Opinion

Opinion stories from and about Estonians.

Mart Nutt: Ethnic Russians in the Baltics are not persecuted – is Putin preparing for aggression against NATO?

Along with the incredible amount of propaganda and demagogy with which Russia justifies aggression against Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea, all the more frequently you will hear of attacks on other countries as well, which have large Russian communities due to historic reasons. It is possible to influence the public opinion by distorting reality and Putin’s ideologists are professionals in this field. But the question is why does this need to be done? Is it just a propaganda technique to divert attention from the attack on Ukraine or is Russia preparing in earnest for larger scale aggression, including against NATO countries, which inevitably means attacking NATO as a whole.

US journalist of Russian ancestry Julia Ioffe recently wrote the article, “Ethnic Russians in the Baltics Are Actually Persecuted. So Why Isn’t Putin Stepping In?” Even for a reader who is not familiar with the situation in Estonia, the mere title is indicative of a call for Russia to act in the same manner as in Crimea belonging to Ukraine. I do not think this is what Julia Ioffe wants, and it seems that she does not have an objective understanding of the reality of Estonia either, since she is basing it solely on Moscow’s propaganda and the non-independent information source, Russia Today.

By now, it should be clear to everyone that the protection of the rights of Russians is not grounds for Moscow, but only a pretext to occupy Crimea – part of the sovereign state of Ukraine – and to try to restore its control over the whole of Ukraine. Russian political scientist Sergei Karaganov stressed in his 1992 doctrine that Russia’s goal is to regain control over the entire territory of the former Soviet Union and this is a sign of danger for the security of all countries which have experienced the tragedy of belonging to the Soviet Union. The rights of Russians in Ukraine have not been violated, and certainly not the rights of those living in Crimea, which is known to everyone who has visited this country.

Russians’ rights are not being violated in Estonia. This is not just a rhetorical statement, but has been confirmed by dozens of international organisations such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe and OSCE experts, who have thoroughly monitored Estonia. The accusations of the infringement of the rights of Russians hail only from Moscow and this bears resemblance to bitterness that Estonia has decided in favour of democracy, the West, NATO and the European Union, and not to remain a Russian satellite state. The suspicion of infringement of the rights of Russians is in fact a throwing down of the gauntlet to NATO and the European Union, since neither organisation will accept states if they are not democratic and if human rights are being violated.

A so-called grey passport (for persons with undetermined citizenship) is granted to a person who has not applied for Estonian citizenship, but who also does not have any other citizenship. This problem was not created by Estonia, but by Russia, when it decided to leave former citizens of the Soviet Union living abroad without Russian citizenship by way of its Citizenship Act of 1992. For various reasons, there are currently about 80 000 people in this situation. The majority of Russians living in Estonia have either Estonian or Russian citizenship. People with undetermined citizenship have travel documents, residence permits, the right to equal treatment and access to social services, as well as the right to vote in local elections, just as all long-term legal residents of Estonia.

Estonia’s undeniable wish is for people using grey passports to apply for Estonian citizenship. Language proficiency is not a serious obstacle since using the Estonian language at an elementary level is as easy as using basic English in everyday communication. Some users of grey passports are not motivated to apply for citizenship since they can travel visa-free within the EU and to Russia with their grey passports, while Estonian citizens have to apply for a visa to travel to Russia. Criticism of the requirement for teachers to speak Estonian is beyond comprehension. Is it possible to be able to teach in the United States without speaking English or in Russia with no knowledge of the Russian language?

Ominous parallels are emerging between Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine and the actions of Nazi Germany in Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938-39. This became possible due to the indifference of the great powers. Estonia is a democratic state based on the rule of law, where the human rights of all people are guaranteed, and Russia can only threaten rather than protect the rights of people living in Estonia if it tries to use those people to its advantage. The democratic world, especially the United States, must decisively stand against aggression and protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of democratic states.

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The article was first published by the Estonian Embassy in Washington.

The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Cover photo: Narva castle overlooking Estonia-Russia border.

Russian Federation 2014: a difficult year ahead?

Viacheslav Morozov and Karmo Tüür are the political scientists of the University of Tartu, who led an expert network that produced a new collection of short-term prognoses of Russia’s political, economic and societal development in 2014.

This article was first published by the University of Tartu blog.

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In recent years, Russia has not been static, monolithic and uniform. Russia’s economy has grown to become the sixth largest in the world, fuelling a corresponding rise in its ambitions. Russia’s desire to build a Eurasian Union around itself is a captivating puzzle for political scientists and everyone interested in the current international developments. Domestic processes in Russia are also constantly changing, whatever our opinion of these developments might be. The long search for a “national ideology” in Russia is finally taking shape around the idea of the nation state aspiring to become a regional power with a solid internal structure, stressing conservative and traditional values.

At the same time, the most notable feature of this year’s collection is undoubtedly the rather pessimistic tone of most forecasts, particularly those dealing with the domestic situation.

While the government seems to be more confident than ever about what kind of Russia it wants to build, and has been relatively successful in achieving its goals, experts argue that the country is muddling towards an uncertain future. The political regime is becoming increasingly authoritarian and traditionalist, and the economy is languishing. To avoid stagnation, Russia would need to make education and science a key priority, but the reckless reforms in this sphere only produce bureaucratisation and increase brain drain. Russia also badly needs a stable judicial system to guarantee the rule of law, but it seems that the abolition of the Supreme Commercial Court is likely to create the opposite effect.

Against this background, massive public investment into sports mega-projects does not look promising as a means to promote development, as the money is being soaked up by corrupt bureaucracy colluding with big business. In the end, it seems that the state’s success in implementing its newly found conservative ideology is limited to constructing a “patriotic” façade of the officially endorsed culture and supported by the Orthodox church. Barely hidden behind it lies the real world of clan struggle, dwindling institutions and unfettered private interest.

However, even the façade is rather shaky. The regime has been trying to ensure national consolidation by promoting patriotic education and strengthening the role of the church. This policy has backfired: this year’s authors are unanimous in emphasising growing xenophobia as a major challenge, in the face of which the government looks entirely helpless. In a multi-ethnic state, constituted as a complex, multidimensional federation, such an outcome was probably inevitable, especially given that the policy of consolidation was implemented in a formal and inflexible way.

