Estonian novel suitcase company makes its way to Germany

The Estonian startup, Playluggage, that produces suitcases equipped with board games, has found a new market in Germany.

As the company is focussing on external markets, its sales managers, Leila Tamm and Martin Rungi, had travelled to Cologne, Germany, with nine suitcases in order to introduce their products to the suitcase category directors of Galeria Kaufhof, one of the largest shopping centres in Germany.

Now, according to Enterprise Estonia, Playluggage will be sold at Kaufhof stores, which are owned by the Metro Group.

Suitcases that would stand out on the airport baggage carousel

Rungi said the company’s initial idea was to produce colourful and durable suitcases that would stand out on the airport baggage carousel. The Playluggage suitcases were born after that idea was connected with the opportunity of spending one’s time in a fun way – their users can draw and play various board games on the suitcases.

An Enterprise Estonia export advisor for Germany provided the company with the necessary contact information and help for entering the German market.

Playluggage also has distributors in Finland, Italy, Spain, China and Australia, and it has plans to soon reach other European markets.

The company also has plans to move the production of its suitcases from China to Estonia in the coming years.


Images courtesy of Playluggage.

Gallery: German troops in Estonia

Germany has taken a more active role in protecting the Baltic states; currently, around 200 German troops are based in the Estonian town of Tapa.

Due to a difficult history, the post-WWII Germany avoided sending its military to foreign missions, but this policy has changed in recent decades. This year, the German armed forces saw an increase in numbers for the first time since the end of the Cold War, in response to threats posed by an aggressive Russia as well as Islamic fundamentalism, such as ISIS.

In Estonia and the Baltic states – Latvia, Lithuania – Germany has provided a rotating air defence support for years, as part of the NATO Baltic mission. The three countries have no airborne defence capability and it is left to the allied aircraft to protect their skies from “off-course” Russian jets that regularly violate their airspace. Four Luftwaffe Eurofighter jets are currently based at Ämari Air Base, Estonia.

The 200 German troops from Gebirgsjägerbrigade 23 of the Bundeswehr have served in Estonia since early summer and are due to stay until the end of September. The German soldiers are getting acquainted with the Estonian landscape and conditions and are conducting joint exercises with the Estonian defence forces. Both countries’ troops have previously served together in the Horn of Africa and currently participate in an UN-led mission in Mali.


Images courtesy of Estonian Defence Forces.

Estonian delivery startup Starship and Mercedes-Benz team up to develop ‘Robovans’

The Estonian delivery startup, Starship Technologies, and the world-famous car maker, Mercedes-Benz, have formed a partnership to develop “Robovans”, a transportation system that entails vans filled with delivery robots that autonomously deliver packages in neighbourhoods.

According to Starship, the semi-autonomous transportation system will see MB Sprinter vans act as “motherships”, hosting eight delivery robots. “The vans will drive through neighbourhoods, stopping in designated locations, based on delivery density and demand, to drop off and pick up robots to complete customer deliveries,” the company said in a statement.


“Instead of completing door-to-door delivery, the vans will drive to pre-agreed locations to load and unload goods and then dispatch the robots in the final step for on-demand delivery,” the statement said. “Upon making the customer delivery, the robots will autonomously find their way back to the van for re-loading.”

The system would enable the delivery of 400 packages every nine-hour shift, compared with 180 packages using previously available methods, an increase of over 120%, the company asserted.


“A typical van delivery today involves driving to a delivery area, and then spending an entire day on door-to-door deliveries,” the chief operating officer at Starship, Allan Martinson, said. “By leaving the door-to- door part to delivery robots, the van drivers’ productivity will significantly rise while reducing congestion on the streets and CO2 emissions.”


The robots developed by Starship are meant for delivering packages, groceries and food to consumers in a two-three-mile radius. The robots can drive autonomously while being monitored by human operators in control centres. Introduced to European and American cities since the end of last year, the robots have already driven close to 7,500 miles around the world in 12 countries and 47 cities and met over 1.2 million people without a single accident.


Images courtesy of Starship.

France and Germany take over protecting the Baltic skies

France and Germany took over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from Portugal and the United Kingdom on 31 August.

France will lead the mission until the end of the year, with four Mirage jets based at Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania, while Germany will provide four Eurofighter Typhoon that will fly out of Ämari Air Base in Estonia.

The Baltic Air Policing mission was established in 2004 to assist Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who have no airborne air defence capability of their own.

The aim of the mission is to prevent unauthorised incursion into the airspace of the Baltic states and its most frequent duty is intercepting Russian aircraft and escorting them from the area. To the west of the Baltic states’ airspace is an air corridor often used by aircraft travelling to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad from territorial Russia.

Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoons

The aircraft, alongside the pilots and the ground crews, will be on 24/7 stand-by to launch quickly in response to any unidentified aircraft approaching NATO airspace.

The latest handover of command marks the 42nd rotation for the mission, which gained extra prominence after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia’s increased military activity in the Baltic Sea region.

Apart from the Baltic states, NATO aircraft also guard the airspace of Albania and Slovenia.

Portugal and the UK guarded the skies over the Baltic airspace since May this year.


Cover: French Dassault Mirage 2000 (picture courtesy of

Angela Merkel becomes Estonian e-resident

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was presented with an Estonian e-residency card during her two-day visit to Tallinn.

Germany and Estonia have become formidable allies in recent years. Estonia has supported many European policies of Merkel’s cabinet and Germany, on the other hand, is more sympathetic than before, when it comes to security concerns and Russia.

This year has also seen a new development between the two countries – cooperation in digital affairs.

Last spring, Merkel invited the Estonian prime minister, Taavi Rõivas, to participate in a meeting of the German government. At the meeting, Rõivas presented a report on the modern state and cyber security, highlighting the Estonian e-government and the country’s experience in cyber security.


The German cabinet took an interest in e-Estonia and digital society was also on the agenda during Merkel’s visit to Tallinn, where she delivered a speech, entitled “Estonia – a pioneer in digital technology – and Germany – a global industrial power – shaping the future of Europe together”.

According to Rõivas, combined Estonia’s expertise in information technology and Germany’s industrial power could work wonders, at the time when Europe is in bad need of new stimulus and energy.

“I hope that my visit to Germany this spring and Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Tallinn lay the foundations for a specific cooperation between Estonia and Germany in IT field,” he said in a statement. “Estonian IT companies and experts are keen to cooperate with the Germans in order to find new solutions to boost our economies and improve the lives of our citizens.”

Merkel in Estonia - photo by Tauno Tõhk

In Tallinn, the German chancellor was shown the e-Estonia showroom and how some of the Estonian paperless solutions, such as the digital signature, work in reality.

