By João Lopes Marques (Eesti keeles)
"Tallinn is like Prague after the neutron bomb!" This funny and simplistic joke invented by my Dutch friend Thomas has proved quite popular among my Estonian network. We don't need an hermeneutical exercise to conclude locals tend to agree Prague shares lots of things with the capital of Estonia.
Yet today I decided to upgrade the challenge. The question: "What is the most similar country with Estonia?" A tough one, isn't it? Is it Czech Republic? Truth to tell, in my mind it has been clear for years.
Slovenia, of course.
"How come Slovenia has to do with Estonia?", you may ask. Well, the Germanic influence in the last thousand years. This is undeniable. Just visit Ljubljana: it's center is different, but the spirit reminds Old Tallinn's. Those are cities originally designed with human scale. The local castle it's a kind of Toompea and the only big difference would be the river Ljublianica.
You can even attack me because I am comparing one of the hilliest landscapes in Europe with flat Estonia. Yet my analysis goes beyond orography, as I will try to prove you in the next paragraphs:
Estonia's adoption of the euro currency, the 1st January 2011, reminds me the news when Slovenia became the 13th member of Euro zone, back in 2007. They were the first post-Communist country to do so, as Estonia is the first former Soviet republic. Both belong now to the first monetary league. It's been an obsession that reflects a mentality.
2) Transparency and finances
Surprisingly for most foreigners, Estonia is quite a transparent-and-non-corrupted country. And, like Slovenia, praises above all public finances discipline. Both countries value modesty and frugality, the secret of their success.
It's more than a coincidence so small countries — Slovenia has some 2 million inhabitants — stood out so fast in their respective regions. Neighbors played a crucial role. Tourism, best practices and foreign investment. Austria is Slovenia's Finland, while Italy is its own Sweden.
4) The "B" letter
Balkans and Baltic both start with a "B". And they also have a shared trauma: while Slovenia wants to get rid of such a Balkan connotation — mess, crime, war, mafia, Muslim influence, chaos, poverty —, Estonia hates to be depicted as "Baltic". Both countries are right, actually: Slovenia is a Central European republic as much as Estonia is Nordic.
It may seem forced, but we all know a considerable percentage of older Estonians have some Soviet nostalgia. Not because of the occupation. It's more related to the social benefits from that era. Exactly the same in the former Yugoslav republic: "Yugo-Nostalgia" is a daily topic, though it reminds me always my friend Oleg's answer the day I asked him if he missed Soviet Republic of Ukraine: "Not at all, but I was younger..."
The size is different, much less than the 25% or 30% of Slavs who live in Estonia. Still, Slovenia is also a one-country-two-systems republic. Two parallel ecosystems that almost never meet. The Serbs and other Cyrlic Slavs are the "Russians of Slovenia". Just pick a taxi in Ljubljana and prove it.
Although the majority is still Catholic there, Estonian-like atheism is on the rise in Slovenia. More importantly, the Estonian and Slovene identities have the same timings: they exists for more than one millennium though the idea of a State popped up just in the middle of the 19th Century. Like in Estonia, in Slovenia it became a reality in 1918 though for a short period. Likewise, full sovereignty would arrive just in 1991.
8) Go West!
In a Slovene mind there is an obsession to go west. Some Slovenes emulate the Latin world, others prefer the Germanic one. It's visible in such small things as the way one gets dressed. The car he buys. Most Estonians are also divided by an invisible line: either go Anglo-Saxonic ("Marita goes to Australia!") or to adopt Scandinavian models ("Marek got a job in Stockholm!").
Slovenia depends a lot on trade, which is oriented towards Germany, Austria, Italy and France. When the economic downturn came, they were the most affected after the Baltics and Finland (Slovene GDP shrank nearly 8%).
Their football team is incomparable better than Estonia's. But Slovenes speak two languages most Estonians know: ski and basketball.
And yes, I could continue with hospitality, stubbornness and adaptability. But these would be circular arguments: those features are shared by most European tiny countries.