapsed.

Now, Turay observes, "Estonia looks to America." With Berlin's wall now gone, Turay hopes other walls will soon fall, too. "If the president of America is a black person, other countries will realize that we have people who look like the president who are doing something important. ... I think it will happen everywhere."

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour.



Revisiting school days
By Abdul Turay
First Published Jun 11, 2008

My spouse’s father is a fisherman. Since she grew up with the sea I once took her to see the first sea clocks in Greenwich. These 18th century inventions made safe sea travel possible for the first time.

First I showed her the drama “Longitude,” which tells the story of how the clocks were created. Inventor John Harrison went through hell making the things. This gave the visit an extra poignancy for my partner because she knew the human story behind the clocks.

This is a good recommendation for any site-seeing tour. If you read the book or see the film first, then you will enjoy the place you go to see more.

Palamuse is a small town in Jogeva County. It has just 2,500 people. It is most famous as the place where Oscars Luts, a 20th century Estonian writer, went to school.
Luts is often compared to Dickens, but with less blood and guts. One of his most famous works, Kevade (Spring), is about his school days. That school is now a museum. Near the school house is the old church where Luts prayed and the river where he played as a child.

Kevade is a coming of age story about a group of friends, each one in his own way an outsider. There is a young, scallywag, Toots: lanky, loser, Kiir, and romantic, dreamer, Arno. The main love interest is the earthy, good-natured, Teele. All three main characters make a play to win her heart at some point in the trilogy.
Luts takes the story forward with “Suvi” and “Toot’s wedding” set in the dying years of the Russian Empire, and “Sugis,” set in the first Estonian republic. The “Kevade” movie was filmed on location 1969 and is widely regarded as one of the best Estonian films ever made.
Two sequels were made, “Suvi” (1976) and “Sugis” (1990), both starring the same actors in early adulthood and mid-life.

It is difficult to stress how important these films are to really understanding Estonia. All Estonians have seen the movies without exception. In fact, all Estonians have seen these films many times. So if you have a genuine interest in country you have to see it.
It is gratifying that the school house looks exactly like it does in the movie, as does the little stream. However, visiting the site does raise some issues – there is a scene in the movie where one of the characters sinks a raft to the bottom of the stream. I wondered how this is possible given that the stream is only knee deep at any given point.

It was also satisfying to discover that the characters that you meet in the book and the film are based on real people. Joseph Toots was based on a prosperous farmer who was a good friend of Luts. Sadly, the real Toots died at a young age just before the outbreak of World War II.
There is always an element of sadness when a building such as this is turned into a museum. The Edwardian photos, school desks and fake inkpots only give you a vague sense of school must have been like at the turn of the century. The school house still stands but all the vitality has been drained out of it. The sensation is like looking at a stuffed animal, killed and filled with sawdust.

The church is still functional, and though it is as unremarkable a church as any in Estonia it means more than most churches because, frankly, it’s in a movie.
Palamuse is for those people who are really interested in Estonian culture, those who want to find out what the “real Teele” and the “real Toots” actually looked like. If you are not interested in Estonian culture, what are you doing here? If you happen to be passing that way have a look, but remember see the film first.

Palamuse schoolhouse
Open every day
10 a.m. -6 p.m.




Opinion

Here you'll find a selection of Estonian-related published opinions and responses to them
(Here is a very old article that I finally got round to translating)
Why the World is silence about the Estonian election
Why I write in Estonia
Go West


Brave New Estonia

The hairdresser who ruined Tallinn
How to become Estonian
Let's eat potato peels
Cult of youth
A black president for a small white country
First published in
Postimees 11 November 2008.
This article enraged a lot of people. Find out what all the fuss was about here
The hated white man
First published in
Postimees 13 November 08
A response to
A black president for a small white country by postimees senior editor, Priit PulleritsAbout Michael Jackson
First published Postimees 27 June



Features


Presenting a selection of published feature articles about Estonia and its neighbours on a wide range of topics
. Some stories were written with a pen-name.

Bigotry and denial
By Anton Dwyer, Marge Tubalkain-Trell and Adam Mullet
First published May 22, 2008


A man, let’s call him Joe Bloggs, told The Baltic Times about a horrible experience he had while traveling to the Baltics in the days before the Schengen zone.

He was crossing the border by bus between Estonia and Latvia when immigration officials came to look over the passengers. They frog-marched Bloggs off the bus and took him to a room to interrogate him. He was striped naked and inspected. His belongings were searched.
The officials took away his mobile phone and did not allow him to call his embassy. He was locked in a windowless room where he spent the night. Eventually, in the morning, they let him call his embassy and they came and got him out.

This was not the first time that Bloggs had been detained. If it had happened once it could be just bad luck, if two or three times then exceptionally bad luck, but after the fourth incident he realized that it was more than just bad luck. Joe Bloggs, you see, is black.
“I had been detained so often I actually lost count. Basically [it happened] every time I came to Estonia from [my home country],” he said.

“Every time I got to the airport my palms would begin to sweat. The problem is I’m from a Western European country and immigration officials couldn’t accept that I was entitled to my passport looking the way I do,” he said.
Bloggs eventually complained to the Estonian ambassador in his home country and she sent an apologetic letter.
“The next time I was detained, which was the next time I was in Estonia, I had the letter on me. Immigration asked to keep a copy of the letter,” Bloggs said.

Bloggs is not the only one facing problems. In 2006 the Dutch ambassador to Estonia, Hans Glaubitz, had to be reassigned at his own request after his gay black partner suffered constant abuse.

More recently, in Lithuania in May 2008, the glamorous and beautiful South African born singer and local celebrity, Berneen, was beaten up in Vilnius. Her lawyers have told her not to talk to the press.
In Vilnius skinheads are so confident that they march openly through the streets.
Ethnic minorities who live in the region have noticed attitudes worsening.

“For a while I felt safe and walked around normally and freely, but since the Berneen incident I have realized that these things do actually happen and it could happen to me too,” said Nicholas Aubin, a black Canadian living in the Baltics.

Some believe the situation is getting worse.
“I get abuse and shouted at on a weekly basis, and not just in dodgy places but anywhere and everywhere,” Bloggs said, adding that it never used to be like this.

Denial
The defining feature of racism in the Baltics is not that it exists – you could argue it exists everywhere – it is the blatant denial that there is a problem. In this sense the situation is similar to the relationship the Baltics have with their Russian-speaking populations.
“If I talk to colleagues or co-workers about it they refuse to believe that it is happening unless they are actually with me,” Bloggs said.

Responses from official sources are very illuminating. Neither the Estonian government, nor the Latvian government nor the Lithuanian government was willing to comment to The Baltic Times on the issue by the time we went to press. That in itself speaks volumes.

TBT tried to speak to educators and psychologists about the issue. None were willing to go on record.
The Estonian Institute of Human Rights complain that they are poorly funded and don’t have the resources to deal with problems. Still they say the situation is not worse than in any other European countries.
Despite this wall of silence it doesn’t take much searching to discover that there is a problem.
When TBT reporters asked acquaintances what they really thought of black people, the shocking answers showed how people in the country feel about minorities.