So far, it seems that the consolidating authoritarian regime has been able to deliver on its promise of relative stability, which many Russians appreciate. However, this comes at the cost of alienating the most active part of the population, further undermining the existing institutions, and thus completely discarding any hopes for modernisation under the current leadership. The key question, which many authors ask in this context, in one form or another, is, how long can this stability last before the country plunges into a systemic crisis?

In the foreign policy, at first glance, things looked much more promising. Russia has achieved substantial progress on its main priority – the Eurasian integration project – and scored important diplomatic victories over the West on Syria (as well as in the less surprising case of Armenia). Relations with key partners remain stable. Even if one could foresee potential tensions with some of them over Russia’s human rights record and its policy towards the Eastern Partnership countries, there is also an obvious trend in many West European countries towards greater pragmatism in relations with President Vladimir Putin’s government.

The EU as a whole seems to be at a foreign policy crossroads. Its internal cleavages certainly help Moscow to carry out its favourite “divide and rule” tactics, securing strong support on the part of some EU governments, such as those in Lisbon and Rome.

The EU probably will not be able to stop Russia’s diplomatic and economic offensive in the post-Soviet space, although Brussels certainly sees the Ukrainian case as a major challenge and will do its best to come up with a consolidated response. At the same time, Moscow’s attempts to copy European institutions in its own “near abroad” are as formalistic and ostentatious as its attempts to promote internal consolidation. It is obvious that the elites both in Russia and in the Eurasian “target states” perceive this as a zero-sum game, rather than as a win-win situation.

As noted by the book’s authors, the Kremlin’s attempts to construct a Eurasian Economic Union as a counterweight to the EU lead to a dead end. Instead, it would make sense as a response to the serious challenges Russia faces in Asia. It is unable to catch up with China’s geopolitical advances in Central Asia, while at the same time it faces the prospect of US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the need to balance immigration control with security-related and geopolitical priorities.

Nevertheless, Russia and China closely cooperate on a broad range of issues, and the potential problems in this relationship are balanced by the steady improvements in relations with India, South Korea and even Japan. Similarly, recent tensions with Turkey have given way to a new cautious rapprochement, while Israel remains a key partner in the Middle East. Further afield, relations with Latin America are also developing successfully, although they might need some diversification both in terms of the partner countries and the range of projects.

All in all, none of the authors expect any major foreign policy breakthroughs for Russia in the coming year. Moreover, some of the contributions question last year’s achievements in terms of their sustainability and costs for the increasingly fragile Russian economy.

Political prognostication is a difficult craft, which involves at least as much intuition as rational calculation. Societies are infinitely more complex than natural objects and their development never follows any simple general laws. This, however, is what makes looking into their future such a fascinating exercise.

Our readers are welcome to assess our predictions, perhaps – why not? – to make their own, and to see who is proven right in the coming months. Yet, as any political scientist knows, while making predictions, it is wise always to be ready for the unpredictable.

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The opinions in this article are those of the authors.

Cover photo: Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow (Wikimedia Commons).

James Oates: The Estonian state of mind

James Oates, a Tallinn-based British businessman and the Chairman of the British Estonian Chamber of Commerce, says that even as Russia seeks to destabilise Ukraine’s new government, there is a growing sense that the tide of history is turning against Putinism and that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s road to re-enacting Stalinism will ultimately fail.

Down to Pärnu, Estonia’s summer capital, for the celebrations of Estonian Independence Day. At the church service I was sat behind the Prime Minister, Andrus Ansip, who had announced his departure from office the previous day. He seemed preoccupied and serious, as well he might. He is the longest-serving prime minister in Estonian history, and a large number of his predecessors ended their lives in the Soviet gulag. After the church service I was a guest in the VIP enclosure to stand with the President, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, to watch the military parade. This was the largest such independence day parade in modern Estonia, and as an array of modern equipment and stern-faced soldiers passed – including this year a detachment from the British Grenadier guards – I could not help thinking about whether or not Estonia was facing an existential threat. The American squadron of F-14s was slightly late, and we later learned that this was because they had been forced to divert to intercept a Russian intruder. It was a none-to-subtle reminder of the mischief that the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, still seeks to cause, even with his NATO-guarded neighbours.

“During the Independence Day parade, the American squadron of F-14s was slightly late, and we later learned that this was because they had been forced to divert to intercept a Russian intruder.”

In his state of the nation address, later in the evening, President Ilves spoke of Estonia as a state of mind. He meant the pun, Estonia as a country based on intelligence and the lessons of collective experience, but also the Estonian attitude and indeed Estonia as a virtual society, the so-called E-stonia. It was a long and serious oration, as the address by the armed forces chief to the parade in the morning had been. Yet as the events in Ukraine have shown, Estonia has every reason to consider the uses of adversity, to think philosophically about its agenda and national personality.

Ukraine has come through the fire this week. The clumsy and inept regime of Viktor Yanukovych had descended to snipers firing on the thousands of people protesting in the Maidan. It seemed that, with the Kremlin’s encouragement, Yanukovych would drown the Maidan in blood in order to put down the rebellion. Then it seemed that he was prepared to cut a deal with the opposition. Then it seemed that he simply lost control over his military who refused to do his bidding. Thus he then chose to abandon Kyiv, and with his departure the regime simply collapsed. It was an extraordinary turn of events, to go within three days from the horror of a bloodbath to end with the complete victory of the Maidan and the removal of Yanukovych from office. At time of writing he remains at large, but as the scale of his greed – and execrable taste in interior design – were revealed as protesters took control of his mansion north of the capital, all sides made it plain that Yanukovych was a busted flush. All sides, that is, except one: Russia.

The angry Kremlin denunciations of the government that has emerged in the vacuum following Yanukovych’s fall seem like a big mistake. It makes no sense to continue support for an obvious loser. Yet so much of what the Kremlin does these days seems to have remarkably little internal logic. The hostile and angry scowl that Russia habitually wears in its dealings with third parties is not merely for show, it reflects the deeply cynical, Manichean world view of Vladimir Putin and his cohorts. All weapons are used – from financial pressure to murder – to weaken perceived enemies. The ruling cohort treats democratic norms as a polite fiction and the state as a conveyor of wealth from the people to the rulers. The scale of Russian corruption is at least as brazen as in Ukraine, with the added caveat that the siloviki have been looting the country for 15 years longer than Yanukovych was able to loot Ukraine. Neither does the Russian leadership have any of the hesitancy or occasional scruples that made Yanukovych such a bad negotiating partner and ultimately a weak leader.

