multicultural Estonia

Estonian women’s épée team victorious at the 2017 World Fencing Championships

The Estonian team won the women’s épée battle at the World Fencing Championships in Leipzig, beating China.

Team Estonia emerged victorious in the German town of Leipzig that hosted the most important fencing event in the world. The Estonian épée fencers – Irina Embrich, Julia Beljayeva, Kristina Kuusk and Erika Kirpu – demonstrated some power and agility and became world champions on 26 July.

The Estonian women’s épée team faced China in the final. The Estonian women had already gained a lead in the third bout and kept it continuously and with 45:33 hits, they took the gold medal.

The Estonian women’s épée team has had outstanding results before, winning the silver medal at the World Fencing Championship in 2014, but in Leipzig they became for the first time world champions. “Today, we are the best in the world,” Irina Embrich, the team’s leader, said.

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Cover: The victorious Estonian team (photo by Bizzi Trifiletti/images courtesy of World Fencing Championships and Fencing Estonia.)

Three challenges to Estonia’s development at the age of migration – Tiit Tammaru

Tiit Tammaru, the editor-in-chief of the Estonian human development report, “Estonia at the Age of Migration”, writes that Estonia’s three main challenges are coping with migration dependence, adaptation to multi-nationality and an increase in social cohesion.

The theme of the Estonian human development report 2016/2017 is “Estonia at the Age of Migration”. Social scientists have referred to the 21st century as the migration era, as the number of people living outside of their birth country is greater than ever before. According to the data from the United Nations, this number has grown from 190 million in 1990-2015 to 244 million today, 3.3% of the world’s population.

Also, the nature of migration has changed, and its reasons and forms are more manifold than ever before. At the same time, migration has one overarching essential feature – the inclination towards welfare. In Estonia, welfare has increased and we have become more attractive to immigrants. Also, the interest of employers in the recruitment of external staff has grown substantially in recent years. What kinds of challenges will the migration era and immigration present to Estonia’s development? In the report, the following most important conclusions on migration and integration have been summarised.

  • Estonia’s development has two sides: welfare has increased greatly, but it continues to be unevenly distributed. The growth of welfare measured against the human development index (health, education, wealth) is one of the biggest in Europe within the last 25 years, after Croatia and Ireland. At the same time, inequalities are still significant and also one of the highest in Europe, according to the Gini coefficient.
  • Migration reverse is taking place in Estonia. The fact that not all of Estonia’s people, especially residents of peripheries and unskilled blue-collar workers, are in receipt of a sufficient portion of the increase in welfare is causing continuous and extensive emigration. With the growth of welfare, immigration has also increased, especially since accession to the European Union (the figure below the text relates to this result ). In 2015, for the first time in the last 25 years, the number of people arriving in Estonia surpassed the number of people departing.
  • Estonia’s population will remain at the present level if the birth rate grows and there are more arrivals than exits. We refer to this as migration dependence. In particular, migration dependence can be felt sharply in the labour market, because even if the birth rate increases, the children being born today would only reach the labour market after 25 years.
  • The report also reaches the conclusion that the social links between the Estonian-speaking and Russian-speaking communities are still deficient. Common Estonian kindergartens and schools can be triggers of integration with the labour market its promoter, and the success of integration can be measured if people of different nationalities choose and are able to live in the same communities.
  • The territories of the states, residential places and commercial spaces do not converge in the open world. The same is true of Estonia, where mutually closely communicating communities and people are located in Estonia as well as abroad. Also, many Estonian enterprises have become international, and there are ever more companies that specify their home market as international from the moment of establishing.

Development of many companies depends on immigration and the wellbeing of many people depends on working abroad

  • In its twenty-five years of post-occupation independence, Estonia’s population has decreased by 250,000 people. At least 200,000 Estonians are living abroad who are communicating more or less with their relatives and friends who have remained in Estonia. Approximately 30,000 Estonian residents are working abroad.
  • In terms of continuation of the present birth rate, about 440,000 people should immigrate by the end of the 21st century in order to maintain Estonia’s population size.
  • Even if a half of these 200,000 Estonians who are living elsewhere in the world would return to Estonia, the proportion of Estonians may drop lower than at the end of the Soviet era, if the figure is based on immigration alone.
  • The continuity of Estonia’s population size in the 21st century at a level comparable to that of today will also be secured by an increase in the birth rate of up to two children per one woman and a positive migration balance of 200,000 people. In this scenario, the number of working-age people would decrease due to the ageing of the Estonian population.
  • Estonia’s migration balance turned positive in 2015 due to the arrival of people from outside the EU. Estonia is losing people to other EU countries, but within Europe the nature of migration has changed: there is a significant amount of temporary migration and people maintain close links with their former homeland. We refer to this as multi-nationality.