Rõivas also gave Merkel an Estonian e-residency card – a state-issued, secure digital identity for non-residents that allows digital authentication and the signing of documents. Angela Merkel is Estonia’s e-resident No. 11,867.


Cover: Angela Merkel receiving her Estonian e-residency card in Tallinn, 25 August 2016. Photo by Tauno Tõhk.

Conductor Kristiina Poska turns disadvantages into advantages

Over a decade ago, Kristiina Poska, hailing from the small Estonian town of Türi, went to study in Berlin. Today she has risen to the position of kapellmeister (director of music) of the Komische Oper Berlin – the first woman to do so in the history of the opera house. In 2013, she won the most reputable conducting prize in Germany – also the first woman to ever do so. In 2015, Poska was the busiest female conductor in the world, based on performances in all genres.

The longer interview by Külli-Riin Tigasson was first published in the print version of Life in Estonia magazine.

Poska was born in a small town of Türi, the “spring capital” of Estonia, known for its flower festival. Her musical career began when she was eight years old, when she started to play the piano. After piano studies at the Türi Music School, she studied choral conducting at the Georg Ots Tallinn Music College and the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, before moving to Berlin, where she studied at the Berlin University of the Arts and at the Music Academy Hanns Eisler as well as attending classes with conductors Peter Gülke, Reinhard Goebel and Eri Klas.

A decade ago, Poska became a principal conductor of the Cappella Academica, the symphony orchestra of the Humboldt University Berlin, which gave her the opportunity of regular performances at the Konzerthaus Berlin. The 2008/09 season saw her at the Neuköllner Oper Berlin with the highly acclaimed production Ihre Bohème, which soon led to engagements at the Koblenz Theatre, the Brandenburg Theatre and, in 2010/11, to the Komische Oper Berlin for La Traviata. Poska was enthusiastically received there by both the orchestra and the audience and was immediately re-invited for a series of performances of Jacques Offenbach’s La Périchole. She was then appointed as the first kapellmeister of the Komische Oper Berlin.

In 2013, Poska won a reputable conducting award in Germany, the Deutscher Dirigentenpreis. The daily newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel, named her “one of the 25 most interesting people in Berlin in 2013”.

“Kristiina Poska has conquered the fortress which until now has belonged to men” is how the German media put it at the time.

The lush greenery, birdsong and water bodies of the Tiergarten area in Berlin, where Kristiina Poska lives, resemble Estonian nature. She loves to take long walks there and cycles to work through the park in the summer.

Poska’s eyes sparkle and she gesticulates excitedly with her hands when she speaks.

“It is definitely not an advantage to be a female conductor in the cultural landscape of Germany,” she says, and adds, “but it is important to know how to turn disadvantages into advantages.”

Why did you choose to become a conductor?

My grandpa played the piano, but there were no professional musicians in my home; there was no Beethoven playing in the background. My interest in music was abstract. I wanted to play the piano just like grandpa. I went to a music school for children. At one point, I understood that I would not become a pianist because I did not have the patience to spend five to six hours every day playing on my own. My voice was not strong enough to become a singer. But I really wanted to study music and thought I would give choir conducting a try. I must have been about 17 years old when I first saw a rehearsal of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and I was so enchanted by the sound that from then on my biggest dream was to conduct an orchestra.

What is the most complicated thing about conducting? Or do challenges change depending on your own development?

I feel things depend on where I am at a particular moment. The challenges are always changing. In the early days, I felt as if I had a guardian angel who only sent me orchestras that wished me well and guarded me from big problems that more experienced conductors often face.

What kind of big problems exist in this field of work?

There may be differences of opinion with the orchestra or there may be vocalists who are difficult to work with because they are in a world of their own and don’t pay attention to the conductor. My tasks have grown in parallel with my own growth as a conductor. I think this applies generally in life, not just in my field of work. We cannot say that a 50-60-year-old person has no more problems or challenges. There are always new ones.

Few years ago you said your challenge was to understand how various orchestras function. What was the most difficult issue for you when you got started? 

The main problem back then was me. I was blocking my own way. I had destructive thoughts and a lot of fears.

Kristiina Poska - photo by Kaupo Kikkas

At first, I was overly humbled by standing in front of people who had worked for years as musicians, who were more experienced than me. It took me a long time to understand there were other factors up there as a conductor that matter more. I also had the feeling that music was so much bigger than me, that whatever I did I was not worthy of it.

But regardless of those fears it attracted you…

I have always had the desire to make music. And at the end of the day, it is this will that counts. There are many difficulties along the way. It is also important that you want to keep at it, no matter what. The music itself is the biggest reward and I am willing to put up with any difficulties along the way for the music.

Is such determination more important than talent?

I believe so. It is necessary to have some talent, because if you don’t have a musical bone in your body, you cannot work in this field. But how far you are able to develop your talent depends on your will and your determination.

And perhaps also on courage and the ability to forgive yourself for your mistakes?

I used to constantly feel that what I did was not good enough. At one point, I decided to start thinking constructively in order to be able to develop as a human being and as a musician.

Kristiina Poska - photo by Kaupo Kikkas I

Artistic people are always full of doubt; it is an important and useful force. But when those doubts take away most of your creative energy, it is the art which suffers. The largest force is the force of your mind. Whereas earlier I had too many insecurities, these days I tend towards the other end of the scale, being too courageous. Some people say one cannot help it when one is shy. But this is not true. Behind the shyness, there is courage.

Disadvantages can be turned into advantages?

Precisely. Each and every one of us has courage; we just need to locate it. I am also convinced that each of us has opposite forces inside us: good and bad, joy and sadness, introvert and extrovert. We are the ones who decide what dominates. I am proof of that.

The conductor of an opera is the only person with his/her back to the audience. Do you think about the audience while conducting?

This may sound strange but the answer is no. I only think about the music when I conduct. It is my job, to conduct the music, to control the evening, to bring the vocalists and the orchestra together. If I fail to give this a hundred per cent of my concentration, something is wrong. There is no time for other thoughts, such as how I look or what the audience is thinking. At the opera, there is a slightly different set-up each evening, for example stand-in musicians from other orchestras who require special attention. The vocalist may be ill and replaced with someone unfamiliar with the production or someone who sings in another language. Such a vocalist may not have had the time to study the production, in which case they sing from the edge of the stage and the director’s assistant plays the role. Or if the vocalist performs, other singers have to be prepared to improvise constantly. In other words, there is always too much excitement at the opera for my thoughts to wander.

