Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Indepenent went to Liepaja, ended up in Kremlin



In a surprising move for British press one of the island's publications, the Independent, lashed out at Estonia and Latvia for allegedly bad treatment of their Russian-speaking minorities. The author of this piece, Mr Chris Schüler went to Latvian city of Liepaja, where he made following discoveries about the situation of Baltic states' former Russian colonists:

Non-citizens cannot vote, obtain an EU passport or travel abroad, leaving them effectively stateless – a situation which has drawn sharp criticism from the United Nations, the Council of Europe and Amnesty International.

He also uncovered further truth:

Unemployment is twice as high among Russian speakers as among Estonians, and research by the University of Tartu has found that, for those in work, the pay gap has widened since 1989, to peak at 25 per cent in 2003.

Russian-speakers account for 58 per cent of Estonia's prison population and approximately 80 per cent of HIV-positive cases. They have a higher incidence of respiratory diseases, alcoholism and drug addiction and, according to a paper published in the British Medical Journal in 2004, significantly higher rates of suicide than native Estonians or Russians in Russia.

Even though the numbers-based facts in question are probably correct there are two problems with the picture in the Mr Schüler's piece. First, the particular passages about many ills befallen the Russians in the Baltic states seem as if they came out right of Kremlin PR people's mouth. The issue here is that there's no Estonian point of view provided to present an alternative opinion. There's just Kremlin's babble going on for dozens of kilobytes of text. Unfortunately Mr Schüler here failed the standards of good journalism. We are going to see the results of this failure in a moment. For now we need to remember that this is a piece in the press of the UK, thus the one-sideness is perhaps not surprising because that country holds just 24th place in the World Press Freedom Index, as opposed to Estonia's 3rd. This can explain why there are occasional errors made even in the respectable looking outlets. I have to admit though that the majority of the press in the UK has in fact been covering the situation generally within the frames of adequacy, therefore the conclusions made in this blog entry should not be extrapolated too broadly.


Nashi owe to comrades from the Independent a hug and coupons for free WW2 makaroni soup.
(www.russianspy.org)

Second problem, which derives from the first one, this being the absence of Estonian POV, is the problem of interpretation of the facts provided. I agree that the 25% difference in wages between Russians and Estonians mentioned in the piece is bad. This admitted following question remains: what difference could be seen as "normal" or "common" and what difference is deserving "concern"? Zero per cent, 5 per cent, 15 per cent? Is 25 per cent cut bigger or smaller than the cut in wages between the United Kingdom's aboriginal and immigrant population? What about EU average? World average? If it were discovered, say, that elsewhere such differences are even higher what would it tell us about Estonia?

Let's actually attempt this comparison, albeit on small scale. Entering following keywords "difference in wages", "United Kingdom" and "immigrants" into Google search engine provides, at the top, a study in the UK just about this issue. On the page 46 of this study we discover, that in the 90s, the immigrants in the UK earned overall 10 per cent less than the indigenoius people. However Bangladeshis (283 thousands of them in the UK, Wiki) earned an amazing 48% less. That's virtually two times less! I figure that our Russians earn, of course, less than our Finnish minority (thousands of people, which moved from Finland earn a lot more than indigenous Estonians), but much more than Bangladeshis in the UK compared to indigenous people of the Kingdom of Unity. I wonder what says the Independent on the disturbing situation of the poor - literally - Bangladeshis? Mr Schüler? Anyone? I guess Bangladeshian Pravda is not doing the job of "educating" the schülers of the World.

Similarly, no background is provided to back up the rest of the list of the alleged Estonian minorities' problems, including vodka and drugs. Without having the proper background, studying the relevant facts we can't be sure about anything. Much less can we rely on article, written of Russian FM web page.

But wait! How about the criticism of Estonia by the United Nations, the Council of Europe and Amnesty International, referred in the article? They surely had taken care of all relevant background and statistics in order to be objective, right?

Yes and not. In fact more not than yes. The truth is that background added in the one on one comparison it is the United Kingdom, not Estonia, which would win the competition for the title of the bad boy. Because, as I said, it is easy to say "look, here the UN criticized Estonia", when in fact it may be a good thing because maybe for the UN it is normal to criticize a country twice. Of course, you won't find out about it unless you listen to the other party in the dispute, not just the KGB school graduate lawyers.

Let's analyze the work of the Council of Europe, one of the leaders of which, Mr Van der Linden is famous in my country for both his deep estophobia and his prominence in developing his business project in Russia (what a coincidence!).

The web site of the Council of Europe has built in search option. Let's obtain the list of officially adopted documents using following search criteria: AP Documents, Adopted Texts. Keywords: Estonia, United.
After running the search, which provides an extensive list of references to official documents of the European organization let's then attempt to analyze if the two countries, which are the UK and Estonia, encountered any diffuclties on their quest to freedom and human rights... Since 1996 because this is the year when Estonia became a member, the UK became a member some 30 years earlier. Here I present my list of "unfavorable documents", which are the documents specifically condemning, giving recommendations or describing problems in two countries. You can check the choice yourself by running own search.