Therefore, the population of Estonia would not be smaller than at the present by the end of the 21st century if the following two conditions would be satisfied: the birth rate would increase and there will be more arrivals than exits. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to contribute to family policy as well as migration policy.

Estonia’s migration policy has already softened significantly, but the decrease in the number of employees is rising year on year, and it is increasingly the wish of employers to recruit labour from outside the EU. At the same time, the activities of our own people and enterprises have become international. The opportunities that accompany multi-nationality are often characterised as “triple victory”: the country of departure (for example, Estonia) will receive work and money for its residents, the country of destination (for example, Finland) will receive a good employee, and the individual will get a better salary and new experience.

Multi-nationality is also expanding our understanding of migration, integration and state. From the viewpoint of the country of departure it is good if people living, studying or working abroad maintain close relations with their homeland, keep the citizenship of their country of departure, establish societies and schools in their countries of destination, follow the media of the country of departure and communicate actively with co-nationals in their homeland.

However, this may become a problem for the accepting country, if strong homeland and community relations are not balanced by integration into the society of the country of destination and people continue to live within the information and media space of their former homeland.

There’s a high probability that Estonia must consider the continuous decrease of its population as well as of employees within the next couple of decades – the latter is boosted by people’s wish to work abroad. In order to avoid a decrease in the number of employees, a much greater amount of immigrants will be needed than Estonian society would be able to integrate.

This means the labour force problems must be solved by means of different measures, not immigration alone. The movement of companies higher in value chain is important. We also need new and suitable approaches to forming integration, the labour market, taxation and social care policies.

Estonia’s integration policy requires reconsideration

  • Estonia has become more a country of Estonians within the last 25 years and such a situation differs from most other European countries. The positive migration balance of recent years with countries outside of the EU will gradually increase the proportion of people of other nationalities in Estonia again. The geography of the new immigrants is wide, but they are mostly arriving from Russia and Ukraine.
  • The kindergarten and school system that is dividing children continuously into parallel worlds on the basis of the Estonian and Russian languages causes inequality between the residents of Estonia and influences the integration of new immigrants. People arriving from Russia and Ukraine meet their common Russian-language environment in Estonia, including Russian-language kindergartens and schools.
  • Within the last 25 years, Estonians have progressed quicker to higher career levels than Russian-speaking people. As a result, the income of Estonians is also bigger.
  • In virtue of the difference in incomes, Russian-speaking people cannot afford to purchase homes in the same areas as Estonians. In addition, the location of Russian-language kindergartens and schools influences the choice of places of residence Russian-speaking people.
  • According to the data from the Programme for International Student Assessment, the performance of pupils in Russian-language schools is lower than that of Estonian-language schools. The proportion of people with higher education is smaller within young Russian-speaking people than among Estonians.

The current approach based on language teaching has not increased the coherence of society, and Estonian language skills remain passive within many Russian-speaking people, as life, study and work as communities are defined by language. With a segregated educational system commencing from kindergarten, young people do not have common communication networks or even a common information space.

For example, Russian-language kindergartens and schools have remained closed on the basis of language, very few Estonians go to Russian-speaking kindergartens or schools, and there are also Russian-speaking children in Estonian-speaking kindergartens and schools.

Social cohesion can also be increased by supporting communication between different language groups in addition to attaching importance to the Estonian language. The state can initiate changes most effectively via education. The common Estonian school system cannot emerge simply with the closing of Russian-language schools, as this would raise high tensions. Learning must rely on the Estonian language, but it must consider the linguistic and cultural diversity of the residents of Estonia.

“Social cohesion can also be increased by supporting communication between different language groups in addition to attaching importance to the Estonian language.”

