Monday, July 03, 2006

Estonica: National

As Estonia's economy soars at almost 10% annual growth on the back of international business, the message to foreign investors is: We really like you guys and are happy to be working with you, just please don't move here.

Estonians are nationalistic. It would be wrong to call them xenophobes; they are a small nation, and smart enough to realize that they cannot survive and prosper without interaction with others. But, while modern middle-class Estonians love to travel, they are not particularly happy about anyone coming over here.

You can see where they're coming from. Estonia has been conquered by more or less everyone in the general vicinity (would you believe, Poland?), and recent history has not shown it to be in any way beneficial. Estonians don't actually hold grudges as a nation; they're quite happy dealing with Germans, Swedes, Danes - yes, even Poles. The enmity between Estonians and Russians will disappear over time; as generations change, people who have never lived under occupation will have no reason to treat Russians with undue contempt. Local Russian-speakers have mostly done well to integrate into a national society, and tourists from Moscow and St. Petersburg are actually quite welcome; they spend lots of money and behave a lot better than the drunk Finns* or British stag parties. But Estonians still have every cause to dislike foreigners.

This might be a major part of the reason for Estonia's IT miracle, the staple of the booming new economy. The funny thing about globalization in the early 21st century is that it actually allows national cultures to be preserved better. Local programmers can be a part of the worldwide workforce, right at the leading edge of the industry (Kazaa, Skype and Hotmail were all developed by Estonians) without necessarily having to turn the country into a 51st state. My employer, who you have never heard of unless you're in the industry, but whose major customers are household names all over the 'Net, is a shining example of how a multinational enterprise can become hugely successful by using passionate southerners for customer relations purposes, leaving the technical solutions to cold, methodical northerners.

In a connected world, multiculturalism may soon outlive its usefulness; prosperity can be spread to outlying territories without imposition of alien values or lifestyles. Tolerance for other cultures may effectively give way to a mild form of nationalism, with ethnocentric states acting as fully functional elements of the global economy. There is no compelling reason for thousands of Indians to move to London if they can have a decent quality of life back at home.

*Finns are Estonians' cousins and the two countries are closely aligned in political terms, plenty of Estonians have family across the bay, and generally Finns are well-liked; but the vodka tourists are still fucking annoying.

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