Right is Right?
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 16th December 2010

"Estonia is too Republican. Young people should be caring and socially orientated, but not here in Estonia."

This blunt comment comes from Kadri Simson. I met up with the Riigikogu member and deputy chairman of Keskerakond a little while ago. She seemed very sincere in her beliefs.

"Even when George W Bush was highly unpopular all round Europe he was still popular in Estonia," she continued.

She was keen to meet me but she seemed to feel that foreign writers in Estonia were all right-wingers who were deceiving the Estonian people.

"There is some kind of attitude lower taxes for richer people or bigger benefits for wealthier people is justified are prevalent," she said.

"I am also surprised when some foreigners or people from Western Europe, where these attitude are not so strong, are coming here and starting to give additional arguments towards this.

"Those people who I know from Old Europe they are even more socially orientated than me.
"May be true Republican believers find a heaven here in Estonia, write their beliefs and give the average Estonian the impression that everybody admires what is going on here?" she said.

I pointed out that I am right-wing on some issues and left-wing on others
"I haven't seen it, maybe I have missed exactly those articles," she joked.

Kadri Simson has a point. In Britain young people are usually not conservative. To be a Conservative is usually associated with nastiness and meanness. The Conservate party is even nick-named "the nasty party".

Is Estonia an economic right-wing paradise, a Mecca for economic neo-liberals from all over Europe?
With elections coming up now would be a good time to examine what it actually means to be right-wing in modern Estonia, the picture is far more complex than it was even a couple of years ago.

In some respects it seem quite obvious that Estonia is right wing. Tõnis Saarts Professor of Political Science at Tallinn University thinks Estonia is unique in Europe.

“Neo-liberalism has a very domination position. Even if you take some other transition societies the Czech Republic and Slovenia which are considered to be quite liberal society, Reaganism and Thatcherism wasn't so popular like it was in Estonia.
“Other post communist societies they are somehow much more balanced, there are rightist and there are leftist. In Estonian all other ideologies are marginal,” he said.

Professor Georg Sootla has written that Estonians are characteristically right wing. That creates conflict as Estonians have to co-operate with the rest of Europe which leans towards the left.


"Estonia is a paradise for right wing people," said Margus Tsahkna, IRL, Riigikogu member apparently echoing Simson.
Tsahkna defines what he means.
"Taxation is flat, I am talking about personal tax not labour tax," he said.

Tsahkna thinks that Estonia isn't right-wing enough, though he does point out his party would ring fence education and pensions.

"After this crisis we had in the last two years we have turned back more to the right wing ... make cuts," Tsahkna said.

The guru of the right was American economist Milton Friedman. In Estonia his ideas, also called neo-liberalism, are so prevalent that even young people who may not have heard of him are familiar with what he wrote.

Milton Friedman thought governments shouldn't take people's hard earned money and giving it to someone else. Friedman not only wanted low taxation he wanted to dismantle the welfare state, entirely.

In his perfect society, there would be; no public housing, no unemployment benefit, no minimum wage, no Departments of Education, Agriculture, Social Security or Health, no central bank, no state health care, no free education even at primary school level, no compulsory military service, no child benefit and no pensions.

Here in Estonia, we have all of the above and some things not yet conceived of in countries with supposedly advanced welfare states. Explain the benefits available for mothers to British mothers and they blanche with envy.

Moreover the right-wing parties are offering yet more spending on health and education.

"My own party is promising some centre things. Free education, pensions, what ever.
"In Estonia it is quite hard to separate right wing politics and left wing politics," Tsahkna said.

Indeed the IRL is proposing; social spending on mother pensions, debt relief for home loan owners and free higher education in it's latest policy reviews.

Not to be outdone the Reform party is promising to significantly increase Estonia's spending on health and -whilst not commiting itself to free higher education- is promising to provide a "Nordic" higher education system.

For contrast, in my own country the UK, the Conservative-Liberal-Democrat coalition government just voted to increase tuition fees to students by an eye watering 300 per cent to 10,700 Euro per year.

In a neo-liberal society like Estonia you would expect to see spending of social programme significant lower than other OECD countries, but according to figures from the ministry of Social Affairs, this is not the case.

For example social insurance – comprised mostly of pension payments- made up about 9.22 per cent of GDP in 2008, prior to economy crisis or 25.33 percentage of the state's budget. Significantly though the amount spent on social insurance went up during this period from 8,632.2 million in 2001 to 23,184.4 million in 2008, the percentage has gone up only slightly from 7.91 per cent.

To put that in context the equivalent figure for the United States of America is 5.7 per cent.

In other words the state has spent at least as much money on pensioners as a percentage of GDP as the USA for at least a decade. Obviously pensioners don't get a lot of money, but that's because the country is poorer.

“Estonia is only rhetorically right-wing. You usually get more votes by professing to be right wing,” Leif Kalev, Director of Tallinn University's Institute of Political Science and Governance, said.

Kalev argues the government is still spouting neo-liberal rhetoric whilst at the same time actually doing the precise opposite.

“The reforms of current government creating larger expenditure and just trying to utilise EU money without efficiency control...it reminds me of situation that new right authors(like Friedman) are criticising ,” he said.

Kalev argues Estonia is actually creeping towards socialism, or at least social liberalism, but in a distinctively Estonian way.

It is clear that for these elections social liberal and co-operative policies will be dressed up in right-wing language

Free tertiary education is to stop young people from studying abroad.
Benefits for mothers are to increase the population.
Decent pensions are because the old fought for the nation,
Military conscription is to defend the nation, and so on.

But for the social scientists the danger is having social liberal policies introduced by people who are not social liberals could lead to damaging side effects.

Saarts is worried that no-one in the administration has given any thought to the long term implications of these policies.

“Social benefit are targeted to certain groups to potential supporters of the Reform party. They don't have any more wider or general view how social policy in Estonia should develop and what is the ideal situation and what are the political aims.
“They are moving on step by step but this general vision is missing,” he said.

He argues the Reform Party is just as populist as Keskerakond.

“In Estonia this rightist ideology is somehow linked with national identity. If you are Estonian you should be more or less rightist,” he said.



Both the IRL and Reform Party are still committed to the principle of a low taxation to encourage investment and job creation. But once again social scientists aren't convinced that enough thought has been put into how this plays out in practice.

“Estonia abandoned Enterprise taxation in 2001. The argument was that companies will come to Estonia because they get more profit here,” Kalev said.

Kalev explains the result has been a huge flow of money out of the country.

“Swedish and Danish banks get billions of kroons they just move it away from here without taxation.
“I am not convinced it is a wise strategy. There should be huge increase in our economy after 10 years, but I could say we are quite similar to the rest of central and Eastern Europe our different strategy has not differentiated us,” Kalev said.

“This debate is lurking in the corner,” he added.

How do the parties of the right stack up. Could the real right-wing stand party stand forward?

The IRL talk about Christian values, fiscal conservatism and patriotism. Whilst the Reform party talk about, entrepreneurism, stability and - at least since the bronze soldier incident -patriotism also. On the face at this it would seem there is really no difference between the parties of the right, they are both pushing the same agenda, just using slightly different language.

But it's illusion created by the fact that they have worked together in government for so long. It's immediately apparent once you do a little digging that they are quite different.

The IRL, the so -called Conservative party is not conservative, not in the proper sense of the word, they still have this radical crusading zeal. And the Reform party is not reforming. It has this idea that all major reforms have been done and policy changes should be gradual.

Were the IRL to come to power they would privatise state owned asset and shrink the size of the state throwing a lot of civil servants out of work. They believe very strongly that the administrative system itself has become bloated, it is too expensive for a small country like Estonia and should be savagely cut.

The Reform party would not change anything.

According to the politicians and political analysts I spoke to, you can push through just about any policy no matter how “socialist” so long as you sell it to the people are really being right-wing.
The danger lies in not looking at the long term implications of that policy.

So though Estonia is hardly left of centre, is Simson right? Is Estonia a right-wing paradise? On the evidence, frankly, No!


Extracts from an interview with women's magazine: Home and Family
In Estonian(Eesti keeles) , Published December 2010

Is divorce a solution?

Divorce is only a solution when you shouldn't have gotten married in the first place. I can't speak for Estonia, but in my own country, England, I think the time has come to get rid of civil marriages altogether and just have marriages in church, temple or mosques, a holy place. A marriage should be a holy sacrament. Everybody else can have a civil union. People get divorced because marriage is too easy.

How do you solve problems in your marriage?

The only way you can solve problems is by discussing them. Sometimes you have to accept you can't have your own way. Most men, if they are intelligent, intuitively know they should allow their wives to control them.


Why I write in Estonia
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 06 October 2010

For those of you who don't know who I am, I'm a Black English journalist based here in Tallinn. I have been living in Estonia, writing in Estonian newspapers for almost two years now. I normally write about politics and economics.