The Sochi Olympics – eccentric, isolated and occasionally bizarre – seem an altogether accurate reflection of Russia in 2014. The insane costs, incurred in the name of prestige, show the moral disaster lurking at the heart of Putinism. It is with a grim laugh that I greet Putin’s attempts to proclaim his anti-gay persecution as part of a global crusade for conservative purity. The reality is that Putin despises all democratic norms and all rights except those that he claims for himself. It is a road that leads to barbarism. It is a road that runs from being an apologist for Stalinism to seeking to re-enact Stalinism, and it will ultimately fail.

“So as Estonia celebrated 96 years since the first proclamation of the Republic of Estonia, its leaders are preoccupied with avoiding the fate that befell the country in 1939-40. Yet, even as Russia seeks to destabilise Ukraine’s new government, there is a growing sense that the tide of history is turning against Putinism, that the values spoken of by President Ilves are more secure.”

So as Estonia celebrated 96 years since the first proclamation of the Republic of Estonia, its leaders are preoccupied with avoiding the fate that befell the country in 1939-40. Yet, even as Russia seeks to destabilise Ukraine’s new government, there is a growing sense that the tide of history is turning against Putinism, that the values spoken of by President Ilves are more secure. Perhaps, in the end, the best reply to the Kremlin is to quote the words of a great Russian, and a fine man, Andrei Sakharov:

“Intellectual freedom is essential to human society – freedom to obtain and distribute information, freedom for open-minded and unfearing debate and freedom from pressure by officialdom and prejudices. Such a trinity of freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorship. Freedom of thought is the only guarantee of the feasibility of a scientific democratic approach to politics, economics and culture.”

It is a lesson learned in Estonia, and may now be learned in Ukraine. Perhaps before long it may ring out across the benighted land of Russia too.

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Cover photo: Independence Day parade in Pärnu/Courtesy of Estonian Defence Forces (photo by Esper Kaar, Kristjan Saar, Siim Teder, Ardi Hallismaa).

This article was first published on James Oates’ website.

The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Estonian MEP Tunne Kelam: Putin’s aggression against Ukraine reminds us Hitler’s destruction of Czechoslovakia

Estonian Member of European Parliament, Tunne Kelam, made a statement on Saturday, saying that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine “is a chilling reminder of Hitler’s step-by-step destruction of Czechoslovakia”, calling for the suspension of both Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe and also the negotiations about future visa-free movement between the EU and Russia.

Tunne Kelam’s statement in full:

Just one week after the Sochi Olympics, President Putin has made clear the real nature of the current Russian regime. We are dealing with a big power whose policy is exercising its own interests at expense of the sovereignty of its neighbors and systematically violating international law.

Modern sports have been viewed as a substitute for war under conditions allowing fair and honest competition without the use of weapons. However, just a few days after the closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics, President Putin returned to the distant past.

His aggression against Ukraine is a chilling reminder of Hitler’s step by step destruction of Czechoslovakia, using the pretext of protecting the ethnic German minority living there. Hitler succeeded thanks to the appeasement policy of the democratic West.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin has applied a similar strategy not only in Ukraine, but also in different variations toward most nations formerly under Soviet domination.

Western powers have indirectly enabled this brutal policy by ignoring Russian official doctrine under which the Kremlin claims the right to intervene by force in the internal affairs of its neighboring states to “protect” the safety of Russian compatriots living there.

The criteria for their safety are unilaterally defined by the Kremlin according to Russia’s current political goals.

In practice this means that a nuclear power is putting itself above commitments to which it has agreed, usurping unilaterally the position of highest arbiter of international law.

Since the EU and NATO have not paid serious attention to Russia’s numerous military maneuvers which have even enacted the invasion by Russian military forces into the territory of its neighbors, President Putin became convinced that he has more and more leeway.

The West’s lame reaction to the 2008 incursion into Georgia has paved the way for a much larger aggression against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

It is essential to recall that it was the Russian Federation together with the USA and Great Britain that in 1994, in return for Ukraine relinquishing its nuclear weapons, guaranteed Ukraine’s existing borders and committed itself to refrain from all forms of economic coercion against Kiev.

In fact, using military force to counter Ukraine’s European orientation and against its territorial integrity poses a risk to the security of all East European states.

Further developments will depend upon the clarity and forcefulness of the reaction of the European Union and NATO.

One conclusion is clear – their relations with the current Russian regime cannot continue within the framework of “business as usual”. Russia has placed itself outside the G8 club.  The planned G8 summit in Sochi under the Russian presidency should be cancelled.

Russia has violated practically all commitments to the Council of Europe to which it agreed at its accession. Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe should be frozen. Negotiations about future visa free movement between Russia and the EU should be suspended. Officials up to the highest level who are responsible for aggression should be denied visas and their bank accounts in the West blocked. Only in this way can Moscow’s aggressive policies be restrained. Otherwise the aggression will not stop with Crimea and Ukraine, but will continue.

Russia is not all-powerful. It is fragile socially and politically, its economy is dependent on the export of raw materials and thus vulnerable. The efficiency of the bulk of its armed forces is questionable. Real and well-coordinated pressure by democratic states will bring results provided there is political will and responsibility in avoiding a new appeasement. The future of Europe will be decided in Ukraine.

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Cover photo: Tunne Kelam (left) taking part in the meeting in support of democratic Ukraine in Brussels/Courtesy of Tunne Kelam.

The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Justin Petrone: The Ansip Years

I learned a lot about my wife’s people – Estonians – from Prime Minister Andrus Ansip. When I look back to how much I thought I knew about them in 2005 when he was named prime minister after two years of chaotic ministerial sackings and resignations under his predecessor, Juhan Parts, I am astonished by my then-ignorance of the supporting cast of our lives.

Estonians, a small nationality of 1.3 million, resident on a piece of land about the size of Vermont, New Hampshire and some of Maine put together. If you look at it via satellite, you will see that Estonia is a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides. And if you count those marshes in the south of the country that separate it from Latvia, it becomes a true island, for these are people with an island mentality. For Estonians, there is but Estonia. They travel with gusto to exotic locales, but with the main objective of reporting back to the other Estonians about what it’s like out there or to compare notes with other Esto adventurers.