“The fewer, the better – they should move away. If they feel bad here or are being abused they should go to where their place is,” one said.
Dharminder Singh Kandola, a British Asian, strongly feels that the problem is deep-rooted in Lithuanian society and that general apathy affects attitudes not only towards race but toward society at large.
“What scares me more than skinheads is that if I did get attacked, no one would stop and help me. They would probably just walk on by. Lithuanians deny the problem exists,” Kandola said.

The problem he says is not the fact that people don’t care about black or Asian people, but that people don’t care about their fellow man in general.
“I bet that if an old lady was mugged on a busy street that most people would walk by and say ‘not my problem’ and avoid getting involved. How can you feel safe in a community when people are not accountable for their actions?” Kandola added.

Complexity
Nonetheless, the relationship between black people and the Baltics is complex. A lot depends on who you are and where you are from.
Whilst ethnic minorities may face problems, the fact is that many black people in the region have high social status. They are sent over by their companies, work for foreign embassies, are professional sportsmen or entertainers, they are investors and tourists. A large portion have higher incomes and status than many locals. In fact the editor of this newspaper is a black Briton.

“The Baltics are still relatively poor countries, so the people of color who come here tend to come from rich Western countries. People can be quite positive towards you once they know you are from the West,” Bloggs said.
Aubin is quick to defend Lithuanians as a whole citing the fact that he only has problems with a small minority of people.
“It is just a few idiots who are ruining everything,” he said.

Meanwhile in Western Europe, Baltic people are themselves being discriminated against. Maybe the experiences that Balts have there will help foster a little bit more understanding when they return home.

The language myth
By Vincent Freeman with additional reporting by Adam Mullett
First published July 16, 2008

Tallinners can be strange. Not only do they dislike Russian-speakers speaking Russian, they don’t like Finnish tourists speaking Finnish.
“We are not in Finland. If you can’t speak Estonian, speak English” would be a typical response.
It’s understandable that Estonians prefer English — it is, after all, an international language. Also, in this part of the world, it is politically neutral. Russian, German and even Swedish can be associated with occupation and colonization. Estonia and the other Baltic states are small nations, and they can’t expect everybody to learn their language.

There are also practical reasons. The fact is, a lot of people living in Estonia don’t speak Estonian. It is possible for two people born in Tallinn in the same year to be forced to converse in English because it is the only language that they have in common. It’s part of the great Russian-Estonian divide.
The trouble is that the Estonians don’t actually speak English all that well. According to official figures, Finns actually speak English better than most Estonians.

Some 50 percent of Finns consider themselves fluent in English, compared to a third of Estonians, according to figures from their respective foreign ministries.
Estonians don’t realize this, of course, because they don’t speak English to each other..
It is one of the great myths of the region that you can get by with just English. It’s not that people don’t speak the language — it’s that the people who you need to speak it don’t.
One third of Estonians speak no English at all, and it seems that they all work in some form of customer service.

It’s the check-out girls, receptionists, immigration officials, police officers, and border guards, not to mention the average plumber, carpenter, builder, and car rental clerk. It’s the people who make life sustainable who are linguistically challenged.
“I was at a doctor’s, an expert in his field, and none of the receptionists spoke a word, even the young dolly girls,” said John Bosworth, who runs an IT company in Tallinn.
“If it weren’t for my girlfriend, I think I would have starved to death by now or died of some horrible disease,” Bosworth said.

Bosworth is a monoglot, like many Englishmen, but he’s been living in Estonia for five years. He recently realized that not bothering to learn Estonian was a mistake.
“If you are serious about living here, you need to learn the language or make friends with people who do,” he said.
Liina Luts has lived in England for the past few years. Only when she settled in England did she realize how badly she spoke English.

“I was proud [of my] English until I started working for an English company,” she said. “My English was not only far worse than the British, but far worse than any of the foreigners,” she said.
Luts, who is now back in Estonia, has concluded that Estonian linguistic skills aren’t quite as high as Estonians would like to think.
“I was over in Holland, and not only do they speak perfect English, but they speak French and German as well,” she said.

But if you think Estonia is bad, spare a thought for the monoglot Anglo-Saxon living in Lithuania.
Lithuania is almost unique in being a small, white, European nation where people really don’t speak English.
Viktorija Linikaite, a Supreme Administrative Court law specialist, explained that the trouble starts in school.
“People in small towns don’t need English and have no motivation, so they don’t care and don’t learn,” Linikaite said.

But of course, what then happens is the small-town kids move to the big cities looking for work.
Lithuanians, it seems, are more parochial in their outlook. “In Estonia, they show movies in their native language. In Lithuania, everything is translated or dubbed,” Linikaite said.
John Simmons is an English language teacher from Australia based in Vilnius.
“I get by in Lithuania with a lot of pointing, guessing and a little bit of knowledge of the language. The problem is that Lithuanians aren’t used to hearing their language spoken by people whose native tongue isn’t Lithuanian, so when I speak, they can’t understand a word of what I’m saying because of my accent,” Simmons said.

“People tell me I have a very soft accent when I speak, but still people don’t understand. I also think that sometimes you meet someone who pretends they can’t understand you in order to annoy you.”
English in Lithuania is worse than in Estonia and Latvia for a few reasons. One is the close proximity to the southeastern European countries, which all share Russian as a common language, whereas Estonia is closer to Scandinavia. They like to do business with their northern neighbors.
Latvia has the most advanced tourism industry in the Baltics and has cheap flights coming from all over Europe, bringing tourists, their money and their English.

People in Lithuania have a lot of free things coming their way at the moment from the EU, including English lessons. John Simmons said having free English lessons at work is a lot like having light bulbs at work: “If they didn’t have them, it would be a problem, but if they do have them, it is absolutely nothing special. Zero motivation,” he said.
“People want to learn, but only if someone else does the work for them,” Simmons said. “In my experience as a teacher, these people who get free lessons from their workplace never bother to learn — they just turn up to avoid doing other work in the office.”
The Swedish Empire strikes back
By Abdul Turay
First published June 18, 2008

The following list may be familiar to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the history of the region. Danes, Teutonic Knights, Swedes, Germans, Russians, Nazis, Soviets. These are the powers that have occupied and exploited the region, especially Estonia and Latvia, over the past millennium or so.
Conventional wisdom says that there are two gaps on this litany of foreign occupation – 1919 to 1939 and 1991 to present.

This is an illusion. The reality is, as recent events show, one of the old occupying powers is back and they mean business. The Baltics are controlled by Swedish capitalists. It could be called the new Swedish Empire.
Let us look at the evidence. In Estonia at the end of 2007, the share of SEB and Hansabank was 71 percent of the loan market and almost 100 percent of banking assets belonged to foreign-based credit institutions or investors.

Investors were attracted by the region’s flexible attitude towards foreigners.
Now that times are bad it appears the banks are turning the thumbscrews. SEB announced last week that it is sending in special debt collection units from Sweden to make sure that the bank is paid.
“At all times, bad or good, the banks are monitoring their debtors very closely,” Ahti Asmann, Chairman of the Management Board of SEB in Estonia, told The Baltic Times.
The rate of Swedish and Finnish takeover has accelerated in recent years. Hansabank has gone from being a flagship Estonian company in the late ’90s, to a bank where Swedes were the majority share holders, to a wholly owned subsidiary of Swedbank.