So experiences of a conductor would be useful in a textbook on organisational management?

Psychological issues always strongly influence a process. But no matter what the environment or the mood, a conductor needs to stay true to him/herself. It’s great when everything runs smoothly. But this cannot be taken for granted. Even in critical situations, the conductor must remain calm and true to herself, to do the work and to proceed from the music.

You have said in an interview that you have to become the embodiment of an emotion as a conductor.

I have to use my body to show people what I want expressed. I have to radiate those emotions out of my body. Many young conductors make the mistake of emulating someone physically, putting a mask on.

Kristiina Poska I

Everything is possible when you change into the thing you want to be. When you are determined enough, you can be who you really want to be. This is the task that we all have as human beings. Many people make excuses and say, “This is who I am, I cannot change.” Everyone can change if they want to! Many characteristics that people consider inherent are not. They are habits or patterns that have nothing to do with someone’s nature.

How much do you pay attention to critics and audience feedback in your work?

There are a couple of opera critics whose opinions I care about. But of course there are as many opinions as there are people. If you aim to please everyone, you end up losing yourself. For an artist, the only real foundation is himself. You need to proceed from your own intuition and feelings.

Kristiina Poska - photo by Kaupo Kikkas II

I have always searched for truth in music, and in most things. But I have come to realise that truth in itself does not exist. For me, truth can only exist in a moment. In music it is not possible to do something convincingly in order to please someone else. The only person I try to please is the composer.

A considerable amount of pop music is made to please somebody.

I would not compare pop music with classical music, as the former mainly has entertainment value. The function of classical music is something else. Art that is made for someone else cannot be totally sincere and this is why I do not believe in it.

You have lived in Berlin for ten years. How quickly did you adjust?

I liked Berlin from day one. There is a certain sense of freedom here. I have always liked big cities and anonymity. However, the connection to Estonia is very important to me and I may one day return to Estonia. Happiness is very much related to what we do. And creative people often go where they have a chance to make the most of their creativity.

What does a normal day look like for you?

It depends on whether I have rehearsals or a performance at the opera, whether I am travelling somewhere as a guest conductor or working from home. At the opera, the rehearsals start at 10 am. On other days, I prepare. I get up around 8, sit at my desk and work with sheet music. Sometimes I sit at the piano, analyse, do background research and read relevant literature. If possible, I go for a little walk around lunchtime.

Arvo Pärt, the Järvi family… even the main conducting prize of Germany has been awarded twice to an Estonian in the last seven years, to Mihkel Kütson in 2006. Why is it music that makes the Estonian culture famous in the world?

Estonian music is definitely something special. Sometimes it seems that it looks even more special from the outside. It is definitely closely linked to our tradition of song celebrations. Just think about how many choir singers we have, how we have sung our way to freedom twice. It is part of our identity. This not only applies to music but to all fields or art and literature. Many of my German acquaintances who like to read have expressed surprise at how many new books and poetry collections are published in the Estonian language. There are a lot for a tiny nation. Estonian people are very creative.

Kristiina Poska - photo by Kaupo Kikkas III

Regardless of the fact that it is not a financially easy choice, many people have dedicated themselves to a risky profession – to art. Perhaps it is our long and dark winters. It is also possible that Estonians who tend to be more inward-looking, look for expression in other fields.

Long winters and an endless longing that are woven into the culture? 

Yes, I think it is some Ugric yearning for something that people are not often even able to verbalise. Art, literature and music help us to cope with it.


Photos by Kaupo Kikkas and Bjørn Bertheussen, courtesy of Nordic Artists Management. Cover by Bjørn Bertheussen.

Sounds emanating love – the story of Arvo Pärt

Estonians are proud of Pärt because he is a world-famous Estonian. Fame creates respect. But when we look more closely, his compositions address everyone, attempting to appeal to that shared aspect of human kind which rises above nationality, skin colour and culture. It is as if the music wishes to say that we are all in it together. Pärt commands respect and admiration from classical music fans from around the world.

By Immo Mihkelson and Silver Tambur 

_AN48349_edit_resizeRecent years have been especially successful for the maestro. Pärt has been given the title of the world’s most performed living composer by the classical music event database,, for third year in a row. Conductor Tõnu Kaljuste won a Grammy Award in the Best Choral Performance category for his work on Pärt’s album “Adam’s Lament” at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

In addition to multiple performances around the world, Pärt’s music was performed at four sold-out concerts in the United States – two in Washington, DC, and two in New York City, including one at the world-renowned Carnegie Hall, which was also honoured by the maestro’s own attendance. In October, the Japan Art Association presented Pärt with the prestigious Praemium Imperiale cultural award. The award is considered equal to the Nobel Prize in the field of culture, and was presented to the Maestro by the patron of the association, Prince Hitachi of Japan.

A new theatrical production, premiered at the Tallinn’s Noblessner Foundry in 2015. For “Adam’s Passion”, Pärt and American theatre visionary Robert Wilson came together to create a mesmerising symbiosis, combining Pärt’s music and Wilson’s stage choreography with stunning visuals. The stage production also gave a material for no less than two documentaries that premiered this week: “The Lost Paradise” and “Adam’s Passion”.

Pärt’s name has become very influential. It stands for music which many people love. Tranquillity, sadness and selfless love emanate from the sounds of that music. It consoles and gives strength.

The road to music

Arvo Pärt was born in 1935, in the Estonian provincial town of Paide, but his parents separated and, before the onset of the war, the mother and son moved to Rakvere. The childhood and early youth of the future composer were spent in the tranquil milieu of that small town. When he started school, the Germans were still in charge in Estonia, but when he commenced his piano lessons at the age of nine, life was lived according to the directions set by the Soviet occupation regime.

Those were restless and anxious times, and left a stamp on many people. When, on Stalin’s command, tens of thousands of people were deported from Estonia to Siberia, Pärt’s close relatives were among them. This left a thorn in his soul and a strong sense of revulsion towards the foreign powers.

The young lad attended school, fooled around with his friends and became fixated on films screened in the local cinema. Music entered his life bit by bit, but from a certain point onwards it overshadowed everything else.

The radio became the focal point of his life: after all it played classical music. On Fridays, live concerts were transmitted and the young Pärt biked to the central square of the town, which had a loudspeaker attached to a post. He used to circle around that post until the end of the concerts. Today the sculpture of a boy with a bicycle on the central square in Rakvere is reminiscent of those occasions.

Arvo Pärt in Rakvere

In fact, this tale is of a person who merged with music from the word go. It is a story of the kind of love and yearning for what’s beyond the horizon, which is often much more emotionally expressed by music than by other arts. And it is also the story of Arvo Pärt’s music, music that many people all over the world feel an affinity with.