One other thing you should know about Estonians is that they are inconvenient. Nobody ever wanted them to exist. Germans tried to make them Lutherans and gave them German-sounding names, Russians tried to convert them to Orthodoxy and gave them Russian-sounding names, the Nazis wanted to salvage the most racially similar parts of the population for breeding and murder or enslave the rest, and the Soviets tried to erase large parts of the local population via deportation and replenish the stock with reliable Russophone workers. And yet Estonians clung to their roots, like obstinate head lice, and one of the reasons they still exist is because they are a  stubborn, insubordinate lot that have convinced themselves that they are right, even when they are wrong, and will continue into strong headwinds and against snowy storms if they believe it to be the correct direction.

In short, they are a lot like Andrus Ansip, for Ansip, born in Tartu in 1956, perhaps best reflects the ideal Estonian leader. To begin with, he’s a man, and in Estonia, men are still believed to possess awesome powers of logic and reason that make them preferable to women, with their rash, emotional decisions and unsettling vanity. Ansip had that determined patrician’s squint, in some ways similar to George W. Bush’s resolute pucker, except that Ansip wasn’t faking it when he answered a question about taxation policies while strapping on his cross-country skiing gear. He would stare off somewhere behind the interviewer and speak in slow, declarative cadences, and we would all know that Ansip was the kind of man who would, say, amputate his own arm should it get stuck under a boulder, and not shed a tear about it, “because it made sense and it was the right thing to do”. Estonians have a word, kindel, which can mean “certain” and “secure”. Ansip seemed to embody both meanings.

“He would stare off somewhere behind the interviewer and speak in slow, declarative cadences, and we would all know that Ansip was the kind of man who would, say, amputate his own arm should it get stuck under a boulder, and not shed a tear about it, “because it made sense and it was the right thing to do”. Estonians have a word, kindel, which can mean “certain” and “secure”. Ansip seemed to embody both meanings.”

This certainty certainly got him into trouble at times. About two years into his tenure as prime minister, he encountered a colossal shit storm known as the Bronze Soldier. This was a calamity of diarrheic intensity. In Ansip’s certain mind, there was a problem – a Soviet war memorial in the centre of Tallinn – and a solution – moving it to a nearby war cemetery. And that should have been the end of it. It wasn’t exactly, and many blamed the chaos and violence that circled and followed its removal on Ansip’s own Estonian myopia, but in the end, it was removed, and he even laid flowers at its feet, with the more sensitive and emotive (and pretty) Population Minister Urve Palo clutching his arm.

When that was over, the economy tanked and euro adoption was delayed, and many called on Ansip to step down. But he didn’t budge. At a time when Swedish financiers were urging devaluation of the currency, Estonia underwent something called an “internal devaluation”. The real estate holdings, which had fuelled the long boom, lost much of their worth, and many people found themselves paying off mortgages that were three or four times the amount of what their apartments and houses would now sell for, but euro adoption was achieved and Estonia became “more European”, which was good. Andrus Ansip – the man who removed the controversial Stalin-era war monument – undertook an internal devaluation and led his country into the common currency at the time it degenerated into crisis. And yet he did not blink, because he knew he was leading his country in the correct direction.

“As his time in office wore on, people began to suspect that Ansip was a new Konstantin Päts, in reference to the Estonian president who led the country from 1934 to 1940.”

As his time in office wore on, people began to suspect that Ansip was a new Konstantin Päts, in reference to the Estonian president who led the country from 1934 to 1940 (a long stretch for a state so accustomed to turnover in politics, but three years short of Ansip’s reign). They even poked fun at his name, rendering it as the perverse homophone, “Undress Unzip”. And yet as much as they grumbled about a new Päts or Unzip’s “father knows best” approach to politics, the same people savoured it, because they preferred that kindel certainty to the revolving cast of characters they had known in the years prior. While Latvia burned through prime ministers Aigars Kalvītis, Ivars Godmanis, Valdis Dombrovskis and Laimdota Straujuma, Estonia had only one: Ansip. And as long as Estonians could feel they were outdoing Latvians, they could feel content about their place in the world.

Peaminister_Andrus_Ansip_(K._Kikkas)

Ansip even stayed in office for so long that the Russians forgot a bit about that Bronze Soldier thing and started doing business with him again. A border treaty, which disappeared into a puff of smoke in Putin’s chimney after some disagreements in 2005, was revived and signed anew just a few weeks ago in Moscow by Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and his Russian Federation counterpart Sergei Lavrov (who was also holding the same exact position in 2005). And then it became known that Siim Kallas, the founder of Ansip and Paet’s Reform Party, had tired of his life as a commissioner in Brussels and wanted to come back to Estonia, to lead his party in the 2015 elections. And Kallas’s desire at last prompted Ansip to do what no monument scandal, economic crisis or any other very big problem he had encountered during those long nine years could force him to do.

He resigned.

 

This article was first published on Justin Petrone’s website. Petrone’s latest book, “Mission Estonia”, is out now.

The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Adam Garrie: A museum of Estonian music is needed for Estonia and the web

Estophile Adam Garrie argues that it’s time to establish a dedicated museum of Estonian music, with an emphasis not only on rich choral traditions and modern classical, but also on a contemporary period.

When mentioning Estonian culture to international audiences, the first thing that usually comes to mind is Estonia’s rich musical tradition. Estonia’s choral music has won global fame, so much so that the former Monty Python comedian and documentary maker, Michael Palin, remarked that it didn’t take a great deal of effort to persuade an Estonian to break into song. Over the last decades of the 20th century and well into the 21st, Arvo Pärt has become the world’s most listened to orchestral composer, something which has brought a great deal of attention to Estonia’s other great modern composers, not least Heino Eller and Eduard Tubin.