Hansabank now plans to change its name to Swedbank, finally ending any link with its Estonian origins.
Swedbank President Jan Linden defended the decision by saying it demonstrated the mother bank’s commitment to the region.
And it’s not just banking that is controlled by the Swedes and their co-conspirators the Finns. Take any major industry – telecommunications, travel and tourism, logging and timber, the bourse, retail and department stores – and you will invariable find that the parent company is based in Stockholm or, for variety, Helsinki.
Robert Juodka, a corporate lawyer based in Lithuania, believes that the slowdown in the Baltic economies has not been caused by structural problems in the region but by Swedish and Finnish owned banks cutting the money supply.

He believes Swedish banks lost money speculating in the sub prime market in America and now they are trying to get some of the money back from the Baltic states.
“Let’s be honest about it. The Estonian economy is controlled by Sweden and Finland,” he said.
“In Lithuania we still have a small banking sector and Latvia has strong ties with the Russian financial market. But the principal is the same in all three sectors and that is Scandinavian control,” he said.
Juodka said that Baltic economies are driven by consumption.

“As a result, when the banks tightened their lending criteria this had a knock-on effect on the overall economy because people did not have any money to consume,” Juodka said.
The bottom line is that Baltic governments have only limited control over their economies. This was even admitted by Lithuanian Prime Minister Kirkilas, who said recently that his government is powerless to stop inflation.

In Estonia, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip is more optimistic, but the fact is that Estonia’s economy has the largest amount of investment from the Nordic region. Some analysts believe the Estonian economy is on the verge of negative growth.

Many Balts who work with and for Swedish companies, however, are grateful that the companies came here.
Tonis Maar, an executive at telecommunications giant Ericsson, argues that the Swedes have not just brought money to the region they have brought good business practices.
“Swedish companies are more fully developed. Estonian companies are small companies. Not even companies, small firms. Swedish companies have regulations and structures that work quite well,” the businessman said
“Swedish companies are not corrupt at all. They are a good example for people to follow. People who have worked for Swedes adopt their practices when they leave,” he said.

Maar said the main reason Estonia is ahead of the other two countries in the region is because Swedish investment.
“Swedes had the power at the time. It has made our business culture more Scandinavian than Eastern European,” he said.

The Baltic Times spoke to workers at SEB, many of whom said the bank took a sensible approach to dealing with local people and are making informed decisions.
“The [important] thing is they do market research before making a decision. Some of our workers are from Sweden. That’s how they find out how it is here, by living here and then reporting back,” said Maris Poldveer, an executive at SEB.

The Swedes may be building an empire but it is a benign one. It seems the general feelings from both experts and ordinary people are that, despite the current hiccups, Swedish control is good because Swedes are culturally similar to Balts anyway.
“It was natural and inevitable, I don’t have problems with having the Swedes here, it is just they shouldn’t be the only ones,” Juodka said.
“In Estonia we don’t see it as bad. The fact that the Swedes and the Finns have invested in developing this country,” Maar said.

SEB argues that the Swedes are still here to help the region and they are in it for the long term.
“In a way, Swedish experience and funds have met Estonian entrepreneurship and initiative in running the business and it has been beneficial to the Estonian economy,” Asmann said
Juodka believes that the answer to the current economic woes is more foreign investment, not less.
“Our economy would be better by attracting world class banks, [such as] Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland,” he said.

There are signs that this may be happening. OMX, the Swedish-Finnish owned stock market group, was bought out by NASDAQ in February 2008. Meanwhile, British retailers Marks and Spencer, BHS and Debenhams have all said that they are to open stores in the region.
How long the Swedes can keep hold of their new Empire remains to be seen. It is all part of the process of globalisation.

Quiet genius who brought the East to the West
By Marge Tubalkain-Trell with additional reporting by Vincent Freeman
First published April 9, 2008

TALLINN - The Koran is undoubtedly one of the most important texts in world culture, so it’s maybe not so surprising that the book is selling well in Estonia. No one thought, however, it would sell as well as it did. The truly astonishing thing is that it took until December 2007 for the book to be published in Estonian. There is no doubt the Koran would not have been translated at all if weren’t for the work of one remarkable man, Haljand Udam – geologist, scientist, linguist, translator, writer, and genius.

The Baltic Times spoke to the friends and family of the man who single-handedly made the most important cultural event of the year in Estonia possible, including his widow who has never spoken to the press before.

“It was his life’s work and his last work,” said Aivar Lestsinski, editor in chief of the Avita publishing company. Udam died soon after completing the work in 2005.
Udam had a phenomenal command of languages. He mastered Arabic, Farsi, Tajiki, Hindi, Urdu and Uzbek. He could also speak a number of European languages, including French (which he also translated from), English, Russian and Finnish. It is worthwhile to note that he always translated directly from the original language, not from English.

He has left his mark with a long list of high-profile translated works, along with a number of his own essays, articles and research articles. He original works include “Read and Written” (1998), “Itinerary of the Orient” (2001) and “Magi-cians, Philosophers, Politicians” (2003).

Udam was also an Estonian patriot. “Itinerary of the Orient ” are a series of discourses mainly based on books he’d read. In it, he surreptitiously criticized the Soviet regime he had to labor under.

His friends and family described him as an honest and sincere person who avoided the pleasures of life. He understood that truth and wisdom are not private property – they don’t serve individual self-expression and are not meant to be hoarded. His spirit expressed itself best in the written word.

Despite his interest in Islam and Middle Eastern culture, Udam remained a committed Christian.

“Haljand Udam was a Christian who construed his role as uniting different cultures and religions – like a person to whom the Higher Dimension is more important than it is sensing different dogmatic ways,” said Toomas Haug, a friend, editor and fellow writer.

His wife characterised her husband as a simple, good natured and very erudite man.
“Haljand was a quiet man with strong words. He didn’t talk much, but when he said something it was so. He did what he thought was important and he always had lots of work to do. His great love was Oriental countries and traditions. He looked at things in a general way and details made him nervous,” she said. Despite the remarkable work he has done in bringing the East closer to Estonia, most Estonians hadn’t heard of him until the Koran was published last December.

Udam was born in 1936 in Rakvere to a family of farmers. He went to Tartu University and became a geologist in 1959. He started studying languages there also. His interest in nature started in his childhood. He chose geology as his field of study because it was most suitable for the times. It also helped that geology was one of the areas not dominated by Soviet propaganda.

He studied Persian in 1964 at the National University of Tashkent. He continued studying the languages in Moscow, at the Soviet Academy of Sciences at the Institute of the peoples of Asia and did his postgraduate work in Iranian philology. Two years after going to Russia, in 1971, he wrote his thesis on “Semantic features of Sufi terminology in Persian.”

His interest in the cultures of the Perssia, Central Asia and Turkey was sparked when he went on holiday to Tajikistan while studying for his first degree. He first went there in 1957 and was enthralled by the region’s traditions and culture.
Working conditions in the ‘70s and ‘80s weren’t easy for most scholars. During that time, Cold War propaganda was stepped up a notch and the ideological pressure began to impinge upon their work. Writers had to show that they were loyal to the regime, which meant everything that they wrote had to be ideologically sound.