There are some who say I shouldn't be writing. I knew one young lady, let's call her Liina, who said that it is arrogant of me to write, this is a view shared by many. Most writers get criticised for what they write, I get criticised for writing at all. I think the time has come to knock this on the head once and for all and answer Liina and her kind.

Liina and her kind would argue that I'm not Estonian therefore I shouldn't write about Estonia. It's true, that I am not Estonian and I had no profile in Estonia prior to living here. It's also true that I haven't lived here particularly long, though I speak the language only a little, but I can read quite well.

The Liina's of this world are deliberately misconstruing what is going on.

My situation is the same as every other hack. Here's how it works. My editor or somebody from the office will call me up and say that they want 7000 characters on such and such topic by Wednesday 3pm, sharp, no delays. There are times when they don't specify the subject. Quite frequently I have to come up with ideas of my own, all editors want journalists who can work independently and think for themselves. But there are other times when they want an article on a particular topic, by a particular deadline.

I don't make demands from the newspaper, the newspaper makes demands from me. I write because I am hired to write and I'm paid to write, it's as simple as that. It's a job.

That doesn't mean I have no ego. But Egoism and arrogance are not the same things. George Orwell in his famous essay on the same subject said all writers are egoist, though he did point out that journalists have less ego than novelists. If Orwell is right, without egoism nobody would ever write anything, nobody would ever accomplish anything. We would all still be running around in fur skins and throwing rocks at woolly mammoths.

Liina would say, she did say, maybe I can write, but I shouldn't write my opinions about Estonian society.

I'll answer that with a little story. I went to a very left-wing University in Britain where most of my peers were forever wanting to smash the class system. The few American students there noticed the canteen staff were all working class, whereas the students were mostly middle class kids from rich families. In America the students ran the canteen themselves. It took a few foreigners to point out the breathtaking hypocrisy of my peers. At the same time as they were railing against the British class system, they were perpetuating it themselves every time they took a meal.

The same principle is at work here. Newspapers hire foreign journalists because outsiders can sometimes see things that people living in the situation can't.

The Chinese have a proverb about a bird coming down to a frog pond and telling the frog about the sky and the mountains. The frog refuses to believe such things exist.
In Britain and other English-speaking countries, all quality national newspapers employ foreign writers. Why should Estonia be any different?

I am not the only foreigner writing in Estonia. I'm not even the first foreigner, others have been writing in the Estonian press long before I came on the scene. The fact we exist is a sign that the nation's media is maturing.

As to not being Estonian. I live in Estonia, I have residency, I can vote in local elections, I pay taxes. I still earn money in my own country, the UK, and I spend that money in Estonia. If I can vote and pay taxes, why can't I write?

In modern Estonia people from other parts of Europe are going to take a greater role in public life, whether it be in the media, business or public affair, that is what the country signed up for when it joined the European Union.

It is not good turning round now and saying as some people have flatly stated, and others like Liina would imply.

"Well but.....we, didn't expect this person to be black!"

It's unfortunately undeniable many people don't like me writing because of my skin colour. Others are sneakier, they don't say this; but that is actually the reason.

The truth is IT REALLY DOESN'T MATTER THAT I'M BLACK and I don't mean this in the spirit of racial tolerance. It doesn't matter because my audience in not black. I have to write for my audience. Apart from the first article I ever wrote, about the election of a black president, I don't write about black issues. Contrary to what some casual readers believe, I have deliberately never written an article about racism in Estonia. I usually don't even mention the fact that I'm black. If you read most things I have written carefully you wouldn't even know that the writer is black, if my face were not next to the article. I write about things that are of interest and relevance to the Estonian people, as I am expected and required to do by the paper.

What does matter on the other hand is that I'M BRITISH. This matters not only because this is the principle way I define myself, in the same sense that most Estonians define themselves as Estonian first. It matter's because a lot of what I do is comparing and contrasting; how does local government work in Britain compared to Estonia? How do the electoral systems compare? How do British politicians match up with their Estonian counterparts? Sometime I throw other countries into the mix which I am familiar with as well.

This gives me an anchor with which to work. It also gives my writing some authority. I have worked in the British government for many years, as a speech writer and civil servant. No-one in Estonia has this background.

Liina and her ilk would say I am telling Estonians how the country should be run. This, she would say, is arrogance.

There is a simple answer to this. I never tell Estonians how to run their country. I don't propose solutions, I ask questions. If I am asking questions that no one else is asking, is that not a useful function?

A good example of this was, when I asked Mart Laar how would he deal with the current economic crisis, since the economic philosophy he subscribed to was being blamed in the West for causing the crisis.

Mart Laar answered immediately, he also astutely worked out two things: one, the whole article was a question; two, this question had been asked all over Europe, all over the World, but not in Estonia. Mart Laar set forward his proposals which he must have known would get an angry response from some quarters, but he did it anyway.

Each time I sit at my computer to write an opinion piece, I am challenged to write something better than the previous piece. Sometimes I write satirically but I don't, can't and won't do this with every story. Sometimes it is not appropriate.

If there is a theme to my writing it would be something like this. Estonia is a great country and a good place to live in. This is actually quite boring, it is certainly not news-worthy but it has to be said because many people don't want to hear this, it's fashionable to be critical of the country. It is my challenge as a writer to find interesting ways of saying this.

It's ironic that I should have ended up as a columnist since as a reader I never much liked opinion pieces. I found them boring and lacking in useful information. Worse if you are familiar with the writer, you have pretty much worked out what he or she is going to say before you have even read the first sentence.

When I became a newspaper editor, I began to hate most opinion pieces, especially restaurant reviews. They represent lazy journalism. Most other types of journalism require you to do research or talk to people who know things and make conclusions based on what they tell you. With an opinion piece you can just mouth off about this, that, and the other, without annoying things like facts.

I use facts to back up what I am saying. The “sneaky people” always challenge the facts. They are always wrong.

My favourite example of this was when I mentioned that the British King, James I, made his fool king for at least a day by accident. Someone must have googled it and then wrote, I was wrong; it was James VI of Scotland who did that. The commentator did not realise that James I and James VI were one and the same person.

As a writer I still have a problems with opinion pieces even with my own. People judge opinion pieces on whether they agree with the opinion. If they like the opinion, they like the piece, if they don't like the opinion, they don't like it.

Is this a fair way to judge an opinion piece? Maybe a better way would be this:

1. Did the story make you think about things in a new way?
2. Did the story give you information that you didn't know beforehand?
3. Did the story elicit strong emotions in you?

If the answer to any of the above is yes then the writer has succeeded.
I write honestly but in different styles. At times I want to make people laugh, other times I want to make people angry, this is not to be deliberately provocative, it's necessary. I'll leave you to work out why. Like a magician I can't be expected to reveal all my tricks.

One final thing, I appreciate and am thankful for all the positive comments I receive but I am aware that I have a small following who read everything I write, and then curse me in the strongest possible language.

These people are doing me a favour. I rarely read comments . I don't have time, all I do is count up the number of comments. Comments are like currency. The more comments the better story, it doesn't matter if the comments are good or bad, more comments just shows more people are reading the story.

And a juicy comment like "Why is this Nigger writing in this newspaper? " will usually have a come back from someone more sensible saying something like "Get over it" which will then spiral into a row. The newspaper likes it, I like it. I don't read it, but I like it. Comments are currency.
Now curse me, I dare you!


Interview ETV


video
to

Sotsid aren't freaks
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 26 August 2010

Who'd want to be a Social Democrat right now?
According to political analysts they lack leadership, vision and ideas. They even lack respectability. Worse, their own PR makes them look like freaks or perverts.

"What connects these three people, Tony Blair, Olof Palme and Tarja Halonen,.... all of them are Social Democrats," shouts their website in their internationally themed banner heading.

It's as though their saying to voters.
"Look people, it's OK to be one of us, it isn't weird, it isn't kinky, it's perfectly normal!"

Some people think gays are perverts. Gay pressure groups use the same tactic.
"Elton John, Leonardo Da Vinci and Yukio Mishima. All of them were gay."

Quite frankly it would be a happier time for a politician or public figure if they came out as gay. There'd be some acceptance, some understanding, some sympathy even. Once you come out, you step into the public eye.

Become a Sotsi, as some politicians have done in desperation, and prepare to keep a low profile. Have you heard anything from a former People Union's leaders, Ene Tomberg, and Karel Rüütli lately? They are like Western spies defecting to Russia during the Cold War. Nobody ever heard anything from them again.

Maybe Sotsid should be given greater co-habitation rights. What about Sotsid pride marches?