Yet one aspect of Estonian music that is not given enough attention neither in Estonia nor the wider world is Estonia’s contribution to progressive rock. Although the genre was particularly unfashionable in the 1990s throughout the world, under the media radar, prog has been experiencing an international revival led by neo-progressive bands like Porcupine Tree and Muse but also thanks to prog legends like Steve Hackett taking his Genesis Revisited performances across the world as well as bands like Yes who is currently on tour playing three of its classic 1970s albums. Because of this it seems high time for the Estonian music lovers to explore just how groundbreaking so many Estonian prog bands were. Just as Pärt’s music has won fans the world over, had Estonian progressive rock been granted the global exposure it deserved at the time, people would be amazed to see how a small country, at the time occupied by the Soviet Union, was producing music which was as good as any prog rock from outside of Estonia. Ruja, of course, is something of the jewel in the crown of Estonian prog. The virtuosity of multitalented musicians like Rein Rannap, combining with the voice of Urmas Alender, who was one of the best vocalists in any genre of rock music anywhere in the world, makes for unforgettable listening. At this same time artists like Sven Grünberg with his band Mess and, later, the short lived but highly musically complex Noor Eesti (a collaborative project between Tajo Kadajas and  Rein Rannap) were all bands who could have easily got a major international record contract, had this avant-garde music been something the Soviet authorities had embraced rather than scorned and at various times officially prohibited.

Estonian creativity in this broad genre continued through the 1980s where In Spe found success with their ethereal symphonic rock. Other bands more inclined towards a jazz-rock sound included the wonderful Kaseke, and Radar. Linnu Tee’s early work saw Indrek Patte take prog into a new decade while also recording and performing in a resurgent Ruja. But it wasn’t just in progressive rock that Estonian music excelled at this time – Gunnar Graps produced a hard edged rock which still wins admiration across the former Soviet Union and Europe. The punk band Propeller, which again featured Alender, demonstrated just how versatile a vocalist he was excelling equally well in the varied styles of symphonic rock, pop ballads, punk and hard rock. The 80s also saw great success by the new-wave band Apelsin who I’d almost describe as an Estonian Talking Heads.

Photo by Kaarel Mikkin V

There are of course many more Estonian bands of the 70s and 80s whose music would surely delight people from around the world in addition to younger generations of Estonians. And this is why a museum of Estonian music is needed. Many capital cities are dotted with monuments and museums to various musical icons and Tallinn deserves no less. This proposed museum ought to cover all genres of Estonian music from traditional choral music to the present day. No period should be neglected, but certainly one special focus ought to be put on the period of the 70s and 80s as far from producing government sanctioned throw away music, Estonian rock was rebellious, highly original, musically delightful and most of it withstands the test of time better than a lot of Western European bands from the same period.

Additionally because of the difficulty of rock bands working with Melodiya Records (the only Soviet record label), a lot of the recordings of Estonian rock are difficult to find, although many of them have been released on CD and MP3 in generally pristine quality since the 1990s. Still though, as Europe’s leader in e-services, digitising as much Estonian music as possible and making it available online would help people discover a lot of Estonian’s hidden treasures.

Although music isn’t as profitable a business as it once was (not that in the USSR it ever was a “business” as such) creating a museum of Estonian music both in Tallinn and online would help raise Estonia’s profile internationally. Music is after all the universal language and the arts are one of the best ways to promote a culture globally.

In April 2014 Steve Hackett of Genesis returns to Estonia. He was one of the foremost international stars to play at the famous 1988 Tallinn rock festival. Although planning any project of this scope takes time, wouldn’t it be nice for Hackett to lay some sort of symbolic stone preparing the way for the museum? Even if it’s a digital stone, which in Estonia would be highly appropriate? I would hope that even in a time of economic austerity the project could get some support. Music is one public investment that I believe is always one worth making.

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Cover photo: Ruja, courtesy of www.ruja.ee

Adam Garrie: There is no freedom without freedom of movement

British prime minister David Cameron recently caused a furore when suggesting that in future, the immigration from poorer EU countries to the UK should be restricted, thus undermining and ignoring one of the fundamental EU principles – the free movement of workers. David Cameron also described the immigration from A8 (including Estonia) countries to the UK since 2004 as “a big mistake”. Adam Garrie argues why the prime minister is wrong on this.

David Cameron’s coalition government begun its life trying to be all things to all people and in the process has managed to disappoint and dissatisfy those on the left and right simultaneously. Recently, Cameron has been offering rhetoric on immigration seemingly designed to appeal to the readers of xenophobic newspapers in Britain. Not content with the fact that clever Indian students and wealthy Chinese businessmen have a harder time coming to Britain than to virtually any other European country, he has turned his attention to the freedom of movement enshrined in European law and woven this phenomenon into his immigration dialectic.

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First of all, Cameron did everything he could to persuade his constituents he would limit the numbers of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens from exercising their right to freedom of movement throughout the EU in 2014, although no concrete proposals have been offered, not least because any such proposals would violate EU law. Now Cameron has said that freedom of movement should, in a British context, be limited to countries with a level of wealth similar to Britain. Such limits will almost certainly not happen. Proposals like these would violate the European law which is enshrined in the statute books of every EU member state. Secondly, businesses both big and small would never stand for such retrogressive practices in an age where business is digital and global. Finally, the logistical issues involved are enough to bring down even a popular British government let alone one as unpopular as Cameron’s.

 “It’s about Estonian start-up entrepreneurs like the founders of the highly popular Transferwise being able to easily do business in London just as much as it’s about venture capital firms run by UK citizens being able to easily set up shop in Tallinn. 

At root, freedom of movement, like free trade in a geographic region, is about cooperation. Over the last several years, for example, Estonian entrepreneurs have teamed up with the UK government in order to try to deliver to UK residents the e-services Estonia offers its residents. While Estonia is not nearly as wealthy as the UK, in e-services and education Estonia is currently leaps and bounds ahead of Britain. Likewise, in terms of international business contacts, London leads all of Europe as the city where above all others international business is conducted. If Estonia wants a more global outlook in terms of business and the UK would like better e-services in the public and private sectors as well as a more modern, technology-driven education sector, cooperation between the two countries is essential. But this cooperation is not only done at a governmental level. It’s about Estonian start-up entrepreneurs like the founders of the highly popular Transferwise being able to easily do business in London just as much as it’s about venture capital firms run by UK citizens being able to easily set up shop in Tallinn. If freedom of movement were limited, such things would simply not be practical and many of Europe’s best and brightest would turn elsewhere. Anglophiles would turn to the US and Canada. Russophiles would turn to Russia and others would look further afield to India, Japan and China.

“Does Cameron want the Europe of 1953 or is he prepared to accept the much more hopeful realities of 2013?