The results:

Documents, unfavorable to Estonia:
RECOMMENDATION 1313 (1997) 1 on the honoring of obligations and commitments by Estonia;

Documents, unfavorable to UK:
RESOLUTION 1342 (2003)1 The Office of the Lord Chancellor in the constitutional system of the United Kingdom;
RESOLUTION 1389 (2004)1 The Council of Europe and the conflict in Northern Ireland;

Looking inside the texts reveals that these documents are in every sense comparable. For example in 1997 the Council gives four recommendations to Estonia on the process of Estonia's accession to the Council. And in 2003 it gives three recommendations to the UK on the issue of the Office of the Chancellor. Of course, the resolution of Northern Ireland crisis could be seen as outstanding because of its gravity, but I am willing to scale it down to match the Estonian case.

So, as demonstrated above, the United Kingdom scored twice more reprimands from the Council. The UK gets two resolutions in 2003 and 2004 as opposed to one recommendation from the Council in 1997, when Estonia was entering the organization, six years after becoming independent from under occupation in 1991.

Now let's move on to unofficial documents of the Council, in particular to its Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, which should be particularly relevant to the question raised by the Independent. According to the web site, the (sub)organization is periodically reviewing the situation with regard to minority human rights in all member states of the Council, making recommendations as necessary. So, how many shortcomings have the Commission uncovered in its latest reports on the UK and on Estonia? The web site has all the reports nicely lined up. The reports, in turn, have all the defects outlined.
In Estonia 54 issues were discovered, while in the UK the number was 57! So much about "sharp criticism".

Because of lack of time I am skiping much of the rest of the pasquille leaving out a number of other claims, obviously fed to the journalist by the "benign face of Russian nationalism in the Slavic cultural associations flourishing throughout the region", with the exception of the female taxi driver raising the existential question:

"They can sack you not because you are a bad worker, not because passengers have been complaining, but because you don't know Estonian well. I don't have a job and I cannot pay for Estonian language courses. How am I going to live?"

For me personally her solution could be moving back to Russia, where she should be a citizen in accordance with the 1947 international convention on warfare, which forbids civilian colonization of the occupied territories and 2005 Putin's decree calling on the abroad-living Russians to return to Motherland (50 thousands returnees from across the globe were planned for 2007, 400 agreed to return). At the same time I understand that she personally would prefer the regime in Estonia (or in the UK for that matter, after all the racism in the UK doesn't seem much more problematic). But if she stays why not take free language courses provided in Estonia for years en masse. It is even hard to imagine a bona fide Russian interviewee who wouldn't know about the free language courses, because as I said they are massive and popular among the locals.

But for Mr Schüler from the Independent I have different advise: use the time in the Baltic states wisely, learn about freedom, democracy and tolerance from Estonia.

32 comments:

Mr. Potato Head said...

"This can explain why there are occasional errors made even in the respectable looking outlets."

As someone who has worked in media, I can assure you that most mistakes are a result of ignorance or sloppiness. "Press freedom rankings" have little (if anything) to do with it.

"it is the United Kingdom, not Estonia, which would win the competition for the title of the bad boy."

I don't understand your logic. In an article on the Baltic states, the author should also point out that the UK has some faults too? Is an Estonian journalist required to criticize Estonia when he writes an article on problems in the UK?

The form of criticism you make here is what Russians call a "sam durak" argument (i.e. "you can't criticize me because you have some faults too"). Is that really the kind of argument you wish to make?

Max said...

A splendid riposte to Schüler's canard. Sadly, our common hope that such irresponsible adventurer/scribblers actually learnanything about local history or conditions before broadcasting their dismal ignorance is almost sure to be dashed. Schüler's is hotel-room journalism at its worst. I shouldn't doubt that his 'story' was effectively 'written'before he ever left London. Doubtless his editor told him he liked the Van der Loons' or Van der Faaks' polemics and Chrissy-boy could just colour in the blank spaces...

The Schülers of this world, before aspiring to unravel the Gordian knot of Baltic minorities, ought to spend a week or so in almost ANY provincial town in Russia. It's likely their reactions might replicate those of the Swiss nutbar who recently discovered true democracy in Belarus!

Mr. Potato Head said...

"The Schülers of this world, before aspiring to unravel the Gordian knot of Baltic minorities, ought to spend a week or so in almost ANY provincial town in Russia."

In other words - since life is worse in Russia, we should just ignore any problems in the Baltics. Right?

Max said...

NO. 'Be careful what you pray for; you might get it!'

mina said...

"In other words - since life is worse in Russia, we should just ignore any problems in the Baltics. Right?"

First we should define the problem we want to discuss. At the moment the problem was simply incompetent, lazy or biased journalist. Even most simple facts are often wrong in the article.

For example, I quote: "In Estonia […]Non-citizens cannot vote".

Yes, they can!

observer said...

Hmm I don't find this blog post very impressive. It's exactly the same as the standard Russian response you get on any blog criticising Russia - "Russia is being aggressive - Answer: Well Russia is not going around the world occupying Iraq and Afghanistan like the US and Britain"; or "Russia is a racist place" - Answer: "Well look at the racism in Europe and America, such-and-such guy was beaten up in this town on Saturday March 14"...

Surely you can come up with a better argument rather than "Yeah, but over there..."?

Or at least tell us a country which you consider so perfect that their journalists can dare to write an article about Estonia that you might not agree with? If you name one, perhaps we can ask a reporter from that country to write a piece about Estonia.

I guess I am just agreeing with Mr Potato Head but this is the impression I got too.

By the way, I think you have manipulated the comparisons between each country's minorities. There are many many minorities in the UK, and rather than take the overall difference in wage - 10% - you deliberately pinpointed the sub-group with the highest differences, most of whom live in one of the poorest boroughs in the UK.