Historical books were freer from these restrictions, the further back in time the better. Udam worked quietly at the Estonian encyclopedia house. He was a sort of spiritual exile and writing about medieval Persia or the Ottoman Empire gave him a creative freedom that others didn’t have without becoming a dissenter. Translating the Koran proved to be Udam’s last work. He passed away on December 17, 2005, due to an unexpected ailment.

The Koran has become an instant best seller. Its first print sold out before it came out and then, at the end of February, the next print run came out and launched the book to the best seller list for the two biggest bookshops – Apollo and Rahva Raamat.
Both his family, friends, and colleagues supposed that he had the idea in the early ‘90s. “This thought came to his mind more than ten years ago,” Ulle Udam said.

It is nice to know that now, after he is gone, we can still remember the great scientist who shared his love and knowledge with the world through memoirs and translations. People today cannot really know him, but can still admire the work he’s done through decades.

Fighting to preserve a nation’s heritage

By Abdul Turay
First Published July 09, 2008
When Tobias Jasetas was a small child, his family emigrated to England. One summer his mother decided to go back to Lithuania for an extended holiday to visit relatives. She took Jasetas, who was then nine years old, with her.
It turned to be one of the saddest decisions made by anyone, anywhere, ever. The year was 1939 and within a few months of arriving war had broken out. The mother and son were stranded in a country under Soviet occupation. The Soviets deported Jasetas’ relatives to Siberia. Then the Nazis came and things got even worse.

Jasetas is now 87 and still lives in Vilnius in a run down apartment with basic utilities. He doesn’t like to reflect on what might have been. He is the ultimate survivor. He lived through the first Soviet occupation, the Ghetto, the murder of his mother and other relatives. He escaped from the Ghetto just before the “Child Achtung” in 1944 when Ghetto children were singled out and slaughtered. He was hidden by a Lithuanian family.
He lived through the second Soviet occupation when Jewish culture was crushed. Today Jasetas is struggling to get by on a meagre pension and allowance that he gets from the Lithuanian government as a survivor of the Jewish Ghetto.

However, there is one fight left that that this old warrior would like to see resolved before he passes on. It is a struggle that faces all of Lithuania’s 3000 strong Jewish community, all that is left of a once thriving population.
They want the Lithuanian government and people to recognize the enormous contribution that Jews have made to the Lithuanian nation.
Practically this would partly be achieved by returning property stolen by the Soviets from people murdered by the Nazis. (See page 1 story).

“This is where I was born, this is where I married and this is where I will stay because this is my country,” Jasetas said.
Jasetas is now one of the leaders of the 800 survivors of the Holocaust of which 109 survived the Ghetto and concentration camps.
The average age of the survivors in 78 and 30 percent of these people cannot take care of themselves.
“They need medicine they need food. A big part of the need is to allow them to have a normal existence,” Simon Gurevicius, executive director of the Jewish community of Lithuania said.
Gurevicius explained that the elderly Jewish community has suffered three types of occupation: Nazi, Soviet and what he called, “a poverty occupation.”

Survivors of the Ghetto and concentration camps receive 200 litas (57 euros) a month. A tiny sum compared to what the Soviets stole.
The people in the Ghetto or camps were murdered and most of the survivors alive today, hid outside, often helped by kindly Lithuanian families. They get nothing.
Now with their families dead, it is the younger members of the community, and not blood relatives that they rely for any kind of support.

“We are trying to make them so that they wouldn’t feel lonely. We try to provide as much as possible.
“There are a lot are lonely people, especially lonely women. They don’t have family in Lithuania,” Gurevicius said.
He explains that as a young community leader he faces tough challenges.
“We feel bad because we have a choice between whether to give food or whether to give medicine because we have a limited budget,” he said.

In general, things are not looking good for the Jewish community. Not only has the government failed to make any attempt to return stolen property but neo-Nazi skinheads were allowed to march openly through the streets of Vilnius. It took the government 10 days to condemn the march.
Yet many young Jewish people chose to stay rather than emigrate to the U.S. or Israel. They are motivated by a sense of patriotism and duty.
“We look to Lithuania as our country. We are ready to stand and defend the independence of the country when needed.
“I believe a lot in fighting for the country, in defending family and community. We are responsible for building a monument for people who passed away, a monument not of stone but of ideas,” Gurevicius said.

Lithuania used to be a centre of Jewish and Yiddish culture in Europe. Vilnius was once known as the Jerusalem of the North. There were Jews in the country for a thousand years.
Jewish leaders around the world have come together to demand that something of that culture is restored.
“The Jewish community that remained in Lithuania struggles hard to revive Jewish life and even convert it into a centre of Jewish culture for the entire region.
“Amid much hardship, the local community has managed to rebuild Jewish life in the country in just a few years. It is now becoming a Jewish centre for the Baltic region,” Michael Thaidigs-mann a representative of the world Jewish Congress said.

He explained what Vilnius means to the Jewish community worldwide.
“It’s a huge historical tragedy. A whole world disappeared… It is heart wrenching,” he said
He added that Lithuania had much to gain by celebrating its Jewish heritage instead of rejecting it.
“Cities in Europe that have addressed this issue has become tourist hotspots. The festival of Jewish culture in Krakow attracted 25,000 people. The Jewish museum in Prague had three quarters of a million visitors,” he said.

Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International the oldest Jewish service organization in the world said:
“There is a great attachment for Jewish people all over the world to Lithuania. One does not have to have family from Lithuania to feel that attachment.”
Ultimately the Jewish community can’t wait forever for the government to do something. With each passing year, more of the survivors are dying off.

“Time is passing away, people are passing away. This a big moral issue. It is still possible to ensure dignified living conditions for them,” Gurevicius said.

Tallinn's unlikely twin
By Abdul Turay
First published November 2008

The idea behind twinning is that two vaguely similar cities exchange cultural links for their mutual benefit. Warsaw is twinned with Coventry – both cities were flattened by the Luftwaffe, after all. Tartu, the famous Estonian university town, is twined with Uppsala which is the home to the oldest university in Scandinavia.

And Tallinn… Tallinn is twinned with Dartford. Come again, Dartford!

For those of you who don’t know Britain well, Dartford is a dull dormitory suburb on the back end of London. Dartford is in the county of Kent, the so-called “garden of England”. Technically it is both a town and a borough , but it is not a city since it doesn’t have a Royal charter to call itself that.

Say the word “Dartford” to most Britons, and they will answer back “tunnel”. The Dartford crossing is both a tunnel and a bridge. It links up Kent with London both above and below the river Thames.

When City Paper called up the town’s marketing people to find a reason why anybody would visit this little corner of England the responses ranged from nervous pauses to sheer panic.

“I am not quite sure why anyone would visit Dartford…but Kent is a beautiful part of the country,” said a spokesperson from Visit Kent, the regional tourism board, after much hesitation.

“Em… Jane Austen stayed here [once],” said Mike Still assistant manager of Dartford Museum.

Still pointed out that Dartford is a historic town. The trouble is the town was heavily bombed during the Blitz and much of historical Dartford doesn’t exist anymore

“It doesn’t look medieval. In fact it looks like a new town,” Kerry Bishop, who works for the Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel and Bar, admitted.