The patterns of those melodies call people back into themselves, announce a sense of inexplicable harmony and enable them to be part of or to hope for contact with something much larger. People need it. And this is what Arvo Pärt needed as he followed the call of music throughout his life.

This path was, from the start, full of joy but also twists and obstacles, temptations and suffering. The composer has said in interviews that he does not think his life has differed much from the lives of many others. We share so much with each other: our main needs and our goals are the same. In one way or another, this is what his music is about.

In the draughts of power and spirit

After graduating from school, Pärt went to Tallinn, where the best Estonian musicians and teachers worked. His wish was to become a composer. By then the city had been cleaned up of war ruins, Stalin was dead and a whiff of new-born hope was floating in the air.

In the late 1950s, Pärt’s early works first attracted attention in Tallinn, where they were approved of by older colleagues in the Union of Composers, and subsequently in Moscow. The times favoured young energy and the socialist society tried to guide it in the “right” direction. Culture also played a role in the bloodless battles of the Cold War, where competing ideologies tried to prove their supremacy to the masses on the other side. Sometimes it worked.

“Pärt’s compositions address everyone, attempting to appeal to that shared aspect of human kind which rises above nationality, skin colour and culture. It is as if the music wishes to say that we are all in it together.”

In this confrontation, every talent was seen as a future warrior and Pärt was favoured. But in Estonia, on the border of the huge red empire, the Iron Curtain was weaker and thus the echoes of modern Western composition techniques could be heard. Pärt became fascinated by them, the more so as they provided the opportunity to express his defiance of the regime. Problems soon developed, as the environment in which Pärt lived considered Western influences to be enemies. Defiance was unacceptable.

Ever since his student-time orchestral work, “Nekrolog” (1960), strong pro and contra draughts had been blowing across his path as a Soviet composer. He was praised, only to be criticised later, persecuted and favoured. Audiences were keen on his music, but the officials had their doubts.

Working as the recording director at the Estonian Radio in the 1960s taught him to listen to the fine nuances of sounds. This job probably also gave him a crash course in the psychology of musicians, which later helped him significantly in making his own special world of sound audible. Years later, Pärt said that his crooked road of searching for beauty, purity and truth – of seeking God – began in the 1960s. It was the course he chose. Even as a young man, he had high ideals and the intuitive sense that making compromises could lead to losing everything.

A new breath of life

Picture 006Around 1968, when there was anxiety throughout the world, Pärt lost faith in the contrasts and oppositions of his music. He began to look for a new shape and expression for sounds. This was a situation in which he had a general sense of what he wanted to say, but he had not yet found the right words, the shapes of sentences and rhythms of speech to express it. Pärt turned to music from earlier centuries and tried to find a way to translate the tranquillity and clarity of that old music into his own language.

This was the great turn that changed his life, both internally and externally. He got married for the second time and moved, living a modest life in a dismal housing estate on the outskirts of Tallinn. The searching years were difficult and those solitary attempts often brought only disappointments. His wife, Nora Pärt, has recalled witnessing her husband almost losing faith and seemingly considering the idea of giving up trying to be a composer.

Then came the spark that changed it all. Born one February morning in 1976, the piano piece “Für Alina” opened a new door and light poured in. Discovering tintinnabuli was a new start for Pärt in music, but the direction of his search remained the same. Tintinnabuli is often mentioned when talking about Pärt’s music. It has been called a method of composing, a unique style and a way of thinking.

There is no simple and clear definition, but many explanations have been offered. Interest in those explanations has grown in parallel with the interest in Pärt’s music all around the world. We do not know if this interest has reached its peak, but we do know for a fact that the music of this Estonian composer has been the most performed contemporary music in the world for several years running.

The call in his music has been slow to reach people, just as the music itself has a slow tempo. When Pärt left the Soviet Union in 1980 and moved to Vienna with his family, there was nothing positive waiting for him there. The foreign environment made him withdraw ever more into himself and the spiritual world of his music was just as ill-suited for that environment as for the one he had left behind. He wasn’t aware of the fact that a particular German had listened to his music on a car radio and become so excited by it that he wanted to release an album.

When Manfred Eicher and ECM released “Tabula Rasa” in the autumn of 1984, it was a real statement and marked another significant turning point. Eicher later said he believed the main piece on the album changed the awareness of music throughout the world in the late 1980s. This may sound a bit pretentious, but many people agree.

The story released by the American press, which has been cited on many occasions, tells of a journalist seeing young men with AIDS, waiting for death in a refugee centre, who listened to Pärt’s “Tabula Rasa” again and again. The sounds must have incorporated something very significant for people dealing with such a serious situation.

All is one

_AN48340_2Later many articles asked what it was that pulled people from different parts of the world, people with different skin colours, who spoke different languages and had diverse world-views, towards Pärt’s music. Many answers have been proposed and, at the same time, his music has been criticised for being light and flirting with listeners. Such comments have come from representatives of modernist music. Such reactions may have been caused by the composer’s clear desire to be on the same wavelength as his listeners, not to tire their perception with sound tangles and structures pushing their limits.

On the cover notes of the album “Tabula Rasa”, there is a beautiful comment by the composer in which he compares his music to white light, which after piercing the prism of the listener acquires different shades. From this angle, all of the elements in this music meet each other: the composer, the musicians and the audience. “Me” and “they” become “us” and things find their natural place. There is balance and order. At least in the ideal world.

Arvo Pärt has said very little to explain his clear and simple music, which aims for unity. The fewer the words, the larger the space to interpret the music. “All is one” and “one and one makes one” are two of the most typical descriptions. The first sums up his world-view generally, and the second describes the unity of the polarities of tintinnabuli.

Music crossing borders

The universe of this music is spiritual and the sounds can be seen as “religious” in a way. People often wonder why Pärt’s music communicates with people regardless of their religious confession or the lack of it, regardless of age or ethnicity. Perhaps he has been able to translate something very human into sound that crosses the borders normally separating people. We do not know; we can only accept this explanation or offer our own answers.

St Vladimir’s Seminary in the US has founded a research field called the Arvo Pärt Project and, on its website, the seminary claims to attempt to uncover the part of Pärt’s compositions which have been most in the shadow: everything linked to the Orthodox tradition. The seminary was also the organiser of the concerts of Arvo Pärt’s music that took place in Washington and New York in 2014.

Pärt’s newest piece, “Adam’s Lament”, has drawn inspiration from the Orthodox spiritual tradition. Written for choir and orchestra, the piece received acclaim at the Grammy Awards, and the BBC Music Magazine nominated the album containing this piece for its own award ceremony.