The only way the comparison could be fair is if we identified one particularly poor Russophone town and compared it to Tower Hamlets (where many Bangladeshis in the UK live)rather than take an overall AVERAGE (the Estonian figure) and compare it against an EXTREME low that forms part of an average (the Bangladesh portion of the UK minority average).

observer said...

Non-citizens can only vote in local elections, no? Not for parliamentary elections?

So in that respect I suppose they have the same rights as myself going to another EU country and being able to vote for local council elections - but I still cannot vote to change the direction a country is going as I have no say on their national government.

Come on people, it's not a perfect article by any means but this jumping down the throat of the messenger looking for inconsistencies rather than actually considering any constructive points that could be taken from the article (not just in this case but in a lot of cases whether it involves articles like this, Amnesty, whoever) - well it's just unbecoming of a country that likes to consider itself a modern European democracy.

mina said...

And may I ask are local elections not "elections"?

Maybe Estonia doesn't let Russians to write in Russian (...vulgar insults on the wall of opera building - but oh? I forgot to mention the second, utterly unimportant part).

Max said...

Observer,

I don't believe it was our host's intent to 'manipulate' figures, merely to point out with the googled UK figures re minorities how easy it is to show how distorted and misleading such figures can be when taken out of context and furthermore without consideration of WHY such figures, especially re pathological stats (addictions, etc) actually obtain. Not everything is as it appears to the casual observer from afar; not everything is the fault of governments , Estonian or UK. There might just be other dynamics at work which are peculiar or internal to the particular minorities.

Come on people, it's not a perfect article by any means but this jumping down the throat of the messenger looking for inconsistencies rather than actually considering any constructive points that could be taken from the article (not just in this case but in a lot of cases whether it involves articles like this, Amnesty, whoever) - well it's just unbecoming of a country that likes to consider itself a modern European democracy.

There's a mouthful, Observer. I find nothing 'constructive' in Schüler's ill-informed, wafer-thin collage of spurious allegations and second- and third-hand quotes. It's irresponsible and unprofessional hotel-room journalism bundled together on the fly. And it was the recurrent nature of such 'journalism' that was the issue, as 'Mina' rightly pointed out.

And exactly WHAT is 'unbecoming of a country that likes to consider itself a modern European democracy'?

Well, for a country that (absorb the fact! ) emerged from a half-century of foreign totalitarian rule a mere 15 years ago, Estonia's progress is a matter of record, not opinion. Your snotty patronizing tone is entirely out of place. As for attributing to the 'country' the individual bloggers' objections to a piece of pulp journalism, it's a leap of logic that is unfathomable. Perfect countries? I'm not sure there are any. However, the home of the 'Mother of Parliaments' must surely make your short list of those entitled to 'consider itself a modern European democracy.' Do you also consider the endless polemic exchanges amongst Times and Telegraph readers re 'Britishness' and 'Englishness' , er, unbecoming?

Whatever happened to free speech?

But I point out that it was you who chose to expand the discussion to national 'fitness' to express opinions. And it is your astonishingly rash opinion that all those who are repelled by the cheap bleating of the Schülers must necessarily have a vested interest or be local.

Many of us just have a vested interest in fairness,truth and objectivity.

observer said...

"Whatever happened to free speech?"

Well on this comment section it appears it gets responded to by comments such as:

"Your snotty patronizing tone is entirely out of place."

Oh well. Love the irony.

"As for attributing to the 'country' the individual bloggers' objections to a piece of pulp journalism, it's a leap of logic that is unfathomable.

Fine words, Max, fine words. But the response of the individual bloggers is pretty much a reflection of how the government of the country angrily reacts if the slightest criticism comes in from an international newspaper or organisation. It would be refreshing if for once, we heard, "Well, hmm, Amnesty, PACE, the EU, the UN, various international newspapers have raised this issue, they can't ALL be COMPLETELY wrong, perhaps we should reflect on some of the common points and see if we can improve them," rather than, "How DARE they?"

"Perfect countries? I'm not sure there are any. However, the home of the 'Mother of Parliaments' must surely make your short list of those entitled to 'consider itself a modern European democracy. However, the home of the 'Mother of Parliaments' must surely make your short list of those entitled to 'consider itself a modern European democracy.'Do you also consider the endless polemic exchanges amongst Times and Telegraph readers re 'Britishness' and 'Englishness' , er, unbecoming?."

You are mixing up entirely different points I made into one convoluted rambling passage. Let me break it down for you.

1)If the blogger feels that someone from the UK is in no position to make any criticism perhaps he can suggest a "perfect" country from which a reporter could be found that would meet the blogger's criteria.

2)If an unfavourable report comes in on the UK, yes the government will undoubtedly refute it, but there is a strong tradition of opposition parties, newspapers, non-governmental bodies and individuals seizing the baton and pummelling the government with this issue. Not everybody jumps on the nationalist bandwagon and follows the party line of "how dare they criticise us!" There doesn't seem to be that diversity of opinion in Estonia, everybody immediately lines up as a united front and refuses to consider that there may be SOME valid points in what an outsider is saying.

3) As far as the nationalist comments made by Times and Telegraph readers, it's an internet site for comments. If there is a picture of a black man in postimees, 9 times out of 10 I would say I see within the first 15 or 20 comments statements such as, "Mis see neegr teeb?" or "Neegrid on kriminalid, ei tulge estimaale".

"But I point out that it was you who chose to expand the discussion to national 'fitness' to express opinions."

