Published Eesti Ekspress 2 October 2009
Political observer Abdul Turay columns' are causing politician to line up, publicly to churn out replies. What lies behind this phenomenon?
One day, Abdul Turay was walking through a small birch-edged Tallinn parking lot
Suddenly a young gentleman, driving a car shouted out: “Hey nigger, you fucking nigger! Get the fuck out of my country!!”
For fun Turay answered him in French (which he learned in his native country of Great Britain). The other person was silently surprised for a moment and then carried on shouting abuse.......also in French.
“Totally unbelievable,” Turay said rolling with laughter.
“Then I thought for a moment that this is indeed an odd country.”
Turay didn't say there is large scale racism in Estonia. He did say he has had more positive experiences than negative ones.
But he wouldn't permit the paper to name the cafe where we rested for a chat. (Ed note: because it's near where I live). As of last spring, Turay goes regularly to a sports club carrying a bag with boxing gear for self-defence.
Abdul Turay came out of nowhere. He is Black, agnostic, his family are Moslem, he went to a Catholic school (Ed note: It was actually an Anglican school the reporter made an error). To our way of thinking he is a minority of a minority.
From last November he has written for Postimees; about how NATO in all probability won't waste time defending Estonia against Russia, how Mart Laar's economic ideology is hopelessly in a bind and how Russia could theoretically buy up Estonian banks from the Swedes.
In his last opinion piece about Edgar Savisaar, Turay wrote that the mayor of Tallinn didn't offer the country anything of substance other than “oozing sexual magnetism”.
“Yes indeed Savisaar- he simply demanded a satirical analysis,” Turay said, squeezing a blue sweet wrapper and thinking a little.
“He's a very complete character! And Laar is a heavyweight, worldwide icon, a pioneer of an economy system, who theoretically could be Prime Minister again. It occur to me to ask, what would he do now, but I hadn't read or seen anything about this," Turay said.
Turay's arguments have brought immediate and public response from the likes of Mart Laar, Marko Mihkelson, Kadri Simson and Priit Pullerits (Ed note: politicians and newspaper editors). This foreign, black man, who struggles in Estonian, but has a surprisingly good understand of the political history, is really publicly shaking things up.
At one time Turay worked for newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan. When he went abroad for the first time long ago, his father explained that he should bear in mind that he was in some way an ambassador.
“Wherever I go, the first thing that people see is that I am black, But I myself consider myself British. So what am I am ambassador for? I became immediately apparent, I am an ambassador for Black Britons,” Turay said.
Turay heaves a mild sigh. But he isn't smiling currently, his brown eyes are focused somewhere else as they examine with glowingly attention his conversation partner.
“If I had been singing or playing (basket) ball, then no one would be bothered, because this is what people expect a black man should be doing. But if a black person writes in a newspaper then it's a big deal.
“The majority of Estonians simply don't have contact with foreigners. When they see one they think probably they must be here on holiday. But actually quite a lot of ex-pats know what's going on," he said.
Abdul Turay has read bits and pieces of Kalevipoeg, he has seen Tonis Magi in concert and listens sometimes to Raimond Valgre. Everyday with a dictionary at his fingertips, he keeps track of our papers, political blogs and broadcasts.
“Marko Mihkelson's blog is quiet challenging. And my old lady doesn't help me, mostly,” he complained.
Turay's "old lady" is Estonian (they aren't married) this was the main reason why he came to Estonia more permanently.
He first visited in the year 2002, Turay wanted simply to see the country because it was missing an aristocracy.
“This is quite unusual for English people.
"Moreover who would not like to live in such a country,” he said.
For clarification: Turay's West African father belonged to the generation, which after the war rebuilt England. Estonia is his opportunity to take part in the same process.
Turay's Estonian teacher, Maire Aarsalu, reported how her student researches his opinion pieces “He would you speak with people about the Centre party,” she said.
It seemed to her that he sympathises with the Russians living in Estonia because they are a minority like him.
All the same, the lesson in all those well worn articles about Estonians and Russians is that rubbing things up remains delicate.
"He still doesn't perceive this situation quite well,” Aarsalu said.
Turay himself believes that in the near future a vitality will grow out of Estonia, which will bring the minorities together. And not just the Russians, if the country succeeds, then it will attracts all sorts of nationalities to the country.
“But if Putin's gang were really to attack Estonian, I would be the first man who grabs a gun," Turay said.
Turay gave an interview to one foreign portal where he stated that the election of Barack Obama “opened door for me personally”.
As his own background is in writing, does he feel comfortable with the American president's slogan “change we need”.
“No! I am not standing for political office and the Centre party has already hijacked this slogan," Turay laughingly said.
Before coming to Estonia, for 12 years he wrote speeches for ministers in England (Ed note: The United Kingdom).
Actually he is formally a domestic government worker. He also belongs to the Liberal Democratic party. This is the party whose direct counterpart in Estonia would be the Centre party.
But by Estonian standards Abdul Turay is more right-wing.
And one last thing, before Abdul Turay emerged, the only black person in the Estonian media was Arkaadi A. Who was an invention of political and cultural analyst, Mart Juur in his humorous column.
Arkaadi was the beloved friend of our national leaders He divided Arnold Rüütel's presidential rally previous media agreement. And in the age of the popular front, he rescued the familiar Savisaar from behind prison wall.
In all seriousness, Express editors were openly speculating whether Juur had also simply invented Turay.
“Really you can see why this question came up. Is there really such a person? I don't go out especially much and nobody really sees me around,” Turay chuckles.
When asked what politicians he knew personally he casually answered.
“Only Andrus Ansip (Ed note: The Estonian prime minister) I had dinner with him once when I was at the Baltic Times!”
SB1 The destroyer of the culture of discussion.
By Barbi Pilvre TLU RASI lecturer.
The Abdul Turay phenomenon brings to the fore some Estonian cultural taboos, which are related to race.
The political and economic analytical premier league in Estonia is a famously narrow group of people. Open discussion is characterised by a settled hierarchy. We have a lot of well-known experts in their particular areas. Bystanders are not let in, not because they lack competence, but because we have this authoritarian discussion culture. Men write about men's issues and women write about women's issues. The themes are black and white. If the hierarchy had a chance they would keep it that way as the media loves to protect experts.
Now a foreign black man, living in Estonia, who has made off with a local girl, is tackling very difficult subjects which have not yet been talked about by white pure-blooded Estonian person with any degree of sophistication. He talks appropriately, emphatically but in a calm low voice. To quote professor Rein Taagepera: "There is nothing as carefully humorous as Estonian debating culture."
Even Russian-speaking people don't use the opportunity to ask, the public, politicians, and the country in general, key questions using Estonian.
So first a Finn can provoke Estonians by giving an evil interpretation of “our history”. (Ed note: a reference to a Finnish professor who was banned from Estonia for saying the Soviet occupation was legitimate). And now we have the writings of this one black man.
Abdul Turay has caused such a high level of reaction, and that shows that our political elite are in a sense surprised, even shocked, even if the average white columnist had the same courage, there would be no response from the top at all.
Abdul Turay is a highly welcome local connection.