Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Estonia: Stalemate in Russian Relations

In August 1991, Estonia regained its lost independence after nearly 50 years of soviet occupation. Some 15 years later, Estonia and Russia still lack regulated borders. Last year a border agreement was finally signed, but it did not take long before Russia withdrew from the treaty - something next to unprecedented in international relations. Since then, a stalemate persists between the two countries as relations thus reached a dead end. What will it take for Estonia and Russia to sort out their differences?

In May last year, everything seemed set for a go-ahead on a final Russian-Estonian border treaty. The last hurdles had been cleared, as the two foreign ministers decided to sign the treaty in Moscow on May 18, instead of the infamous 9 May Soviet victory day. The latter was not possible, while 9 May 1945 signified the seal of Estonia's soviet occupation. The treaty was signed and the only thing that remained was to have it ratified by parliaments in the two countries. Both were eager to remove the matter from the agenda once and for all, and hastened to have ratification bills passed by parliaments. Just weeks earlier, president Putin had declared that:

Russia is ready to sign formal border treaties with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. I hope this will not be accompanied by some idiotic territorial demands. In today’s Europe, in the 21st century, one country making territorial demands against another, at the same time wanting to ratify a border treaty - this is complete nonsense.

However, this is more or less what happened, at least according to Moscow's version of events. Whereas the Russian parliament - the State Duma - was hesitant to ratify the border treaty, anticipating trouble, Tallinn moved on. Eager to get the question off the agenda before vacations, the Estonian government also put the treaty before parliament - the Riigkogu. Reactions to this were negative from the very outset, as many parliamentarians held that the government thereby tried to force through the treaty without proper discussion and debate. To be passed, the bill had to get a 2/3 majority. Such majority suddenly seemed unable to reach, why the government preferred to enter negotiations instead of facing certain defeat. These negotiations resulted in a separate preamble or declaration to the border treaty, referring to the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920, by which Soviet Russia recognised Estonia's independence within the pre-WWII borders. However, current borders have been revised during soviet reign, which makes Tartu references unacceptable for Russia. With this preamble, the Estonian parliament passed the ratification.

Moscow's reaction
Moscow's reaction was predictable to say the least. On June 21, Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that it would not put the treaty before the Duma for ratification. Then, during a visit to Helsinki at the end of June, foreign minister Lavrov declared that Russia had decided to revoke its signature from the border treaty. This is also what happened, and on 1 September president Putin formally withdrew Russia from the treaty. The move to withdraw from an already ratified treaty is next to unprecedented in international relations, and must be considered a very stern reaction. The scandal, a few years back, when president Bush revoked the US signature from the treaty on the International War Crimes Tribunal has reverberated in the international community ever since. Examples are scarce, because the international outcry for doing so is expected too great, and one has to pay too high a price for it to be worthwhile. Still, this was exactly what Moscow chose to do.

Estonian explanations
Why did the Estonians act in this way, if they clearly understood what the reactions from Moscow were to become? What were they to gain from this? Some suggestions have been made, although they fail to explain for - even in combination - Tallinn's action.

One factor is that Estonia in April 2005 went through a government crisis and that the sacked prime minister and leader of the Res Publica party, Juhan Parts, quickly needed to profile himself with some cause, not least after a failed unification of Estonia's two right-wing parties - Res Publica and the Reform Party. Thus, demands connected to the border treaty seemed as a convenient opportunity for Res Publica.

Another reason is that the foreign minister of Ansip's new Reform Party government - 31-year-old Urmas Paet, simply was too new and unexperienced on his post, why he could not manage to deal with Moscow and domestic political intrigues at once.

A third explanation, is that government coalition partners - not least the Social Democrats with their grey eminence Thomas Hendrik Ilves at a safe distance in Bruxelles - stood to gain from a squabble between the two right-wing parties.