I assume you are saying this because I made the comment about "a modern democracy" being able to take criticism. But I haven't expanded the discussion, because the major thrust of the blogger's original post seems to be that because the reporter is from a country that is not perfect, he lacks fitness to make any non-complimentary statements about Estonia.

But you know what? If it pleases you, let's go with the Soviet-style line, shall we? "Comrades, the glorious government of Estonia is as ever looking out for the best interests of all its citizens and no inequalities exist. Do not listen to foreign propaganda!"

Does that fit in with your line of thinking better?

observer said...

As it happens, compared to many countries, I actually think the Russian minority (at least in Tallinn) has it pretty good. As Giustino has pointed out on his blog, pretty much all their commercial needs are catered for in their own language.

So I am not here to scream about discrimination against Russians, I actually think Estonia is handling it quite fairly, especially given the history. And I DO think Russians should try and make at least a little more effort to speak the language, at least up to my (basic) level, which I acquired after maybe 6 months there.

However, there is always room for improvement and it would be nice if voices from outside giving evaluations or recommendations would actually be listened to rather than automatically dismissed or given the "but in your country" response.

Mr. Potato Head said...

"However, there is always room for improvement and it would be nice if voices from outside giving evaluations or recommendations would actually be listened to rather than automatically dismissed or given the "but in your country" response."

Indeed - when a country joins the EU, its internal problems suddenly become the business of other member states and such organizations as the ones you listed above. I wonder how many Balts are suffering "buyer's remorse" because of this?

I hope things work out. But dismissing outside criticism as "Estophobia" does not strike me as a good way of tackling the problems.

observer said...

"I wonder what says the Independent on the disturbing situation of the poor - literally - Bangladeshis?"

Tegelikult, over the years the Independent and all major newspapers have covered this topic, perhaps not specifically limited to Bangladeshis in each case but about minorities. Here's 2 articles just in the last 12 months:-

http://tinyurl.com/ynve7y

The Independent 20/09/07

"...Of the different black and Asian groups, the Bangladeshis generally suffer the worst social problems, but their children are probably better off than the children of Irish or gypsy travellers"

http://tinyurl.com/32bdno

The Independent 30/04/07

"Disproportionate numbers of ethnic minority workers are in low-paid jobs. Half of Bangladeshi workers, one-third of Pakistanis and one-quarter of black Africans are earning less than £6.50 an hour, the JRF discovered. As a result, 60 per cent of Bangladeshi and 40 per cent of Pakistani families in which at least one adult is working face poverty, compared with only 10 to 15 per cent of white Britons."

Note that this is a UK newspaper - the Independent - writing about UK problems. Can they have your permission now to write about problems in other countries?

There you go, happy to be of service. Let me know if you want more examples.

Anonymous said...

What the hell is a pasquille?

Anonymous said...

probably incorrect gender is used, the right word should be pasquill: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasquill

Max said...

Observer said,
As far as the nationalist comments made by Times and Telegraph readers, it's an internet site for comments.

So's this one. Not fronting for any government or party to the best of my knowledge. So why attribute comments herein to Toompea, especially if some of them (like my own) emanate from 5000 miles away?

If an unfavourable report comes in on the UK, yes the government will undoubtedly refute it, but there is a strong tradition of opposition parties, newspapers, non-governmental bodies and individuals seizing the baton and pummelling the government with this issue. Not everybody jumps on the nationalist bandwagon and follows the party line of "how dare they criticise us!"

That's true. But isn't it likely that the more moderate and passive Estonians aren't as forthcoming with their online comments? And, whilst accusing me of a deficiency of self-irony, you aren't you perhaps overlooking the fact that English as a language is not exactly under siege? ;-)

Not that English hasn't been enforced as an official language in various jurisdictions globally. There are plenty of Welshmen and -women still living who recall being caned for being caught speaking Cymric in the schoolyard, and ditto Canadian aboriginals in resiential schools.

Tolerance takes time, and it is a two=way street. It is not exactly irrelevant to recall that the last Russian troop train crosssed the border at Narva in August 1994. I've spoken with countless Estonians who prior to that time would be frequently admonished, not only by officials but also by their Russophone fellow citizens on public transport, to 'speak a human language.' Hence a degree of defensiveness might well be expected on their part, whilst among Estonian Russophones there might survive a legacy of attitudes which blur the distinction between rights and loss of privilege.

At one point I worked in an exclusively Francophone milieu for two decades, and I discovered early on that what was required to gain acceptance by the collegial majority was not perfect fluency in French, but a simple and demonstrable willingness to communicate. (This came as no great suprise, I must admit, as French is my fourth language.)

I have lived a good many years in or on the outskirts of a city of 5 million where fully 3/4 of the inhabitants are either immigrants or children of immigrants. So the acquisition of English is not a pressing requirement for survival. Demographically based studies over the years nonetheless show a clear linkage between adaptation to English as a lingua franca and operating exclusively in one's original mother tongue (which is entirely possible, given the size of some ethnic communities). Also, it is interesting to note that the acquisition of English is not uniformly linked to length of time certain groups have been resident in the country, NOR (plse note!) is acquisition of English directly linked to any abandonment of the group's ethnocultural identity.

And official or institutional pressures play a very minor part in 'official language' acquisition in Canada outside of Québec. Even there, in practice if not in law, the attitudes have become much more relaxed in recent years on both sides of the Anglo-Francophone 'divide.'

