Craig Nash, a Texan native, writes that he financially supports Estonian World because the online magazine provides an accurate read about Estonia for those who care about the country, but for whom the language is too far out of reach; he also says peoples’ desire both to have reliable information and content and to have it for free is not sustainable, and he encourages others to also step up.
In April, I was visiting with some friends from Tartu, Estonia, the way we all visit with friends these days, through a screen. We asked each other about work, our health and, of course, the coronavirus pandemic and how it was affecting our little corners of the world.
I expressed my concern over the news that a University of Tartu dormitory was the centre of an outbreak of the virus and asked if my friends knew any of the students who were infected. After informing me they didn’t yet know if any of their acquaintances were affected, they expressed surprise that I even knew about the story, because they themselves had just heard about it a few moments earlier, but also that I even cared. “It’s such a miniscule sliver of the world,” one of them said, “this dorm in Tartu, that you would be aware of and care about. Why?”
This is a common sentiment when I talk about Estonia to Estonians. They understand why they love their country but cannot quite figure out why anyone else would. Of course, this bafflement is usually centred on the nation’s smallness and remoteness. But since I first had the chance to travel to Estonia in the mid-1990s, these are the things that have always attracted me to this northern European country that has always, as the metaphor goes, punched above its weight.
The opening lines of a country song express it well – “I want to go somewhere where nobody knows/I want to know somewhere where nobody goes.” When I return to Texas from my now-yearly trips and begin to tell the stories and share the pictures, people often ask if I would consider leading a larger group on a tour to see first-hand what I love so much about Estonia. My initial interest and excitement at this prospect always fade quickly when I realise I really want to keep the secret to myself.
In 2015, my interest was stoked by Estonian World
When I was given an opportunity to return to Estonia in 2015, my interest was stoked by Estonian World, the online, English-language news source for all things Estonia. Such a source is necessary for any non-Estonian speaker who wants to know about the country because of the widely known difficulty of learning the native language.
The complexity of eesti keel (the Estonian language)is too great for even web browser’s translation tools to decipher. An example: When reading an old story about the arrest of a drunk man who climbed the arch of the footbridge over the Emajõgi (the “Mother River”) in Tartu in 2010, my computer translated the sentence, “Politsei viis mehe kainenema” as “The police led the man to lament.” I knew enough about drunk Estonians, police arrests and lament to know I would need the help of real-life people fluent in both languages to get a more accurate read on what was actually being communicated. The writers at Estonian World provide that for those of us who care about Estonia, but for whom the language is too far out of reach.
It is no secret that media outlets around the world are struggling. When information shifted from paper to screen, we stopped buying paper. When more “news” sites with varying degrees of accuracy, clarity and truthfulness began to proliferate, advertising dollars became too diffuse to keep outlets afloat, and paywalls bring about their own set of challenges. The truth is, our desire both to have reliable information and content and to have it for free is not sustainable. That model is a recipe for disaster.
I decided to act and become a patron, something I should have done years ago
For years I saw the appeals from Estonian World to its readers for support and thought to myself what I suspect most of us think to ourselves when reading such requests, “I should really think about doing that someday, but for now there’s probably enough people donating that it won’t really matter if I put it off for later.” It turns out I was not the only one who had that thought.
Most of the tens of thousands of readers of the publication were thinking the same thing, and since we are all scattered across the globe, it was easier to evade accountability for our non-action. Last week, when I heard that Estonian World was in danger of shutting down its operations, I decided to act and become a patron, something I should have done years ago.
I would like to encourage you to do the same. If we all assume someone else is going to make this work, then it is not going to work. The people at Estonian World have asked for monthly individual and corporate donations at $2, $25 or $200 levels. You can also give a one-time donation. In our high information world, it is tempting to think information is free and just comes to us out of thin air. It is time we rise above that temptation and pay these dedicated writers for their work that we consume.
Cover: An aerial shot of Tartu, Estonia. The image is illustrative. Photo by Sven Zacek.