Meanwhile the litany of disasters to befall the party continues. After the complete debacle in absorbing the now defunct People's Union, they lost two members in Rakvere which means the party has lost control of the city council there. There are charges of corruption in Tallinn. Katrin Saks has resigned from Tallinn 2011 whilst berating the party. And they are still languishing in the polls, with the elections only six months away.

As for their leader, sociologist Juhan Kivirähk summed up what most people think; actually what everybody thinks. As he said on KuKu radio:

"Our politics is also very leader-centric. We have Edgar Savisaar and Andrus Ansip and also Mart Laar sticks out,"

A polite way of saying: "Juri who?"

We shouldn't be too hard on Pihl. He is trying his best. He is an expert at stating the obvious.

"Let's reduce unemployment. Let's find out how to get more jobs. When jobs come up, make sure we can actually do them."

Really it should be the Centre Party who should be seen as freaks. They are a distinctively Estonian phenomenon. There is no party quite like them in Europe. A few years ago they had trouble aligning with any group in the European Parliament. They eventually aligned with the European Liberals, bizarrely the same group as the Reform Party.

The Social Democrats have a real ideology. There are many talented people in the party, Eiki Nestor, Indrek Saar to name a couple. And let's not forget our President is a Social Democrat; strange given that he grew up in a country where socialism and social democracy, of any kind, really is a freak's position.

The Sotsid should have a natural support base, they should be the party of teachers, nurses, farm workers, shop assistants pensioners and the unemployed . The people who support the Centre Party should be supporting them.

So why are they such losers?

You could put it down to a stigma attached to the word "socialism".

It is true in Estonia, young people whose British or German counterparts would support the Sotsid, in Estonia support other parties.

That doesn't explain why other ex-communist countries have socialists and social democrats either in government or as the main opposition party. It also doesn't explain why in Estonia the Social Democrats have been more popular in the past.

You could put it down to lack of leadership.

Why can't they pick a strong leader? Is it really that difficult? The Social Democrats have tens of thousands of supporters and members. Do they all lack charisma? Are they all camera shy? Doesn't any of them want to be leader?

You could say the coalition system just doesn't seem to be working out for them.

After all the fortunes of the main party in a coalition sway with the mood of the voters. For junior partners, coalition is like original sin. It damns you and your descendants forever. The Sotsid were damned when they were in the coalition during the crisis and they were still damned by association when they left.

Nor have they benefited form the upswing of popularity in coalition in the last couple of months, although that Euro membership didn't happen overnight, it took years of planning to achieve and the Sotsid must have played a role.
If they went into a different coalition with the Centre party, they'd be damned again.

To foreign observers though the Social Democrats are losing because they have failed to do exactly what their website says they should do. They are not international in their outlook. They have failed to pay attention at all to how and why their counterparts did well in other countries and in other era.

A German friend who is also a member of the Social Democrats both in Estonia and Germany pointed out that in Germany, the Social Democrats won power in the recession in the late 60's and early 70's when people realises that free market economics were not working. People wanted the government to spend more, they wanted better social security arrangements and they wanted the government to tax the rich.

Likewise in the USA in the Great Depression Roosevelt got into to power offering a New Deal, meaning more public spending and public works to give people jobs.

In Estonia the Social Democrats won't even dare say it. No-one has the courage to suggest; getting rid of the flat tax, having a higher social security spending, taxing the rich. No-one will say “If we are becoming a Nordic country, why not have a Nordic economic system?”

This column will not pass judgement on whether these policies are right or not, but you'd expect someone to propose it. You'd expect an honest political debate. Instead we get timidity. We get Jüri Pihl talking about freeing the market and helping the invisible hand. That's a right-wing idea. It's the sort of thing Mart Laar would say. Does Pihl want to be Pihl, or does he want to be Mart Laar?

Now things are supposedly getting better and the opportunity has been lost. So what are the Sotsid to do to get votes?

The answer is out there, somewhere, but clearly not in Estonia. Maybe they should ask Tarja Halonen or Tony Blair? He's not doing much these day.


Room 101
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 12 July 2010

In Orwell's 1984, the main protagonist, Winston Smith, is brutally tortured and mercilessly beaten in the Ministry of Love. In the course of his torment he becomes aware from other prisoners that there is a place inside the ministry where something even worse is going on; Room 101.

Later he is given the opportunity to ask a question on any subject what so ever, but he doesn't really want the answers to the questions he had been seeking throughout the story, he only wants to know one thing.

"What is in Room 101?"

In Room 101, it turns out, is the worst thing in the World. It varies from person to person. It could be death by fire, or burial alive. “It is worse than death, it is unendurably”. In Winston's case, for those of as we all know, it is rats.

Estonia has it's own Room 101, as any visitor to the country can observe. The notion of national extinction, the fear the nation might die because there simply aren't enough Estonians left any more,

This is a real fear it happened to the Livonians previously.

As a colleague said to me once: "What is important to me is that I can speak in my language to my grandchildren."

Alcohol abuse could make Room 101 a reality. Figures show that alcoholism is on the rise with the young. According to a report by the Estonian Institute of Economic report, in 2008 Estonia had the second highest alcohol consumption in Europe. The institute found that the average Estonian drank 11.9 litres of alcohol in 2008.

Hanno Pevkur, minister for social affairs in an interview with this newspaper this month squarely blamed breweries for making the problem worse for the young by making beer too strong.

The facts are both depressing and well known. If the nation's youth are all feckless drunks, to busy killing themselves in drink driving accidents, or too drunk to make love even, much less get married, just how are they going to procreate?

When my editor asked to write about this issue, I thought of Stephen Fry. Let me explain?

In Britain the concept of Room 101 is so well-known we even have a TV show called “Room 101” where celebrities put the things they hate or the things that just irritate them symbolically into the room. Stephen Fry, actor, comedian, and IT guru, put Room 101 into Room 101. I will do the same. Instead of writing about what is wrong with Estonia's young people I'd rather write about what is right with them.

In my experience, Estonian youth are exceptionally bright and talented and if my country had this kind of talent per capita, the rest of the World would trembling. It we had 20 million young people who were as resourceful, we would be ready to take over half the planet....again.

Everything I say is unscientific, it's anecdotal but I work with children and deal with them in my travels, as a teacher, a public servant, a trade unionist and as an organiser in a charity that helped homeless youth. I also have eight nephews, aged between 9 and 20 so I think I have some authority to make comparisons between the Estonian youngsters and British youngsters.

I'll start with the obvious. Estonian kids can speak languages. Most can speak two languages and many three or four. In the U.K. You are considered a bright 18 year old if you speak another language other than English. In Estonia you are considered an idiot if you can only speak Estonian.

Nothing much surprising there, what is surprising is that many Estonian youth can use English better than the English can.

One thirteen-year boy asked me to help him with an application for theatre “scool”. I was horrified that someone going to “scool” every “scoolday”, couldn't spell it.

Why was this? It is not something in the water supply or the food he eat. It is just there are huge gulfs in educational standards.

It's produced a situation where on the one hand my privately schooled 11 year-old nephew can write a poem so advanced that it reads like something written by an university undergraduate and on the other hand one bright 19 year old I know left school with no computer skills whatsoever, he even didn't know how to send e-mails

Come to think of it may be diet is a factor Not only do Estonian youth seem mentally smarter, they seem physically stronger. When I arm-wrestled my kid nephews I pushed their arms over so quickly it seemed like they weren't even trying. When I tried it with an Estonian boy about the same age, it was significantly harder.

To drive home the point he was cocky and confident enough to actually think he could win.

“I want a rematch,” he said.

If it is not one thing it another. At the school that I teach at, children are encouraged to develop extra-circular activities. There are many gifted musicians, artists, budding film-makers, actors and scientists.

It takes 10-15 years to get good at skill. Yet the young musicians I have come into contact with are already virtuosos. I found it hard to fathom how they could be so advanced. I seems the classically trained pianists and guitarists I teach must have been playing since they were embryos.

Britain invented rock music (as opposed to rock'n'roll, which America invented), but in terms of technical ability, young Estonians are better at it now.

There is also the hacker culture that created Skype. The same principle is true in Sweden and Finland. I have heard it argued that it is down to climate. Long cold winter nights mean nobody wants to go out, so kids have nothing better to do than to sit in their bedrooms and mess around on computers and guitars.

Estonians are even doing capitalism better. There is a strong entrepreneurial spirit among Estonian youth which is lacking in Britain. A lot has been said about the Soviet Union and the way it stifled competition ruining whole generations of Estonians, particular men,

But consider this, the generation born after 1990 grew up with the kind of jungle capitalism that we in the West associate with the Wild West or Chicago in the 1920's.

When asked about their experiences of early childhood many young people can remember how they parents would make ends meet by wheeler-dealing, finding what they could and selling it on.