Give it time. Be of good cheer. The smarter Russophones who view Estonia as their homeland have already figured out their priorities and find language acquisition (be it English or Estonian) to be 'no big deal.'

Sorry, Observer, to have prefixed 'snotty' when 'patronizing'would have done. ;-)

Your subsequent postings reveal a greater understanding of the Estophone position that was initially apparent.

I merely wished to stress that one ought not expect wholehearted acceptance of 'piling on' criticism from every EU bureaucrat or journeyman newspaperman who drops in for a day or two, especially given recent history and the current campaign of vilification by the Kremlin. Rather, such an onslaught (rightly perceived as such, given the pressures of rebuilding their nation at flank speed) inclines the Estonians and their friends to say, in Dr Sam Johnson's words, "Clean your fingers before you point at my spots."

Max said...

Mea culpa! I wrote:

Demographically based studies over the years nonetheless show a clear linkage between adaptation to English as a lingua franca and operating exclusively in one's original mother tongue (which is entirely possible, given the size of some ethnic communities)...

I meant to finish the sentence:

...and the respective ethnic groups' socio-economic status.

(Sorry... Falling asleep here...

observer said...

"why attribute comments herein to Toompea, especially if some of them (like my own) emanate from 5000 miles away?"

I believe I have already answered that I am not attributing them to the House on the hill, but remarking on how closely they generally echo the party line coming down from the House.

And in any case, is a country just its government? Do individual views not be taken into account? Those readers' views in the Telegraph that you alluded to may not represent the whole country, but rightly or wrongly, they do represent a significant subsection of society.

"But isn't it likely that the more moderate and passive Estonians aren't as forthcoming with their online comments?"

Absolutely. Sometimes when I compare the comments I read on boards like this with the generally easy-going attitudes of the Estonians I personally know, I wonder if they originate from the same country!

"NOR (plse note!) is acquisition of English directly linked to any abandonment of the group's ethnocultural identity."

Interestingly, I'd say all, or something like 99%, of people born in the UK to immigrant parents grow up speaking English as their main language, with proficiency in their "mother's tongue" ranging from fluent to pidgin. When I visit France and see second-generation Algerians or Moroccan teenagers "hangima" they seem to be speaking French to each other. Granted in many of the cases above they may be speaking a slang-rich street version of the language, but nevertheless it is the language of the country they've been born into. The same doesn't apply in Estonia or Latvia. Perhaps because the minorities are such a large segment of society? Or is it that English and French are regarded as more useful than tiny Estonian?

"Such an onslaught inclines the Estonians and their friends to say, in Dr Sam Johnson's words, "Clean your fingers before you point at my spots.""

Oh I understand the attitude but understanding and condoning are two different things. If the Estonians are not prepared to listen to outsiders, why should their partners listen to them? When Estonia is trying to drum up an international consensus for energy security in Europe or warning of a resurgent Russia, why should their international partners be anything but as dismissive as they are?

Too much defensiveness and bluster and partners begin to stop taking you seriously and avoid engaging with you. Look at how Poland was quickly painting itself into a corner, under the previous administration.

And I'm sorry, but to an outsider, when you read that PACE (flawed, I know), the UN (Mr Doudou's recent visit), Amnesty (annual report, not 100% complimentary) and various newspapers (especially when the situation was brought under the spotlight in April) ALL seem to be highlighting common factors, and the only response in each case is angry denials, well, you begin to wonder... and if enough of your partners begin to wonder, well that's a dangerous thing.

For an example of angry denials, just look at the headline in this original blog post: "Independent Reporter ends up in the Kremlin". Is the author seriously suggesting that the UK and Russia are on such good terms at the moment - what with the tit-for-tat expulsions, closure of British Council offices, election in Russia of a suspect wanted in the UK - that there has been an effort to toe the Kremlin line?... The reporter may have been sloppy but I'd hardly ascribe such a sinister motive to him.

"English as a language is not exactly under siege"

THIS is the key reason why I'm willing to accept that Estonia is in a special position that even the Francophones in Quebec are not - it's a language spoken by only about a million people, whose population is not exactly experiencing a growth spurt, and does need special protection. But there has to be a clear line drawn between protection of the language and vindictiveness - e.g. the Language Inspectorate's antics which could be read in this vein, or for example the loud protests about the recent proposal to open up a Russian-language college.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

"And I'm sorry, but to an outsider, when you read that PACE (flawed, I know), the UN (Mr Doudou's recent visit), Amnesty (annual report, not 100% complimentary) and various newspapers (especially when the situation was brought under the spotlight in April) ALL seem to be highlighting common factors, and the only response in each case is angry denials, well, you begin to wonder... and if enough of your partners begin to wonder, well that's a dangerous thing."

Wishful thinking. On the April issue the foreign press is faithfully on our side. My favorites are Financial Times, Economist, Frankfurter Allgemeigne Zeitung, Liberation. There's no support even n leftist press, except relict Marxist publications and half dozen opinion pieces by far left politicians, published ex officio. From the point of view of organizations it is European Parliament, which spoke clearly on the issue, twice. The others have been so much "pro-Russian" as to just stay deaf to Kremlin babble.

As for the UN and PACE, this time in more general sense, there's no issue, as already demonstrated. The UN and PACE review and criticize all member states with Estonia most likely being significantly under median line.

True, Kremlin, its foreign ministry and various politicians with their constant litany of lies and half-truths may be successful in fooling some, but it is insignificant minority - willing to be fooled - of the Western observers, outnumbered exactly 30 to 1 (see the results of the April vote in European Parliament).

observer said...