Having been kicked out of Paradise, because of sin, the story of Adam is the story of humankind, according to the composer. Pärt uses his music to tell a story that was once written down by Saint Silouan the Athonite. Actually it was made public by one of his disciples, Archimandrite Sophrony, who Arvo Pärt met in the 1980s in Essex, the UK, and who became an important guide for Pärt, perhaps even the most important source of support at that time in his life.

“I could compare my music to white light which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener.” – Arvo Pärt

The words of encouragement and teachings of Sophrony helped the composer who had relocated to the West to keep up his spirits in the foreign environment and this resulted in a lot of wonderful music. Pärt started to write the music for “Adam’s Lament” in the early 1990s and Sophrony managed to share his thoughts with the composer before his passing. But then the rough drafts remained in a drawer until a few years ago, when Pärt finalised the work and made it public. He had matured and become wiser by twenty years; he was more experienced as a composer and his sense for life was much deeper.


Whoever listens to the music and tries to touch the sounds and words with his heart, may find a hopeful message in “Adam’s Lament”. This message says that, although many things have turned out badly, each person and humankind as a whole may find their way with the help of love.

This is not the end of the road but just a signpost. A signpost to Arvo Pärt’s music.


– Born on 11 September in Paide, Estonia.

– Moved with his mother to Rakvere, Estonia.

– Rakvere Music School, piano studies with Ille Martin; first attempts at composition.

– Rakvere High School.

– Tallinn Music School, composition studies with Harri Otsa.

– Military service at Soviet Army, playing oboe, percussion and piano in the Military Band.

– Continuation of studies at music school, now with Veljo Tormis.

-Tallinn Conservatory, composition studies with Heino Eller.

– Sound Engineer at Estonian Radio.

Since 1967
– Freelance composer.

– First creative period starting with neo-classicist piano music; experiments with serial techniques, aleatoricism, collage and sonic fields. Works like Nekrolog (1960), Perpetuum mobile (1963), Collage sur B-A-C-H (1964), two symphonies (1963 and 1966), Pro et contra (1966).

– Credo, conclusion of his first creative period. In this work the confrontation between two musical worlds – Bach’s Prelude in C Major (WTC 1) and Pärt’s own dodecaphonic music attains its most dramatic expression. An open affirmation of Christian faith caused a scandal in the Soviet Estonia and the piece was immediately banned.

– New artistic reorientation. In search of a new musical language, he studied Gregorian chant, the Notre Dame School and renaissance polyphony. Pärt’s long silence was broken only by the Symphony No. 3 (1971), his sole authorised transitional work from this period.

– Für Alina is the first composition in tintinnabuli-technique (tintinnabulum – Latin for ‘little bell’), which inspires his ouvre to this day. The musical material of Pärt’s works is extremely concentrated, reduced to the essential.

– 15 tintinnabuli-compositions, including Tabula rasaCantus in Memory of Benjamin BrittenFratresSumma.
– Première of Tabula rasa in Tallinn, September 30, 1977 by Gidon Kremer (violin), Tatiana Grindenko (violin), Alfred Schnittke (piano), Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and conductor Eri Klas.

– Emigration to Vienna; contract with the publisher Universal Edition.

– Grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), moving to Berlin.

– Passio, commissioned by Bavarian Radio and premiered in Munich by the Bavarian Radio Choir, soloists, instrumental ensemble and organ, conductor Gordon Kember.

– Beginning of the creative collaboration with the CD label ECM and producer Manfred Eicher. Release of the CD Tabula rasa, which launched a whole new series of recordings under the title ECM New Series. Since then all authorised first recordings of major works with ECM.

– Stabat Mater, commissioned by Alban Berg Foundation and premiered in Vienna by the Hilliard Ensemble, Gidon Kremer (violin), Nabuko Imai (viola) and David Geringas (violoncello).
– Te Deum, premiered in Cologne by the Kölner Rundfunkchor, Kölner RSO and conductor Dennis Russell Davies.

– Miserere, commissioned by and premiered at Festival d’Eté de Seine-Maritime, Rouen, by Hilliard Ensemble, The Western Wind Chamber Choir and Instrumental Ensemble, conductor Paul Hillier.

– Eight Grammy nominations, mostly for the best contemporary composition.

– Berliner Messe, commissioned by 90. Deutschen Katolikentages Berlin and premiered in Berlin by Theatre of Voices and conductor Paul Hillier.

– Honorary membership of Royal Swedish Academy of Music, Stockholm.
– Silouans Song, commissioned by Svenska Rikskonserter and premiered in Rättvik, Sweden by Chamber Orchestra of the festival Music at Lake Siljan and conductor Karl-Ove Mannberg.

– Litany, premiered in Eugene, USA, by the Hilliard Ensemble, Oregon Bach Festival Chorus and Orchestra, conductor Helmut Rilling.

– Honorary membership of American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York.
– Dopo la vittoria, commissioned by the City of Milan in commemoration of the 1600th anniversary of the death of Saint Ambrose and premiered in Milano in 1997 by Swedish Radio Choir and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste.

– Kanon Pokajanen, composed for Cologne Cathedral’s 750-year anniversary, premiered in 1998 in Cologne Cathedral by Tõnu Kaljuste and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.

– Como cierva sedienta, commissioned by and premiered at the Festival de Música de Canarias in 1999, by Patricia Rozario, Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Okko Kamu.

– Cantique des degrés, commissioned by the Princess of Hanover for the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Rainier III, Prince of Monaco; premiered in Monaco Cathedral by Monte Carlo Opera Choir, Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste.

– Cecilia, vergine romana, commissioned by Agenzia Romana for the events of Holy Year 2000; premiered in Auditorium Roma by the Choir and Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, conductor Myung-Whun Chung.
– Receives the Herder Prize, Germany.

– Lamentate, for piano and orchestra, subtitled Homage to Anish Kapoor and his sculpture ‘Marsyas’, premiered in 2003 in London, in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall by Hélène Grimaud, London Sinfonietta and conductor Alexander Briger.

– Classic Brit Award – Contemporary Music Award for Orient & Occident
– In principio, commissioned by Diocese Graz-Seckau for the program “Graz 2003 – Culture Capital of Europe” and premiered by choir pro musica graz and Capella Istropolitana, conductor Michael Fendre.

