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Two Tribes
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 13 August 2012

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 Australia.

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.
British Estonians 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 1951.

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 since 1947.

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.

Meanwhile the 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.

The Väliseestlased 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.

The newcomers 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 smile.

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 organised.


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 other.

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.



On Immigration Policy
by Abdul Turay
Postimees 13 July 2012

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 simple.

The elites are going to win.

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.

None 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.

In Hanseatic League II, Estonia becomes a trading centre and a hub for investment and in the words of the EDF. “An open, lively, cosmopolitan nation full of skilled individuals competing for high value-add jobs.”

Skype Island” is similar to “Hanseatic League II”, except the focus is on Information Communication Technology(ICT).

For both of these scenarios to happen, there has to be increased immigration from beyond Europe. This is necessary.

The bad scenarios are “South Finland”, which where Estonia is now,except worse, and “the state returns” basically melt down.

Immigration 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.

This 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 hire staff.

Currently 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.

Korobeinik 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.

If 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.

It 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.”

They still have places for engineers, (in Estonia) almost for two years. They can't find those people.”

Korobeinik conclusion: “We have to rethink our approach to immigration. We can't compete with the current system.”

Korobeinik compares the situation in Estonia to the situation in Ireland which despite it's current problems he still thinks of as a dynamic economy.

People come from outside Ireland to work for those companies.”

That's 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.”

The other side of the argument is also familiar
.
The 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.
According to the Eurostat, 68 percent of Estonians are against increased immigration into Europe. The European average stands at 46 percent.

The 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.

Thus 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.

Therefore it is no surprise that Estonia has developed tough immigration laws, which have gotten even tougher to prevent abuse. It's a quota system, set at 1008 people this year, mainly designed to get highly skilled people.

Compare this to our neighbours Sweden, they have an open-door policy. If you can find a job as locksmith you can get in.

This much we know, it has been written about.


But 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.

It all comes down to interactions which happen more frequently than I care for.

From 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.”

What 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.

I will go further, because of Estonia's history, Indians are preferred to Russians.

Officially this is denied. No-one wants to upset Russian-speaking Estonians. Nobody wants to upset Russia.

There 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.

But 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.

And the same thing applies to Russia as applies to India. More Russian people, means more Russian investment, something Estonia historically has also avoided.

To be sure, Russians do emigrate here, to the gaming industry and to restaurants. But the number has been kept to a trickle.

The 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.

Australia even had a white Australia policy preferring immigrants from Britain and Ireland for generations.

Estonia 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.

When people figure out what the government, in my humble opinion, are really up to, the elites will have won the argument.

Some 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?