"On the April issue the foreign press is faithfully on our side."

I agree that most of the newspapers on the April issue agreed that Russia was throwing its weight around, and that rioting was unjustifiable. However a lot of the reports I read ALSO wrote about the riots being an explosion stemming from a simmering frustration from perceptions of discrimination... The papers were NOT condoning the actions of the rioters but there WAS an element of understanding. And at least one paper I read back then mentioned that some EU partners were not necessarily happy about being dragged into a situation that they felt Estonia had unnecessarily provoked for electoral purposes. So while they were on your side, it was not unreserved backing. And why did any of the major EU countries take so long to speak out? I notice the initial support came from the other Baltic countries that Estonia is trying so hard to dissociate itself from in its drive to become "Nordic".

Don't get comfortable with the idea that how you see things or how some highbrow papers write things is the way people automatically see it. On a few occasions when I have mentioned Estonia to people (from the UK and other EU countries) they say, "Oh isn't that the country that's racist to Russians?" and I have had to defend it, explain the history and the reasons why the language needs to be protected.

"The UN and PACE review and criticize all member states"

This is a fair point. So why react so defensively? Just calmly explain the realities (which I've mentioned in a previous post are not that bad) rather than howl about "estophobia" and accuse others of being in thrall to the Kremlin. THAT approach is not likely to bring much sympathy and understanding.

observer said...

By the way, I notice you have not responded to the examples I have given about the Independent covering the "Poor Bangladeshis in the UK" at least twice in the last year. Now, of course you are not writing for a national newspaper so you shouldn't be held to the same standards as Schüler but all it took to find these articles was to do a quick search on the Independent's site with key words "bangladeshi" "white" "Britain". It might have been a good idea to do this before asking, "What does the Independent say about Bangladeshis' situation in Britain?" Carelessness is not limited to journalists.

But as far as Schüler's carelessness I notice something nobody has picked up on so far. He says, "Non-citizens cannot...travel abroad". Correct me if I'm wrong but hasn't the EU recently passed a motion allowing "grey" passport holders to travel within the EU?

So, yes it is a sloppy article and at no point did I defend it. But to say that because he comes from imperfect Britain he has no right to report on this is a very weak argument.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) said...

Now, of course you are not writing for a national newspaper so you shouldn't be held to the same standards as Schüler

This is personal, point of view, blog intended to expose neo-soviet Russia and her sympathizers in as strong wording as they deserve.

And at least one paper I read back then mentioned that some EU partners were not necessarily happy about being dragged into a situation that they felt Estonia had unnecessarily provoked for electoral purposes.

I read about it thousand times. I am "Pravda" subscriber.

And why did any of the major EU countries take so long to speak out?

I applauded their swift reaction.

"The UN and PACE review and criticize all member states"
This is a fair point. So why react so defensively? Just calmly explain..


I am not reacting to the UN and so on, but to the article's misinterpretation, which isn't the same. And I am doing it in an unusually calm and friendly, warm way. Usually I am harsher.

THAT approach is not likely to bring much sympathy and understanding.

We already have the understanding that we need, even though it could theoretically be even better. In any case it is better that we concentrate on staying in communication to those, who share same values. It is not within our powers or our resources to educate the rest, though within same mental space communication is easier. It is not clear to me however that this is this blog's goal.

observer said...

"I read about it thousand times. I am "Pravda" subscriber."

Well my Russian is pretty limited so I am pretty sure the paper was an English-language one.

"This is personal, point of view, blog "

Fine, but I challenged you on a statement you made asking what the Independent has to say about Bangladeshis, by easily finding some articles. Even on your own personal blog you could try to avoid making obvious mistakes, because it casts the rest of your words into doubt.

"I applauded their swift reaction."

You're not being serious are you? Beyond the hand-wringing and "oh riots are terrible," the major reactions only came after the Swedish ambassador got hassled in Moscow. Before that there was a pretty long ominous silence.

"We already have the understanding that we need, even though it could theoretically be even better. In any case it is better that we concentrate on staying in communication to those, who share same values. It is not within our powers or our resources to educate the rest, though within same mental space communication is easier. It is not clear to me however that this is this blog's goal."

Oh I see. Preaching to the converted. Members only. We only want to engage with people who think like us and do not wish a dialogue with others.

I don't know what these "shared values" you talk about are, but if an openness to debate isn't one of them, then I'm very sorry to have taken up bandwidth on your blog and disturbed the mutual cheerleading.

observer said...

Actually now that I think about it, I don't agree with what you have said in the last paragraph I quoted above. You go to the trouble to present a blog about "Estonia in world media" to a Russian-speaking audience (who may or may not all be ethnic Russians). So it would appear that you ARE, in fact, reaching out and attempting to educate those who may not necessarily be "on the same page" as you.

Max said...

Observer wrote:
If the Estonians are not prepared to listen to outsiders, why should their partners listen to them?

Hmm...Perhaps because those same partners didn't listen to the Czechs in 1938?

When Estonia is trying to drum up an international consensus for energy security in Europe or warning of a resurgent Russia, why should their international partners be anything but as dismissive as they are?

Because energy security for Europe and Russian bullying are relevant only to the Estonians and no one else?

Ah, the perils of unleashed rhetoric!

observer said...

Tere hommukust!