In terms of mutually enriching the UK and Estonian societies (let alone other European countries), Cameron’s proposals are a step back to a forgotten age of corrupt border guards, mountains of paperwork and a sense that both Britain and the rest of Europe are small players in a global economic game where America, Russia and Asian powers are the real players. Does Cameron want the Europe of 1953 or is he prepared to accept the much more hopeful realities of 2013?

Furthermore, Cameron’s stereotyping of European immigrants, and this is to say A8 (Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia – countries that joined the EU in 2004) European immigrants, as “benefit tourists” is not only deeply insulting but it is also deeply false. Most A8 immigrants (and I have a feeling I know more of these people than Mr Cameron does) come to work, not to scrounge. Many I have spoken too aren’t even aware of the benefits they are entitled to as they’re not entirely bothered with doing anything apart from working, socialising and getting on with the realities of life. And this is where a more radical proposal ought to come into force. In an ideal world the EU (as legally it is not up to any member state) would limit all state benefits other than emergency service to citizens. This would satisfy those who consider EU immigrants a strain on public services in Britain and perhaps more importantly it would expose many (although certainly not all) of those opposed to the EU freedom of movement as xenophobes rather than people simply counting the costs of state expenditure. Without wanting to demean many of the good services the NHS (National Health Service in the UK – Editor) provides, far from being benefit tourists, many EU immigrants prefer to return to their home countries for medical treatment as they believe medical services in their home countries to be better than the NHS. I have heard this from Estonians, Italians, French, Danes, Austrians and Poles. Perhaps they ought to be consulted as to why they feel this way if Cameron is seriously concerned with improving the NHS. If Europe would agree to remove the prospect of non-emergency benefits from workers exercising freedom of movement, it would help create clarity in a debate where genuine concerns are often found festering in a sea of racism and parochialism.

“Cameron’s stereotyping of European immigrants, and this is to say A8 European immigrants, as “benefit tourists” is not only deeply insulting but it is also deeply false.

What’s more is, I speak not as a europhile but an internationally minded eurosceptic. I am deeply alarmed at what I see as an attempt to put a pressure on Ukraine by the EU. I am also alarmed at an undemocratic single-minded European political agenda which doesn’t account for the desires of ordinary people. I think the EU’s restricting its member states from freely trading with non-EU members to be deeply myopic. Yet I feel that freedom of trade and freedom of movement within Europe has been an economic, cultural and social success story, one which indeed could have been accomplished without the Brussels bureaucracy. Norway, Iceland and Switzerland trade freely with the EU and EU citizens can live and work in Norway, Iceland and Switzerland with a greater ease than they can in Britain as the aforementioned countries are members of the Schengen area where Britain is not. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, this simply means British airports have long and off-putting border queues for arrivals from European airports where Norway, Iceland and Switzerland do not.

So while the issue is directly connected with the EU it also transcends the EU. I believe that Britain under a leadership more enlightened than that of David Cameron could function harmoniously with Europe without being in the EU. That being said, free trade and freedom of movement are absolutely essential for any country in a small geographic region of the world with an overall declining population. Having a British referendum on EU membership is democratic and sensible but putting people who have been living in Britain for 10 years in some cases, in a position where they are fearful for their future is not only undemocratic but it is deeply inhumane and also economically foolish. Britain and Estonia bookend Europe in many ways. Britain has problems accepting the European aspect of its history just as Estonia has problems accepting the Russian aspect of its history. In this sense both countries ought to have a slightly less restful and more open-minded perspective on the possibilities which are only possible through cooperation.

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The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons.

Abdul Turay: What’s up with the people who are in charge of immigration?

What’s up with the people who are in charge of immigration? On lots of different levels and in lots of different ways, the authorities, whether they are border guards, the police, or civil servants drafting legislation, appear to be getting things horribly wrong.

This article was originally published by Abdul Turay in his blog.

I will tell three stories. They all concern immigration, are otherwise unconnected and have an underlying theme.

The first story is my own. I am aware that police officers and border guards do difficult and necessary jobs under challenging circumstances. I am also aware that the police and border guards have done good things in the past, but guys, could you please stop harassing me?

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I have been stopped three times within the last month, once in Tallinn’s Old Town, once in Kristiine shopping centre and, most recently, at the Port of Tallinn when I was returning from Sweden.

At the port, I was with my Estonian family. My niece, who is six, is scared of police. She thinks if she is naughty the police will carry her off to prison. Then she saw a policeman heading towards us. The little girl let go of my wife’s hand and fled into the crowd.

The policeman just kept on coming towards me. He so was focused on stopping me, he didn’t even notice I was part of a family group, and he had frightened away a little girl.

“Can I see your passport please?” he asked.

Up ahead of I could see two gentlemen who appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin who had also been stopped by the police.

The second story is big news in the expat community, although it didn’t have quite such an impact in the mainstream press.

Expats who run small businesses have just discovered they have to cough up more money to the tax man or leave the country.

Readers should understand most expats exist in a parallel universe, which sometimes intersects with the “real” universe in which Estonians live. They don’t know what laws are passed, even when directly affected.

The Alien Act, passed last year, requires that for a non-EU citizen to maintain their resident permit, they must earn the national average monthly wage, multiplied by a coefficient of 1.24. This is a direct result of the residence scandal, and the hysterical rush to stop “those Russians”.

The act has succeeded, as the saying goes, in “throwing the baby out with the bath water” (üle võlli keerama).

Sometimes well-intentioned laws are badly drafted. Lawyers and civil servants rush things and work on a tight deadlines. Those affected by the law feel this is what has happened here.

Louis Zezeran, the Australian owner of Comedy Estonia, is feeling the squeeze – simply put, under the new law he is forced to pay himself – and the taxman – more cash, instead of reinvesting it into his business. This means their company might go out of business.

“Both the government officials and my lawyer have confirmed that, under the new rules, my company has to pay significantly more tax to allow me to keep living in Estonia,”  he said. “I am working now, with my lawyer, to put together all the information.”

“I appreciate that we need to stop those who are running a scam; however, what worries me is that the rules for residency were changed after I was already here and after I had spent two years building up a legitimate business. I believe this could be worrying to foreign investors who look for stability in a political environment when thinking of where to invest.”

“They could have allowed anyone who is currently here to stay under the old law; however, it seems they specifically made a change to affect those already here,” Zezeran said.

For a man facing a choice between possible bankruptcy or exile from a country he has grown to love, Zezeran is remarkably sanguine. “I try to remember this is a political decision. The Estonian people have treated myself and my business very warmly and I do appreciate that.”