Finally Tom Courtney, marketing director of Dartford Borough Council, came up with a good reason why someone might want to visit Dartford.

“It is quite well placed. You can pretty much get to Paris in the same time it takes to get to the other side of London,” Courtney said.

Courtney was referring to the Ebbsfleet link which opened in 2007. The link can take passengers to the centre of London in 15 minutes and to Paris or Brussels in under two hours. So it’s not just the tunnel. Dartford is an all purpose transit point. So it seems the only reason why anyone would go to Dartford is if they were on their way to some place else.

Which begs the question, how on earth did this nowhere, this non-descript place, this glorified junction, this place even salespeople can’t sell; end up being twinned with a world heritage city, the beautiful medieval and dynamic city of Tallinn?

Well maybe the answer lies in the spirit of the people of the two towns.

Both Tallinn and Dartford suffer from misconception about their potential. That was especially true in the early 90s when the twinning happened. Tallinn was once a run down, post-Soviet and impoverished but its people had aspirations of being something better. The people in Dartford likewise hoped for the future. Dartford is not exactly metropolitan but like a lot of small towns on the fringes of London its people are not parochial, in fact they are quite urbane and forward thinking. There were plans to build a university with a focus on IT. Both Dartfordians and Tallinners saw technology as the key to greater prosperity and a higher profile in the world. Sadly the university never happened in Dartford, though Tallinn has had more success in becoming a technological centre.

Dartford has other attractions. Despite having been almost bombed almost out of existence 60 years ago, it still does have the odd historical building. There are churches that date back to the Middle Ages and a house that Henry VIII bought for Anne Boleyn, whom he later beheaded. Richard Trevithick, the inventor of the steam locomotive, was born there – or maybe he just passed through. No-one seems exactly sure.

The twinning has subsequently dwindled into a junket for municipal bigwigs. “Most senior people have been there (Tallinn),” Courtney said, adding that he hasn’t been there, maybe because he isn’t considered important enough.

Where the two places share a heart is in the rampant consumerism. Tallinners like to shop, and the Dartford borough boasts the Bluewater shopping centre. This hideous beast is, to paraphrase Baron Munchausen:“a shopping complex of such monstrous proportions that you could not, even with a telescope, see the end of it.”

Bluewater is terrifying to every man who ever hated shopping and paradise to every woman who ever loved it. Its 154,000 square metres make it the fourth largest shopping centre in Europe. It employs 20,000 people and has every type of shop imaginable.

So that’s Tallinn’s sister town: a train station, a nice park, people who are full of hope for the future, and the mother of all shopping centres.

A hard landing indeed
By Abdul Turay
First published Aug 20, 2008

Estonians act and think like any group of people who have known poverty. They like to spend money they don’t have on stuff they don’t need.

This is why the credit crunch has hit the Black and Hispanic community in America so hard.

Now a sensational new book which makes the same point is causing a buzz in the ex-pat communities and the corridors of power.

The book is called “Hard Landing”. It was written by Dr Claudio Zucchelli, an Italian-German, financial analyst and investor and Dag Kirsebom, a Swedish-Norwegian former banker and entrepreneur.

Ministries have ordered copies. The Estonian prime minister, Andrus Ansip is rumoured to have read it. The book has been specially ordered by Merrill Lynch. All this for a pocket-sized book that a fast reader could finish in an afternoon.

The book argues that not only will Estonia suffer a hard landing but the culture and mentality of Estonians themselves has led to this situation and that it will be a long time before it recovers. The book goes on to say it is a fantasy that Estonia will catch up economically with Scandinavian countries in the next few years.

“You can’t just borrow and borrow money and think that nothing will happen,” Kiresbom said.

Kirsebom, who has lived in Tallinn for a number of years, said the book evolved out of the sort of pub-chat so beloved by ex-pats about the exasperating habits of the locals.

“We came up with the idea a year ago and six months ago we took a couple of months to do it. We are new authors, this is the first book we have written. We were quite satisfied with the result,” Kirsebom said.

A raft of new figures suggests that Kirsebom and Zucchelli were accurate in predicting the crash.
Both Estonia and Latvia have suffered hard landings. The Estonia economy has slowed to a standstill. Statistics Estonia figures show that economy shrank by 1.4 per cent in 2008. According to Analysts, Ministry of Finance officials are in denial, claiming that it can’t be called a recession yet (see story Page 12). Nevertheless it is clear that Estonia faces hard times ahead.

Kirsebom and Zucchelli have come up with well researched data explain why their hypothesis is correct.

Take the question of when Estonia will catch up and overtake its Scandinavian neighbours to reach the much vaunted political goal of being the fifth richest country in Europe by the year 2020. Using data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Economist Intelligence Unit, the authors predict this for this to be achieved the Estonian economy would have to grow at the dizzying rate of 16.2 per cent a year between the years 2011 and 2020.

According to Kirsebom this is clearly impossible. It’s no wonder the book subtitle is "fairy tale of the rise and fall of the Estonian economy".

The book argues that far from looking forward to a future as "the Luxembourg of the North", Estonians can expect homelessness, unemployment and an increased cost of living. They face all the human misery that those who lived through the recessions in Western Europe in the early nineties can remember well.

Importantly the book makes no outlandish claims about what is going on. The authors are not saying that Estonia is going to sink into the sea. They are saying Estonia's situation is similar to Sweden in the early nineties.

“There has been real estate bubble [elsewhere], we make mistakes in the West… it just that it’s worse here,” Kirsebom said.

Perhaps the most interesting part of their analysis is not what has happened, but how it is happened.

There are lots of little funny anecdotes about the way Estonians behave which make the book an entertaining read.

There is the case of the employee who was offered a 10,000 kroons (700 euros) salary raise and instead of thanking his boss said: “Well you know someone like me would make 80,000 in the United States.” Then there were the employees who refused to work in a pizza shop unless the employer removed a camera which was showing them stealing. And the employee who resigned and when told that he had to give one month notice said: “In that case I will sit here and do nothing.”

The book is particular insightful in describing the conspicuous consumption that plagues modern Estonian society.

The book describes the casinos, the expensive brand clothes, the manicured nails, perfectly coiffured hair and most of all the flashy cars all bought on credit.

Here is an extract: “Respectable cars must be less than three years old, must be of an expensive brand, must be big and must have a powerful motor.”

How did Estonians get this way? According to the authors they still have a Soviet mentality.

As Kirsebom explains even young people just don’t seem to get the concept of how capitalism works.

“Estonians don’t want to admit that the communist years are still affecting them,” he said.

“Even if you talk about young Estonians, there are some kinds of concepts that they get from their parents.”
There are plenty of malapropism in the book. “High healed shoes (sic)” is one.

But in a way that adds to the charm of the book – the authors are not professional writers, they are just two people with something to say. This book deserves to be read and it needs to be read by Estonians. It might just bring them down to earth and make them face realities.


Neo-Nazi thrown out
By Abdul Turay 11 August 2009

An American neo-Nazi has failed in his attempt to remain in the country after a court rejected his asylum plea and branded him a racist and a public menace.