Then, there is Estonian politics' black horse of Edgar Savisaar and his Centre Party. Being the new minister of finance, Savisaar was arguably the one pulling the real strings in cabinet affairs. Savisaar is a political survivor with a murky soviet past, who has been constantly scandalised over the years but always gets away without a stain on his popularity, especially among poor and rural population, including the Russians. Also, Estonian conservatives are usually quick to point out that the Centre Party is in union with president Putin's United Russia, thereby casting suspicion on him for being on Kremlin's leash or even - at times - payroll.

Finally, it must have been hard to put off Russian interests, though not necessarily Russia itself, from the temptation of exploiting Estonia's domestic difficulties in this situation. Whether the Russian factor could hold on to itself in not giving in to such an urge will however remain unclear. The effect was though in Russia's interest. Thus, Estonia stood to gain nothing, but to once again be portrayed by Russia to the great powers of Europe as an amateur in international relations in disrupting the treaty. Still, blaming Moscow is simply too much of going through the motions to be taken seriously. Perhaps, Russia in reality simply had to stand idly by while the Estonians themselves fumbled about in torpedoing the treaty.

So, is there any way out of this mess for Estonia? At an OSCE-meeting earlier this spring, foreign ministers Lavrov and Paet discussed the need for resumed negotiations to settle the border issue once and for all. Some discussions have also been held since, but both parties seem to agree that a ratified treaty will not come into force in the foreseeable future. The issue is simply politically dead at the moment, while so much prestige was put in on both sides to finalise the border settlement. Once this was lost, little room was left for future talks. Estonia thus seems to have little choice but to let the issue at rest for the time being.

Dealing with Russia
In view of the current situation, how should Estonia handle its relations with Russia? Professor Andres Kasekamp, director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, believes that Estonia now will opt for an EU-solution. According to Kasekamp, Estonia should take the CFSP/ESDP more seriously. This is also currently the sentiment among many politicians in Estonia. The country seems intent on playing out the EU-card, despite the Union's demonstrated inability to stand firm on Russia. Such a policy thus seems to have a weak foundation in current realities. That Sweden and Finland were the only other EU-states in support of the Estonian position concerning the border treaty, is a telling example of how little the EU cares about Estonia's relations with Russia. EU politicians are simply fed up with the whole affair of Estonia not being able to conclude a border treaty with Russia for the last 15 years. EU-support thus seems destined to fail, and EU's European Neighbourhood Policy appears to offer little use to Estonia, as it does not comprise relations with Russia.

The alternative of handling relations with Russia through Nato should, in this perspective, seem all the more tempting to Tallinn. Such a method would, in reality, mean using the US and the Transatlantic link to influence NATO-policy. In May 2005, president Bush visited Riga, and among other things discussed subjects such as democracy and freedom in Eastern Europe. This kind of US high-level discussions is in the best interest of Estonia, while statements to this fact facilitate setting the Nato-agenda in Tallinn's favour. US vice president Cheney's speech at the May 2006 Vilnius Conference also signalled a change towards a more critical stance in US policy towards Russia. In November this year, Riga will host the annual Nato Summit, offering an opportunity to further Estonian interests in relations to Russia by proxy of Nato. Estonian chances to bandwagon with the US to deal with Russia through Nato are therefore greater than ever. Still, Tallinn strangely enough seems to prefer the EU option - perhaps reflecting the post 2001 change in Nato's geographical focus. What Estonia fails to recognise is the fact that also within Nato, the tide is changing in relations with Russia. Tallinn should clearly not miss out on this opportunity to use a change in US and Nato policy towards Moscow in its own favour.

Finally, a joint approach in coordinating Estonian interests on Russia to concurrently influence both Nato and the EU in the same direction might be a recipe for success, but this is simply too complex a task for a small country to pull off.

Domestic difficulties
In the meantime, the Russian question in Estonia continues to drag on as an annually recurrent tradition. The drama has been played out by more or less the same actors over the last 15 years with little variation. This year's incident was the 20 May desecration of the Bronze Soldier Monument (Pronkssõdur) by Estonian nationalists. For Russians, it is a memorial to Soviet soldiers who died fighting in World War II. For Estonians, it is a symbol of the Soviet occupation.