The last story is about Namir. He is a refugee from Afghanistan who had to flee for his life after decades of war. He had a hard childhood, losing both parents and two sisters. He had to decide whether to risk his life and his loved ones in his home city or go to another country. There is also Matata from East Congo. He lost his parents, sister and brother, and fled to a neighbouring country where he was locked up by armed men, beaten and tortured. Then there’s Abdan who fled Libya when his brother was hanged for political reasons.

You may have heard of these people before. You may have received a postcard explaining what a refugee is. There’s even a website explaining how the whole system works. But if you look closely, you will notice something is missing. There is no mention of Estonia.

Namir, Matata and Abdan are real people, although their names are fictitious. None of them came to Estonia. I have it on good authority from the Human Rights Centre that they were unable to find even one person who had been granted refugee status in Estonia who they could use to illustrate their point. In other words, out of the 67 people granted asylum in Estonia during the last 15 years, all, or almost all, have moved elsewhere, probably to Sweden.

I believe that most asylum seekers are not really refugees, but economic migrants. I worked in this field for a decade, so I have some knowledge. But that’s the point. If a person comes to Europe to make money, he goes to where the money is, as soon as he can.

Asylum seekers will not stay, they are not a problem, they are not even an issue. So why all the scary pronouncements from the Academy of Security Sciences? Why all the public angst about a problem that doesn’t exist? And, most of all, why the detention centres?

Detention centres were deliberately set up in places like Germany and the UK as deterrents. They are horrible places and deliberately so. Detainees rioted. The hope was that potential asylum seekers would hear of these detention centres and avoid these countries.

Here in Estonia, deterrents won’t work. People don’t know where Estonia is anyway. Putting asylum seekers in detention centres or prisons is not only inhuman but pointless.

The decision-makers don’t always get it wrong. As I will explain in more detail in another article, the Estonian authorities had no choice but to turn down the Afghan interpreter who claimed asylum while still in Afghanistan. Under international law, you cannot be a refugee if you are still in your country of origin.

All this brings us to the theme raised at the beginning. The debate on immigration on both sides is governed by emotion and misinformation, rather than pragmatism and facts.

Some people want to help this one man because he helped Estonia. He can’t be helped. Others want to stop refugees from swarming into the country. They won’t swarm. Still others want to make Russians pay. They are making legitimate small businesses pay. Yet others want the police and border controls to be toughened up. They are already too tough.

So it was that a policeman charged up to me at the port and demanded to see my passport. I showed him my Estonian ID card, which states that I am a permanent Estonian resident. This surprised him.

His superiors are not fools and they can tell who is in Europe without permission and wants to leave Estonia for Sweden, not the other way round. But not everybody realises this.

I believe this whole incident was a phoney public relations exercise.

Somebody, somewhere, wants onlookers to think, “look, the police are protecting our borders”. Unfortunately, what onlookers were probably thinking was “look, police are harassing that journalist who works for Postimees.” Or simply “look, they are scaring a little girl.”

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The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Mike Reiner: Estonian Startup School – a degree without a thesis

Mike Reiner, the chief of Startup Wise Guys, argues that Estonia would be an excellent place to start an alternative entrepreneurship programme.

Let me propose: a master’s programme in entrepreneurship done differently. Instead of a full curriculum and a thesis, a selection of relevant lectures/workshops and work directly related to building a business. Students would spend most of the programme in an incubator model executing their start-up with the help of experienced mentors. Based on fulfilling clearly defined KPIs (funding, number of customers, number of employees and/or revenue), the students would be awarded with a bachelor’s or master’s degree at the end of the study.

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The real underlying question here is whether we believe that entrepreneurship skills can be taught in theory or rather need to be experienced and acquired by executing building a business. I believe in the latter. With the help of experienced mentors and a quantitative measurable process, such an approach could be highly effective. Estonia would be an excellent place to start an alternative entrepreneurship programme. It would send a clear message to the rest of the world that Estonia believes in start-ups, learning by doing and the success of students learning more out in the field talking to customers and mentors than on a university bench writing papers.

When my marketing intern Robin told me this February that he felt having learned more within one month working for the Startup Wise Guys Accelerator than in two years studying, I couldn’t help but reflecting on education in general. Robin said he would quit his study in a heartbeat were it not for his mother who would surely come and hunt him down for not getting his degree. On one hand, his comment made me proud about the quality of our programme. On the other, it got me thinking how old-fashioned and possibly irrelevant many studies are. Entrepreneurship studies with sophisticated frameworks and theories have been popping up all over the world. While many of them offer a hands-on approach by demanding participants work on their start-up (idea), the vast majority still approaches entrepreneurship from a scientific viewpoint and traditional framework.

Education is crucial for the wellbeing of any society and it is sad to see that the traditional broadcasting model is still dominating. Innovative Estonian initiatives such as “the tiger leap”, or new international platforms like Khan Academy, aim to disrupt certain elements of the education chain. Stimulating kids, for instance, to study beta subjects and get them acquainted with computers and programming in their early years is great and should be done in a practical and playful manner and to a larger extent. Also more girls and women should be encouraged to study beta subjects.

Focus on learning by doing, adapt new cutting-edge learning platforms early on and mix foreign talent with local talent to further stimulate learning. When it comes to entrepreneurship – don’t just teach entrepreneurship, also facilitate and enable it!

Why not establish a 3-4-year programme:

  • Year 1: introduction. Focus on lectures, students get acquainted with all start-up principals, work out their idea and form teams to get started with real execution. Only teams with a clear business idea and approved KPIs may proceed to the next year.
  • Year 2-3(4): Teams receive a working space and dedicated mentorship. With the help of an incubator programme they go through the whole process of building a startup with help of experienced mentors. Every step is measured with a clear metrics of key success indicators. If succeeding in building a company above pre-defined thresholds (KPIs), a bachelor or master degree is awarded. If they fail, teams performance is evaluated by mentors and with a green light the individuals are asked to write a thesis on “why my start-up failed”. Given proper marketing, an interesting side-effect of this program could be a wave of international students coming to Tallinn to start their business. This would certainly expand the image of startup-friendly Estonia.