In the 90's most Estonians were freelance businessmen, those that weren't, were starving. This has effected Estonian youth's world view as much as Sovietism.

The young are used to the idea you can't do well by working for someone else, and if you want to have a prosperous life and a pretty wife/nice husband, you have to work for yourself, preferably employing others.

In Britain young people are still waiting for state handouts.

This can-do attitude can go to bizarre lengths, I once asked a class of students what they thought of the idea of free higher education, as happens in Sweden and Finland.

British students would be jumping up and down in excitement at the prospect of no tuition fees.

Estonians thought it was better to pay.

“Why pay for something if you can get it for free?” I asked.
“Why not? there is no such thing as a free lunch,” came the reply.

As for the alcohol problem, I am not buying it. Either the Estonians who were reported as consuming copious amounts of alcohol were really Finnish day-trippers, or things have improved since the figures were compiled in 2008, or there is some other explanation for the figures no one has thought of.

It is clear to even to a casual observer drinking is a much bigger problem with youth in Britain and Ireland. No one who has spent a night out on the town in Newcastle or Dublin could possible think otherwise.

So why do think tanks and politicians keep talking down the youth of the nation?

The press want people to worry about things to keep them reading the paper. Think tanks need to highlight any perceived problem to get funding. And politicians can raise their profile but criticising industry. The alcohol and tobacco industries are easy targets because at the end day they are peddling a mild narcotic. All drama is based on conflict. It's the same reason why George Orwell created Room 101 in the first place.


Go West, Follow-up article

Martinson: in up to 90 percent of business regions, we are in Eastern Europe.
Fir
st published Postimees 21 June 2010

In risk capitalist Allan Martinson's evaluation, we are for most people, generally, an Eastern European country and to become a Nordic country will take at least a generation.
Abdul Turay wrote in today's Postimees an opinion piece that in Europe, Estonia is beginning to be considered separately from the rest of Eastern Europe and is becoming more a part of the Nordic countries.

In Martinson's view the firms' structures and ownership relationship are on the one hand structurally Baltic and on the other hand leaning to the side of the Nordic countries.
“We have very many important firm still with a Baltic structure. Managers go between Riga, Vilnius, Helsinki or Stockholm.

“In economic thinking we are a part of Eastern Europe. In Europe we are to in business regions, as far as 80-90 percent of people are concerned, an Eastern European country. To Americans we are all one Europe. In a lot of places, we are not even on the map,” noted Martinson.
In Martinson's evaluation the world will change the next few years significantly and geographically grouping should not be the only way for Estonia to define itself.

“In a changing world there is a chance a totally new group of country will arise which define themselves largely by on image of high-value; countries which are quickly to move and quick to adapt, innovative and can surprise.

In my opinion with the next few years the world will change significantly and these geographical grouping won't be the only way how to define yourselves. There'll be more focus on high-value countries who like Tigers can innovate and surprise,” noted Martinson.
In his evaluation it would be useful to identify ourselves through geographic regions where someone takes up an identity and then we say that we also want to be this. The opportunity is to take up an identity which suit us more.

“When our economy per capita begins to account to 70-80 per cent of a Nordic country then we can start in this way to measure up. By this time we will possible seem different and think different,” commented Martinson.


Go West
By Abdul Turay
Published
Postimees 21 June 2010

Some people, when they go abroad, are ashamed to tell people they are Estonian, even when it is clear that the person they are talking to is sophisticated enough to know such a country exists.

A person I knew once told me about a girl he met in a wine bar in London. On spotting that she had a slight accent he asked her which country she came from. Instead of saying the specific country, she paused a little and finally said she was from... well..... em......“a country in Northern Europe”.

This guy who has pretty good detective skills thought about this for a while and then said without any embellishing remarks: “You must be from Estonia.”

This guy described how the girl blushed and looked round uncomfortably, like he had found out a guilty secret.

He explained if she were from a “real” Northern European country like Denmark or Sweden
she would have said I'm Danish/Swedish end of story. Therefore she must be from some “obscure, dirt-poor, Eastern European, backwater” as he put it.

“There is only one country in 'Northern Europe' that fits that description,” he said.

Of course he didn't tell her that. I guess he was trying to hit on her at the time.

Where is Estonia anyway? Is it an Eastern European country or is it in the West. Is it a Baltic country, a Nordic country, or both? Maybe it is in Northern Europe.

Does any of this matter? From the example I gave above it’s clear at least from a personal sense of well-being for the Estonian abroad, it does.

If it was ever clear where Estonia is on a map of the world, recent events have changed all that.

Whilst it has been the goal of all three Baltic nations to become fully integrated “Western nations” in the past moves toward this have always happened in tandem. All three nations gained independence, joined the EU and joined NATO at the same time.

Though Estonia's economy has always been stronger, now it is now pulling ahead in real practical terms. It is already a member of the OECD (Organisation for the Economic Cooperation and Development) and next year finally it will get entry into the Eurozone.

All these hits, one after the other, have had instant benefits. Standard and Poors has upgraded Estonia's credit rating to A- on June 15. This makes it cheaper for the government to borrow money and goods and services more affordable for the average Estonian than for his counterparts elsewhere in the Baltics.

“Estonia has, in our view, consistently demonstrated the economic, fiscal, and labour market flexibility required to cope with the constraints of being in a monetary union,” the credit rating agency wrote in a press release.

In Latvia and Lithuania things are terrible. The IMF estimates that Latvia will have a total capital and financial account deficit of 4.2 billion Euros in 2009, and 1.5 billion Euros, or 9 per cent of GDP, in 2010. Analysts think Latvia and Lithuania are unlikely to ready for membership of the Euro at least until 2014 largely because of their huge government budget deficits and debt. Worse if their economies improve, it could actually make it less likely that they can join the Euro because as economies grow, inflation begins to kick in and keeping inflation on a tight leash is one of the requirements for Eurozone membership.

On June 11 2010, the Prime Minister Andrus Ansip met with his Latvian counterpart Valdis Dombrovskis to negotiate closer ties between Latvia and Estonia. The same day a report on future Estonian-Latvian Co-operation compiled by Anvar Samost from Estonia and Andris Razāns from Latvia was published. The report included 65 proposals in nine different areas including such things as joint tourism efforts and border co-operation.

But behind all the handshakes, warm smiles, and well crafted public pronouncements, a very different story is playing out.

Ansip is deftly pulling Estonia out of the Baltics and into the Nordics and into the West.

Estonia was "already one of the most integrated countries in the West in the Nordic region," Ansip told delegates at the Reform Party's general assembly June 15.

Speak to members of the government privately and they will make it quite clear the reason why they think Estonia is forging ahead : “We got it right and they (Latvia and Lithuania) got it wrong.”

A senior government source, who didn't wish to be named, told me the Lithuanian government made a mistake to give into public pressure and go on a spending binge when times were good, increasing pay for public sector workers, increasing pensions and so on. In Latvia the Parex bank crisis derailed any fiscal prudence.

The source said people in those countries think of Estonia as the regional success story.

“People in Latvia and Lithuania think that Estonia is not a Baltic country any more. They think it is a Nordic country.
“Estonians know that the situation is worse in Latvia and Lithuania,” the source said.

The source wasn't crowing though. There was no kahjurõõm (ed note, pleasure at another person's miserable). For him what was important was Estonia was doing well, not that other countries were doing badly.

“It is not a football game which one team has to win.
“We are not competing with Latvia.
“For us it is important to join OECD and the Eurozone. I don't think it is important to put countries in concrete boxes,” the source said.

There are signs that perceptions of Estonia are beginning to shift in Europe.

The Dutch newspaper ‘De Volkskrant’ recently did a long feature on Estonia describing it as a - “front runner in the areas of high tech and innovation” and in the midst of a “spectacular recovery while the rest of Europe is just limping behind”.

There is still a long way to go though. In March 2010 two American economists Prof. Michael Hudson and Prof. Jeff Sommers wrote a damning report of the situation in the Baltics as a way of slamming monetarism and free-market economics. The article was entirely about Latvia but the two economists saw fit to lazily bandy the word “The Baltics” around as if this country was in exactly the same situation as Latvia when clearly it is not.

In a way our source is right. Economics is not a zero-sums game. For Estonia to win it doesn't mean that Latvia and Lithuania have to lose.

But it is good for the psychological well been of Estonians if the country is perceived as a Western nation, as a Nordic nation.

Finland has benefited from this for years. From a personal point of view, growing up in Britain, I always had a favourable view of Finland as a Nordic country. Most Brits think quality of life is great in the Nordics because of the generous social security system. I wasn't aware that Finland had once been part of the Russian Empire and still has strong connections with Russia until I went there.