Therefore, in connection to Russia's victory day each year, soviet veteran ceremonies at the monument are ritually followed by protests from Estonian nationalists. This year, events have been especially serious with a string of demonstrations. Among Estonian nationalist demonstrators were crackpot professional dissidents such as Holocaust-denier Tiit Madisson, but also more respected people such as former commander-in-chief Aleksander Einseln. Their objective is the removal of the Bronze Soldier from central Tallinn, and little consideration is taken to reasoning in view of their unwavering demands.

The situation has been exploited by extremists on both sides. Last week, the headline of the leading Russian newspaper in Estonia, Vesti Dnia (fmr. Sovetskaya Estonia), read: "On the Brink of Civil War." Also, rumours about Russian vandalisation of Estonian monuments, e.g. in Tartu, are spreading, and the resurfacing of old Interfront activists has been quite unexpected. Probably, protests will peter out in a few weeks, but it is worrisome that extremists repeatedly are allowed to set the political agenda for almost a month each year. This is simply not a sound political tradition for a small country like Estonia. Protests and demonstrations may well be overlooked by the majority of Estonians as an annual freak event, but each year extremists are allowed to set the public agenda through media.

Narva and the Russian-speaking population
When one refers to the situation of Russians in Estonia or Latvia, one should be aware of the fact that this does not necessarily mean Russians as such. Migration to Estonia in the post-war era came from all over the Soviet Union, why it might be as natural to come across a Tajik, a Ukrainian or a Lithuanian in Tallinn as it is with a Russian. Today, they all meet the same conditions and requirements for residence permit and citizenship no matter what their place of origin might once have been. That Russians are in a majority should not serve to hide this fact.

Estonia's Russian-speaking population is concentrated partly to Tallinn and neighbouring cities, and partly to Eastern Estonia. However, it is in the East that the Russian dominance is especially compact - in cities like Narva and Kohtlajärvi. For long, crisis has coincided with ethnicity in this part of the country, which incidentally also neighbours on the disputed border areas with Russia. Unemployment and social malaise have been a constant feature in Eastern Estonia during the last 15 years. A destitute population with little hope for the future has presented a great problem for Estonian authorities. The city of Narva, right on the border to Russia, facing Russian Ivangorod on the other side of the river, is a telling example.

In reality, the few Estonians living in Narva are state representatives in some capacity, and they associate little with the local Russian-speaking population. In Narva, it is perhaps no coincidence that the well-held offices of the Russian Consulate are located only a few hundred metres from the headquarters of KaPo - the Estonian security service.

However, things are now looking brighter for Narva. The situation is still such that everyone who knows how to, tries to move away from the city. Many of the top students at Estonian universities originate from Eastern Estonia, strongly motivated from knowing that the alternative is poverty. This may not be the case in the future though. In recent years, things have begun to turn around for Narva. Unemployment has decreased and many industries are moving production to this area due to dramatically rising costs and a deficit of qualified labour in Tallinn and the densely populated areas of Western Estonia. The opposite to high costs and unskilled labour is exactly what Narva has to offer. Adding to this, the lower wages in this region attract a rising number of investors. Whereas activities still are far from bustling, the tendency towards a rather rapid development within the next decade is clear.

Until now, Narva's economy has largely depended on border trade with Russia. With much lower prices on petrol, alcohol, and tobacco in Russia, shuttle traders cross the border back and forth on a daily basis, bringing merchandise for illegal distribution and sale on Estonian and Western markets. There are few figures on the full extent of this trade, but Russian customs' estimates say, that it accounts to some 20-30% of Northwestern Russia's foreign trade. There is no wonder then that transit-trade is Estonia's most profitable business, the proceeds of which have made great fortunes for the people who control it. Today, a majority of Estonia's richest businessmen are ethnic Russians. The paradox is that the population of Narva and Eastern Estonia has had little to gain from the shuttle-trade. Most of the money has ended up in the pockets of a few fellow compatriots that could not care less about the situation of their Russian kin. Therefore, the future of Narva rests on the opportunities to enter other economic areas.

