terça-feira, 24 de agosto de 2010

Why Estonia never stops surprising me

By João Lopes Marques (Eesti keeles)

At first I didn’t understand: “Estonia’s International Friends Meeting.” If the emailed PDF letter hadn’t been signed by the President, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and businessman Margus Reinsalu I would have never believed it. It was the first time I was receiving a letter of protocol via Internet...

“Why the hell are they inviting me to such an event?”, I questioned myself. Still suspicious of a hoax, I asked my colleagues in "Eesti Ekspress". "Do you know something about this?" Well, nobody knew, as if it were a well-kept secret. Publicity wasn't a priority.

I understand such initiatives are not that popular in times of crisis. Tax-payers are suspicious of any potentially irresponsible spending of their money and this “Estonia’s International Friends Meeting” was anything but conventional. Yet it seemed to me that everyone shared the burden: private players invested, Estonian institutions contributed, and participants paid for their own flight tickets.

To be honest, out of three dozen foreign co-participants, I had only heard the names of just two of them: Mrs. Vaire Vike-Freiberga and Mr. Ari Vatanen. “Who are all these friends of Estonia? Why me and where did they find my email address?” My curiosity mounted but I recalled Raili's words the week I moved to Tallinn: "We Estonians are silent and reserved people. But always bear in mind that we are great observers..."

Of course I accepted such an unexpected honor, though I adopted more journalistic and anthropological angles, impossible not to do so. Below you'll find some of my personal conclusions:

• Estonian is divided into two big political clans: the “Estonian one” and Saavisar's: no representative of Keskarakond was invited to the event;
• For a Western European used to political rows every week, it’s amazing to see how the Estonian political elite is today united in the common goal of making Estonia a great small country: President Ilves, Prime-Minister Ansip and Mart Laar spoke with a single voice;
• Most invitees there had an economic- and financially-based perspective of Estonia, which can bias the debate about the future of this country (flat tax, currencies, stockmarkets, etc.);
• Skype was mentioned too often, as is Nokia in Finland, which exposed the lack of alternatives — the "Estonian Nokia" is yet to be invented;
• After speaking with some Estonians living in the New World, especially USA and Canada, it seems to me that the potential of the Estonian diaspora is not fully exploited yet;
• The Spanish city of Marbella, in Andaluzia, second home of lots of European and Arabic fortunes, is a crucial hub for the Estonian economy;
• President Ilves is focusing on the right social and geopolitical topics, though I think sometimes it might actually be better for him to be less diplomatic;
• Prime-Minister Ansip boasted of a good image of Estonia, though he seems a bit stuck on the anti-Kremlin ideas and the e-governance phenomenon;
• Mart Laar is still the anchor (reference point) of post-Soviet Estonia: he is always praised as the inventor of the current Estonian economic model and I guess he is running a long-term race;
• There is a big guilt complex in Finland: several influential Finns still believe they didn’t support Estonia enough in the 1940-1991 period and they are eager to contribute for the sake of Estonia;
• Most foreigners have a very limited knowledge of Estonia, since good national branding filters the negative layers (age and gender gap, social exclusion, tensions between ethnic Russians and Estonians, a fifth of the population in poverty, etc.);
• Vike-Freiberga is, perhaps alongside former President Lennart Meri, the most prominent Baltic tribune ever. It’s impressive how she uses her skills as a former Psychologist;
• The dialogues and exchange of impressions amongst “Estonia’s friends” have a multiplying effect.

Of course, all this can seem extremely subjective and too rosy. Most visitors would feel pleased to be hosted in Steinbock House by Mr. Ansip, and to have lunch in Kadriorg Palace with Mr. and Mrs. Ilves on the 20th August, a rather symbolic date for Estonia. That's why I reserve the last paragraphs for some concrete hints. Not an easy thing to do: if one lives here, one understands better where propaganda and national branding end and where harsh daily reality starts.

Anyway, some of my not-so-modest suggestions for the near future of Estonia:

• Prepare for globalization using curious-minded and well-travelled Estonian youth: the Erasmus generation can be the best ambassador of Estonia to the world;
• Since there is a potential patriot in every Estonian, award them an official mission: increase their grants and create a programme where they can promote the country;
• Start solving the gender gap, a big shame for a Nordic nation that is making hopeless Estonian young women leave the country;
• It's time to move on from Skype’s example: something fresh and new is sorely needed;
• Why are Estonians still turning their back on Finland, which was recently considered by “Newsweek” as the best country in the world to live? Get closer is essential, these two nations could start speaking with a single voice more often, it's a positive connotation for Estonia;
• Europe is saturated. Ride on Finland’s current Asiafication process and make Estonia also a hub to Asia;
• Estonian Air should differentiate and launch an intercontinental network in order to send a global sign about Estonian priorities and connectivity. One flight per week would be enough, since we also need symbolism. For instance: Tbilisi (Georgia is a pet country), Singapore (a good case-study for Estonia), Bangalore (IT exchange), Shanghai (an icon of Asian emergence), Tokyo (it's essential to be connected to post-modernity cutting-edge practices, in addition to Japanese fashion and tourism industries), New York (a direct connection to USA) and Toronto (a concrete sign for the Estonian diaspora);
• Keep this meeting: it was organized in a way that just the ones who feel something for Estonia want to attend;

Small countries tend to be very delicate ecosystems where resources are limited. The one-shot theory usually prevails and we all know Estonia can't afford to miss stupid bullets. Nevertheless, paralysis and fear would be much worse. What did I like best in the event? Seeing how Estonia is deciding to attack the future.

More importantly: by integrating those aliens who, for either a very concrete or metaphysical reason, believe in this country.

2 comentários:

Manu disse...

Você é uma janela aberta cheia de luz para a Estônia.

Anónimo disse...

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Tinha aveia para o negócio.