Craig Cobb, 57, founder and operator of the Podblanc website, a sort of YouTube for racists, emigrated to Estonia in 2005. Cobb planned to make Estonia the centre for his propaganda campaign to promote white nationalism.

Now it seems time is up for Cobb. He was put on trial August 2009 and banned from Estonia for a minimum of 10 years. Cobb was found guilty of endangering public security, public order, public safety, moral standards, and health. The court also found that he was promoting racism and was a racist.

Cobb has not yet been removed from the country, but is being detained.

“I have cash and an American passport and am expelled by Estonia, but they have me locked down here till 16 Sept if they want and I think I can get extensions every two months. One Khazarstan(sic) guy has been here a year,” Cobb wrote on his website.

The Office of Internal Affairs has been trying to deport Cobb since at least February 2007.

Cobb originally left the country on 2 June 2009 once it became clear the authorities were closing in on him. He went to Finland and applied for asylum the same day on the basis of his religious and political beliefs. Cobb is a member of the creativity movement, a white nationalist quasi-religion. Finland rejected his asylum claim and he was sent back to Estonia under the terms of the Dublin convention whereby a failed asylum-seeker should be returned to the last safe country they were in.

According to his website Cobb now plans to go to Canada which he calls “Israel North,” from there he plans to go to another European country like Serbia or Bosnia.

Cobb first came to public attention in 2006 when he bought a run-down house near Rapla

“Nigger-hater makes a centre in woods near Rapla,” Eesti Express wrote at the time.

Cobb had said that countries like the USA And the UK were “disgusting sewers” beyond redemption because of their large ethnic minority populations.

Prior to coming to the Estonia Craig Cobb had come to attention in the USA when he put the home address of a federal judge on a white nationalist website. The judge's husband and mother were subsequently murdered at that address.

Many of the videos of the Cobb's Podblanc site depict men, women and even small children being viciously beaten by skinhead thugs, mostly in Russia.


The hairdresser who ruined Tallinn
By Abdul Turay
Published in Postimees 24 April 2009


I met a traveller on a plane about two years ago who looked like a character in a romantic novel; tall, good-looking, urbane and rich. He told me of a conversation with two young Irish property “entrepreneurs” in a Tallinn pub.

These entrepreneurs were sure that the property market would take off, just like it had in Dublin and that they were going to be rich, or more accurately, richer than they believed they already were. The couple were so full of swagger and confidence that the traveller, a stockbroker by trade, was ready to invest in property in Tallinn himself...... for about five minutes.

Then he asked the entrepreneurs what were the yield rates. Neither knew what on Earth he was talking about. A little probing revealed the “entrepreneurs'” had day jobs. The man was a mechanic and the woman was a hairdresser.

We all know that the property market has gone to hell. Most people know it is a global phenomenon. Prices have dropped everywhere, 8.2 per cent in the United States, 16.5 per cent in the United Kingdom. It's bad for the world, for Estonia it's carnage. Property prices dropped 23 per cent in 2008, these are some of the worse figures in the world and there is no end in sight. In terms of the value of its real estate, Estonia is heading back into the 20th Century.

We have to ask ourselves the question, why is it worse here than just about anywhere else?
Some blame Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and the government's sloppy fiscal policy, others blame the greed of local people, still others blame reckless lending by the banks. It's clear there is no single villain, but there is one culprit that hasn't been brought into the light; the mechanic and the hairdresser.

The property contagion didn't start locally it was spread here by foreigners; Swedes, Britons and conspicuously the Irish. Already way back in 2002 before anybody in Estonia had ever heard of a Euro-loan, property mania had been sweeping through Dublin for years.

Foreigner investors formed the vanguard of the first wave of property speculators. When banks started to lend money to foreigners to buy property they were therefore lending on the basis of income earned in Cork, Dublin or Manchester. The value of property began to reflect average earnings in the UK or Ireland, not average earnings in Estonia. Prices went to the moon.

By 2005 it was common knowledge throughout the British Isles that Tallinn was the place to be.
“Investors are packing their bags for Tallinn to try to beat the rush,” trumpeted the Times of London on 29 April 2005.

By 2006-7, about the time the hairdresser showed up, it had become a feeding frenzy. The hairdresser turned what might have been a Copenhagen or Helsinki style bubble into a mega bubble.

By this time, the fly-to-letters hopping on planes were not real investors. They were just ordinary people with ordinary jobs who were seized with a get-rich-quick mania.
Some of them may have looked rich to a naive 20-year old girl in some place like Hollywood disco, but they were not rich in their own country. They were also not investing any of their own money. They were simply borrowing money from their over-inflated flats in down town Dublin and using that money to put a deposit on a pad in Central Tallinn.

It was an impossible situation, locals felt they had to buy as they wouldn't be able to afford to live in their own city and they began to charge into the market too.

Irish investors were particularly brash and confident. To understand why you have to know a little of Irish psychology. Ireland has been poor for centuries and they blame their easterly neighbours for their predicament. The truth be known, Ireland's land isn't particularly good for farming and it has few mineral resources.

That all change in the 90s when American companies began to invest in Ireland as a conduit into European markets. In the space of the decade Ireland went from being one of the poorest countries in western Europe to one of the wealthiest. Suddenly the Irish had something to be shout about. They had surpassed the British.

People from Estonia and the other Baltic states saw it as their El-Dorado.
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip was one of the people who bought into the myth of the Irish economic miracle.

In this decade the Irish economy continued to grow. The Irish believed that they had discovered a new economic paradigm. In reality since about 2002, Ireland's growth was based on consumption and construction. It was a mirage. There was no Celtic tiger, tigers don't live in Europe.

Now the party is well and truly over. Ireland economy shrank by 2.5 per cent in 2008 and it is expected to contract by at least 6.5 per cent in 2009. Irish unemployment is anticipated to rise to 15.5 per cent this year.

Now Ansip must realise that it was a mistake to hold up Ireland as a model for Estonia to follow.
It's ordinary Estonians who are having to suffer from the hairdresser's folly. If the currency is devalued or the European Central bank resets interest rates upwards to cope with rampant inflation, as some economists like Peter Schiff predict, tens may even hundreds of thousands of people will be stuck sitting in houses that are worth less than they paid for them and loans they can't afford. No doubt some will be sitting on the street.

As for the hairdresser herself, she is in deep trouble.
Take an acquaintance of mine, lets call him Henley. He seems to have everything going for him. He is well-groomed, married to a successful Estonian designer and facing bankruptcy.
“I was that mechanic, I was that hairdresser,” Henley says jokingly. He came to Estonia in 2004 bought his first property then he sold in 2005 for a nice profit. Then he got greedy. Once he had established himself as a good creditor with Estonian banks he was able to borrow money to buy four other properties which he rented out.

In the meantime he was establishing himself as an international mini-tycoon buying up properties in Bulgaria.

Now that the bubble has burst Henley is stuck with four properties the value of which is below what he paid for them. There is no point in selling them because he would still owe the bank money. And the rental situation is awful. Dublin and London have had a huge influx of migrant workers from places like ...well Estonia. Migrants may not be motivated to buy any more, but they still need a place to live, so rental incomes have held steady. Tallinn has hundreds of nice, empty, flats.