That a rising number of businesses in Estonia are now moving production to Narva is thus very promising. Too long, the level of costs has not been sufficiently geographically diversified to make it profitable moving industry to the East. Now, this has changed, why companies will seek to increase their dividends by lowering costs by relocation. In the meantime, however, a generation of workers has been lost to Eastern Estonia due to unemployment destitution. The old generation may be lost, but the new generation faces a much more promising future, which might allow them to stay on in their hometowns in the East.

The Choice of a New Generation
Things are changing in Estonia with 15 years passed since regained independence. A second new generation is entering the public and business spheres. This generation has little to remember from soviet times. The situation applies to Estonians and Russians alike. The arguments from nationalists and pro-Russia groups are increasingly perceived as artificial constructs with little relation to everyday reality. Both groups are themselves becoming as antiquated as oblivious. With economic development, also social and economic differences between Estonians and Russians will narrow, and so will consequently also the potential for extremists to exploit such friction. The focus of a new generation in Estonia is set on Europe and not on Russia. Relations with Russia are increasingly becoming irrelevant for most people in Estonia. Once this is realised, Moscow will have difficulties to exploit the situation of the "Russian minority" in Estonia in relations with Tallinn. It will also become harder for Russia to raise support in Estonia per se by appealing to fellow Russians. Perhaps then, Moscow will definitely let go of its lost empire and plainly put borders and other issues at rest with Tallinn without further ado. However, also in Estonia it will take a new generation to sort out the country's differences with Russia, but in the end, Tallinn and Moscow will budge to the new realities.

13 comments:

Dmitriy said...

It's interesting that russian state tv vociferously criticises Latvia and Estonia on Russian minority issue, while totally neglecting russian minorities in countries like Tajikistan or Turkmenistan. In Baltic states position of Russian minorities is at least tolerable, while in thess Central Asian countries it is much worse.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Dmitriy,

I totally agree with you. I very much sympathise with the situation of ethnic Russians in above all Central Asia, but this seems a problem of little concern to Moscow.

In 1997, when there was a short thaw in Baltic-Russian relations, the CFDP (SVOP) published a report characterising Moscow's policy on these issues as hypocritical. We will have to see if and when such arguments will be allowed to be presented and debated again.

As for Estonia and Latvia, the Russian-speaking population in these countries are all the more becoming indifferent to the position of Moscow. Russia is no longer relevant to anything else than media coverage for their everyday existence. Media is one of the few factors that people still cares about what comes out of the Kremlin.

In the end though, this will probably prove insufficient to prevent ethnic Russians from forming a common and new Estonian or Latvian identity. Such identity will, of course, be formed as a mixture between the titular population Russians, and in due course turn into new national identities mixing Russian with Estonian and Latvian respectively.

Yours,

Vilhelm

Estonia in World Media said...

Dear Mr Konnander,

I have only read the introductory part of your message, hoping to read the rest later. But so far:

The Riigikogu included the references to the Tartu Peace Treaty (it is relevant to Finland as well as to Estonia) and to the declaration of the Estonian Supreme Soviet on the occupation of Estonia. The references were included into the ratification law, which is internal legal act and is part of the Border Treaty only in the internal legislation, non-binding outside Estonian legal space.

With this regard Estonia has sovereign right to do so, especially considering internal declarations by the Gosudarstvennaya Duma, for example a declaration concerning and mentioning several EU Memberstates (including Estonia) made on the extention of the PCA to the New Memberstate. Estonia did not make problem about that declaration and have not stopped the enforcement of this agreement, even though would not agree with the content of such. On the other hand, as mentioned by Mr Ilves, Estonian legislators could have been more smart by including a reference to EU Parliament opinion of May 2005, in which it noted the "50 years of occupation of part of Eastern Europe" by USSR. This would make Russia reject the Border treaty all the same, but would direct the following conflict somewhat elsewhere from Estonia.

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Giustino said...

