Monday, August 3, 2009

Martin Kala: Estonians are wolves to Estonians

Based in Brussels, Martin Kala is an Estonian journalist/columnist at Postimees. In the following article, he gives us his opinion about Estonien patriotism. Source PressEurop.

On national holidays, Estonians band together under the flag, but everyday life in their country is often marked by a reluctance to communicate with strangers. For a columnist in the daily Postimees, it is a lack of sociability that has made Estonia one of the unhappiest countries in Europe.

In the latest edition of the Happy Planet Index (HPI), Estonia is ranked behind all the countries of Europe. What should we make of that? Researchers at the HPI explain that the poor showing results from a lack of social cohesion and a highly diffuse sense of belonging. Estonians are comfortable in the company of friends, but they are largely suspicious of the rest of the world and tend to frown at people they do not know.

When they visit major cities around the world, Estonians may be surprised by the complexities of social behaviour. Their natural directness does not sit well with the formality of politeness, which they often see as arcane and distant. The first thing they discover is that politeness not only applies among friends but also in the streets. In commuter trains, when someone steps on somebody's toe, both parties apologize — one for crushing the other's toe, and the other for not moving his or her feet out of the way. Such niceties are not insignificant, because they are the expression of a solidarity between human beings, which naturally implies a solidarity with strangers — something that Estonians have yet to learn.

In our daily lives, we are continually confronted with a sense of being among strangers. For example, a few days ago, I was standing outside my parents' apartment building rooting in my bag for keys. A large man appeared behind me, where he waited impatiently jingling his own bunch of keys. When I finally got inside, I held open the door for this thug who tramped into the apartment opposite my parents' without any thanks or even a nod of acknowledgement. It might not sound very important, but every building is a microcosm of our society, and every moment that is marked by this kind of rudeness can ruin an entire day.

Estonians - wolves in Estonia

When I was at university in the mid-1990s, there was a lot of talk about the wisdom of ancient Rome. Capitalism was in full swing, and the expression "Homo homini lupus" seemed to be a perfect fit for the spirit of the times. Having accepted that "man is a wolf for man" was all right for the Romans, we quickly became inured to the idea of Estonians preying on other Estonians. As mutual aid and understanding were unlikely to occur naturally, we sought to promote good feelings with special events and holidays. In the absence of a direct threat to the nation, they were the only occasions when people were ready to band together. In recent times, we have seen many examples of shared initiatives or gatherings for national holidays [the annual Song Festival at the beginning of July, the June inauguration of the Statue of Independence, and let's not forget the national forest cleanup in 2008, or the civic education workshops]. Often these are manifestations of a certain nationalism, albeit a rather shallow one.

Who is being targeted by all of these national holidays? A new generation of young people, born 20 years ago, which has grown up in spite of the difficulties of day-to-day life and the uncertain future — and it is assumed that memories of the great nationalist speeches, or the Baltic Way human chain [in August 1989], will mean much less to them than the recollection of their first mobile phones, or their first holidays abroad... As for me, a child of the late 1970s, I do not remember a sense of Estonian identity that was stronger then than it is now, nor do I believe that the image of our independence and the Estonian flag were more cherished than they are today. In any case, I do not see why Estonians' capacity to communicate should depend on the national flag — an inability to communicate when the flag is not raised is a sign that we are living in an emotional void. The sense of excitement that marked the early years of independence is now being replaced by a feeling of fear as though we were living in Latin America, where heads of state make speeches that have no bearing on real life, and where people wave the flag while pulling the rug from under their neighbours' feet.

1 comments - React:

Ludo said...

I didnt't live with the estonians when I stayed in Estonia. I lived within the russian community. There is little communication between the two communities too. Certain situations could be interpreted as tensions. This post is very revealing. I wonder what others concerned people can think about this opinion.