The solution must involve families and communities in addition to education. Fears and conflicts are a natural part of integration. These main fears must be dealt systematically, such as the fear of national conflicts at school, fear of mixing of identities and fears of the parents of Russian children diminishing the performance of schools.

The future

Three important challenges of Estonia’s development for the next couple of decades include coping with migration dependence, adaptation to multi-nationality and an increase in the cohesion of the society.

The population of Estonia will decrease if migration does not come about. The assessment of the integration capacity of the arriving people through recruiting a foreign labour force will mitigate future problems. As a basis for labour migration, an innovative points system should be considered, whereby the capabilities of all persons applying for work in Estonia would be assessed from the viewpoint of the needs of the labour market (spread in the European countries) as well as of integration (spread in North America). People who achieve a sufficient number of points are welcome in Estonia. The consideration of integration capacity would increase the confidence of the Estonian people and would allay the fears related to migration.

“The population of Estonia will decrease if migration does not come about.”

The nature of migration has changed within Europe and it is necessary to adjust to multi-nationality, or the situation whereby people are roaming temporarily or are operating simultaneously in several countries. The biggest challenge for countries in relation to multi-nationality would be in cases where territory and citizenry would not coincide.

To whom belong the people living in a multinational world in terms of political, citizenship, taxation or social security? How much property should be owned or taxes paid in a homeland, winter home or country of work to be eligible, for example, to the right to vote? It is necessary to start to deal with these issues systematically.

In order to deal with Estonia’s three challenges of the migration era, coordinated activities are required – migration, multi-nationality and integration policies form an integral whole. Estonia’s previous governments have concentrated on the development of a favourable economic environment, including the development of a physical infrastructure, proceeding from the understanding that economy prosperity would also bring happiness to other areas of life.

Economy is very important, but society is a much more multi-layered phenomenon. The main challenge of the governments of 21st century Estonia is to contribute to the development of people. This challenge also concerns schools, communities and companies. Estonian companies are strong if they are well attuned to global supply chains and provide smart working places. The state can offer support to companies and take the lead in changes.

“Estonian companies are strong if they are well attuned to global supply chains and provide smart working places.”

To this end, a well-advised innovation system is required that would contribute to creativity from kindergarten, with the inception of manifold linguistic-cultural baggage that suits the migration era and the acquisition of technological literacy required for the digital era across all sectors of society and nation groups living in Estonia.

You can read the Estonian human development report in full on its website.

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The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Petteri Lyytinen: A more-extroverted-than average Finn appreciating less bureaucracy in Estonia

Petteri Lyytinen, a Finnish entrepreneur, says that while there are many similarities between Finland and Estonia, the differences matter – so much so that he chose Estonian capital Tallinn as his new home.

This article is published as part of a new project within the EU-Russia studies programme at the University of Tartu that analyses personal stories based on people’s experience of living in Estonia.

Petteri Lyytinen, running an IT company Baltest, shares how moving to Estonia was a practical choice for his business and life. Originally from Lahti, Finland, Lyytinen moved to Tallinn four and a half years ago with plans to start his own business in the more entrepreneur-friendly Estonia. “I’m allergic to bureaucracy and the Finnish bureaucracy for entrepreneurs is just ridiculous. It’s painfully absurd in many areas.”

Now, after living here with his wife and two rescue dogs for quite some time, Lyytinen points out several similarities and differences between Estonia and Finland that extend much further than just the business culture. While several aspects of life in Estonia have proven to be, as Lyytinen expected, quite similar to the life in Finland, he mentions some distinct differences between the average Estonian and the average Finn.

Car drivers respect the pedestrians, but are prone to tailgating

The first shock was how respectful Estonian drivers were towards pedestrians. “I was totally baffled at first when I was not even crossing the street yet and the cars are stopping already. Except if they have Finnish plates of course.” Conversely, he points out that, in Estonia, drivers don’t give each other enough space or use turn signals to respect fellow drivers as they would in Finland. “So the car drivers respect the pedestrians, but not fellow drivers.”

