British-Estonian political columnist Abdul Turay: “A Jamaican is culturally more similar to an Englishman than an Estonian.”

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Abdul Turay is a British-Estonian political columnist working for Estonia’s leading national newspaper Postimees. After living and working in Estonia for so many years, he published his first book “Väike Valge Riik” (“A Small White Nation”) in December 2012 (the English version is due this fall). The book deals with issues relating to Estonia’s fast road to capitalism and the current, as well as future challenges that this road has brought to the country. 

We have been discussing with Abdul for some time about collaborating on some articles on Estonian World. It is therefore admittedly with a slight embarrassment that we finally got around to it only because of a marginal Estonian far-right politician who recently came up with racist comments against immigrants – rare even for a country which is still becoming accustomed to accommodate people from different cultures, after so many years behind the Iron Curtain. This week, Estonian weekly Eesti Ekspress invited Abdul to debate with an aforementioned politician on the issue. Afterwards, Abdul found some time to answer our questions about life in Estonia and the recent debate. We have also republished Abdul Turay‘s letter to Estonian Public Broadcasting, highlighting the reasons for agreeing to debate on this controversial topic, despite his initial reluctance.

I

Abdul, first of all, what brought you to Estonia?

AT

I came to Estonia for family reasons. It was a difficult challenge and a big risk, because I had to take a huge pay cut when I came here. The company I worked for, a Russian Latvian company, turned out to be dodgy. They weren’t paying staff members, so I quit on the principle. My wife was terrified, I had given up a well paying job in England to be unemployed in the Baltics in the middle of the worse recession in living memory.

I

What has been your general impression about the developments in Estonia and do you think that it’s heading in the right direction?

A difficult question to answer. When I first came to Estonia I thought it was a kind of paradise, a winter wonderland. My reasons for coming have changed over the years. I am more aware of the daily grind that most people go through to get by.
I

What do you think should be different?

Drivers should stop at zebra crossing. I will never get used to that.
I

Have you ever experienced any racism in Estonia and in what form?

You have fallen into the trap of asking about race. I am not sure I am even qualified to answer that question. I can only speak for my own experience not for others, and since I am not part of any black community in Estonia, I can’t speak for the community. There have been a few incidences, but it only came to blows on one occasion; I won.
I

What do you think could be done more to avoid ignorance about people from different cultures and races?

Nothing.
I

Coming back to the UK – how well do you think people from different cultures and races have integrated into the UK society? How well do you think they have embraced the traditional culture and customs in the UK?

Again the trap. I am not qualified to answer this question. I know what every other Briton knows, which is that some communities assimilate well and others badly. A lot of it is based on language.
I

Is there anything negative from the UK experience, based on multicultural society, that you would like to change – or Estonia could learn from it?

Yet again the trap, multiculturalism means different things to different people. People confuse race with culture. If you tell an Estonian that a Jamaican is more culturally similar to a white Englishman than they are, they don’t understand that. But this is clear to us, Brits. Jamaica was colonised by Britain and the mother country has been kind of colonised by Jamaicans for the last 60 years. We share cricket, the English language, the legal system, school uniforms, reggae music, Anglicanism and Levi Roots (Levi Roots is a British-Jamaican reggae musician, television personality, celebrity chef, businessman and multi-millionaire – Editor).
What could be more English than cricket? Muslims play cricket, Estonian don’t. Even Bin Laden’s children, growing up in the former British colony of Pakistan, played cricket. Estonians don’t even understand the rules.
I

What is your opinion in relation to recent troubles in Sweden? And how would you respond to claims by some politicians (incl. Angela Merkel) that “multicultural society has failed”?

I am definitely not qualified to comment about the riots in Sweden. I am not Swedish, nor to live in Sweden, I only know what I read in newspapers and given how the riots in England were portrayed in the international press, I am not sure the coverage is accurate. As to multiculturalism I refer you to the answer above.
I

Considering the recent statement by far-right politician Helme, do you think that there’s something deeper to tackle in Estonia – or is it really just an ignorant statement from a marginal politician?

