Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Black men, Estonian women: the truth By Abdul Turay Published Postimees 11 November 2009 Well that got your attention; the headline I mean. Any story on this subject, the technical term is miscegenation, is bound to get punters. The yellow media, women's magazines and reality TV shows are obsessed with the subject. Not a month goes by without some publication writing about it. Anne and Style, for example, recently ran a long feature about mixed couples. Most of these stories are muddle-headed and wrong. There's paranoia in this country that there is an army of dark-skinned men form Turkey, the tropics, some place south, who are going to make off with the nation's women. It's never going to happen. I'll explain why in a minute. Seriously, I think there are more important things to think about and worry about. I worry about feeding my family. I worry about other people being able to feed their families, so I write about politics and economics. But the p
Paradise Lost By Abdul Turay 11 August 2009 Finally the Estonian immigration authorities have done something of which they can be proud . They are getting rid of a very nasty man. Anyone who follows current affairs in Estonia may  vaguely have heard of Craig Cobb, a bearded, 57 year old, extreme right-wing American who for the past few years has made Estonia his home. He hoped to make this country the centre for his one man campaign to promote so-called white nationalism. Tallinn is host to Cobb's Podblanc site, where mostly Russian skinhead thugs post videos of themselves committing acts of brutal violence against men, women, and even small children from ethnic minorities in Russia. Those of us who have been coming to Estonia for some years, either as visitors, investors, or as more permanent guests, have been sadden to see some of the more unsavoury characters from our part of the world show up here. Cobb is of course the worse example of this phenomenon. It&
A note for New Tallinners Russian Translation below.  Dear New Tallinners Whether you are here for work or study; welcome to Tallinn, I hope that you have a successful, productive and fun time in our beautiful city. Tallinn has come a long way in the last 20 years. It is hard to believe this city was once grey and Soviet. It can be bewildering at times being in a new city in a new country, when all the information you need is in another language. Did you know that you can help to make it better? Did you know you have access to legal services? What do you know about the sports, leisure and cultural activities going on in Tallinn? The local elections for the City council take place this October 15. Did you know that you can vote?   Everybody registered to live in Tallinn can vote? Voting will give you say in how the city is run? It gives you power? I hope to serve you as your local candidate. How someone like me ended up in Estonian politics, is too long a story to g