A couple of years ago,
I went along with my wife to a manor house in the heart of England
which every August, for the last 30 years, has been a jamboree
(Rahvapidu) for the Estonian community in Britain. I expected a
celebration of Estonian culture in Britain. Singing, dancing, selling
handicrafts and Estonian foods; that sort of thing. I discovered, two
tribes gone to war.
The foreign Estonians
(Väliseestlased) believe they have worked to preserve and promote
Estonian culture for over 60 years, not only in the UK but in the
other four Väliseestlased communities, Sweden, the USA, Canada and
Here was their view of
new Estonian immigrants to Britain.
“We don't mix with
them at all, we don't socialise, we don't even understand them. It's
like apartheid,” said one of them, who understandably didn't want
to be name.
The story of Estonians
in Britain is an interesting narrative not only on how communities
develop but a reflection on Estonia itself. Its shows us that some of
the assumptions that we make about modern Estonia are wrong.
Estonians first came to
Britain just after the Second World War as refugees. These people
and their descendants have gathered each year at different locations
and hold an annual children's camp and the jamboree (Rahvapidu).
British Estonians have
always been the poor relations. There were never as many of them as
in the other four countries and for the most part didn't plan on
being in Britain.
“Back in the 40s
everybody wanted to go to Canada and the United States. The ones that
stayed in Britain only stayed because they were basically stuck
here,” the Väliseestlane told me.
believe they have suffered greater hardships than their counterparts
in the other four countries.
Britain in the 40s was
like Estonia in the early nineties, but more so. Britain's cities had
been bombed, hundreds of thousands of people lived in shacks without
running water, electricity or even windows, rationing went on until
And right at the bottom
were Estonian refugees. These foreign types who came from a country
that no-one had ever heard of, who could be Germans or Russians.
“I grew up in a
refugee camp in Wales. It was a tough life. I have face
discrimination myself as a child so in my professional career I have
always campaigned for justice and human rights,” John Twitchin a
Väliseestlane who went on to Oxford and later became a BBC producer
once told me.
As the second
generation the children of the original settlers became to old to go
to children's camps they formed an organisation Tulevik that holds
summer camps for the third and fourth generations.
This community in 50
years of isolation had developed it's own traditions that have
evolved independently. They sell memorabilia of camps held in the
50s and 60s. They have even publish a monthly newspaper Eesti Hääl
The newcomers began to
settle in Britain after 2004 when Estonia joined the European Union.
Unlike the first wave of settlers, they see Britain as a land of
opportunity. They have immediately started putting down roots, buying
houses, having children.
Both group feel a
strong attachment to Estonia. One Väliseestlane told me in a broad
North of England accent how he felt when he visited Estonia for the
first time in his forties.
“You grow up speaking
this language that is absolutely useless, and suddenly you are in
this place where you can use it, it was wonderful,” he said.
newcomers are making sure their children do not lose their ties to
Old Country. The Estonian School has a team of teachers teaching
Estonian language, music and art.
So why the conflict?
Why the apartheid?
Apart from the fact the
cultures are now different, as we have described above, there is
feeling in both tribes that the other lot haven't suffered enough to
call themselves Estonian.
feel they had to preserve their culture, real Estonian culture
against discrimination and poverty, that they have built up their new
country, they resent these new people who are grabbing what they
can get from a Britain they helped to build.
feel that they suffered under 50 years of Soviet occupations, whilst
the Väliseestlased were living the good life abroad.
Will the real Estonian
stand up please?
The focal point for the
conflict is control of existing establishments. The younger, larger and more dynamic recent immigrants are clearing winning,
systematically taking over all the focal points of the Estonian
communities. Key among them is Estonia House in Notting Hill, a
fashionable area of London
“It fell to the
invaders some time ago,” a Väliseestlane said to me with a wry
I can confirm that this
is so, just five years ago “Estonian classes at Eesti Maja” meant
teaching Estonian language to the locals, to the British.
Now it means lessons
for Estonian children in the Estonian language. The website for a
school based in England, hasn't even got an English-language version.
Then there is Cathorpe
Manor where the annual Rahvapidu and summer camp takes place.
Since my connections
are with Estonia, it pained me when I found out that this beautiful
estate is only hired by the Väliseestlased, it is actually owned by
the Latvian community.
The Latvian community
in Britain clubbed together and bought the house as a retirement home
for their old folk. They have also turned it into a lucrative venue
for weddings. The Väliseestlased have just not been as successful or
Now the newcomers are
congregating there to. Sending their children to the summer camp.
Some may see it rapprochement, other see it as just a take over.
So what are the wrong
assumption we talked about at the beginning of the article?
It helps us put the
conflict between ethnic Estonians and Russian speakers in Estonia in
perspective. Conflict with Russian speakers isn't inevitable, it's
been brought about by circumstances. Given enough time and distance
it is possibly for even the same people to be in conflict with each
Estonians are by no
means unique, you find the similar patterns of conflict and
resentment between the descendants of the first settlers and the
johnny-come-latelys, repeated in virtually every ethnic group in the
UK, including my own.
Second Cathorpe Manor
is proof, if any were needed, there is nothing innately superior in
the Estonian character that has given it an edge over it's southern
neighbours in the past 20 years.
If Estonia has been
more economically successful than Latvia and Lithuania we must look
to external factors.
But I'll make a
positive prediction, in 10 years two communities will have merged:
After all Väliseestlased kids are going to camps with newcomers or
even going to camps in Estonia.
The next Rahvapidu
takes take August 18th at Cathorpe Manor.
For once I have subject
where I can draw on personal experience not just for colouring and
commentary but for analysis. Immigration, let's talk about it. You
may think you've read everything there is to say, but there are some things that no one is
saying, no-one dare say.