Max, everyone is aware of the need for energy security and the need to face up to Russia. Putin didn't get to be Time's Person of the Year without making a lot of waves across Europe and the world.

However this does not of itself indicate that the Estonian position is necessarily the best way to go. They need to convince their partners with a reasoned argument why their position should be the preferred choice of action, not just, "Trust us, we know the Russians and if you don't listen you are just Western cowards". I really believe if they just come across as angry and vindictive, then they will be less likely to be listened to.

There's a certain amount of complacency here that is really frightening. You mentioned "those partners not listening to the Czechs in 1938." Well, take a look at the statement above by the OP: "We already have the understanding that we need". I'm pretty sure that there were some people in Estonia saying this in 1938 too!

Mr. Potato Head said...

"There's a certain amount of complacency here that is really frightening. You mentioned "those partners not listening to the Czechs in 1938." "

More to the point - this is not 1938, and such thinking-by-analogy is a lazy substitute for real analysis. For God's sake, isn't it time to put the WW2 analogies aside? I sometimes get the impression that conflict is the only historical event most people can remember.

Max said...

Tere hommukust!

Ah, southern Esto dialect yet: charming! Tere hommikut, ninatark tähenärija!

Look, Observer, you know perfectly well I was offering mildly sardonic and obvious ripostes to two utterly silly rhetorical questions you posed. Now you're attempting to distort and ride the coattails of those responses. Slept in during those Logic 101, classes did we?
;-)

Max, everyone is aware of the need for energy security and the need to face up to Russia. Putin didn't get to be Time's Person of the Year without making a lot of waves across Europe and the world.

Indeed. You had written:

When Estonia is trying to drum up an international consensus for energy security in Europe or warning of a resurgent Russia, why should their international partners be anything but as dismissive as they are?

To which I helpfully responded:

Because energy security for Europe and Russian bullying are relevant only to the Estonians and no one else?

And now - mirabile dictu!- you tell us that everyone else is indeed concerned too!


There's a certain amount of complacency here that is really frightening. You mentioned "those partners not listening to the Czechs in 1938." Well, take a look at the statement above by the OP: "We already have the understanding that we need". I'm pretty sure that there were some people in Estonia saying this in 1938 too!

No, I did not 'mention' anything. You asked why 'partners' ought to listen to Estonians now, and I suggested that perhaps storm warnings ought to have been heeded in the past, and ought to be heeded now.

Estonians may have a multiplicity of defects in national character, but complacency is assuredly not amongst them. And it is absurd to suggest that Estonian attitudes had anything to do with the course of events in 1938 or 1939 (Daladier and Chamberlain weren't from the Baltics, last time I checked, nor were Musso and that other nasty chap), which period,as Mr Potato Head correctly observes, has little bearing on the present... Except of course as yet another instance where the Cassandras of the small powers were ignored.

Surely you cannot put the onus of 'persuasion' to do what is right and in the general interests of Europe on Estonia.

"It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favour of vegetarianism, while the wolf remains of a different opinion.
-Dean William Inge of St Paul's(1915)


Oh, by the way, anyone remember whom TIME Magazine chose as Man of the Year in 1938?
;-)

observer said...

"And now - mirabile dictu!- you tell us that everyone else is indeed concerned too!"

Your grandiloquent writing style belies your rather lackadaisical reading tendencies. If you CAREFULLY re-read my last post you will see that I have also written, "this does not of itself indicate that the Estonian position is necessarily the best way to go." There is indeed concern about the situation but why should others necessarily take the Estonian position as the BEST WAY TO DEAL WITH IT? I certainly am not convinced. When you're dealing with a nation like Russia, who will cut its nose off to spite its face, I really think you need to tread carefully rather than beat the wardrums.

"You asked why 'partners' ought to listen to Estonians now, and I suggested that perhaps storm warnings ought to have been heeded in the past"..."which period,as Mr Potato Head correctly observes, has little bearing on the present..."

I think you need to re-read Mr Potato Head's post again. With his "More to the point" introduction he is not so much addressing my response to you as expanding on it by asking why 1938 was brought into the discussion in the first place. I don't believe I was the first one to throw this into the debate.

"Estonians may have a multiplicity of defects in national character, but complacency is assuredly not amongst them."

Really? You have neglected to address the entirety of the passage in which I brought up complacency. I illustrated my point by highlighting the OP's statement, "We already have the understanding that we need". If that is not a complacent statement, I don't know what is.

"Surely you cannot put the onus of 'persuasion' to do what is right and in the general interests of Europe on Estonia."

This is an arrogant statement implying that Estonia knows best. It needs to "persuade" others that what it is putting forward IS indeed "right and in the general interests of Europe". Nobody has handed it a general mandate to make judgement calls on behalf of Europe.

Regarding the Man of the Year issue, I guess this is your sardonic wit at work again but just to be on the safe side, you do realise that this is a title bestowed on those who have have a marked impact on the world around them, and not necessarily a beneficial one? And yes, I know who received it in 1938 and also who received it in 1939, and the latter is especially reviled in Estonia.

"Slept in during those Logic 101, classes did we? "

This statement serves no constructive purpose whatsoever in a debate.

Max said...

Observer,
I really think you need to tread carefully rather than beat the wardrums.
I'm at a loss. 'Wardrums?' Who's beating wardrums? What did I miss? Those damned Estos on the march again? ;-)

"Surely you cannot put the onus of 'persuasion' to do what is right and in the general interests of Europe on Estonia."

