Chartists versus the World
Published Postimees 13 December 2012


This week December 13 2012  my book “A small white nation” comes out. In the book, I examine Estonia's place in the World. How and why Estonia has moved from being a country at the periphery to the very centre of the debate of how the world ought to be run.

There is more story telling in the book than I normally write. I am quite sure I will enrage some people and shock others. One thing I described so shocked my editor that she refused to believe it was true.

“Are you really sure it happened?” she kept asking me over and over again. I leave you to guess what it is but you have to read the book.

But there is one thing that has been left out. I don't write about Charter 12. The simple reason is when I handed the manuscript in to my publishers it didn't exist yet.

It was just perfect timing, I write a book discussing amongst other things, whether Estonian political culture is failing on not, and a month later, some of the country's leading minds, let's call them the chartists, get together and say categorical that failing it IS!

Still the book is up to date. And at the risk of being a bit presumptuous it is up to date precisely because I'm not Estonian. Let me explain.

The chartists and their fellow travellers have been falling over themselves to describe how bad the situation is.

Some have compared the situation to the 30s. Others have compared the situation to the Arab spring.

Lecturer and writer Rein Raud said we were going back to communist times.
Jaan Kaplinski compared it to 1994 when Laar's first government fell. Scholar and poet, Aare Pilv compared the situation to talking to a computer. You may get angry at the computer but the computer is not going to respond.

Expats see things differently. The international community do not think democracy is collapsing.

The proof of this is reports from the Bertelsman Foundation, the Economist Intelligent Unit and others.

There is a cartoon somewhere on the web, you can have fun looking for it, of a parrot holding a copy of the Charter 12 and squawking.

“Democracy collapsing, government corruption, crisis, Polly wants a cracker.”

The chartists may not be ridiculous, but they are being ridiculed.
In June when Meikargate first broke, I wrote that the scandal could actually show Estonia in a positive light because it shows the media holding politicians on all sides up for public scrutiny.

Nobody paid any attention except for Mihhail Lotman who greeted with me warmly when I ran into him.

The chartists are urban cosmopolitan types so why do they see things so differently to rest the World? Why are they squawking like parrots?

Well to understand this we have understand what the charter actually is. Charter 12 is in the tradition of charters that date back all the way to Magna Carta in 1215 when England's barons restricts the power of the king. It was the first inkling of the concept of rule of law. In the early 19th Century there was the Chartist movement that tried unsuccessfully to win universal male suffrage. In modern times there was Charter 77 the dissent movement in Czechoslovakia, then Charter 88 in Britain that called for a modernisation of Britain's unwritten constitution. Charter 88 is no big deal but the other charters were really big moments in the histories of their countries.

Charter 12 uses far more strident language than 77 or 88.

Charter 77 talks about engaging: “in a constructive dialogue with political and state power.”

Charter 12, lest we forget said that “neither the President of the Republic nor the government appear to want to change the situation.”

Charter 77 said it did not want to lay down its own program of political of social reforms or changes.

Charter 12 does precisely that.

Some say the strident language is proof that Estonian democracy is working.

Vaclav Havel and the 77 gang were facing an authoritarian regime. They had to tone it down. They were still hunted like wild animals.


Some say Charter 12 is nothing to do with civil society and everything to do with ambition and grandiosity.

Lotman called Charter 12 a bid for power: "Is the point of this whole undertaking really to pave the road to Parliament for one group of people? Is Parliament really bad because some of them found themselves locked out?" he asked.

The grandiosity means far from opening up the debate the Chartists are closing it down.

Four years ago Barbi Pilvre could write.

“The political and economic analytical premier league in Estonia is a famously narrow group of people. Open discussion is characterised by a settled hierarchy. We have a lot of well-known experts in their particular areas. Bystanders are not let in, not because they lack competence, but because we have this authoritarian discussion culture. If the hierarchy had a chance they would keep it that way as the media loves to protect experts.”

Since then this settled hierarchy has been blown apart. Anybody can write about anything and get it published.

So along comes this charter. The chartists are reclaiming their position as overseer of the nation's political debating culture.

And this is most effective if framed in the strongest language possible.

It's pretty ironic that the chartists, whom rail against a return to the Soviet times, have set themselves up as a vanguard of people. It's all very well....Leninist.

But for me, none of these theories work.

Some of the charter's signers are already in Riigikogu. And none of the charter's signer make a living by writing stuff in the newspaper.
I am going to opt for a simpler explanation for the squawking. It reminds me of an old joke.

“The bullets in the Matrix are Estonian.”

I remember how I felt about Estonian politics back in 2010 when it finally dawned on me how moribund and decadence the Estonia’s political system had become and was going to remain.

I felt despair, I felt more than despair. I felt -the Germans have a word for it- “angst.”

This was my political angst. I haven't felt that way for 20 years. I have always loved politics but for the longest time I didn't want to read about politics. It was too painful, which put me in a difficult situation because I write about politics.

I remember discussing this with other ex-pats and they recall feeling the same. Now just like Pilv says I am just like a robot. I have become numb to it all.

Estonians are patient but that patience isn't bottomless.

The emotions of the chartists, like Matrix bullets, have caught up to what I was feeling back then. Their anger, frustration and angst has reached breaking point. They can't take it anymore.

Any other nation would have been up in arms by 2009- 2010 already.

Meikar or somebody else would have come forward back then already. And it would have fitted in with everything else that was happening back then. Democracy is going to hell and the economy is going to hell.
Charter 9, Charter 10 or even Charter 11 would make perfect sense. Charter 12 just seems like hyperbole.

But “A small white nation” was written some time ago. And because I am not Estonian I was feeling like a chartist already when I wrote it. So along with the joy, the love, the apprehension, and the humanity there is angst, real angst.