I debated him and he backpedalled significantly, he went from “kui must, näita ust” to agreeing to have black people in his party. What he said was racist, but that doesn’t mean he is. He does appear to have a disgust for Black Africans – a lot of people do, even other black people. Africa is poor, people despise poverty. Whether that disgust extends to all black people, I don’t know.
I think that I understand him – he will deny it, but his views are really all about money, most things do come down to money (or love). He dislikes anyone poorer than him, or any country poorer than Estonia. He dislikes Africa most of all because it is the poorest.
He has a hard time accepting that there are a lot of people in Britain and the other Western countries, including Black people, who unfortunately feel the same way about him – a poor Eastern European.
I
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Abdul Turay’s letter to ERR News:

Bring it on.

This is not a news article, but it is news.

You heard it here first on ERR (Estonian Public Broadcasting English portal – Editor). On Monday June 3, I will debate Martin Helme, the leader of the Conservative People party. The article will be published in Eesti Ekspress, and filmed. You can read more about the outcome of the debate on this portal and elsewhere.

For those of you who don’t know, Martin Helme is the chap who said: “Kui must, näita ust” (If black show the door) which translates well as “if you’re black get back”. He has argued this dictate should form the basis of Estonian immigration policy.

It saddens me to have to do this debate for more reasons than one. I trained as a reporter, I want to write the news, I like to write the news, I don’t want to be the news. I guess it’s a dilemma a person faces when he goes to a place where he doesn’t look like everybody else. Instead of seeing the attractions, he becomes the main attraction.

I am sure that the other English language writers in Estonia won’t mind me saying this. Myself, Scott Diel, Justine Petrone, and a couple of others, do not have agendas. We just want to earn a living for our families, the same as everybody else. We are put in this interesting and sometimes uncomfortable position where we are expected to act as unofficial ambassadors for various things.

In my case I have been obliged to represent my country, my Queen at the time of the Royal wedding, my ethnic group, and even my gender. I had written about men’s rights, then came the call to go to women’s conferences where I had to face off against a ton of angry feminists. As someone pointed out, an Estonian writer would would be skinned alive, if he had written what I wrote about feminism.

Then there’s the issue of race. A casual reader or just someone who can’t read Estonian might assume that’s all I write about. The opposite is true, I deliberately avoid writing about it. I am just not interested, I have to write for my audience. My audience are not black. This is why when I first started writing, a lot of people thought I wasn’t a real person. Here was a black Briton writing about Estonian politics – “How could that be?”

In my book “Small White Nation” out in Estonian and out in English this August, I decided I have to deal with race in the first chapter. It would have been intellectually dishonest not to mention it at all, for the rest of the book I moved on and never mentioned it again.

Other people won’t let it go though. Everybody who has interviewed me, falls into the trap of asking about race. I get invited to conferences to speak about race. I write articles in this portal and other places which have nothing to do with race, and people comment on my race.

And so it was that I got a call for Eesti Ekpress to debate Martin Helme about his unfortunate comments. I really don’t want to do it, really I don’t; but this guy hates everybody. After talking it out with some friends, I felt I had no choice.

I will talk in English because I don’t want to give him an advantage, and he will speak in Estonian for the same reason. The debate will be moderated.

I have heard that Martin Helme is a superb debater, but I am ready for him, bring it on.

I

Photos: Abdul Turay

About the author: Silver Tambur

Silver Tambur is the cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Estonian World. His interest is to explore the impact, developments, and movements of a new generation of cosmopolitan Estonians, who increasingly leave their mark around the globe. You can also follow him on Twitter

  • donoliketuray

    Is he an Estonian citizen? Immigrants do not “become” part of a country by just spending tie there – he is a British not a “British-Estonian”.

    • Guest

      what about Estonian President? isn’t he a refugee?

    • UN

      He lives in Estonia, works for Estonia, and has got an Estonian family. Passport is a piece of paper, it does not necessarily make one to love his/her country not identify with it. Grow up, travel more, and become more intelligent.