Dear Mr. Konnander,

I am green with envy at your articulate analysis. It is also refreshing to (FINALLY) read something on this topic in English.

With regards to what Dmitriy said, I should add that there are other minorities in Estonia (Belarussians are 1 percent, Ukrainians are 2 percent) and neither of those states
have brought up the citizenship/minority issue as far as I can recall.

I also think that the Estonian PM's position on the Bronze Soldier is intended to score points for the 2007 election.

Res Publica and Isamaa just merged, and the Reform Party is no doubt looking to pick up whatever voters it can as they reevaluate their allegiences.

Again thanks for the post. I look forward to reading more.

Martin said...

Mr. Konnander,

Thank you for writing this, I found it extremely interesting. I just came back home (to Canada) after spending a year in Tallinn. What I found absolutely amazing is how Tallinn is made up of 2 solitudes - Estonians and Russians. They are like oil and water - it is quite amazing to witness day in and day out. Their cultures, personalities and approach to life are such polar opposites of each other. Do you think they will, one day, become one nation?

Lars said...

Interesting view on Estonian Russian relationships, however I sense a pro-russian author or at least that the author knows that Russia is a big country with a history of not 'giving' back anything, nor admitting wrong doings. Because of this normal Russian behaviour, its better not to take the fight attitude, let the big bear be. In my mind Russia should give back the land they have occupied since 1944. Russia should admit the genocide of the baltic people, the massmurders and large scale terror in the occupied countries. They should in all decensy pay war and occupation damage to the baltic states. But knowing the history of Russia, this will not happen. This is a well known fact and therefor politicians all over dont feel its is worth taking that discussion and knowing that Russia will react to any country supporting any of those claims. Russia has a lot of interesting business opportunities as well.

Regarding that Estonian people reacts to have russian monuments to honour the russian soldier is in my mind very understandable, its like having a statue in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv honoring SS or Gestapo. Why not take it away, put it in a museum explaining the terror 'this soldier' is connected to. For Estonians and other baltic people, even the Nazi occupation was better than the russian, to quote Alfred Karmann one of the forestbrothers saying about why staying in the forest fighting Russian occupation for many years, even amputating one arm during the "The difference between them was that the Germans enslaved us and took our land. But the Russians destroyed the Estonian nation. They opposed - and still oppose - Estonian independence."

I think this is very much true and has nothing to do with right wing, crazy neo-nazi or whatever extreme people. Its about a nation rising up from the ashes, a people getting back its history and identity.

Even if western europe and USA want that these countries history will be forgotten since themselves took part of giving Russia the opportunity and to admit that takes too much guts. I hope that at least Sweden will be strong enough to realize what Russia has done to its neighbouring countries and continue to do.

'If you only look backward you are totally blind, if you only look forward then you are blind on one eye'
A Russian saying

In Pärnu there is a installation which portrays a russian armytruck and a Lenin statue, which has been wrapped in black plastic and a rope tied around it.

The installation is called 'Forbidden History'

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Martin,

First of all, thank you for your praise, which I am not sure that I deserve.

As for Estonia's national mixture, the question is how one defines a nation. Historically, there have been a lot of Russians in Estonia and they form a natural part of the nation. All Russians that were Estonian nationals before 1940 and their descendants also automatically became citizens after 1991.

So, Russians are not naturally a phenomenon foreign to Estonian society. Russian culture and life in Estonia will probably continue, not least because it historically has been a concomitant part of Estonian society. Cultural integration is therefore far-fetched in the foreseeable future.

This does not mean that Russians and Estonians will not integrate. Inter-marriage is not uncommon and Russians are increasingly learning Estonian - even in Russian dominated parts of the country.

Multicultural countries are not so rare internationally, and one has only to think of Belgium and Switzerland to see how people of different cultures and langugaes live along each other naturally.

This does not mean that Russians should be given minority rights. This is Estonia's decision. Also, it is difficult to determine what should constitute a Russian minority. Russian-speaking people might as well come from Ukraine, Belarus or Kazakhstan. Are they Russians? What is important is that all citizens have equal rights and equal opportunities, and this is an area which Estonia will struggle with for decades to come.