– Da pacem Domine, a cappella work commissioned by Jordi Savall. In 2007 a recording of the piece (in collaboration with Estonian Philharmonic Choir and conductor Paul Hillier; Harmonia Mundi) wins Grammy Award as best choral recording.
– L’abbé Agathon, commissioned by l’Association l’Octuor de Violoncelles / Rencontres d’Ensembles de Violoncelles de Beauvais and premiered in Beauvais by Barbara Hendricks and Beauvais Cello Octet.

– La Sindone, commissioned by Festival Torino Settembre Musica for the Olympic Winter Games 2006 in Turin and premiered in Turin Cathedral by Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Olari Elts.
– Composer of the Year, Musical America, USA.

– Receives the Léonie Sonning Music Prize, Denmark, and composes These words…, commissioned by Léonie Sonning Music Fond and premiered by Danish National Radio SO and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste in Copenhagen.
– Symphony No. 4, ‘Los Angeles’, premiered in 2009 by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, USA. The work receives its UK premiere at the BBC Proms in 2010.
– Stabat Mater, new version for mixed choir and string orchestra, commissioned by Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich; premiered in Musikverein, Vienna, by Tonkünstler Orchester and Wiener Singverein, concuctor Kristjan Järvi.

– Adam’s Lament, commissioned by Cultural Capital Istanbul 2010 and Cultural Capital Tallinn 2011, premiered in Hagia Irene, Istanbul by Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Vox Clamantis, Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste.
– The Arvo Pärt Centre is established in Laulasmaa, Estonia, which holds composer’s personal archive.
– Celebrations of Pärt’s 75th birthday include three international conferences: „Arvo Pärt and Contemporary Spirituality Conference” at Boston University, „Arvo Pärt: Soundtrack of an Age” at London’s Southbank Centre and „The Cultural Roots of Arvo Pärt’s Music” in The Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, Tallinn.

– Returns to Estonia where he resides today.
– Classic Brit Award – Composer of the Year for Symphony No. 4.
– Honorary Doctorate of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, Vatican.
– Is elected first ever Academician for Music by the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
– Member of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Vatican.

– BBC’s one-day festival “Total Immersion” in London, dedicated to the music of Arvo Pärt.
– Estonian Music Council Composition Award.
– Prize of the International Festival Cervantino, Mexico.
– Honorary Doctorate of University of Lugano, Faculty of Theology, Switzerland.

Special program of concerts dedicated to the music of Arvo Pärt held in Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, 9 – 11 August. Kanon pokajanenTe DeumAdam’s LamentTabula rasa and Symphony No. 3 were performed among others.
During the 2013/2014 academic year, Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Tartu. Lectures on Arvo Pärt are given by Professor Toomas Siitan (Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre).

Swan-Song, new version of Littlemore Tractus for orchestra, commissioned by and to be premiered in Mozart Woche 2014, 29 January, Salzburg, by Wiener Philharmoniker and conductor Marc Minkowski.

Grammy Award in the Best Choral Performance category for CD Adam’s Lament (ECM).

Arvo Pärt is the most performed living composer in the world.

–  Praemium Imperiale cultural award, Japan Art Association.

– A new production „Adam’s Passion“ based on the music of Arvo Pärt, by Robert Wilson, one of the most well-known American theatre directors and playwrights of avant garde theatre, conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste, premiered in Tallinn, Noblessner Foundry. This spectacle is based on Pärt’s most influential music: Adam’s LamentTabula rasa and Miserere, entwined with Sequentia composed specifically for the production.

– Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Cross of Merit First Class.

– Austrian Decoration for Science and Art.

– ECM released a new album of Arvo Pärt’s music – “The Deer’s Cry” features the composer’s vocal pieces performed by Estonian vocal ensemble Vox Clamantis and conducted by Jaan-Eik Tulve.

– Arvo Pärt received an honorary degree in music from the world-renowned Oxford University in the UK.

– Pope Francis awards Arvo Pärt with the Ratzinger Prize.

– Arvo Pärt honoured by the Romanian president for the special contribution in the arts with the Cultural Merit Order.

– The US northwestern city of Portland, Oregon, held a music festival dedicated to the works of Arvo Pärt.

– Arvo Pärt awarded the Golden Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis – the highest cultural prize in Poland; in addition, the maestro was given an honorary doctorate by the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music.

– A new, Spanish-designed centre, introducing Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s creative heritage to both domestic and international visitors, opens its doors in Laulasmaa.

– ECM Records released a new album, “Arvo Pärt: The Symphonies”, featuring all four symphonies by the Estonian maestro.

– “Adam’s Passion” – a unique cooperation by Arvo Pärt and Robert Wilson premieres in Berlin.

– For the eighth year in a row. Arvo Pärt is given the title of the “world’s most performed living composer” by the classical music event database, Bachtrack.

Cover photo: Maestro Arvo Pärt after a long, long applause at the Carnegie Hall concert in New York, May 31, 2014. Credit: Eleri EverThis article was originally published in partnership with Life In Estonia magazine.

German jets take to Estonian skies to protect the Baltics

Germany will be taking over the responsibility of supporting the Baltic Air Policing mission from Ämari Air Base in Estonia. From September until end of the year, up to six Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoon jets will patrol the skies of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, in coordination with NATO fighter jets already stationed in Lithuania.

German support forms a part of the NATO collective defence reassurance, offered to the Baltic states in the light of growing security concerns in eastern Europe. Germany has taken part of the air policing mission six times before, but it is the first time that the German jets will be based at the Ämari Air Base in Estonia.

The Baltic Air Policing mission was established in 2004, to assist Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who have no airborne air defence capability of their own and was extended indefinitely in February 2012. The aim of the mission is to prevent unauthorised incursion into the airspace of the Baltic states and its most frequent duty is intercepting Russian aircraft and escorting them from the area. To the west of the Baltic states’ airspace is an air corridor often used by aircraft travelling to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad from territorial Russia.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, confirmed in her recent visit to Latvia that the German government understands the security concerns of Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians.

“Germany is ready to play its part to fulfil the understandable and warranted need for protection for the people in Latvia and other Baltic states,“ Merkel said in Riga.


Cover photo: Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoons.

Global Estonians: filmmaker Katrin Laur (Cologne, Germany)

For the “Global Estonians” feature, we have usually interviewed people who have left Estonia in the last 10-15 years, after the country regained independence and the “iron curtain” was lifted. Katrin Laur is an exception – she’s among the relatively few who managed to leave the then-Soviet Estonia in 1982. Katrin is a filmmaker and lives in Cologne, Germany. We chatted about leaving Estonia, living in Germany and the difficulties of returning to her homeland.


Katrin, what made you leave Estonia and how did you end up in Germany?