I recently had to fly back to the U.K. On the plane on the way over I was sitting next to a young lady whose father was working in the U.K as a pathologist. She too was studying to be one. Her father's sole reason for going to the U.K was to earn money. On the other side was a Russian-speaking Estonian, she was in tears because she had to leave her young son behind. Next was a guy working in a meat-packing factory. His friend was over to visit him. They where wearing matching patriotic track suits.
A trainee doctor, a nanny, and a meat packer; people from different walks in life, but what they all had in common was they felt slightly uncomfortable about being Estonian and about having to come to U.K to earn money.

The meat-packer insisted on asking me questions in English, even though I answered them in Estonian. The budding pathologist flatly asked me why British people looked down on Estonians and Eastern Europeans.

“Because we think you are poor,” I said. This maybe be everything to do with the snobbery and stupidity of my countrymen and nothing to do with Estonians. Still if membership of the Euro and OECD means that in a few years no-one will be embarrassed to say: “yes I'm Estonian,” then let's go for it.


Go West follow up article

Musician Jaan Tätte's view: As far as foreigners are concerned, we are Russian.
First published Postimees 21 July 2010

Musician and traveller Jaan Tätte's experience is that foreigners think Estonians are Russians and mostly Estonia has to be introduced via neighbouring countries.

In today's Postimees opinion piece Abdul Turay writes that gradually Estonia has started to be separate from other Eastern Europe countries and more and more it is becoming part of the Nordic countries. Postimees asked Tätt what his experience shows.

“When I meet with a foreigner and explain where Estonia is located, then we talk at first about Finland and Sweden. Yes And Russia is our neighbour,.... then there is understanding,” he said.

The musicians evaluation is foreigners think Estonia is Eastern European.
“The more intelligent understand that we want to belong to there the North but actually we belong still to the East,” he said.

“For many acquaintance it doesn't matter if we are well-dressed or can speak English well, still the thinking is that we are Russian. There is something in our appearance and nature that they think is actually Russian. The first offering is that “Ahah Russians” he described this situation frequently occurring.


The greatest speech of all time.
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 11 May 2010

Think of every great speech from history. They all use parallelism.
Think of the beatitudes.

All blessed are the meek , All blessed are the peacemakers,All blessed are the poor.

Think of Martin Luther King's “I have a dream” speech.


Think of Winston Churchill Battle of Britain speech.

We shall fight on the beaches, We shall fight on the hill, We shall fight on the landing grounds.

Now we have a have candidate for great speech for our age. Andres Mähar, playing a disgruntled losing Unite Estonia candidate, ranting on a roof top and shouting f*** you to everybody; politicians, their supporters, country folk, the Janitor, even himself.

The “F*** you (Kai Perse)” speech.

“F*** you internet commentators, thanks to you, you can't get your point across without saying f*** you,” he said.

Estonia has one underlying political problem. People dislike the government, as they should be after years of failure and broken promises; people - especially the fine upstanding patriotic people who read this paper - also dislike the main opposition. Meanwhile the other parties are in the process of falling apart. If they are honest even supporters don't really trust any of the parties and believe they can make life better or fix the economy.

This situation has been going on for so long now that people have forgotten it is actually possible for politicians to be good at their jobs, honest and generally popular.

So along came Unite Estonia, a group of young actors with a clever marketing campaign. The press and even the public at large took it very seriously.
They thought maybe this could this be an answer. People so desperately wanted it to be true. Desperate times calls for desperate hope. Could Unite Estonia be a knight is shining armour, who slays the dragon, brings freedom to the people and saves the kingdom?

As we saw on Saturday Unite Estonia wasn't the knight, it was the court jester, the fool.

The fool isn't really a fool of course. Actually this stock character was probably the wisest person in the medieval trope. The fool poked fun at the established order of things, he changes pre-conceptions and makes you think. He doesn't influence the action in any way, he just highlights the absurdity or what is going on to the audience. Probably the most famous theatrical fool is in Shakespeare's King Lear.

If the media were expecting a saviour there were always going to be disappointed. Real life knights weren't heroes, they were hired thugs who went around forcing peasants to hand over grain to the lord of the manor.

Court jesters on the other hand were real. All kings employed them. King James I of Britain's fool tricked his king into signing over the kingdom to him for a day because the king never read any documents before signing them. The king got the point.

After the performance, some newspaper headlines expressed disappointment this was just a show. Even though it's been blindingly obvious to everyone that this was simply a play. Just a look at the mock election posters reveals the truth.

“Wait a second isn't that Marika Vaarik from Revenge Office...em hold on that looks like the guy who played Toomas Roo in Windward Land, em that's an ex-Vanilla Ninja surely.”

There must have been people in the auditorium who were taken up in the moment, even when it was clear this was all tomfoolery about the way that politics is conducted, they still wished this could be real and if there was a party like this they would vote for it.

It was Orson Wells stuff. In the 30s actor and director Orson Wells produced a radio play in which he managed to convince people that the Martians had invade. Thousands fled in panic.

They say crisises produces great art, well here is an example. The show's brilliant cast of actors stage designers and writers have managed to create something,that to my knowledge has never been done anywhere; a play staged to look like a political campaign, partly improvised and with actors, real politicians and the audience all taking part.

It poked fun at and showed up the inadequacies of the political system. Generally creative people in Estonia borrow ideas from elsewhere To wit, Keskerakond's most recent campaign with a long queue of people outside an unemployment office is a rip-off of a very famous campaign in Britain that dates back to the 70's and has been recently revived. “Labour isn't working”(see poster).

So this was that very special thing, an Estonian original. Indeed it hard to imagine how the same concept could be so successfully pulled off in another country.

The show itself was excellent, wonderfully staged, full of energy wit and emotion. Like a James Cameroon movie you could watch it with the volume turned off and still be entertained, still follow what was going on. The show was meticulous planned and thoroughly rehearsed, so of course it felt natural, even improvised.

Unite Estonia couldn't help but take a swipe at Keskerakond. No doubt their supports will say it was a cheap shot, since they are an easy target, but the play had a dig at everybody. No one was spared, not even Indrek Saar and Jaak Aaviksoo who were in the room.

The show had just the right balance of light-hearted and serious moments. If it had a theme it was, don't give away your right to decide your own destiny to elected officials, take responsibility for your life.

All the actors were great but special mention must goes to Jaak Prints whose acerbated performance held the show together.

Unite Estonia really illustrates the lines between show business and politics, always a fine one, has completely disintegrated. In Britain we say that politics is show business... for ugly people. In Estonia, the politicians aren't so bad looking, so it would seem politics is just show business.

It can't have been lost on many in the audience that here was one ex-Ninja, Lenna Kuurmaa, pretending to be a politician whereas her former band mate, Katrin Siska, is attempting to do the real thing.

There's a line in the classic 80s time travel movie, "Back to the Future" where a character from the 50s is given a camcorder and realises why the President of the United States in the 80s was B-movie actor, Ronald Regan.

“Amazing a portable TV studio. That's why your president is an actor, he'd have to look good on television,” he said.

Fast forward 25 years, in 2010 in Estonia all politicians are actors, they all have to look good on television.

Don't believe it? consider this.

Having worked in the field I can tell you that most of the time, even when politicians are giving interviews, apparent on the fly, what they are saying is actually scripted.

A top politician will have an army of people working behind him whose job it is to work out what questions any interviewers might possible think of and script appropriate answers. Quite often politician will have had a look at the questions before hand.

That's why politicians are never lost for words and always have facts and figures to back up what they are saying. And you thought they were so clever?

There are some who believe that politics is a about public service, like doing a stint in the army. If a citizen has somehow gained some kudos through he work in another field, he might be called upon by his fellow citizen to help run the country. If those days ever existed, they are long gone.

Now it seems that people go into politics because they can't sing, can't dance, , can't tell jokes, can't play a musical instrument but can act a little and want their ego's stroked. Some of them - without mentioning any names- can sing and dance, but their previous careers have hit the rocks.

But ultimately Unite Estonia leaves a lot of unanswered questions. The show may have been great fun; I am sure people left the auditorium feeling better about themselves and better about the future of the country. But in the end it's a court jester. A play is just a play. Unite Estonia may have livened things up, it's certainly help a lot of young people get interested in politics. What it didn't do and nor could never have done is answer the central dilemma the country is facing.
“If nobody believes in the government and no one believes in the opposition, just who is going to run the country come 2011?”
(Ed note: there will be a general election in 2011)

For Europe's sake stop the Tories
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 4 May 2010

One brutal statistic brings home what Estonians really think of Britain. According to the British Office of National Statistics (ONS), more than eight times as many Latvians or 38140 registered workers and almost 13 times as many Lithuanians 57620 have emigrated to Britain in the last five years as have Estonians – 4520.