He also says that the attitudes are noticeably different. “Estonia is significantly more ‘European’ than Finland and much, much less like a ‘Nordic’ country in terms of attitude.” When asked to elaborate what he means by “attitudes”, Lyytinen mentions that “status” and “image” seem to be much more important overall in Estonia than in Finland. In general, he notes that brand names of cars and whisky or prestigious dog breeds seem to matter much more in Tallinn than they would for most in Finland.

On a more positive note, Lyytinen appreciates the easy accessibility of services in Estonia and the more relaxed public attitudes. “The government in Estonia is not patronising you in everything you do. They are not saying that ‘if it’s not specifically allowed then it’s clearly forbidden’ as they tend to do in Finland.”

Take things step-by-step when befriending Estonians

As a Finn, the language in Estonia has not been much of a barrier for Lyytinen and his wife. Although they are both learning Estonian, Lyytinen recalls he has had some “pretty interesting conversations that are part Finnish, part Estonian, part English and part waiving hands”. He stresses how important he feels it is for Finnish people visiting Estonia to be respectful and to try to communicate a few words in Estonian. “After only three weeks living in Tallinn, I came to the conclusion that the single most annoying thing here is a drunken Finnish tourist. And I still feel that way.”

Tourists aside, Lyytinen hasn’t found it particularly difficult to find friends in the local community. Even though he claims to be “un-Finnish” by the fact that he is more extroverted than most Finns, he maintains that, when it comes to befriending Estonians, “it’s how you approach the situation”. In general, Estonians and Finns are both “a bit more of the introvert type and they might be quite gloomy”. His advice to meeting and befriending Estonians is to take things step-by-step. “If you meet a more introverted Estonian, it might not be a good idea to adopt an American barge in all the way, I’m your friend approach. Don’t overwhelm the other person.”

Just 76 kilometres away, but a world of difference

A great deal of things have changed for Lyytinen and his wife in the time that they have lived in Tallinn. He successfully started his own business and has hopes of expanding, the couple took in two cute rescue puppies, and now they are looking to buy a house and make Tallinn their home base. When asked the final question – whether living here has made him “kind of Estonian” – Lyytinen notes that there were several differences, but he couldn’t tell if these were a result of living in Estonia or starting his own business.

Regardless of the change resulting from living in Estonia, Lyytinen would warmly recommend moving here to other Finns, especially entrepreneurs. “For a low wage worker,” he says, “it’s much better to work in Finland, but for an entrepreneur, Estonia is the better choice because it’s easier and lighter in terms of taxation and bureaucracy and has a more relaxed attitude. It’s just 76 kilometres away [from Helsinki], but a world of difference, so there are many good reasons to come here.”

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Multicultural society within Estonia

The article is published as part of a project aimed at describing the multicultural society within Estonia – identities and integration in the Estonian cultural and political society. The goal is to collect a wide range of stories about non-native residents who call Estonia their home – individuals with diverse backgrounds who live, work or study in the country.

There is one thing common, however – they all claim some form of Estonian identity: be it national or cultural. These groups include, for example, the young generation of Russians, business professionals or academic individuals who may struggle with their identity and integration into the Estonian society. The master’s students at the programme have now conducted 30 interviews. Estonian World will publish a number of these personal stories to give our readers hindsight of people’s lives.

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Petteri Lyytinen was interviewed by Heidi Erbsen. Cover: Finland and Estonia on map.

A Ukrainian in Estonia: Knowing at least a couple of words in Estonian is respectful

Liudmyla Petrychenko, a second year master’s student from Ukraine, has had pleasant experiences with the Estonian people and less pleasant experiences with Estonian immigration bureaucracy.

A new project within the EU-Russia studies programme at the University of Tartu analyses personal stories that are based on people’s experience of living in Estonia.

The project is aimed at describing the multicultural society within Estonia – identities and integration in the Estonian cultural and political society. The goal is to collect a wide range of stories about non-native residents who call Estonia their home – individuals with diverse backgrounds who live, work or study in the country.

There is one thing common, however – they all claim some form of Estonian identity: be it national or cultural. These groups include, for example, the young generation of Russians, business professionals or academic individuals who may struggle with their identity and integration into the Estonian society. The master’s students at the programme have now conducted 30 interviews. Over the coming months, Estonian World will publish a number of these personal stories to give our readers hindsight of people’s lives.