Henley is a worried man and looks it. If you think you are struggling to pay the loan on one apartment, imagine if you had four.
“You weren't actually a mechanic before you left,” I ask him. I assumed from his manner and financial knowledge that he was in business before coming here.
“No, ” he said: “I was a fireman.”

Cult of Youth
By Abdul Turay
First published by Postimees 21 November 2008


Businessman Rein Kilk thinks Estonia’s leaders are getting old and should be packed off to the European parliament. In an interview with Kuku radio on 15 November he singled out Prime Minister, Andrus Ansip and Tallinn City Mayor, Edgar Savisaar for a midnight train to Brussels.
Of course Kilk is motivated by his own support for Finance Minister, Ivari Padar. As he said to Kuku radio in English:
“Ma ütlen, Ivari, do it ja ma annan oma hääle sulle!” (I said to Ivari, do it, and I will back you).
To most visitors coming to Estonia this is an amazing thing to say. They often comment on how young the leadership of the country is.
Is Kilk right, are the leading figures in Estonian politics getting too old and is it time for a new generation?
It’s true some in Estonian politics have been around a long time; Savisaar and Mart Laar have been around for years.
However let’s look at the make up of the government. Urmas Paet, foreign minister is 34, Urve Palo, population minister is 36, Maret Maripuu, minister of social affairs also 34, Ivari Padar finance minister 43, Juhan Parts already a former prime minister 42 and so on.
In fact apart from the Ansip, there are only two members of the cabinet, Juri Pihl and Jaak Aaviksoo, over the age of 50.
Compare that to Britain, most of the member of the cabinet are in their 50’s and there are only two junior cabinet ministers under the age of 40. The only “young” senior office holder in the British government is boy-wonder Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, 43.
Mart Laar at 48 is already a twice former prime minister and world-renown elder statesman, Yet he is just a year older than Barack Obama who is just getting started and is one of the youngest person ever to be elected to the office of president of the United States in 230 years
It is clear to any non-Estonian observer that far from being too old the entire political establishment in Estonia is eye-poppingly young.
As for Ansip and Savisaar, let’s get real, they are not old. Savisaar at 58 is almost the same age as the British prime minister. He has been prime minister, a minister, vice speaker of parliament and city mayor. Ansip at 52 is actually young for a politician. He is definitely in his prime. He is the same generation as Obama but he has arguably more executive experience. He was a former mayor and a former minister.
Youth can be bad. Young leaders can be driven be passion, temperament and ambition. They might be brilliant but they sometimes they show lack of judgement. Too often young leaders are conviction politician. They have a project they believe in and are determined to follow it even if it means chaos.
Nero, Caligula, Commodus were the Roman Empire’s worst and most infamous Emperors. They all had in common; vice, caprice and youth. The Roman Empire worked best when an Emperor selected an established elder statesman and general as his heir and successor rather than passing on the title of Emperor to his young son.
There are plenty of other examples of young people running things into the ground. The Middle Ages were unstable and cruel because of the ambition of young barons who inherited their positions from their fathers.
In modern times the Nazi leaders were in their 30’s or 40’s. After the war Germany had to jump upwards a generation since their younger leaders, like Albert Speer, had discredited themselves by following the Nazis. Konrad Adenauer was 72 when he became chancellor. He had a relatively undistinguished civic career prior to that. Today Germans think of him as their best statesman ever.
Of course in the early 90’s Estonia there was a practical reason for youthful leadership.. The country needed conviction politicians with energy and dynamism. The young republic also needed people with technical skills, some understanding of how capitalism works and an ability to speak English.
Putting young men and women in charge of things worked because of the way the Estonian constitution is structured. An elder statesman, the president, acted as guide, adviser and counsellor to the youngsters.
But things have moved on since then. Presidents are getting younger too. Ilves at 54 is still quite a young man. John McCain the losing U.S. Presidential hopeful was 72, a generation older, Joe Biden the vice–president elect is 66. Biden was chosen for his wealth of senatorial committee and foreign office experience. However he has never held a cabinet office position.
Compared to the rest of the world, Estonia is doing pretty well then. It has young leaders who also have executive experience. It has checks and balances in place to ensure that young hot heads don’t run amuck.
Of course no system is perfect. The less said about Ken-Marti Vaher, former Justice Minister, the better
But if Kilk doesn’t like certain politicians and wants to get rid of them, he is going to have to do better than just calling them old.

Let's eat potato peels
By Abdul Turay
Published in Postimees on 2 December 2008

At a meeting of foreigner investors recently held in Tallinn there was a consensus on one issue.
Estonians hadn’t yet woken up to just how serious the current economic crisis is.
People don’t seem to realise what is at stake. It is not just a question of a few bankruptcies, nor of shopping cheaply, nor buying a smaller car, nor having a few friends and relatives out of work.

Just to shake people out of their complacency let’s give a hypothetical situation.
Imagine if the Estonian economy was owned lock, stock and barrel by Russian banks, a world in which some dour, Putin yes-man, in Moscow decides how companies do business in Tallinn. A country where your home loan was already with a Russian bank and try as you may, you couldn’t switch it to an Estonian one.

If you think that the above situation is just fantasy this is from 23 October edition of the Economist: “…one or more parent banks will put a troubled subsidiary up for sale, perhaps to a Russian buyer. That prospect is unlikely. But it sets nerves jangling in places such as the Baltic States.”
It is “unlikely” but if a magazine as respected as the Economist is writing about it, it is not impossible.

This is a nightmare scenario and it should never be allowed to happen, ever.
However in order to prevent even the possibility of such an awful situation most international pundits agree the country is going to have to swallow some bitter medicine.

The big issue which has investor in Estonia abuzz is devaluation.
Some argue devaluation will come; it is just a matter of when. It is widely accepted that the currencies of all three Baltic countries are overvalued. This makes Estonia and its neighbours’ exports expensive and the country unattractive to tourists.

Those in favour of devaluation argue it will increase the money supply, make the country more competitive and stave off higher unemployment.

Pundits say without devaluation the recession will last into the foreseeable future. Clearly it is an impossible situation to have a currency which is too expensive. The Kroon is now 20 to 30 per cent more expensive than the currencies of Sweden, Norway the UK, all major trading partners.
Meanwhile The Estonian Central Bank keeps making loud noises that devaluation is not going to happen. Andres Sutt, vice president at Estonian central bank told Postimees on 14 November that devaluation would be pointless.

“Salary growth, inflation and loan growth have lowered very fast. So current account deficit has also diminished and Estonia’s dependence on foreign financing is lowered. Financial situation of banks operating here is also strong,” Sutt said.

However devaluation is looking more likely now than it did even a week ago. Dow Jones, the international news business outlet, reported on 24 November that the IMF may force Latvia to devalue its currency in order for it to qualify for the loans it needs. If Latvia devalues its currency, it makes it harder for Estonia to keep the peg to the euro.

Of course the arguments against devaluation are powerful ones. Estonia will have to restart the clock in joining the euro. And for Estonia to adopt a measure it was so against for so long damages the country’s financial standing and credibility with international investors and ratings agencies.

It could even cause a run up the currency.

