Why the world is silence about the election
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 10 March 2011

Nobody cares. The World didn't care. The global reaction to the Estonian election has been total apathy.

In the UK, The Financial Times ran a brief inside story on the election saying who won but not why. The Chicago Tribunal carried a brief wire report as did The Herald Sun in Australia and The Telegraph in Britain. The BBC covered the story, but buried away somewhere. It had no analysis on the lead up to the election and no real analysis of the reasons for the results.

The New York Times was better. It gave the story brief analysis, but from its Moscow correspondent, which as many people believe, is a bit like writing about the activities of the French resistance in World War II from the point of view of the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin.

“Estonians stoically absorbed the suffering,” wrote The New York Times correspondent.

“The opposition leader Edgar Savisaar, the mayor of the capital, Tallinn, and head of the Center Party, argued during the campaign that the government had overlooked the suffering of average people in its drive to join the Euro zone.”

At least The New York Times mention the Savisaar financial scandal.

The Independent, and The Guardian in London, both of which usually have excellent international coverage, didn't cover the elections at all, not even wire reports.

What's going on?

One could argue Estonia is small country and the its politics are not of much interest to larger countries.

But elections in other small countries, Latvia in October 2010, Iceland in 2009, and more recently in Ireland in February 2011 were all extensively and exhaustively covered in the international media.

The Spanish election is already getting heavy media coverage even though it is not due for a year.

It's not true even that the international press don't care what happens here. When people were rampaging through the street of Tallinn in 2007, the whole World knew about it. Even the tragic accident in the orphanage last month was widely covered in the international press.

Part of the explanation may be there is a lot going on elsewhere. Newspapers have a limited amount of space to fill and with the upheaval in Libya and the Middle East taking up the column inches there was simply no space.

Newspapers need a narrative. And the narrative that the World has followed since the Financial Crisis began in 2008 is that in country after country people are rejecting their governments as incompetent failures and electing fresh faces even if, or maybe especially if, the new faces have no experience in Government.

The Estonian experience challenges this narrative. The Estonian people have given a vote of confidence in the existing coalition, which got a combined 56 per cent of the vote.

As a colleague who works for a national newspaper in the UK told me, had Estonian voters thrown out the coalition government and elected a new government there would have been a lot of interest, but since they voted for the same guys who have been in power for the past few years there was little to no interest.

Could there be another more sinister reason why the story hasn't been covered.

“When it comes to Eastern Europe we want muck, we want trouble. We don't want to hear that everything is hunky dory(all good),” my colleague said.

According to my colleague, news providers when they are interested in the region at all, want to present an image to readers of backward little nations which are making a mess of things.

The coverage to the Latvian election last year is instructive. If you compare Latvia and Estonia, in it's essentially the stories are the same.

In both countries an international economic crisis was the catalyst for a local credit crisis. In both countries unemployment went up as businesses collapsed. In both countries centre-right government reacted by severe austerity measures and slashing wages in the public sector. In both countries, in spite of all, this the ruling coalition won general elections by comfortable victories.

Latvia's crisis was worse, so they had riots, a change of leadership and international bail outs. Estonia, on the other hand, got membership into the Eurozone.

The elections themselves were not a story. It was the bad news that preceded it that were the story.

This explains why an international paper like The Guardian could cover the Latvian elections in some depth and not cover the Estonian elections at all.

This explains why the BBC could have have a headline story like: “Latvians vote in crisis elections” and not have a headline about the Estonian elections, until after the votes are in.

The fact the Estonia economy is anticipated to grow by 4 per cent this year and the fact that unemployment is dropping or the country has the lowest debt and the smallest deficit- as a percentage of its GDP - of any country in Europe, is mentioned in The New York Times but not in most other outlets.

The irony is of course there is a big story that the international press have missed. This election was extraordinary for its ordinariness. In a time of falling wages, unemployment and hardship, people didn't panic, they voted sensibly. The whole election was a very sensible affair.

Let's not forget that the result was not only a endorsement of the government, but an endorsement of the entire political establishment. In a society that remains traditionally cynical of institutional politics, this is remarkable in itself.

All the parties had something to be be happy about. The Reform Party won. The IRL and the Social Democrats increased their number of seats and votes. And though the Centre Party won less seats than the last election, leader Savisaar increase his personal endorsement to record levels, further proving, if any proof were needed that his supporters don't care what is written about him in the media.

Had the Estonian people been angry, as the people of Iceland as Ireland have been angry, they might have turfed out not only the government but the opposition and voted for one of the mighty fringe party leaders. As it was, not even the Social Democrats and their dynamic leader Sven Mikser, who performed brilliantly in the pre-election leaders' debate and whose party many political analysts think, had the best campaign couldn't quite break the mould and become the main opposition party.

In some way you can't blame the international press. People are marching through the streets of Dublin, rioting in Athens, demonstrating in Cairo and fighting pitched battles in Libya's towns and cities.

Estonian people voting for stability is rather boring.

Yes it would be nice to get more coverage of the election. It would be nice to get more coverage of Estonian public life in general. But the international media have put Estonia in a box and unless something dramatic happens to break Estonia out of it, the country can anticipate being ignored.