Yours,

Vilhelm

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Lars,

I am neither pro-Russian nor anti-Russian. I am pro sovereignty for all nations regardless of size, and appreciate the constant balance between realism and ethics in international relations.

"Dans le meilleur des mondes" - in the best of all worlds - your vision should be realised: return of territory, war damages, acknowledgement of terror.

I am sorry this is not the way international relations are enacted. Instead it is a case of "il faut cultiver son jardin" - one has to make the best of what one has.

History should be remembered and the sufferings of the Estonian people under the Soviet and Nazi yoke is and should remain nurtured in Estonia and internationally as a crime against individuals, a people and a state.

However, this does not mean that one should only look back. For better or for worse, Estonia has to build a future, which excludes a repetition of history.

Therefore, relations with Russia is a reality that has to be dealt with no matter what one feels and thinks about the Eastern neighbour.

Personally, I have little sympathy with Russian policy towards Estonia, as I believe it leads nowhere - to the avail of Russia and Estonia alike. However, Estonia should also not be lured into itself become engulfed by counterproductive policies.

I am sorry to say so, but the living must come before the dead when safeguarding Estonia's future. This is something today's Estonians owe to the memories of those who sacrificed their lives to preserve not only the freedom of their nation, but the mere existence of an Estonian nation.

As for my own feelings about the issue, I might well symphatize with a lot of what you say, even if I do not see Estonians and Russians as naturally opposing forces. Also, I cannot see to what good a stubbornly tough attitude would lead. That does not mean that I believe in leniency in face of impending oppression or great wrongs. I only claim that - as a small nation - one must carefully pick one's fights and principles are too important to be squandered by minor issues.

Concerning the bronze soldier, I cannot understand why Estonian authorities did not remove it when all other statues were removed after August 1991. Now it seems too late, and I cannot imagine the mayor of Tallinn making such a decision, as he would be too scared to lose Russian votes in the next election. I understand that people might react vehemently against the statue, but Estonia and its politicians made a mistake that they now will have to pay for. Protests and actions now are too late and only serve to play into the hands of forces in Estonia and Russia that would prefer a development to the detriment of the country.

By the way, I believe that the person who modelled for the statue was a famous Estonian Olympic athlete from the 1950s.

On the positive side, as for monuments, it is obvious from what you write that now Estonians forge their own history in terms of erecting statues in memory of times past.

Yours,

Vilhelm

Anonymous said...

The principal problem with Estonia (I live in Ida Virumaa), that this country is full of people that are continually being wrong footed. They kick up a fight with Russia at precisely the time when they can earn most by working with it, - having a mastery of the russian language and being in the EU is a huge advantage. They look to the Eu to save them, when they are incapable of having a fiscal policy that meets any of the criteria for convergence. They want to live off outsourcing IT when the work is rapidly moving to cheaper places such as India.
They want tourism, but the country actually offers very little to attract foreign tourists apart from Tallinn,(unless you count sex tourism!) and has antiquated customs and immigration habits making it impossible for foreigners to come here easily and invest.
In fact the situation is today so bad, that when the EU money runs out in about 12months time, the country will HAVE to start paying its way. As one of the major advantages of the country is it's 2 borders with Russia, but steadfastly tries to torpedo all plans to expand them (Eg. Look at Sillamae port and the modernisation of Narva bridge), then when the crunch comes, it's going to be really NASTY.
It only needs Russia to kill the plans to transfreight goods from China over the transsib, and redirect them to St Petersburg, and strangle at birth the expanding border trade at Narva, (as it is currently doing), and Eastern Estonia will really have no future and nothing but criminality as the down side (and it's a REALLY serious one).
One of the wiser decisions of the central government was to relocate most of the ciminal elements to Ida Virumaa (!), and the rate of rise of HIV is now the highest in the world, consistent with prostituion and high intravenous drug use.
So, if the current spat with Russia is supposed to be progress, then I'm a dutchman!