Clearly more than any other country in the region, Estonians don't dig Britain. They don't rate it as a place to live, work and make money; and they don't care about the British election.

The challenge therefore is to convince you that this coming election really does matter to Estonia.

What many Estonians don't realise is that far from being weak, in decline, with it's glory days behind it, Britain is strong, getting stronger and increasing it's influence in Europe and the World. To find out how and why, read on.

The man who becomes the next British Prime Minister could do a lot of damage. He could destroy the British state; there is a real danger of that happening. He could destroy the European Union; there is more than a slight possible of that happening. Ultimately he could destroy the world, …..at the press of a button. Still think the British elections don't matter?

Let's assume none of the candidates, Gordon Brown, the current prime minister (Labour), David Cameron (Conservatives) and Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats) are not going to lose their mind and decide to use Britain's formidable array of strategic ballistic Trident nuclear missiles, though what to do about Britain nuclear arsenal has been on the agenda for the first time in a generation; this still leaves the question of how this election could effect the EU, international relations and Anglo-Estonian relations on trade and immigration.

First let's look at how the system works. Under the British constitution there has to be an election every five years. This is not written down anywhere, it's just convention. In Britain a government can dissolve parliament and call an election at any time. It has been known for elections to be held one after the other in quick succession when no-one was happy with the result.

The ruling party will usually call an election if it thinks it will win, after three or four years. The fact this government waited the whole five is an indication they don't fancy their chances.

British voters vote for individual candidates in 650 constituencies across the country. Each of the major parties will put forward a candidate in each constituencies. The party who gets the most constituencies, wins. The leader of that party, who himself represents a constituency, is then asked to form a government by the Queen.

The Conservatives, also called Tories, are the equivalent of IRL with one significant difference, they are anti-European. The Labour Party are technically the equivalent of the Social Democrats but in recent years, both in opposition and in government, they have pursued more right-wing policies including waging war in Iraq. The Liberal Democratic party sit with both Keskerakond and the Reform Party in the European Parliament. They are a liberal party but have co-opted some of policies you would expect from the left, including higher taxes for the wealthy, free education at university level and consistent opposition to the War in Iraq.

There are also many minor parties, some even win seats, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.


Merkel and Sarkozy fear the Tories

The Conservatives may be centre-right but the prospect of a Conservative victory fills Europe's other centre-right leaders with dread. If they get into power it means trouble.
As the Economist March 31 states, in the modern Conservative party: “almost the only divide is between those who dislike the EU but think it would be better to stay in, and those you want to leave.”
The Conservatives have even refused to sit with other centre-right parties in the European Parliament because of their “federalist” ambitions.
Last year David Cameron was talking about a British referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, a treaty Britain had already ratified it. Although he has now abandoned this idea, many in the party would like to re-negotiate not only Lisbon but all other existing treaties including the Maastrict treaty, the founding document of the EU.

The Conservative party rank and file want to destroy to the Euro. They don't just want Britain to not join it, they want to destroy it. Their vision of a Europe is a loose free-trade organisation like the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) which includes Canada the USA and Mexico.

The Labour party are broadly committed to a stronger Europe but have been circumspect about joining the Euro.

The Liberal Democratics are the most pro-European party they would hold an immediate referendum on joining the Euro. This of course means educating the British people on what the European Union is all about.

Up until now the engine room of Europe has been Germany. With 80 million people, it is by some margin Europe's largest economy. It has traditionally provided the financial muscle and the moral fibre to keep the EU going. Germany's central position in handling the Greek crisis is continued proof of this.

Demographers believe in the next 30 years this situation will change. Largely due to immigration, Britain's population is expected to increase from 60 to at least 80 million by 2051. It is expected to increase to 65 million by 2016 already, according to ONS figures. Germany's population, like most other countries in Europe, will shrink in the same period.

London has overtaken New York as the World's most important financial hub this decade according to the Global Financial Index, it is far ahead of Frankfurt. Despite current setbacks, due to it geographical proximity to continental Europe and the East coast of America, many analysts believe it is likely that London will pull ahead in the future.

Britain is still the World 6th largest manufacturing economy, but it has made more of a switch to a knowledge economy than Germany has been able to.

All this means that Britain, and this is a first, is in the process of becoming Europe's single largest and most powerful country in 20 or 30 years.

The trouble is Britain is a country where; if there isn't outright hostility towards Europe, there is downright ignorance among the political elite.
Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think-tank, explains that in Britain: “People can get to the top in the media, business and the City without knowing anything at all about the European Union. Parliament is full of people who are proud to have little or no understanding of the EU.”
The prospect of Tory Britain as Europe's main bread winner is a potential for disaster. Europe needs strong leadership not need pigheaded, ignorant, Eurosceptics

Get out and stay out.

The British don't go in for self-promotion, there is no talk of a “British dream” but it isn't a bad place to live. The country offers a high standard of living to people to those who are doing well, like the USA and Canada, and a generous social security system to those who are not, like Sweden.

When this information became common knowledge, everywhere except Estonia it seems, it was like the California Gold Rush. In countries like Poland and Slovakia everybody and their sister moved to Britain. It was mass migration on a scale never before seen in British history.

Back in 2004 the British Home Office predicted that 50,000 people would settle in Britain when the eight accession countries including Estonia joined the EU.
In the end over a million people legally immigrated and half that number again off the books.
Put another way Britain increased it's population by more than the population of Estonia in a couple of years.

The new immigrants didn't just settle in big cities. Every town, every village, every hamlet, has seen its share of newcomers.

Now with the recession, the backlash is in full swing. The gutter press are full of banner headlines about “Eastern Europeans” rampaging through the streets, raping woman, smashing shop windows and taking British jobs. Eastern Europeans including Estonians get lumped into one category in Britain.

How central the issue is to this election was illustrated last week. Whilst out canvassing on the streets, Gordon Brown expressed what he really thought of an old lady when he thought his microphone was switched off. She had complained about Eastern Europeans “flocking in ” to the country.

“That was a disaster, the woman was a bigot,” Brown said to his aide.

The Prime Minister was criticised for being two-faced, but it could be argued the incident showed him in a good light. He is someone who doesn't like prejudice, not only as part of his public persona but privately. It's a shame therefore whatever he may feel privately, Brown has pandered to xenophobic sentiment by talk of “British jobs for British workers.”

However it is the Conservative party who would actually pursue xenophobic policies if elected. They want a cap on immigration. This would initially apply to people from outside of the European Union. There is no reason to suppose this policy would not be extended if it became clear that it wasn't working. This would make it more difficult for Estonians to live and work in Britain, if they are so minded. It would also create bad feeling if rights are suddenly taken away which Estonians currently enjoy.



To protect and defend

All three main political parties are committed to maintaining the British presence in Afghanistan. Britain has already withdrawn from Iraq.
David Cameron, Conservative leader, is known as an Atlanticist with strong personal ties with the Republican party. All the same, cost-cutting brought on by the recession, means Britain will find it difficult to engage in American-led foreign adventures to the same extent that it did under Tony Blair.
Conservatives would veto any attempts to build an effective European defence force. So if the Tories get in don't expect any beefing up of Estonia's defences.

What all this means is the Tories are bad for Estonia. They would slow down European integration they would make the EU weak and ineffective, if things got really bad and there was no co-operation they might even try to break it up. They would make life difficult for Estonians living in Britain and Britons living in Estonia and they wouldn't defend Estonia from foreign enemies.

A Labour government means things stay the same.

The Liberal Democratic are the best choice. They would strengthen Europe's defence, bring Britain to the heart of Europe, support the Euro and stamp out xenophobia, or try to.

Unfortunately the situation is like this. The Tories could win, Labour probably won't win and Liberal Democrats are never going to win.

The Liberal Democrats despite being second in the polls have only 62 MPs in the House of Commons out of a potential 650 MPs. Britain uses a winner takes all system, so the Liberal Democrats will come second or third in constituencies all over the country and not win that many seats.

It's not all sad though. The most likely result is that no party will get an outright majority. This is called a hung parliament.
The British people don't particular like the Conservatives, they have long memories and though they may be angry at Labour for failing these last two years; they haven't forgiven the Tories for the total mess they made of the economy in the early 90s.
Although it's not one of the main issues, the British people don't trust the Conservative's policies on Europe. The Tories are still known as the “nasty” party.
By rights the Conservative should be in government if they come out on top, but the two other parties are ideologically, morally and even personally more at ease with each other on whole range of issues.
There hasn't been a hung parliament since the 70s, so the truth is nobody knows what is going to happen. British politics doesn't have a culture of coalition government. There could even be another election in a few months.
Britain is heading assuredly into uncertainty and that can't be a good thing for Britain or for Europe.