  • Kaarel

    Why is it a trap to ask about racism? I don’t think this topic has been properly publicly debated in Estonia. There hasn’t been much need for this in the past. Perhaps it is about time?

    The reason people ask you to attend on these topics means there are things that are not clear. Even if these subjects have been discussed to a much greater degree in the UK and elsewhere, and may have been applied in Estonian legislation, it doesn’t mean the society as a whole and individuals are aware of the various aspects of these subjects. I think it’s a great opportunity for you to become a significant part of a nation’s transformation. And the fact that you naturally stand out, should be used as an advantage :)

    • mat

      You are asking the first black person for so-called “free racism counselling”. It’s pretty ignorant. He admits he’s not qualified enought for his opinion to have any weight and feels he shouldn’t be a big part of that particular conversation. It’s pretty understandable. It’s also important to point out that the racism issue doesn’t really affect him AS much as others, therefore it would be wrong to assume he even understands the issue enough to provide solutions. I think we should ask the communities and people most affected, involved with and interested in finding solutions to this issue. He’s just not that person.

    • Basil Maughan

      Hmm. You do have a point.

  • CW

    The thing is – if you title your book “A Small White Nation,” then people are going to ask you about race. Even if that’s not the main angle of the book!

  • Darkhearted (JB)

    I too am of Jamaican descent and lived in Estonia for 4 years.

    There needs to be an intelligent and honest debate about race in Estonia. The bigots are a small but significant voice and most people living in Estonia have never met a black person even those living in the capital. Most of what they know they have been told (or seen on TV) by people with the same amount of experience as them. I am always taken back by people who have hate for blacks who have never had any kind of negative experience of their own nor do they know personally anyone who has had some sort of negative experience attributed to a black person. Not that such an experience would justify the rhetoric of Mr. Helme. These people however feel it is their duty to warn everyone of the evils of immigration.

    We saw this in the 70′s in the UK with the “Rivers Of Blood Speech” (Enoch Powell) a warning about the dangers of immigration from a man who years earlier had encouraged ethnic immigrants to join the health service when he was health minister (1960-63). This kind of fear mongering is nothing new.

    After living there through the riots about the bronze soldier I also think there needs to be a real debate about ethnic Russians that live in Estonia and the racism that they sometimes experience. I know there is a lot of pain associated with Estonian occupation by the USSR and that there are still parts of Estonia where no one speaks Estonian. I myself learned some basic Estonian. Estonia needs to know itself properly and accept its faults before it can move forward positively.

    In response to what Kaarel said. It is asking a lot to ask anyone to be the ambassador for a race. On a personal level I have been a trailblazer as often I am the only black professional in an organisation, dealing with peoples preconceptions and hate in that environment. Confronting the political establishment is a lot of weight to carry and the additional scrutiny on you and your family is pressure that only those with a driving passion could endure.

  • Basil Maughan

    Guest, you are extremely uninformed. Whites are NOT being slaughtered in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Brazil, or any other country where the population is predominantly dark skinned. The only countries where whites have been slaughtered (and as recently as 20 years ago) are ALL in Europe, most of them in central and eastern Europe. Check your history!

    • satis
      • Basil Maughan

        Thank you for the link. I was aware of some poor white Afrikaners living in small, rural villages, though not in squatter camps. However, the numbers quoted are questionable, given the fact that they would equate to about 20% of the total white population of SA (Afrikaner and English-speaking), the vast majority of whom continue to live a very good life indeed. An even larger number of blacks there live in similar conditions and have yet to benefit from the end of apartheid. Also, it does not compare to the more than 100 years of systematic racial discrimination and marginalisation of blacks in SA, increasing in severity after 1948 with the advent of apartheid. At any rate, even if one accepts everything that site says, it does not justify the use of the word “slaughter”, which means “large-scale, systematic murder, whether organised, or at random”.

        • Me

          With thinking like that you will lose you home land, Africans or Arabs don’t think the way you do, wake up.

          Would an Estonian be an mp in Nigeria of the drc? Would a white Christian be a mayor in an Arab state

          So why do Europeans have to allow it

      • Basil Maughan

        I will check out these links. However, it still doesn’t nullify anything I have said previously.

