By João Lopes Marques (Eesti keel)
No doubt times have changed: Tallinn is now much more isolated than a year ago. Than six months ago. Yes, we can blame on the credit crunch and cross our fingers hoping things will get better soon. But once again two questions must be raised: a) when will this crisis be gone?; b) will the former status quo come ever back?
I guess no honest person is prepared to answer none of the questions. Individual lives raise singular problems. In my case things are crystal clear: my job (and self-imposed exile) implies lots of travelling...
That is why I often divide my Estonian existence into two different eras: B.K. and A.K. ("Before KLM" and "After KLM"). No, this time it is not because of oil barrel prices. Otherwise: seems that the disruption of the operation to Tallinn by the Dutch national carrier changed dramatically the logic of the local airfares. Besides having two daily connections to Amsterdam — and from there to their comprehensive network in all continents —, they used to be the cheapest airline operating from/to Tallinn.
Such cancelation coincided with the end of EasyJet route to Berlin and no more LOT connections via Warsaw. Not enough, most airlines have reduced the frequency of their operations from/to Tallinn.
"It is the economy, stupid!" Even if my economic knowledge is rather limited, it is obvious A.K. airfares have skyrocketed because competition in Estonia has diminished. In a small market like this, where a butterfly flapping its wings is sensed from Võru to Paldiski, this could just be a noisy bang.
The saddest case in A.K. is my beloved Lufthansa (best food, best seats, best service, best planes). Currently, it is almost impossible to buy a return ticket at a decent price. What used to cost 6800 EEK for a Tallinn-Lisbon-Tallinn flight is now 40 percent more expensive.
Morevover, seems to me that the supply changed much faster than the demand. If there is promotion from Tallinn, cheap seats are sold out in minutes. Look at handy Czech Airlines: it used to offer some of the most competitive fares; now it is nearly a dream to find something below 5000 EEK. My hope today resides in their Wednesday email newsletter; maybe one of the three proposed destinations fit my wallet and calendar.
In A.K. airfares from Riga or Helsinki became up to 100 percent cheaper than from Tallinn. The proof is that Estonian residents (and tourists) are travelling more and more there to take their flights. The paradox again: if we think in perspective, Tallinn is the most central of the four cities (compared to Riga, Helsinki and Saint Petersburg). This periphery notion is just explained by the size of the country.
And here we are. Such a taste of isolation in our mouth is slightly bitter. Estonians know it very well, since they experienced it during the long-lasting USSR era.
Indeed, there must be something that can turn this. Estonians are masters in overcoming adverse situations. Direct accessibility triggers multiplying effects. What should Estonia do to boast flights to Ülemiste? Year-round festivals? To become a cheaper destination? Attracting multinational companies? To hold a European Union agency? National branding on CNN, BBC World and Euronews? Estonian Air better fares and more routes?
Food for thought for Toompean elite.
Critical mass is badly needed — or the peripheral complex will just grow. I know lots of Estonians even enjoy this distance from the outer world, an original way to celebrate independence and sovereignty. But such a scenario would punish disproportionally the Estonian living standards, besides jeopardising the options avaliable for the future generations.
Post-modernity has been about creating centralities. Not seldom in a quite artificial way.
Every time I pass in front of Robinson Club, in Vana Tallinn, I must confess I feel a weird thrill. Nostalgia of B.K.? Doubtless. Estonia will never be Crusoe's "Island of Despair" but this isolation can be slightly problematic.
Sometimes I even ask my adopted-yet-imaginary parrot: "Hey, Poll! When do you think they will pass by to pick us up?" Poll just repeats the sentence as a stupid echo. Fortunately, there are no cannibals around. And the fruits and the food and the drinks and the people and the nature and the cities and the bars and the shops are very normal. For the time being, my Robinson Crusoe syndrome is under control.