The libertarian tradition
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 30 March 2010


“There is nothing nice about the USA. When you go to hospital you have to pay”

So sang legendary Scottish punk band the Exploited in their seminal track “F**k the USA”

Estonian medical practitioners make the same point albeit rather more tactfully.
“In the US people are not even in the health system, it is not working,” Dr Margus Viigimaa, President of the Centre for Cardiology said.

He goes on to explain that when the health system in Estonia was set up in the 90s they borrowed ideas for Sweden and Britain but not from the United States.

The healthcare debate not only show that Estonia is in many ways a better place to live than the United States. It also shows the people who oppose health care reform, American libertarians, are dangerous not just to Americans but to the Estonia nation. To understand why we have to look at how Americans see themselves and their place in the World.

The passage of the health care bill through Congress March 19 represents a triumph for the Obama administration, he is the first president to successfully reform the health care system since Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The bill expands Medicare and Medicaid for the elderly and those on low incomes, provides for reduction in prescription dugs, outlaws insurers refusing cover because of pre-existing conditions and sets up state exchanges where citizens can buy insurance.

However what the bill won't do is the very thing the president set out to achieve, provide universal health care for all Americans.

Because of opposition from the Republican and some Democrats, the final version of the bill - which has in any case been sent back to Congress for fine tuning - is not at all clear cut. It's a thousand pages of compromise and fudge that virtually no-one has read, not least the congressmen who voted on it.

As the Financial Times reported on March 23, about 23 million Americans will still have no health care coverage after the bill becomes law, that is a little better than the supposedly 32 million Americans with no health insurance today but universal health care it is not. The bill also doesn't provide coverage for those people who are in America illegally, some of whom are Estonian.

Most Americans worry constantly about health care. Health cost are ruinously expensive. People routinely go bankrupt because they can't afford their medical costs. Medical bills are the biggest single cause of bankruptcy.

Documentary film-maker Michael Moore in his health care film “Sicko” depicts a scene where a sick women to thrown into the street like garbage by a hospital because she had no money and no health insurance.

If you care to look, you can find videos on the internet about charities operating in the United States where people queue from morning until night to get health care. These charities were originally set up to provide health care in Third World countries.

In Estonia although hospitals and clinics are privately run and privately owned, the principle behind which the health system in Estonia operates is essentially socialist.

Health care is paid for out of a central fund which taxpayers pay into. Anybody can use it more or less for free, even non-citizens who have residency, but only people who are working pay into it.

It's Marxism in the purest sense of the meaning built around a capitalist shell.

“From each according to their ability, to each according to their need,” as Karl Marx wrote.

The system compares favourably to any system in the world.

“The value for money is higher than Europe. It has been officially studied,” said Dr Viigimaa.

“The financial system is quite effective. All General Practitioners are paid the same money for the whole country. People's belief in the state system is quite good. We have in Estonia only one private insurance company,” he said.

Estonia spends between 5.0 to 5.4 per cent of its GDP its on health care cost whereas the United States spend more than three times that amount about 16 per cent, yet Estonia can provide lifetime care for everybody whereas the United States can not.

How is it that an “emerging economy” like Estonia treats its people and even its guests better than the richest, most powerful, country in the World?

The United States has no universal health care because it is not provided for in the constitution.
The United States was not founded as a democracy; democracy was a dirty word in the 18th Century. It was founded as a constitutional republic with rule of law, separation of powers and checks and balances to prevent tyranny or mob-rule/democracy.

When the founding fathers talked about freedom but they meant freedom of individuals from government intervention and government taxes.

Today there is a growing faction of people called libertarians. They believe the constitution should be strictly adhered to. They oppose big government. They argue that universal health means more taxes and more government intervention, in people's life. They believes it means European-style socialism.

To the libertarians the health care reforms are unconstitutional and un-American.

Many people believe Europe adopts ideas from America, but actually in terms of how to run a society the opposite is true. For the past 150 years the United States has moved away from those ideas set out in the constitution and adopted ideas first tried in Europe, especially the U.K.

Had Americans stuck to the principles in the constitution; there would be no public schooling, nor state pensions, nor employment benefits. There would be no social security, no Federal Reserve Bank, no public health insurance of any kind; but black people would still be slaves and women wouldn't still have the vote.

As Gideon Rachman, right-wing, pro-American, columnist writing in the Financial Times puts it: “Healthcare reform has nudged the US a bit closer toward the European ideas of social solidarity- and further away from America's own tradition of rugged individualism”

Libertarians believe that the free market capitalism always provides the best goods and services because competition for customers will force down prices. Usually this is true, but with health care this is simply not the case because health care prices are often perfectly elastic.

If you are the parent of a child with painful leukaemia. And that child is screaming in agony all through the day and all through the night, you would pay any price to get your hands on a drug that would alleviate that pain. You'd borrow from friends, sell your house. You'd rob a bank if you knew how. A drug company with a patent on that drug can charge any price they like. In a system based on the free market is it any wonder that Americans are going bankrupt to pay for health care costs?

There is one other thing that the United States has adopted from Britain and this is where Estonian need to be interested.

In the 1950's Britain handed over the role of global champion of Western values - or global bully depending on your point of view - to the United States

The trouble for those Estonians who are relying on the United States to provide for the nation's security, forever, is as far as libertarians are concerned, this is unconstitutional and un-American also. The founding fathers specifically warned the the young republic about getting involved in foreign entanglements and foreign war, not because they didn't want the country to be strong, but because wars, like healthcare, require more taxes and more government intervention to maintain large standing armies.

In most powerful countries the most right-wing people want their countries to expand their global reach and influence, in the United States right-wing libertarians want to shrink it.

If libertarians are against paying too much tax to defend themselves, how do you think they feel about the paying taxes to defend Estonia?

The danger is not here and now, the current administration is very far from libertarian as the results in the vote show.

But libertarian thinking is a growing force both in American public life and in the Republican party. All Republican congressmen voted against the health care bill and have vowed to keep on fighting. The debate on the health care has also switched many Americans on to understanding what libertarian thinking is all about.

The Libertarians may have lost the vote but they are still fighting for the soul of America.

If in some time in the distant future, libertarianism has taken over, the United States has revert back into isolationism it had before the 1940s and N.A.T.O no longer exists, will people remember it all started with defeat in a domestic bill about healthcare?

In the long term, decision makers in Estonia need to be aware of this strand of the American psyche, and look
to other ways to maintain national security.




Featured articles

City under siege

Right is Right?

Why I write in Estonia

Brave new Estonia

Cancel the debt

Who's in charge here How the leader of the opposition can bully the PM.
The man who annoys Estonians: Q and A with Priit Pullerits
Postimees did this in depth interview.
Black men, Estonian women the truth
An opinion piece. The title is self-explanatory.
Pyrrhic Victory
About the recent local elections in Estonia.
The Sexiest man in Estonia
Guess who?
The Playboy bunny and foreign policy
Laar's Dilemma
About the former PM of Estonia.
Cult of Youth
Why Estonia is run by kids
Quiet genius who brought East to the West
How the Koran came to be published in Estonia.
Bigotry and denial
Race relations in the Baltics in particular Lithuania
A hard landing indeed
Let's eat potato peels
Fighting to preserve a Nation's heritage

Brave New Estonia
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 21 February 2010

When my editor called me to write a piece about Estonian Independence day my first thought was: “why me?”

I am aware there are a lot of people interested in reading what I have to say about this, that and the other, but surely a big patriotic event like Independence Day is best covered by native writers?

But then I realised, everything that can be written about Estonian Independence Day and the new national awakening Estonia currently is going through has already been exhaustively covered.

I can imagine the words.

“Estonians fought to preserve the nation’s freedom, Estonians must still fight to preserve the nation’s freedom.”

What else is there left to say?

Well actually looking at it from as an outsider there is quite a lot to say. I can say this with authority. Patriots from other countries envy Estonia. This is an exciting time to be alive and be Estonian.

To us outsiders what is going on in Estonia is an heroic human endeavour, it’s nation building, it’s “a brave new world” in the sense Shakespeare originally meant it.

Let's see how they do things in other countries. I'll use my country, because I know it.

Britain doesn't have a national day. We have the Queen’s birthday but nobody knows when it is, and nobody cares.

Wear a British flag in London and you are liable to get beaten up. Yes really ...I knew of a French guy who went down to the Notting Hill Carnival in a Union Flag T-shirt. He got the crap beaten out of him.

I have an army friend who has been in two wars. I have never seen him in uniform, soldiers are not allowed to walk around with their uniforms on, for fear of being attacked by pacifists. Pacifists can be a pretty violent bunch in England.

In British towns you rarely see the Union flag. If you do, it’s usually some hotel or public building; somewhere it has to be displayed. In Scotland you never see it.