The benefits of a cheaper Kroon to exports are also questionable as the prices of imported raw materials will go up.

But the real worry is what it means for the man on the street. Loans for many businesses and individuals including home loans are in euros. If the Kroon is devalued it will make it harder for businesses and individuals to pay off those loans.

Sutt and his colleagues may assure us devaluation won’t happen the trouble is the Estonian economy isn’t controlled by Sutt; it is controlled by Swedish banks.

There is very little the Estonian Central Bank and government can do to manipulate the economy.

In other countries when banks get into trouble the government have stepped in with tax payer’s money to bail them out. Here the government has to sit back and see what the Swedish central bank, the Riksbank, and the Swedish government does. So far Swedish banks-with the exception of Swedbank- have been reluctant to join their government’s schemes to guarantee their debt to the turn of 145 billion euro. If they don’t like their government meddling in their strategic affairs just how would they react to a foreign government’s meddling.

To spare Estonian borrowers from the misery of trying to pay expensive euro loans with cheap Kroons, the Estonian government could force the banks to change all loans to Kroons and then devalue the Kroon, in effect ripping off the banks. This was tried in Argentina in 2002 when the government de-coupled the Argentine currency from the dollar.

This is not a good idea. The banks might feel strongly enough to cut their losses and sell their subsidiaries to the highest bidder. The Russians have the money and the motivation to buy.
This brings us to the nightmare scenario we looked at the beginning of this piece.

On the other hand if business and individuals were to start defaulting on mass on loans, the banks again may have to reconsider their commitment to the region.

So the morale of the story is, be nice to the Swedes. If you have any Swedish relatives or acquaintances don’t forget to wish them well this Christmas.

We have been here before. Estonia was once a colony of Sweden. The Swedes as the Estonians readily acknowledge did a lot for Estonia. In history books it is always referred to as “the good old Swedish days”. But in the end Sweden was forced to cede Estonia to the Russian Empire. They didn’t want to do it, they didn’t like to do it, but they had lost a war and they had no choice.
There is simply no easy solution to these problems. It seems whether the Central Bank devalues or not people will suffer. 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.

How to become Estonian
By Abdul Turay
First published Postimees 26 February 2009

I recently gave a series of lectures at Hugo Treffner gymnasium and other schools in Tartu about the crisis of civic nationalism.

The students were fairly quiet during the lectures but I am told by their class teachers there was heated and furious arguments about what it all means for Estonia after I left.

Some of you may be unfamiliar with what exactly civic nationalism is, much less that it is in crisis so let me clarify it.

It means that my own country, Britain, might actually collapse like the Soviet Union, not five years or 10 years from now, but next year or the year after.

The same thing could happen to Belgium, Spain, South Africa even the United States. Canada came within a hairbreadths of collapse 14 years ago.

In Britain the danger is very real and imminent. If you're not familiar with British politics. You might be surprised to hear this.

There are broadly speaking two competing ideas about what makes a nation valid. On the one hand, as social contract thinkers like Rousseau argued, nation-states have legitimacy because everybody in the country agrees to live by the same rules what ever those rules may be. So in Britain there is representational democracy, constitutional monarch, an established church,(the Anglican church in England and Presbyterian church is Scotland) and a Common Law system for England and Wales and mixed system for Scotland. Since the 90's Scotland and Wales also have their own parliament and assembly but England doesn't. Most of these institutions are very ancient and in centuries past people liked them. They used to form the backbone of what gave Britain it's sense of itself.

The British national anthem “God save the Queen” for example doesn't express love for the country but loyalty to the monarchy.

In Britain people have lost respect for national institutions, no-one goes to church, people have contempt for parliament and jeer at the national anthem. Moreover in the 80's you had a Conservative Party government that alienated large segments of the population especially in Scotland. This led to the rise of Scottish Nationalism as the generation who grew up in the 80's are now politically ascendant.

The Scottish Nationalist Party, who want an independent Scotland, are calling for a referendum before 2011.

If the Conservative get into power again, as opinion polls say they will, the Scots might vote for independence not because they want it but because they don't want another Conservative government.

You are probably thinking what has this all got do with Estonia. Well there is broadly speaking another brand of nationalism, Ethnic Nationalism. According to this theory first put about by German philosopher Johann Herder in the early 19th century, a nation has legitimacy because people in the nation are all the same. They all speak the same language, look the same, sing the same songs follow the same traditions and share a common ancestry.

Estonia is a pretty good example of how one can create an ethnic nation from nothing as happened as the ideas of Herder and his acolytes swept across the Baltic region in the mid-19th Century.

“Don't have a ready-made national epic?” get Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald to write one.
Civic nationalism is potentially inclusive, and flexible, ethnic nationalism intrinsically is not.
Estonia's brand of ethnic nationalism is problematic.

In an increasingly globalised world with millions of people moving across national borders is ethnic nationalism feasible?

The nation's leaders want the country to become as prosperous as Sweden, Finland or Norway.
If Estonia does catch up, immigrants will come, there is no stopping it. They will come not just from Africa or Asia but from other parts of Europe where there are now millions of people who don't look typically Estonian. And if they don't come, it will only be because the great project for Estonia has failed.

Estonia still faces the question of a population decline. The economic situation is likely to throw a spanner in the works of the Government's campaign to get people to have more children. No jobs and no money means less children.

However it’s pretty clear if you talk to young people around the country like I have in the past few weeks, they are pretty adamant that Estonia's brand of ethnic nationalism is here to stay.
No one here will tolerate the notion that you could have a situation like you have in Canada with two languages with equal status under the constitution.

But here's the rub, although civic nation's are in crisis the concept of civic nationalism itself is not. In fact many previously ethnic nations are having to recast themselves as civic ones including virtually every nation in Western Europe.

Scotland is like Estonia a small Northern European nation. It has a world famous, clearly defined heritage and sense of itself. You'd would think the Scottish Nationalism would be ethnic. It isn't. The SNP has studiously courted the support of Asian Muslims, other immigrants and their descendants. They have encouraged these people to think of themselves as Scottish and recruited them as allies in promoting Scottish national pride. The party have an Asian Muslim Member Scottish Parliament who was born in Pakistan. They have even tried to get votes from New European immigrants including Estonians who have arrived in the country in the past four years.

By adopting an inclusive policy the Scottish National Party has gone from been a fringe party in the 80's to the party of government in the Scottish Parliament. In short the Scots have adopted their own civic nationalism to challenge British civic identity.

Maybe Estonia can learn from the Scots. Maybe the answer lies in taking more pride in Estonian nationality identity not less.

Estonia is a small nation but there is no reason it can't be a great one, As one student, a potential future prime minister I think, pointed out to me, “we can make Estonian something people from other parts of the world want to be.”

Immigrants needn't be a threat, they can be potential allies. People coming here are not going want to learn Russian or English, they going to want to learn Estonian, the common language.

For myself I can say that if I were continue to live here and to have children here I would encourage them to speak Estonian at home and to think of themselves as Estonian, even though obviously they are not going to look like everybody else.

It's not going be easy and the current economic crisis has put the issue on the back burner for now.

No jobs and no money equals no ex-patriots. But the problem isn't going to go away The issue should be debated at least.