Once again a gap has opened up between what the business elites and
technocrats who run the country want, and what the people want. The
elites want more immigrants. The people do not. It really is that
The elites are going to
Here are the arguments
if you need reminding. As some of you will remember, last year the
Estonian Development Fund (EDF) did an analysis of Estonia's future
in the centenary year. Leave aside the oxymoron of a government
sponsored venture capital fund, this set out four possible scenarios
for Estonia's future.
of these scenarios are perfect but broadly speaking, two are good and
two are bad. The
good scenarios are Hanseatic League II and Skype Island.
Hanseatic League II, Estonia becomes a trading centre and a hub for
investment and in the words of the EDF.
open, lively, cosmopolitan nation full of skilled individuals
competing for high value-add jobs.”
Island” is similar to “Hanseatic League II”, except the focus
is on Information Communication Technology(ICT).
both of these scenarios to happen, there has to be increased
immigration from beyond Europe. This is necessary.
bad scenarios are “South Finland”, which where Estonia is now,except worse, and “the state returns” basically melt down.
doesn't just mean letting people into the country, it means getting
investors to put their money in the country. The EDF concludes in
its analysis on Estonia-India relations the reason Indian companies
don't invest in Estonia is because there is no Indian community to
speak of. Indians like to invest where there is an established
community already. The same is true for other nationalities.
same picture is clear when you talk to business leaders. Andrei
Korobeinik, IT tycoon and Riigikogu MP, said the shortage of skilled
people is so extreme it was one of the main reasons he bought back
Rate.ee, He needed staff and it was cheaper to buy a company than to
in the Estonian IT sector, you can't really hire people due to
several reasons. A couple of large companies are hiring very
aggressively, it's too expensive,” he told me.
says that far from being a low cost provider of high end goods and
services as many people still think of it, Estonia is not competitive
at all and hasn't been for some time.
you compare the total price of a web programmer in Estonia with all
the tax and the price of that guy in Silicon valley exactly, it is
cheaper to hire in Silicon Valley,” he said.
means a lot of companies are moving there or to the UK. Skype has
hired way more engineers in London during the last two years.”
still have places for engineers, (in Estonia) almost for two years.
They can't find those people.”
conclusion: “We have to rethink our approach to immigration. We
can't compete with the current system.”
compares the situation in Estonia to the situation in Ireland which
despite it's current problems he still thinks of as a dynamic
come from outside Ireland to work for those companies.”
what Estonia has to understand, they have to understand that the
majority of people will come from outside the country. It's a
question of choice. Whether we want it or not.”
other side of the argument is also familiar .
average Estonian fears immigration will dilute or destroy national
identity and at the very least will lead to the kind of problems we
have seen elsewhere in Europe. Around
42 % of adult migrants aged 18-64 in the EU were classified as living
in poverty or social exclusion in 2010.
to the Eurostat, 68 percent of Estonians are against increased
immigration into Europe. The European average stands at 46 percent.
Legatum Prosperity Index found in 2009 about half the population
wouldn't want to live next to a black person and roughly the same
amount think Estonia is not a good place for minorities.
Estonia today is a comic parody of Britain in the 70s. Everybody is
complaining about the immigrants, but they haven't arrived yet. The
analogy is apt, the Baltic region's attitudes towards non-white
people are similar to Britain in the 70s.
it is no surprise that Estonia has developed tough immigration laws,
which have gotten even tougher to prevent abuse. It's
quota system, set at 1008 people this year, mainly designed to get
highly skilled people.
this to our neighbours Sweden,
they have an open-door policy. If you can find a job as locksmith you
can get in.
much we know, it has been written about.
here is what is not being said and brings me to my own personal
experience. I hope people won't get too angry at what I am about to
say. I am just describing the situation not making any value
judgements about right and wrong.
all comes down to interactions which happen more frequently than I
time to time somebody will come up to me in a public space and and
after a few introductory remarks say something along the lines of: “I
don't mind black people but I can't stand these damn Russians.”
no-one will admit is the draconian immigration laws exist and are
being tightened, not to keep out Indians or South Koreans, but to
keep out Russians.
will go further, because of Estonia's history, Indians are preferred
this is denied. No-one wants to upset Russian-speaking Estonians.
Nobody wants to upset Russia.
is no basis for a claim that Estonia prefers immigration from India
over Russia,” a spokesperson from Estonia immigration said when I
put it to her.
consider this, if Estonia didn't have such tough checks and were to
let in the 6000 or so highly skilled Russian ICT experts it needs to
fill the current vacancies, it is entirely possible that among their
ranks would be the very same hackers who waged cyber war on this
country five years ago.
the same thing applies to Russia as applies to India. More Russian
people, means more Russian investment, something Estonia historically
has also avoided.
be sure, Russians do emigrate here, to the gaming industry and to
restaurants. But the number has been kept to a trickle.
situation is quite different to what is going on else where in the
World. People tend to emigrate to their neighbouring
countries and countries with which they have historical ties. Irish
emigrate to Britain, Chinese emigrate to Hong Kong, New Zealanders to
Australia, British to Australia even Estonians to Finland. The host
country is usually comfortable with this and prefers this.
even had a white Australia policy preferring immigrants from Britain
and Ireland for generations.
it seems is practicing a white Australia policy in versus. It is;
putting out feelers around the World, building up international ties,
opening up new embassies in Asia, whilst passing yet more laws to
keep out the Russians -the white people- out.
people figure out what the government, in my humble opinion, are
really up to, the elites will have won the argument.
question remain unanswered. How the government are going to engineer
it so they don't appear to be discriminating against Russians I can't
answer, and isn't letting even a small number of immigrants swapping
one set of economic problems for a whole bunch of social ones?