Dear Estonian World readers and followers,
First of all, on behalf of the Estonian World team, I would like to take this opportunity and thank again everyone who has become our reader and follower in last four months, since we started.
Estonian World was established by few like-minded Estonians living abroad, the main team being based in London, UK. So why an English website, writing about Estonians and Estonia? It’s a question that has been asked from us many times in last four months – although the tone of the questioners has been rather pleasantly surprised one, thankfully.
To give you an idea, let me shed some light into philosophy that prompted the creation of this webzine.
From a granary of Moscow to darling of the West
When I arrived to London more than 10 years ago, Estonia was already on a map of free, liberal Europe. Regaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it had been fortunate to have successive pro-reform governments, which had turned Estonia successfully toward West, implementing changes and applying for the membership of the European Union and NATO.
Yet in the early 2000’s Estonia was not yet a member of the EU and for example, many British people didn’t have a clue where it was located, let alone knew anything positive about it. There were many instances when people confused it with former Yugoslavian countries or thought that Estonians speak Russian.
As I have recently heard from many Estonians living abroad, it turns out that I wasn’t the only one stubbornly explaining to those willing to listen, that Estonia is “a Nordic country, similar to Finland”, rather than Slavic country in “Eastern Europe”. And let me stress here that I didn’t carry any prejudice against Latvians, Lithuanians, Polish, Ukrainians, or Russians. Unfortunately this prejudice against “Eastern European” countries was, and still is, carried by many citizens and some media outlets in “Old Europe”. So it made perfectly sense to distant Estonia from the rest and in many ways deservedly so.
Just until about 6-7 years ago, there wasn’t much to talk about, when someone in abroad asked about Estonia, or what was Estonia famous for. The exception could be when someone knew about Arvo Pärt (my biggest surprise was when a captain of the steamboat on Ullswater lake in England´s Lake District turned out to be a massive fan of Pärt, having collected all of his records) or supermodel Carmen Kass (posters featuring her as a “golden girl” for Christian Dior´ J´adore campaign in early 2000´s certainly turned some heads even in London´s underground system).
It all started to change in 2004, when Estonia joined the European Union. Low cost airlines started to fly to Estonia and more and more people beside Swedes and Finns got to know us by visiting the beautiful Old Town of Tallinn. The positive image was cultivated by interested journalists and media outlets, such as The Economist, praising the economic reforms and entrepreneurial spirit surrounding Estonia.
Ironically, when the economic crisis of 2008 brought many countries, such as Ireland and Greece, to their knees, Estonia´s global image was strengthened further. Taking part of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan also helped along. As Edward Lucas, the international editor of The Economist, told to us in one of the first articles that we published back in July, Estonia became “an insider” and was not an “outsider” anymore.
The birth of an IT-tiger
Suddenly there was also another word on people´s lips: Skype. At first, only handful of tech geeks or few enlightened entrepreneurs and those in business knew that this internet telephony company was started in Estonia, but a global snowball effect gradually got hold of more and more minds. Skype-effect gave a kick to a generation of entrepreneurs whose aspiration did not end with the borders of Estonia, or Helsinki and Riga at best.
These Estonians were now thinking global. Almost overnight, you could read about another aspiring start-up stemming from Estonia on TechCrunch, Wired Magazine, or Wall Street Journal. Estonians are currently behind more start-up businesses per capita than any other nation in Europe. As the vice-chair of all party parliamentary group of British Parliament, Sir Malcolm Bruce, recently told us – Estonia is punching above its weight.
This global approach is accompanied by aspiring artists, photographers, musicians, dancers, actors-actresses making their way in London, New York, Berlin, Paris, Rio, Tokyo.
So there you go – we now have global Estonian companies and global Estonians to talk about, and to talk to. There were increasingly others in the world writing about Estonia – we wanted us to write about us.
Estonians remain Estonians everywhere
Although it´s a short time, in four months we have already gathered from the interviews and feature stories that most of these cosmopolitans have not forgotten Estonia. They don’t agree that once they have left Estonia, they have got nothing to do with the country anymore. They don’t understand the question that is sometimes put forward by people back in Estonia: ”Will you ever come back?”
In a way, they have never left – just that the world is increasingly global and people travel and conduct their business more freely than ever. They carry at least some traditions with them; they follow Estonian media, listen to Estonian music, and miss at least some things. Even if not necessarily happy with some developments in Estonia, even if they have had some negative experiences back home, most of them still proudly promote their country to foreigners. And last, but not least – very few would definitely rule out a return to their homeland, eventually.
EW as a global focal point
Increasingly, there are also people around the world who have done or doing business with Estonia, or who follow her culture and affairs – and prefer to gain deeper insights than just short news stories. EW is in English, so that as many people as possible can read about this little country and its people punching above their weight.
Where we look from, Estonia is not a tiny Russian enclave, nor a province of Scandinavia – but rather a country on the 58th parallel north, between Asia-Europe long haul flights, with the most cyber-freedom of any in the world. Country, which is geographically small, but “thinking big”, as first encouraged by notable folklorist Jacob Hurt in the 19th century.
These are the reasons why we created Estonian World webzine – not to be a nationalistic or political voice waving with flags, but rather to be a global focal point for Estonians, and for those interested in the development of Estonia, be it a technology, business, or culture.
EW is fair and balanced – and forward looking
I would hereby also underline the fact that EW is not funded by, nor represents any political party or pressure group. It was set up by young, positively minded individuals who genuinely care and are proud of Estonia.
We have indeed opened up an opinion section, but as an English site, will avoid publishing anything that would undermine the national interests of Estonia and its people. At the same time, EW is not an Estonian government´s voice on the world stage.
As most of our contributors live outside Estonia, from Britain to United States to Germany to Japan, it´s inevitable that from time to time we would see things from a different perspective, or that we would let someone´s voice to be heard, whose opinion is not necessarily welcomed and liked by everyone. For example, living in modern, tolerant societies, it´s hard to accept and tolerate the fact that some politicians in Estonia still degrade fellow female colleagues, or that a member of parliament offends minorities without consequences.
The world is an intertwined one – it did not start, nor will it end in Estonia.
Estonian World is here to stay and we hope that you’ll enjoy reading it more and more – there will be many more exciting features to come!
Cover image by Eiko Ojala (the image is illustrative.) Please consider making a donation for the continuous improvement of our publication.