For a while now, every Estonian has had a chance to participate in creating the new brand for Estonia, from suggesting the logo to the stories that the brand will tell. Shardee Rebas argues that Estonia is neither Nordic nor Eastern, but entirely something else.
As expected, many of us don’t take it very seriously and the most common question I’ve heard is, “So how much does it costs this time?”
It’s a fair question, but hey – the new brand will be introduced one way or another, so how about leaving all the spicy and sarcastic Estonian comments behind and, for once, really try to think, participate and share one’s opinion? It is not supposed to be a brand created by someone somewhere. It’s a national brand – it will ideally embody all of us. A brand that will represent our country (and us) for years to come.
Due to my job, for years I have kept an eye on what’s been said about Estonia on different social media channels. That has given me a fair overview of how people really see us and what they love about us.
Five years ago, when someone asked, “where is Estonia?”, I gave the stereotypical Estonian answer – northern Europe, close to Finland and Sweden. “And did you know that Tallinn is on the same latitude with Stockholm and Oslo, and we invented Skype and…”
Today, I wouldn’t give the same answer anymore. I’m genuinely over this “wannabe-Nordic” stage and if someone asks, “what is Estonia”, my short and honest answer would be, a country in north-east Europe.
I’m absolutely happy that we are located next to Scandinavia and have had quite some role models. Without a doubt, striving for Nordic excellence has helped shape the country to what it is today, and I’m grateful for that. Having good role models while being “a teenager” is wonderful, but wanting so bad to be someone else is already a different story. Being unique and the best version of oneself is always ten times better than being a copy of the greatest person you know.
So, what I’m really saying here – idolising Scandinavian hunks while growing up was cool, but, dear Estonia – take a look in the mirror. You’ve grown into “a young woman”: you’re confident, intelligent, quirky and ambitious. And maybe it’s time to see that these Slavic features on your face, mixed with the Nordic touch, make you even more beautiful than the pure Scandinavian you’ve always wanted to be. Learn to love yourself the way you are, with all your perfect imperfections.
We’re still so sensitive about the word “east” and undeniably it still has loads of negative associations. Nevertheless, east is a part of who we are and we can never make it disappear. As long as we don’t accept it, we can’t really move on.
How we’re seen
Let’s take a look at some examples of what the international media is saying about Estonia.
“Best of all, what you get in exchange for your hard-earned cash is experiencing a gloriously distinctive slice of Europe, where Eastern and Nordic influences mix together.”
“A geographically Baltic country with a distinct Nordic flair, in addition to strong Russian influence.”
“Fascinating hybrid of Russian and Scandinavian culture.”
What people often notice and appreciate is the unique mix that we are made of – that Estonia is not really like any other country they’ve been.
Medieval charm. Northern quality. Western mindset. Soviet background.
Each one of them on their own is interesting…ish, but it’s the combination of all that makes us unique. There is no other country in Europe that actually is North-East.
Naval mines dating from the Soviet Union, a city that remained a closed town due to secrecy and security measures, Soviet-era prison turned into a blue lagoon, abandoned factories that are slowly becoming the new hipster hotspots…
We may still feel uncomfortable to talk about certain things, but what’s by some of us seen negative and maybe somewhat shameful can be more than fascinating to a foreigner. And we haven’t really worked with it at all.
Let’s take the “east” and turn it into something positive. East can easily be the exciting scar on our body that we don’t try to hide anymore. A scar that intrigues people and leaves them asking for more. A scar that has stories to tell. A scar that, somehow, has become a big part of us – that, oddly enough, completes us.
Let’s end this identity crisis – not being really Nordic and not really wanting to be Baltic. It’s time to face the reality and build on that. Why has it been so hard to find our place? Because truth can sometimes be hard to find: we’re not Nordic and we’re not Baltic. We belong to unique species that’s called the North-East of Europe. And we are the one and only country that really represents that definition.
Eastern Europe has a reputation that we often don’t want to be related to. I understand that, but North-East is something new for everyone. If we knowingly start to position ourselves as north-east Europe, then it’s something that no one can ever argue with, because that’s exactly what we are. Every press trip by a foreign media outlet supports this argument and people love this take.
North-East is a clean sheet
North-east Europe doesn’t exist today. It doesn’t exist because no one could claim it but us. It is a reputation that we can build from scratch. We can build it with clean, stylish branding and fascinating stories that reveal our real face with all sides of it without any attempt to beautify it.
What is Estonia in north-east Europe? It’s the world’s most advanced digital society in one of the world’s least religious countries. It’s a nation shaped by Nordic, German and Russian influences; a country that has kept its Finno-Ugric fairy language and medieval cities; that has a long coastline, amazing islands and forests full of magic. Or is it a place that has so many startups and supermodels per capita that one may lose count? It’s a country that found its way to independence through singing and holding hands. It has white nights in summer and ice roads in winter. The truth is, North-East is whatever we want it to be. It’s what we make it. These stories are ours to choose and tell.
Of course it isn’t easy to build something completely new. The decision to finally accept our country as it is – as the North-East – would be just the beginning. That’s where the work with the brand starts. Then again, it’s not really all that new concept – the international media and the people who have travelled to Estonia have described us as north-eastern for a long time. Now it’s just the time to take ownership and control the game.
North-East is almost northern, but it has its slight eastern twist in everything: in people, in nature, in culture. And this little twist is our unique selling point. This is what sets us apart from any other country in the world.
This article was originally published by Shardee Rebas on her personal blog, in support of North-East concept as a new brand for Estonia. The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover: a proposed new branding for Estonia. Design by Veli-Johan Veromann.