This is an arrogant statement implying that Estonia knows best.


'Arrogant?' 'Implying...?' Your characterization, your projection of implication. I meant nothing more than what I said. Even if Estonia were wall-to-wall Cyrillic or even wiped from the map, as it has been in the past, Europe would still face the same problems with Russia. I was in fact minimizing the relevance of Estonia to the big picture, whether or not it is 'right' or whether its position is even heard or considered.

Yes, I'm aware of the significance of Time's 'Man of the Year' choice, which you invoked as a cautinary reminder of Russia's resurgent power, and my allusion to the 1938 cover was (complete with emoticon!) merely an oblique allusion to graphic storm warnings which have been disregarded in the past.

"Slept in during those Logic 101, classes did we? "

This statement serves no constructive purpose whatsoever in a debate.


Well, it did, Observer, in reference to the way you attempted to turn your own and my responses to your own two rhetorical questions.

Ah, well. I have to admit it's a great pity that those pesky Estonians persist in clinging like lichens to their rocks and trees and don't just emigrate. That way everyone could have all the Cyrillic roadsigns and pipelines their hearts desire, and all would be well....

observer said...

- "Wardrums?' Who's beating wardrums? What did I miss? Those damned Estos on the march again? ;-)"

Right, right. A sardonic tongue-in-cheek response, evidenced by the accompanying emoticon. Had me in stitches.

- "Surely you cannot put the onus of 'persuasion' to do what is right and in the general interests of Europe on Estonia."

"I meant nothing more than what I said."

You are talking about WHERE the responsibility for persuasion should or should not lie. This is a different point to the one I am making. I am saying that not everyone is necessarily convinced there is a NEED for that persuasion in the first place. NB I am referring here NOT to the idea that Russia is a threat or that Europe needs energy security - everybody is more or less already persuaded about that, and I suppose I could have worded it better in my initial reference (Mea Culpa!! as you say) - but that what Estonia and certain other nations may see as the best way to proceed actually IS the best way to proceed; if they sincerely believe that the "softly softly" approach of their partners is the wrong approach and they are being blind to the threat, then yes, the onus IS on them to bring the other partners around to their way of thinking.

Looking at the issue of "onus" in an alternative light: Let's be clear about one thing. I personally do not believe that Russia can afford to start shutting down pipelines to large, rich markets like Germany, France, Britain - too much capital inflow is dependent on there being uninterrupted service. This is a bigger threat to its smaller, immediate neighbours - therefore, in the interests of self-preservation, again yes, the onus IS on these smaller nations to persuade others to come around to their way of thinking.

"Europe would still face the same problems with Russia"

There would still be problems, yes. But there are ways to solve problems and there are ways to exacerbate problems. Who is to say the more laid-back approach of many EU members is not more appropriate? Why not? Because some Estonian politicians and some posters here say so? Sorry, you need more than that to make a convincing argument.

"Ah, well. I have to admit it's a great pity that those pesky Estonians persist in clinging like lichens to their rocks and trees and don't just emigrate. That way everyone could have all the Cyrillic roadsigns and pipelines their hearts desire, and all would be well...."

A perfect example of a childish defensive argument of last resort, akin to a child stamping its feet and shouting "You'll be happy when I'm dead!" And also very much a "You're with us or against us" argument, espoused in recent years by that intellectual giant in the White House. I regret that because I don't see things as cut-and-dried as you appear to, you infer from this that I would be happy to see Estonia totally russified.

I'm not Russian, and I'm not a Russophone (although my Russian is slightly better than my Estonian I admit). I do not want to see Estonia once again turned into an outpost of Russia, if purely for the selfish reason that it will no longer be as welcoming a place for myself, a Western European. I have no vested interest in seeing Estonia give up its national heritage, and this sulky retort seems to indicate that at some point during my discourse I have suggested this. If I inadvertently have, please point out one sentence, one paragraph where I have done. Just one.

If I have objected to anything, it's the initial attitude that just because Great Britain has its own problems, a reporter from there is not entitled to write about problems in other countries - you will note that I have not even attempted to portray this particular reporter as exceptionally accurate and have even pointed out an error in his report that other posters have not mentioned.

Giustino said...

It would be refreshing if for once, we heard, "Well, hmm, Amnesty, PACE, the EU, the UN, various international newspapers have raised this issue, they can't ALL be COMPLETELY wrong, perhaps we should reflect on some of the common points and see if we can improve them," rather than, "How DARE they?"

Late to the party, but here goes.

I personally am disappointed in Amnesty, the UN, and PACE because they offer cosmetic solutions to real problems.

Their solutions generally trend towards adopting generic legislation that has not proven elsewhere to work.

A prime example of the faulty logic of multiculturalism enforced by supranational organization or NGO is Kosovo.

Did you know that Kosovo has three official languages? Serbian, Albanian, and English. Yet despite this status, you know as well as I do that the Albanians and Serbs do not get along for some very obvious historical reasons.

Therefore, I don't think that the United Nations Special Rapporteur Doudou Diene's recommendation, that Estonia take as many other official languages as it wants, is worth anything. It's an empty suggestion by a traveling bureaucrat. Estonia's Russian community would likely find itself in the same situation, regardless of whether or not their language is enshrined in law.

Or take Amnesty International's suggestion that Estonia adopt the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages -- even though when you look at it in terms of media or education Estonia is already fulfilling the terms of that charter.

So they are throwing legislation at problems that only Estonians themselves can solve.