Saturday, February 24, 2007

Estonica: Oracle

In the immortal words of Will Smith, Why don't you exercise your right to shut the fuck up?!

Among Estonian news outlets one stands out - Delfi. A purely online venture, it was the first to allow people to comment on news articles, and has grown to be the traditional platform for such. Of course, the sort of people who spend their time commenting news articles are a particular bunch. Imagine the Slashdot effect with mainstream local news.

At one point, the Reform justice minister Rein Lang argued for a bill that would make Internet commenters liable for their words on par with journalists. I don't recall now if it was ever passed, but there was at least one test case, where a skinhead type was sentenced to a minor suspended jail term for incitement of hatred. The Delfi people began to keep slightly better track of what was going on in the comments, but it was still a constant flame war. You have no idea how many times I wanted to go into the comments section of a news article on the rising average salary, and tell all the folks screaming about how it's a fake statistic to maybe stop spending all their time in Delfi comments and start doing some actual work, maybe then they'd be earning that sort of money. (Which would also be deliciously ironic from a guy who writes a blog and has an RSS feed a mile long.)

Recently our president gave an interview to the BBC's Russian service (source). In this interview he reiterated the position that while the Nazis lost and the Soviets won in WWII, neither of them were welcome in Estonia in the 40s, nor later; and since it was the Soviets who occupied the country for fifty years, deported tens of thousands of Estonians, etc., it's hardly surprising to find that today Estonians have mixed feelings about a heroic monument to a Red Army soldier in the middle of their capital.

Cue Delfi reprinting a Russian government news agency's press release, with the headline:
Soviet forces that fought the fascists were a gang of bandits - Ilves
and delicious misquotes like
the president said that he does not see a problem in the fact that some Russians in Estonia are denied citizenship and discriminated against.
Every time people in Russia start talking about discrimination of Russian population in Estonia, I challenge them to go and find the people being discriminated.

The Delfi dance continued yesterday, with a magic mismatch in the Estonian and Russian editions of the venerable news outlet. What happened was that members of the Estonian National Movement attempted to ceremonially place a memorial wreath to the victims of the Soviet occupation at the Bronze Soldier memorial. And got their asses kicked by the Night Watch, a Russian "honor guard" at the site.

Delfi EE: Nationalists beaten up at Pronksmees. On Friday afternoon, a Russian mob attacked members of the Estonian National Movement who went to Tõnismägi to lay down a memorial wreath for victims of the Red Army.

Delfi RU: Conflict at the Bronze Soldier. According to reports by the Night Watch and the Constitution Party, (a pro-Russian fringe party - FT) a fight broke out near the Bronze Soldier on Tõnismäe: skinheads attacked veterans who were bringing flowers to the memorial.

The article was quickly updated with a translation of the Estonian text, but that first paragraph still stands. How many people, do you think, will read the whole thing through before deciding it was a bunch of neonazi fascist scum attacking some peaceful Russian veterans come to pay tribute to their fallen comrades? And remember, this is the prime news source for people in Russia who make some attempt at least to get an Estonian perspective on things.

Delfi is a successful business venture that caters to its audience. Of course, for them integrity is not a line item. They are just one more example of how Moscow, and its associates - willing or unwilling, informed or ignorant, fully conscious or blinded by propaganda - manipulate the truth to make this country and nation seem like the ultimate bad guys.

As for Delfi commenters, my boss said it best: it may be entertaining to read what people write on the toilet wall, but eventually you just have to paint it over.

Happy Independence Day.

1 comment:

giustino said...

I haven't been able to read Ilves' interview because it's only available in Russian. But I saw they took one quote from him, twisted it, and then enabled a group of young idiots in Moscow to pepper the Estonian embassy with brown colored condoms - a fitting color - for them.

I am still waiting for www.president.ee to have the text in Estonian and/or English so I can read it.

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