Anonymous said...

Hi Vilhelm,

your view is interesting, as is your heading: stalemate in chess means end of the game in draw and a possibility to start a new one. I grew up in Tallinn and all my childhood was completely brainwashed by Soviet WW II military movies. As a young boy, I asked one of my relatives who was a history student: Why some apes became Germans? So big was the cultivated hate, carried to the population through military movies. At the same time, we never played with Russian boys. Why? Because it was so before and is so now... Still, feeling the real hate appeared to me on a compulsory service in Soviet Army between 1983-1985. I was called a fascist, the main reason being that I was writing with German letters. Also, there where some legends that some Estonians appeared to kill Russians during WW II. This hate is still there with no possibilities for discussion, it is continuously cultivated. I remember visiting Sweden first time in 1988. Estonia was then declaring its economic independence, not political. The events of Baku where milica beat locals with spades had just happened. We had a young Russian in our conference group who said: do not even think about political independence - you will get beaten up by spades... After Estonia became independent, I got my university education and PhD in UK and Sweden, I have also worked in Italy, so am globalized. However, I see that the relations between Estonians and Russians in Tallinn are exactly the same as in 1980's. As I look at it, no political power so far has succeeded in integration. The Centrist party - getting the votes of both Estonian elderly people and Russians - enjoyed having the support from 2 politically very differently orientated population groups and did not tackle the problem of integration, neither did other political parties. The result is that the process of integration is still not happening and, as much as I see it, even the real in-depth analysis has not been done...

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear anonymous,

Thank you for your comment and your personal reflections on the subject. Your story is quite familiar to me and I have heard similar thoughts from many Estonian friends over the year.

Of course, there is a rift between Russians and Estonians in Estonia, which will live on for generations to come.

However, one must also look at socio-economic fatctors. A large proportion of people from the FSU - viz. not only Russians - that moved to Estonia after WWII came there as manual labour.

It would be interesting to e.g. compare the level of education between Estonians and Russians. Just look at where most Russians live in Estonia. Let's face it: Many Russians are working-class people, who have great difficulties integrating due to lack of education and socio-economic situation.

Then, there are also Russians who have become citizens and probably theoretically know more about Estonia than some Estonians.

Even though you and other Estonians feel this way, I consequently think that the main issue is not ethnicity but socio-economic.

Finally, you mention Savisaar and the Center Party. What will become of them, now as Russia has abanoned them during the crisis over the Bronze Soldier?

Yours,

Vilhelm

Anonymous said...

Thanks Vilhelm for your prompt reply,

I think that the socio-economic factors are somewhat overestimated in the international media. As I remember my PhD studies and work in Stockholm during 1993-1999, swedes were proud to declare that there were no poor people in Sweden. Well, it seems to me that we are not far from that situation any more. Definitely you can find some examples, and Ida-Virumaa is one of those where environment is deteriorated and the average living age of especially men is about 7 years shorter than in other districts, not because of the environment, but because of the stress, accompanied partly by alcoholism and drug abuse. However, average income in Ida-Virumaa is not lower than in other regions (of course, in Tallinn it is much higher than in other parts). Also, the unemployment rate is very low and it is very easy to find a job. A good construction worker earns more than an university professor and who has a will, there is no problem getting a nice job, it does not even matter if you cannot speak Estonian. We import skilled workforce from Poland and Ukraine already. I teach at the university and Russians are very good students, many of them much harder working than Estonians. We do have courses also taught in Russian. So I think the socio-economic difference is to a large extent a myth. If you see it differently from outside, maybe you can bring some examples, but these should not represent subjective views of the extremists.

What comes to the Center party, it is possible that there will be a divide. Centrists are even declaring that recent events might create a real Russian political party. But may-be having that party could be positive for Estonian development, because there will be an honest political dialogue between the voters and the parties. Up to now it has been only on the level of 'additional 500 kroons for pension', 'keeping the price of water under control' and other purely economical and populistic promises...