People represent their country, not government

Originally from southern Ukraine, Liudmyla Petrychenko (33) came to Estonia in the summer of 2015 to study at the University of Tartu in the Baltic Sea Region programme. She found out about the university and its courses by chance on the web and decided to apply for her current programme. Today, Liudmyla is content with her life in Estonia. Because it covers many historical, political and cultural aspects of the Baltic states, her study programme has helped her discover and understand the country in which she lives.

“It is 100% necessary to know about the history and traditions of the country where we live. Educated people should know their own history as well as that of its neighbours. Estonians are really friendly and interesting. I like their positivity, creativity and their personal responsibility which also surprised me,” she says.

There is also another important aspect that helped Liudmyla create a bond with the native population: she found a big support among Estonians regarding the war in Ukraine. What she appreciates the most about locals is the fact that they do not consider Ukraine for the government it has, but for the people that live there. “I have visited many European countries but when I came to Estonia, I realised that the people of this small country are different from what I have seen before. They understand that I represent my country and not my government. This is unique.”

Being a non-native in Tartu

Petrychenko feels that to communicate with locals it does not require any specific knowledge of Estonian because everybody understands and speaks English and Russian. However, during the first semester, she attended an Estonian language course for beginners to learn some basic and helpful expressions. “I took the 0 –A1.1 level of course, because I believe that knowing at least a couple of words in Estonian is respectful towards the host country. It was quite hard to practice though, because as soon locals understand that you are a foreigner, they immediately switch to English or Russian.”

Despite the difficulty to improve her Estonian language skills, being a foreigner in Tartu does not represent a problem for her: she does not feel socially excluded, she takes part in many events inside and outside the university, and she also had a job during the first semester. Regarding the job experience, she admits that it was hard to work while still being a student. “I quit my job because I could not make it. I was working at home for a Ukrainian company, but it is not possible to combine your job with your courses, exercises, study etc. I found it very stressful.”

Estonian bureaucracy is slow

As a Ukrainian, she has, however, found several differences with Estonians, especially in “thoughts and perception of the world” as well as in education system and lifestyle. And she concedes she sometimes faces hard moments.

The main problem she has had concerns the Estonian visa. According to Liudmyla’s experience, Estonian bureaucracy takes a long time to issue a necessary document. She faced the usual worries just before last Christmas. “I was waiting for my new identification card, even though the deadline was at the beginning of December. I couldn’t even go home for Christmas, while my daughter was waiting to celebrate it with her mom. Can you imagine how tragic could that be?”

Liudmyla Petrychenko doesn’t hide her feeling that institutionally, Estonia still considers Ukraine as a sort of third world country. However, being surrounded by a multicultural atmosphere helps her a lot in coping with everyday life.

When asking her whether she will stay in Estonia after her graduation, Liudmyla hesitates and says that she cannot give a definitive answer right now. “Estonia is great, but I do not stick myself to a country. I want to find a job that I will like and depending where I will find it, there I will move.”

 

Liudmyla Petrychenko was interviewed by Elisa Ceconi. Cover: Liudmyla Petrychenko. Read also: Born in Kohtla-Järve: I do not feel either Russian or Estonian.

Born in Kohtla-Järve: I do not feel either Russian or Estonian

Despite the fact that 23-year-old Nikita, born into a Russian-speaking family in Estonia, speaks fluent Estonian, studied for his bachelor’s degree in Estonian, served in the country’s military and holds an Estonian passport, he still feels unwelcome in Estonia.

A new project within the EU-Russia studies programme at the University of Tartu analyses personal stories that are based on people’s experience of living in Estonia.

The project is aimed at describing the multicultural society within Estonia – identities and integration in the Estonian cultural and political society. The goal is to collect a wide range of stories about non-native residents who call Estonia their home – individuals with diverse backgrounds who live, work or study in the country.

There is one thing common, however – they all claim some form of Estonian identity: be it national or cultural. These groups include, for example, the young generation of Russians, business professionals or academic individuals who may struggle with their identity and integration into Estonian society. The master’s students at the programme have now conducted 30 interviews. Over the coming months, Estonian World will publish a number of these personal stories to give our readers hindsight of people’s lives.