    • Me

      Kind of reminds me of that Congolese minister of integration in Italy going all high and mighty about Italians not integrating, when the country she hails from whites were chased out of there other wise the would be exterminated

      Should she go preach tolerance and integration in her own home country first?

      It seems to be the fashionable thing to do, go to a European country and whine about Europeans being racist, go to Lagos and start baying that Nigerians are racist toward whites and see how long it will take to get your head cleaved in half by a machete

      Whites are guilt ridden for no reason, if other races can be proud of their race, why can’t whites

      Whites are idiots for falling for propaganda BS

      • Basil Maughan

        Frankly, your questions posted over the past day are flipping nonsense questions and your statement is so idiotic, it doesn’t deserve an answer; but I will stoop to the ground to dignify it with a reply. Firstly, Estonians are too inward looking to go to places where the people look different. They probably only go to the US, Canada and England, so no, there is no likelihood of there being an Estonian MP in Nigeria or the DRC. Where I come from, there have been white MPs, including one from England, who were elected repeatedly. No, you probably won’t find a white, or Arab Christian mayor in an Arab state.

        During the Scramble for Africa in the 1880s, the majors powers allowed Belgium to have a piece of the pie by giving the Belgium King, Leopold, what is now the DRC. He ran it as his personal plantation and unleashed a brutal colonial regime on the local people, characterised by murder, mutilation and general brutality. Whatever administrative and commercial infrastructure that was put in place, was done for Belgians. No attempt was made to provide services for the local population. Under pressure to grant independence, they did so, but were NOT chased out. They all left, unwilling to live in a country ruled by black people. They weren’t enough Congolese with a modern education to administer such a big place anyway. When they left, the whites sabotaged everything and destroyed all the plans for sewage, water pipes, etc. Then they and the CIA organised the murder of the president. The latter then installed a megalomanical puppet who served American Cold War interests for many years.

        White Europeans travel to various countries in tropical countries (with dark-skinned populations) in search of warm weather and beautiful beaches when their countries are cold and covered by a blanket of white and they expect to be treated with respect, which they get. No one goes around taunting them and shouting, with faces distorted by hatred, ‘White man, go home!” In the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, there has been a noticeable increase in immigration from Europe (EU countries). The problem with many white people is that they ARE proud of their race…too proud, in fact, thinking that a white skin makes them more intelligent than others. I have got news for people like you though. Intelligence is determined by one’s brain, not the lack of melanin in your skin. You can take a baby from some remote village in the DRC and bring him/her up in Talinn or Moscow, immersed in the local culture, with all the educational and other opportunities available and you will have a 100% Estonian or Russian! If you doubt that, you need to start educating yourself.

  • Paul H

    “Abdul, first of all, what brought you to Estonia?”

    Aus vastus
    Kuna Count “sõralised kabja” Kalergi;Genotsiidne “isa” EL soovis 1925 pühkida-out valge eurooplased ja siis uuesti asustada Euroopasse segavereline mix mittetoimivate negroids ja asiaadid.

    Multi Kultuur on etniline puhastus Whites
    Multi Kultuur on Pol Pot Poliitiline “Liberation poolt bigots”
    Year Zero on nüüd

    The honest answer
    Count “Cloven-hoof” Kalergi; The genocidal ‘father’ of the EU, wished in 1925 to wipe-out the White Europeans and then re-populate Europe with a mongrel mix of dysfunctional negroids and Asians.

    Multi Culture is Ethnic Cleansing of Whites
    Multi Culture is Pol Pot Political ‘Liberation by Bigots’
    Year Zero is Now

  • Stephen

    Honestly I am really surprised at the reactions of almost everybody here. I am an IT student coming to study for my masters in Estonia by September 2015. This whole fuss about racism isn’t needed at all. If Estonians feel they do not want other races in their country, you can’t really blame them for it though that doesn’t make it necessarily correct. There’s something really important that everyone is missing here and that is the fact that blacks and Estonians have the “occupation of territory” thing in common. Africa was occupied by the Europeans, Estonia was occupied by the soviet republic so it is only natural that there would be some concern about integration.