In my case I actually left the Soviet Union – Moscow – in 1982. Contrary to the popular belief, the Soviet people were not naïve, they did not believe that socialism was a great thing and the Soviet Union a splendid country, or that Estonia had voluntarily given up its independence. So I saw myself living in an occupied country, under the yoke of socialism which I disliked then as I do now and there was only one way out – to leave the country. Well, it was impossible and the newspeak expression for that was “betrayal of the socialist fatherland”. Attempting to leave without permissions to a non-Eastern Bloc state was punishable as treason. Hopefully they would not have shot people for that any more in the 1980s; perhaps sent to Siberia.

After I had finished my studies at the Moscow Film Academy I however found the opportunity to leave the Soviet Union, using the fact that I was married to a Colombian guy with whom we had studied together at the film school. We had a young daughter as well – one more reason for me to want to leave the Soviet Union as I did not want my child to grow up there. It was generally a time when many people were desperately looking for ways to leave the Soviet Union – it was not the Stalin era any more, so some opportunities were already there. Some people used their contacts with Finns and got married on paper, thus getting an opportunity to leave the country. But nobody believed in or predicted the collapse of the Soviet empire yet.

We came to Germany and decided to stay in Munich as I had read that many films were being made there. In Munich I also found out that Radio Free Europe was based there and I later worked at RFE for quite some years. In order to get the permission to stay in Germany I had to apply for political asylum which I gladly did – I was not sorry to trade in my red Soviet passport. It took two years until the decision came that I was entitled to asylum.

These first years in Germany were the most difficult years of my life. I knew that I would never see Estonia, never see my friends and relatives – it was leaving for good an burning all the bridges behind you. But it was the only way to get out of the Soviet Union at the time.

Of course, Estonia did regain its independence only nine years later and I could visit Estonia again, but the nine years had been a long time. My daughter was going to school, my life was in Germany and I did not plan to move back to Estonia at least until she was grown up.

Later I understood that I was this person who would have wanted to go experience the world anyway. If Estonia had been a normal country, I could have done so and later chosen a time to return. I am happy that young Estonians today cannot imagine what it means to experience their country as a prison.

Where have you lived since leaving Estonia?

I lived in Munich for 13 years and then moved to Berlin. During my Berlin period I also lived a couple of years in Zürich and in Schwarzwald (southwest Germany). At some point I moved back to Estonia and worked there and would have stayed if had not lost my job. Alas, Talendid koju (“Talents, come home” was a campaign in Estonia, with an aim to lure back young people who’d left the country recently, but the campaign was considered a failure -Editor) does not mean they are welcome when it comes to working and earning money. So I had to take a step back again and now I work in Cologne, Germany, trying to commute and pursue my film projects – and the “grandchildren project” – in Estonia.

What have been your greatest challenges, after moving to a new country?

My great challenge back in 1982 was that I could not go home anymore, not even for a visit; it was difficult to even place a long-distance phone call. Another thing was language – I did speak very good English, but no German. Being young I thought that it would be easy, much easier than it actually was. Well, I learnt the language but it took a few years and Germans, like almost all people, are quite narrow-minded when it comes to their language.

Today I teach German students in German and I also teach them how to write. And yet people in everyday situations mention that I am not a native speaker and almost every day offers me a tiny moment what reminds me that I am a foreigner. (In my whole life have personally witnessed only one person who was able to speak a learnt language, ie a foreign language without any accent). Looking back on my life I am maybe a little bit sorry that I did not go to the United States. For one thing – the language. And I think that in a country of immigrants people are a little bit more generous when drawing the line between “ours” and foreigners.

After language comes the code of behaviour. Every country has it and one has to be very attentive to observe how people communicate with each other and try to copy them. The best way to get “into” a country might be to marry a local. But it might be also dangerous, depends on your own nature and diplomatic abilities (normally Estonians are not very good at these).

How do you make a living and what has been your best work experience?

I am a professor for filmmaking at the Academy of Media Art in Cologne. I have also worked as a radio journalist at Radio Free Europe and I’ve been a playwright, a filmmaker and a scriptwriter. Like most people who have moved to a strange country I have also held simple jobs like working as a cleaning lady.


In 2008 I went back to Estonia to teach scriptwriting in Tallinn at the Baltic Film and Media School, until 2011. I liked it very much and the students were happy with me. However, it’s not easy to get and keep an interesting job in Estonia after you have been away for a long and do not belong to the “inner circle”. Even If you find a job, later somebody who also needs a job and belongs to the “inner circle” may turn up, so you may lose your job. I did not want to come back to Germany and would have preferred staying in Estonia but now I am here, I love my job and my students. And here I earn my living.

Making films is not a job that will feed you in Europe – with a few exceptions. Plus I would not want to make such films – in Germany it would mean films (and scripts) for TV. Teaching is much more interesting for me. Advertising was also an opportunity, but again I prefer teaching.

I do develop my own film projects in Estonia though. I have made two feature films in Estonia; “Ruudi”, which is a popular family film and “Surnuaivahi tütar” which also was very popular with the audience and at festivals. Plus I’ve made two long documentaries: “The Poet and her Time” – about the Soviet era poet Debora Vaarandi – and “Roots – Hundred Years of War and Music”. The latter is a deliberation on the meaning of a human being after leaving his native country and cultural context and being planted into a foreign soil. I recommend the film to everybody who is thinking about their own life away from Estonia. The story is based on the life of the Estonian conductor Olav Roots who, after emigrating to Sweden in 1944 lived and worked the second half of his life in Colombia.

“However, it’s not easy to get and keep an interesting job in Estonia after you have been away for a long and do not belong to the “inner circle”

I also have new, ambitious feature film projects in Estonia and I am confident that I will make at least some of them into new films. While developing the projects I finance my life by being a film professor in Germany.

What do you like most about the life in Germany and what are the downsides?

I call it my stepfatherland (sounds good in German and in Estonian). Last weekend I was in Munich where I don’t go very often. I love this town and Bavaria in general. Sitting at the Wiener Platz and the sky is blue and the dogs are trotting without leashes. And again I managed to have a clash at the registration office – a young clerk tried to deny issuing me my new German passport, for some utterly bureaucratic reasons. Things like that can also happen in Estonia, but being an Estonian you do not feel so vulnerable there.

Mostly living in Germany is quite easy and nice though… It is rougher in Tallinn, much rougher.

What do you miss most about Estonia and would you ever consider returning?

I feel much more alive in Estonia and I guess it is not only me – my daughter who grew up in Germany, and her German husband and kids, live in Estonia. They could live in Germany – they are both educated people and they would earn more money here. Yet I think there is a bigger kick in living in Estonia. I love the nature, especially the clouds and the light.