Sport divides the nation, the Scots cheer when England loses. There used to be so-called Home Nations football games between England, Scotland Wales, Northern Ireland. They had to stop it because at every match fans would riot.

Estonia has soldiers confidently and proudly walking down the street fully kitted out. A flag in every home, a long list of patriotic songs which are sung with gusty at patriotic song festivals.

Not everybody is going to be celebrating Independence Day though.

A friend said to me that he found the nationalistic sentiments of many of his countrymen ugly and distasteful.

He described an incident one night, about the time of the troubles in Georgia, when he came across couple of girls merrily drunk on Freedom Square and shouting at the moon in English: “We’re Estonians and we hate Russians.”

“They can’t have been older than 17 or 18; it always amazes me that it is very young people, too young to even remember the Soviet times can be so angry, and so full of hate,” he said.

A student I teach, an exceptional bright young man, described the feeling of togetherness as so superficial as to be almost bizarre. He said suddenly people are holding hands and singing with the same neighbour that they quarrelled with two days ago.
“Eestlane olen ja Eestlaseks jään.”
He said you can be sure that in a few days they will be quarrelling again.

Some people are more prosaic in the objection.

“Estonia may be free, but I’m not free because I am poor,” a female friend told me.

“What good is national freedom. I can’t eat it, I can’t use it to pay my rent,” she said.

Besides is Estonia really free? If the banks are owned by Sweden and most industry including this paper are owned by other Scandinavian interests, who really controls the country?

Is it even possible for any country to be truly sovereign in a globalised world?

Anybody reading about the history of nationalism is bound to be cynical. Nationalism evolved out of war and intolerance and has been responsible for genocides as we have seen in Rwanda, Serbia and other places.

But nations are just another way of organising people into groups. People have always lived in groups. Nationalism is neither good or bad it just is.

When my father stepped off the boat six decades ago he came to a Britain as poor and as hopeless as Estonia was in the early 90s.

As the saying goes, he learned three things. “The streets weren’t paved with gold, the streets weren’t paved at all, and he was expected to pave them.”

Despite being a scholarly man, my father and mother ended up doing factory work. In the process they rebuilt the country. It was only later in life that my father started to do an academic job and started to make a lot of money. Millions of ordinary people did the same. It’s the ordinary tale of an ordinary man.

When I think of my father, I think of a friend, an electrician, a true blue-collar Estonian. He just lost his job. He didn't complain, he just put a note off his car the next day “willing to clear icicles” taking advantage of the wintry conditions. It's people like him who make the county great.

In countries like Germany, France, Britain and Holland the process of rebuilding took as least until the early 70's , longer if you count the time it has taken to catch up with the United States.

It’s been 19 years since independence, so Estonia is at the point that Britain was in the 1960s. Britain was a dreary place then. But at hat time America started to take Western Europeans seriously again. It was just before the British Invasion.

It's about time we in Western Europe started to start New Europe seriously.

Of course there are problems. You have politicians wrong-footing people. Instead of talking about building a fairer society they were setting impossible goals about making the country rich. Do you remember when Estonia was supposed to be in the top five richest countries in Europe? Ironically this idea sounded kind of Soviet. Like one of Stalin's five year plans. Merciful the recession killed off that nonsense.

Also how to deal with the country's Russian-speaking minorities.
You don’t need me to tell you that there is no quick fix to this problem.

And there is the falling population. Immigration can not solve this problem and the Government campaign's for people to “get busy” as we say in English, has been only partially successful.

But at least you have a project. Estonia is like a man that is building a grand house. He may face setbacks from time to time but ultimately he will finish the task.

As anyone who has built a house will tell you, it is a tremendously satisfying process.

You see people going about their daily lives they are are just trying to make ends, to take care of their family and provide for their children, they don’t think that they are part of any heroic human endeavour. They don't think of themselves as heroes, but they are, they really are.


Cancel the debt
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 28 January 2010

I was going to write about something else. In fact I'd already written it and was about to hit the send button, then I read this from American journalist Amy Goodman, who has just come back from Haiti, on her Democracy Now broadcast.

“We sat and watched as doctors came from Denver Children’s Hospital performed this amputation that, in most cases, would have been unnecessary if the patient had received care at the beginning. The number of amputations without anaesthesia—now, let’s remember that it’s not only amputations, but it’s all operations.”

Reading about people getting their arms and legs hacked off without any anaesthetic makes the subtle manoeuvres of Estonian politicians seem kind of trivial.
Estonian politicians are angels compared to another group of people, international bankers.

This destroyed nation owes international banks about a billion U.S. dollars. Most of it to the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the IMF and 387 million dollars to Taiwan and Venezuela.

And what is the bankers' reaction to images of children dying under piles of rubble?

“WE STILL WANT OUR MONEY BACK”

The World Bank announced on 21 January that it doesn't expect Haiti to pay back the money for another five years. In other words they want the money back.... eventually. The IMF on the other hand wants its money right now, though it has agreed to waive interest payments.

The Haitian people can't afford to pay. Even the president is homeless, the last report I heard he was hanging round the airport. Before the disaster the entire Haitian economy was 11 billion dollars. In other words 10 percent of the Haitian economy was owed to the banks. Right now the Haitian economy is worth nothing.

The nerve of the banks is incredible. Haiti owes to the World Bank, 38 million dollars, a tiny fraction of the overall debt and a nano-fraction of the World Bank's liability.

They should write off the entire debt? They should, but they won't, unless you make them.

The earthquake is no-one's fault, it's just an act of God or nature. Its a disaster of biblical proportions. It is worse than the Tsunami. Never in recorded history has an entire nation been destroyed. A hundreds years from now people are still going to remember it. It is the work of the devil.

But this natural disaster has been compounded by man-made cruelty.

Haiti was founded by rebellious slaves who killed their slave masters and set up their own nation in the early 19th Century

If Haiti is the poorest country in the New World, this is largely because for the past 200 years, first France and then the United States have conspired to make it so.

Most debtor nations got into trouble in the 1970's. Haiti has always been in debt. In 1825 France use gunboat diplomacy to get 150 million francs (21 billion dollars in today's money) as compensation for the loss of its slave colony.

It was this factor more than anything else that retarded the development of the Haiti in the 19th and early 20th Century.

The Americans took over island in the 1930s. Not wanting the island to be ruled by black people, this was the 30's after all, they imposed a cruel ruling class who proceeded to ravished that nation for the next 70 years.

The worse of these were the Duvalier family who for three decades stole aid and bank money which they then sequestered into personal bank accounts or squandered on grandiose vanity projects. Michele Duvalier famously took a 20,000 dollar shopping trip to New York in the 80s.

To be fair to the Americans they built most of infrastructure that existed in Haiti, the roads the telephone lines and the public building. That infrastructure has now been destroyed.

At the time of writing approximately 200,000 people are missing presumed dead, another 250,000 are injured and another 1.5 million are homeless. Most are destitute. That is the equivalent of everybody in Estonia. You've all seen the images of people camped out of the street; of bodies buried under rubble, of people roaming the streets with machetes looking for food, water, medicine. It's almost too much to bare.

Those of you who have read my columns know I always write about local matters. But with this story that is nothing much I can do. This is the story I had to write.

I was worried that the story was time-sensitive but it's better to have this article published some time after the event to remind people that Haiti is still suffering.

I don't feel comfortable mentioning this, I will give my fee for this article to Haitian disaster relief. Somebody pointed out to me that mentioning this might motivate other people to also give money.

Some of you may feel that there is very little Estonia can do since it is so far away geographically and culturally from Haiti.

I agree with those people who believe it's the responsibility of French and Americans to sort things out. They have caused this situation thorough centuries of rapacious behaviour.

But Estonia can play a role, that shouldn't be understated. If a country as culturally and geographically remote is helping out, that will shame other countries to do the same. It's good to note that the help is coming not just from the Estonian government but from private industry and private individuals. Tallink, despite the troubles they are facing, are planning to send a ship to Haiti. Many other people have given money.

It must be embarrassing for Haitians. I'm sure they have pride. Nobody wants to be a charity case much less a whole country. I'm embarrassed by it, hurt by it, angry about it, here's a black country in an awful situation asking the rest of the world for help.

You can help even if you contribution is non-monetary. Join a campaign or sign a petition for Haitian debt to be cancelled. At least look into the matter. I loath telling people what to do, but this is one time I feel I must.

This in the long run might help the Haitian more than any money that you can give. It's something everyone can do over and over again whereas if you give money it tends to be a one off.

I am sure many readers have problems with their own bankers. They are not the world's favourite people. So this shouldn't be hard.

This really is a way you can make a difference. If the whole world, even people in as far away place as Estonia are screaming from the top of of their lungs CANCEL THE DEBT!! the banks just for once might listen.