    As a young adult, I have studied in a lot of places during my Bachelors degree, visited a lot of places during summer visits and holidays and also read a lot of books. Truth is that when I heard stories about Estonia and racism, it made me want to come here even more. I am black and I have spent at least a month in each of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Sometimes people take a look at life differently. If a black complains about being stared at in Europe, why do we forget that when we were kids, if we see a white man, we would stare at him and sometimes follow him as he is working…… It wasn’t because we were racist, it was because we were curious.

    I really do not mind being called Nigga or whatever it is because those slurs don’t move me. I recall being told that I am a big because pigs are dirty and my skin is black and this happens in Russia…… I smiled and my response was very simple, I responded and said “Human beings ought to be human beings but when you call a fella a pig then a pig probably has a better brain than you because they can identify a pig no matter how dirty it is”.

    I visited the US once during summer school and had a Estonian proffesor who wasn’t black-friendly at all. He was outright racist and instead of reporting him to administration, I rather made sure my end of summer essay I was go into write was going to be about him. I comprehensively explained how I had been treated by him in my essay though it really wasn’t me in the story because I twisted it quite a lot. At the end of my essay, I wrote at the bottom that it was how he had treated me and if his kid was treated that way, I’m sure he would be pretty mad at the person. I had an A+ for that paper and he actually bought me coffee later on and also explained a lot of things to me.

    Just for the record, I’m Nigerian but practically schooled all over the world all through my life :-) .I decided to do my B.Sc. in Neighbouring Ghana because I had heard about how Ghanaians treated Nigerians “fellow blacks” because of their different Nationality and the “Ghana must go” saga that happened in Nigeria. I came to Ghana to make a difference and in a country where basically Nigerians are detested, I made a positive impact. Served as a student leader, precisely the senate president for Nigerian students and I because the first to be able to have a foreign student body for the whole of Ghana. Today the FSA-Gh (Foreign students association of Ghana) is registered with the government of Ghana and recognized by virtually all the embassies in Ghana. All it needed was patience……. Go to Ghana today and you would be surprised the high influx of Foreign students (Canadian, American, German, British, Nigerian, Kenyan, South African, French e.t.c,). Ghana has practically changed to a hub for foreign studies in Africa.

    Most people are not really racist, but like was said here earlier on, sometimes there are things that they must have heard about a certain race (sometimes a certain country) that makes them react the way they do. Sometimes it is actually the kind of orientation they grow up with. I have met people over the world who still argue that I am not Nigerian. I actually qualify for british citizenship but unlike a lot of Nigerians who would jump at such an opportunity, I never bothered even once to think about it. I prefer to remain Nigerian and make people see that even though Nigeria as a country has negative picture, there are Nigerians with a positive image and character. When you make people realize who you really are, they actually begin to feel more comfortable around you no matter the color of your skin.

    Now there is so much talk about integration but the major problem here is that most people do not want to understand the different languages. Black people just feel comfortable if the whites can hear a little English. They do not take the language difference serious most times. In Russia, no matter how racist one might get, trust me when I say there is a little respect the moment they know you can speak and understand Russian fluently. Whites tend to want to learn local languages, blacks prefer to go to places where they understand a little English. My first plan when I get to Estonia is to learn the Eesti language and be very fluent in it. If you want to bring about change, its not by winning or feeling bitter about things that happened ages ago but rather burying the hatchet of the past and looking forward to making positive impact and becoming relevant. Every race, nation or people have a story, so enough with the “they did this to us”

    Estonia might be a small country but with the advancement of the IT industry (My field precisely) imagine the benefits the country would make if they had some form of bilateral agreement with a country like let’s say Nigeria that is technologically deficient even with our satellites, considering how much China makes from us in that field. Imagine what an estate would be like in one of the Nigerian states, powered by the powerful Estonian ideas??? I go to countries to study not just my books but how their development can impact in our underdeveloped and developing countries in Africa and vice versa. It is imperative that we see a bigger picture and learn from each other.