The first story comes from 23-year-old Nikita, who was born into a Russian-speaking family in Kohtla-Järve, a town in northeastern Estonia. His father was born in Estonia, however his parents met each other while studying medicine in the city of Petrozavodsk in Russia, and eventually moved to Estonia. Being born and raised in Estonia, he is deeply attached to his motherland. However, from time to time he feels unwelcomed here and he does not like to discuss it.

The only Russian in the group

I graduated from a Russian school and grew up surrounded by Russian speakers. So, of course, I soaked up some values and views from Russian culture and literature. However, when my parents divorced, my mother married an Estonian man, so I spoke the language with him and my skills were improving.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time in a remote village in southern Estonia, where our relatives live. They do not speak any Russian there. So, little by little I overcame the language barrier and began to speak Estonian. I also started watching movies and reading books in the Estonian language more often. In high school, the language programme they taught was not sufficient by itself. Yet before graduation, I passed the state language proficiency test at the highest level. So after school, I was able to apply for the Tallinn University of Technology, where I was the only Russian in the group.

A deep divide between Estonians and Russians

I think our country has a deep divide between Estonians and Russians. Those who do not speak the state language are not accepted and remain isolated from the Estonian society. Many are not able to work or find a profession. The penalty for not knowing Estonian, while working in the public service, can be a fine or even losing your job. For example, my Russian language and literature teacher in school was fired for not having an Estonian language certificate. My mother used to pay the fine, but she tried hard to learn the language and passed the state exam. But for those who have worked using only Russian for most of their lifetime, it is a big challenge to pass the Estonian language test at a sufficient level.

The ability to speak the state language is one of the most important steps of integration that we, as Russian speakers, have not fully overcome yet. If a kid is born in Estonia, it does not automatically mean they will start speaking perfect Estonian, which is one of the hardest languages to learn. For some, speaking Russian is enough. Most of those from the northwestern part of the country live in Russian-speaking communities, consuming media, working and studying in Russian, so they do not really have any motivation to learn Estonian. A lot of my former classmates and friends speak a little Estonian so they can express themselves in a grocery store, but would hardly be able to read a book or watch a movie in Estonian.

I believe that learning the state language should be mandatory. I’ve visited different places and witnessed how migrants commit themselves to study the language of their new home country. But one thing is important to distinguish is when people change their country following their own choice, since it is an entirely different thing being a native resident and just happening to grow up speaking a different language.

Speaking Estonian is not yet a guarantee

Speaking the state language is not yet a guarantee to be fully integrated into Estonian society. Some public statements by our politicians are calling the Russian speaking population migrants and the Russian language as a language of occupiers. This might touch upon national feelings having negative consequences on integration and widen the gap between the two communities. It once again shows that Russian speakers cannot be fully accepted and accommodated into the Estonian society.

My generation is full of people without a motherland. I do not feel myself either Russian or Estonian. Estonia is my home country, the place where I was born, where my parents have lived for most of their life. But my country does not accept me. I’m not Russian either, because in order to be one I should consider Russia as my motherland. But, Russia is a foreign country for me. I have never lived there, do not possess a Russian passport, and do not know much about the place. The only link to Russia that I have is language and culture.

In a way, I fall somewhere in-between these two nationalities and cultures. I consider myself as a Russian-speaking Estonian. There is a big difference between Russians and Estonians here, but at the same time there is a discrepancy between people in Russia and Russian speakers in Estonia.

Giving up the Russian language and culture

Sometimes I feel unwelcome in the Estonian community. Despite the fact that I speak fluent Estonian, I studied for my bachelor’s degree in Estonian, served in the military here and hold an Estonian passport, I have noticed that people may avoid having an interaction with me if they have an ethnic Estonian as an alternative.

I think to be fully accepted, society expects us to give up the Russian language and culture because one’s native language to some extent determines the way you perceive the world around you. Quite often I feel more comfortable among Russian speakers, because I’m equal among them, while in the Estonian community I remain a foreigner.

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Cover: Distribution of the Russian language in Estonia according to data from the 2000 Estonian census. Please note that Nikita didn’t want to publish an image of himself or disclose his surname in public. Johan Skytte Institute of the University of Tartu and Estonian World have verified his identity and story.

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