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I do realise that this is pushing the borders of our international education system but why not be bold and try to make a difference? In the end, this is really about sending a message to the rest of the world that Estonia embraces entrepreneurship and dares to do things differently. How would Estonia present itself? I can think of many ways: small and agile, daring to constantly test different initiatives, thinking global and having large ambitions. Learning fast and teach entrepreneurship students what they really need.

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Disclaimer: This article was first published by Mike Reiner on his blog: www.mikereiner.nl

The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Maive Rute: Estonia – an unhappy overachiever in democracy?

Measuring and comparing people’s quality of life and life satisfaction has given many outstanding economists serious headaches. It is generally agreed that the usual way of comparing GDP per capita does not really capture the many aspects that contribute to human satisfaction and happiness in life.

One way to explore this phenomenon is to ask people how satisfied they are with their lives. The World Values Surveys and the European Values Surveys provide us with such data. Other than people’s opinions, the other way is to compare various development indexes capturing issues such as freedom, gender equity, health, education, distribution of income, and others. Miguel Basañez, professor at Tufts University and Director of its Cultural Change Institute, has created an Integral Development Index (IDI) which aggregates the Human Development Index, the Freedom House ranking of freedom, gender equity and the GINI distribution of income. Based on the 2011 data, the IDI ranking results in a following list:

1. Sweden, score 0.906
2. Norway, score 0.905
3. Finland, score 0.885
4. Netherlands, score 0.885
5. Denmark, score 0.881
6. Germany, score 0.868
7. Iceland, score 0.877
8. Belgium, score 0.868
9. Austria, score 0.866
10. Switzerland, score 0.865

Estonia lands in an honourable 25th place, between Japan and the UK. The US ranks 35th.

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The IDI measures the solidity of the political institutions necessary for effective democracy and Estonia has made remarkable progress in a very short time. Interestingly enough, it seems that the public attitudes and values seem to take somewhat longer to catch up with these political developments. This becomes obvious when we look at the responses people give on various questions about their views and attitudes. Another aggregated index combining such responses, the Subjective Development Index (SDI), was developed based on World Values Survey outcomes on the survival versus self-expression values and traditional versus secular/rational values.

Since the World Value Surveys explore a variety of subjects to comprehend individuals’ internalised views of the outside world and their shared systems of beliefs and values, there are grounds to believe that a country’s ranking in the IDI and the SDI lists should bear great resemblance. And indeed, for 77% of the countries this is the case. Again, the SDI ranking gives us Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland on the top of the list with the people in these countries carrying strong self-expression and secular value sets.

But there are also some countries where the two indexes are far off each other. Estonia is one of them since the SDI based on people’s value systems places the country at 50th compared with the above IDI’s 25th place resulting from its democratic institutions. In their March 2009 Foreign Affairs article, Development and Democracy: What We Know about Modernization Today, Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel point out this phenomenon, calling countries such as Estonia, Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania “overachievers” in effective democracy. They put forward a hypothesis that these countries demonstrate higher levels of democracy than their publics’ values would predict thanks to the incentives provided by membership in the European Union.

I would take this line of thinking one step further and argue that besides of the possible influence of the EU membership, we are also very likely observing an outcome of a generational value shift. Since Estonia regained its independence in 1991, there has been a major generational change in political offices as well as in many private management functions. Politicians and managers who had worked under the Soviet system often lost their jobs and were replaced by young people with liberal and modern world views and democratic aspirations. Also, the government ministers were relatively young people with progressive views. Consequently, the government policies that Estonia has implemented have been more strongly pro-democracy and free market than one would guess based on public opinion polls that reflect the views of the whole population.

Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel in their book, Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democratic: The Human Development Sequence, as well as in other articles put forward the argument that the process of cultural change is not linear nor irreversible and that dramatic events may turn the course of it. They bring the collapse of the Soviet Union as an example where the ensuing economic and social insecurity resulted in a shift towards traditional and survival values.

Indeed, when I look at the survey outcomes of my native Estonia from some 15-20 years ago, the values were significantly closer to those of Russia and fell towards the survival/conservative end of the scale. Estonia was, however, a country that introduced reforms at a breakneck pace. Borrowing from Jeffry Frieden’s Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century, “Estonia and Uzbekistan were the only two countries of the former Soviet Union whose economies were roughly back to their 1989 size by 2000. They represented extremes: Estonia was the most European of the former Soviet states, Uzbekistan one of the most Muslim; Estonia was the most thoroughly reformed and democratic, Uzbekistan one of the most authoritarian and economically unchanged… Estonia succeeded because it reformed most completely, Uzbekistan because it changed almost not at all.”

Rapid changes can also be observed in people’s satisfaction with life and their general happiness. In the year 2000, with only 44% of people being satisfied with their lives, Estonia found itself in the company of Vietnam, Algeria and Egypt. It was not a big consolation that the next door neighbours Latvia and Russia seemed to have been even more miserable with only 33% and 27% of population satisfied with their lives. Then Estonia became a member of NATO and the EU in 2004 and the eurozone in 2011 which gave a strong boost to the self-confidence. The economy and incomes improved as well. By May 2012, the share of the Estonian population having reported being fully or fairly satisfied with their lives was already 69%. I believe the case of Estonia demonstrates how fast things are changing in societies that experience major historical transitions.

Modernisation theory then predicts that once a society reaches the level of approximately USD15,000 GNP per capita, it will shift to the group of countries with the highest self-expression values. These countries are characterised by giving high priority to environmental protection, tolerance of diversity and rising demands for participation in decision making in economic and political life. People in these societies place high value on self-expression and have activist political orientations. The World Cultural Map has countries such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Germany in this group of post-materialist countries.

The theory could have not been truer in the case of Estonia, which reached the magical threshold of USD15,000 GNP per capita at some point in 2011. The year 2012 marked a major societal awakening with teachers and nurses going on strikes (almost unheard of before) and citizens taking to streets to peacefully protest against regulating freedom of expression on the internet. It also marked a wave of citizen criticism of the ruling party, mostly for its supposedly arrogant handling of some sensitive public concerns and people’s requests for deeper involvement in the political system. In response to these debates, the president of Estonia created a new broad-based forum for discussing possible changes in the electoral procedures and other aspects of political life of the country. The process is still ongoing, and regular meetings have been set up in order to discuss and finalise the proposals coming from people and in order to find political solutions to these requests.

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Disclaimer:  This article gives the views of the author and not the position of the European Commission or EstonianWorld.com. It was first published by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.

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