But then again, I also love my work here and living in Cologne. I think that for some time I will go on commuting between the two countries.

What do you think should be done differently in Estonia?

Estonia has one huge advantage – it is so tiny. On one hand we have just a very thin layer of culture, but at the same time it means we have no class or social strata. It doesn’t really matter if one’s rich or poor, from a town or from the countryside – if we compare how deep are the differences in other European countries. We should make it our advantage. Well, it is to a certain degree, but it’s mostly being used the other way around – to exclude those who do not belong to the “inner circle”. Estonians can be quite nasty and merciless to those who are not from their “circle”.

I think Estonians should spend more time with their children, speak with them and show their feelings. First of all fathers, and with sons! Then the next generation of Estonian men will not be so clumsy in expressing their positive feelings.

“I am also quite confident that the Soviet era is still playing an important role in the mentality of people. It is part of the Soviet heritage to think of human beings as belonging to a country and “betraying” it when leaving”

I have one important thing to say to the young generation of Estonians who live outside Estonia or are thinking about leaving. Even if you get a very good education or working experience outside Estonia – it will be difficult to return to the country. I am afraid that it is the Estonian tradition – that the door will be shut on those who have been away for a longer time. I am also quite confident that the Soviet era is still playing an important role in the mentality of people. It is part of the Soviet heritage to think of human beings as belonging to a country and “betraying” it when leaving. In today’s Estonia I don’t see many signs of a change in this mentality – if there is a job opening then a person who has contacts in the organisation will be preferred. If nobody knows you and you are coming from “outside” the chances of getting the job are scarce. The higher your qualification is, the greater is the fear to hire you. Strangely enough it is different with “real” foreigners. In the case of native Estonians envy apparently plays a serious role. So, if you imagine living your life in Estonia, which is a great country, believe me, it might be a good idea not to stay away for a long time and better study in Tartu.

Ahto Lobjakas: Estonia’s betrayal of Omar, the Pashtun interpreter

In rejecting the asylum plea of Omar, an interpreter who worked with Estonian troops in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, the Estonian government this week thumbed its nose at pretty much everything that’s been going for it in recent history.

Admittedly, it may have thought itself in good company after the British government took a similar stance. But there, the Afghan interpreters’ story hasn’t played itself quite out yet. The British courts must now decide whether the government acted lawfully. Omar, unfortunately, will have no such vibrant culture of civic activism to fall back on in Estonia. As the country’s president is fond of quipping, Estonia’s Kennel Club’ is by far the largest NGO in the country. Nor will Omar have recourse to a judiciary capable of overturning the Estonian government’s decision.

But the disadvantage at which Omar finds himself is greater — and more insidious — than being in receipt of inferior justice. Or the simple misfortune of having chanced in his quest for gainful employment upon an Eastern European ISAF nation with a relatively short history of the rule of law. The three Afghan interpreters in Britain may yet lose their case, but at least they would know Britain was pushed to the limits. Omar, on the other hand, will presumably never quite know what he was up against — or how the Estonian government allowed its agencies and ministries to play the system (and, it seems likely, the coarser prejudices of parts of Estonia’s populace) to thwart his hopes.

Although Estonian prime minister Andrus Ansip cited international custom in sidestepping questions about the grounds of the government’s decision, enough of the putative reasoning has emerged in the public domain to allow us to tentatively reconstruct the central arguments against Omar’s case — all of them are wholly spurious and specious, if indeed, jointly or severally, they did play a role.

First, it appears Estonia feared setting a precedent for other allies in Afghanistan. Yet the prime minister also said that, as is the international norm, each immigration decision is made on its individual merits without reference to ulterior circumstances. If so, we may have safely trusted our allies to reach their own conclusions irrespective of Estonia’s decision. We know already that the United States admitted dozens of Afghan personnel in 2012 and France has decided to let in at last a half of the locals who worked for it. Germany is still deliberating.

Second, by saying “yes” to Omar, Estonia would allegedly have had to open the door to some 60 more Afghan interpreters (as well as their families) who have worked with its troops over the years. The only permissible response to that is — so be it. When Estonia sent troops to Afghanistan, it did so accepting the eventual consequences of the act. The current government remains an unqualified guardian of that responsibility on behalf of the nation.

Third, it could be thought that by conceding Omar’s plea, Estonia would also admit, however tacitly, that ISAF will leave Afghanistan as a less safe and secure environment for those who work for its modernisation and democratisation. The British decision to admit some 900 Iraqi personnel after leaving Iraq is ample testimony to the fact that it is possible for a reasonable government to countenance such an admission in order to do its duty by those who stood beside it, risking life and limb.

Besides, Afghanistan’s increasing instability is attested by the tens of thousands of Afghans who are voting with their feet and leaving the country. In 2012, more than 30000 applied for asylum in EU countries. The emperor has no clothes, period.

In any case, the “individual threat assessment” the Estonian authorities said would be carried out in respect of Omar’s prospects in Helmand can have been nothing but a laughable exercise in self-delusion. No Estonian soldier may set foot in any Afghan setting as a civilian. Estonian diplomatic personnel travel around under 24-hour military guard. How would such an “assessment” even begin to be carried out?

One suspects it may have amounted to little more than accepting the public assurances of president Hamid Karzai, who, touring Estonia last week, said he would be staying in Afghanistan after the end of his tenure in 2014 “in the house the government’s building for me.” Karzai’s eccentric confidence in Afghanistan’s stability after the NATO pullout in 2014 would hardly count as evidence towards any balanced assessment. Of course, Omar may just have been plain unlucky — Estonian authorities may simply not have had it in them to publicly contradict Karzai.

Whatever the reasoning, one can only agree with Ahmed Rashid who, in comments ahead of the Estonian decision was made public, said that by denying Omar and his colleagues asylum, Estonia (and by extension other NATO allies) would be committing “a huge betrayal.” The author of “The Taliban”, a book which has sold more than 1.5 million copies, should know.

As an Estonian, however, I know Estonia’s betrayal went further. I’m ashamed that the leaders of my country, tens of thousands of whose citizens found asylum in Western Europe and North America in the wake of World War II, did not know historical justice when it stared them in the face. I’m ashamed that the leaders of my small country, which relies for protection and economic aid on the goodness of larger forces, did not know right from wrong.

And I hope against hope that the decision to deny Omar asylum had nothing to do with the increasingly poisoned immigration (and diversity) debate gripping Estonia (and many other European nations, particularly in the east) — a debate which is often racist, ignorant, and, on occasion, downright paranoid.


The opinions in this article are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Estonian World Webzine.

Scroll to Top