Friday, April 27, 2007

Estonica: Riot

Scratch that. The shit has hit the fan in such a spectacular fashion that I'm waking up with brown specks on my windows - and I'm over a hundred miles away from it all.

By end of business yesterday, a crowd of Russian youths began to assemble at the Bronze Soldier site. By nightfall the police had had enough of the crowd throwing stones at them, and a wall of riot cops, armed with tear gas and flashbangs, drove the protesters back.

What followed was a night of carnage in downtown Tallinn, with the youth mob breaking windows and looting shoops. The police did not confine the crowd, allowing them to disperse into main streets, where cars were overturned and at least one kiosk was set on fire. The TV news crew that was in the thick of it showed drunk, excited faces tearing open stolen cartons of cigarettes and chanting "Rossiya! Rossiya!". One kid was explaining to the reporter in accented Estonian what the mob was after - that history should be reevaluated with their opinion taken into consideration. When asked about the looting, he responded that this was just a few Russians feeling thirsty.

By 2 am the riot was mostly over. Main thoroughfares were blocked by lines of police officers, violent and drunk Russian youths were handcuffed to lamp posts, yelling death threats at TV cameras. Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar, leader of the opposition and the main political force in Estonia ostensibly protecting the interests of the Russian voters, said that as of 2 o'clock the next day, sales of alcohol in the city would be suspended - at least until May 2nd, but the ban may be extended. This period includes Valpurgis Night, the eve of May 1st, traditionally a grassroots carnival night in Estonia.

An emergency session of the government's crisis committee, made up of the Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, Interior Minister Jüri Pihl and Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo, recommended that the Bronze Soldier statue be relocated immediately, in order to prevent further rioting. As of this morning the statue has been moved to the military cemetary, and is being guarded by the police.

Late-night reports tell of the North Prefecture (the authority responsible for all the police in Tallinn and around) have called up every person on the roster, even those whose shifts have ended. The armed police forces have been deployed on Tallinn streets.

The mob's Estonian counterparts are rumored to be gathering later today in Hirve Park; the nationalists are fewer in number, but gearing up for a fight.

Qui bono? Qui culpa? Certainly Ansip is to blame for the timing. Had the excavation been scheduled after May 9th (Victory Day for the Great Patriotic War in Russia), and that day been kept peaceful, the critical mass would probably never have been reached. And while the hatred in local Russians was obviously nurtured by the Russian media (inevitably Kremlin-controlled), what is known publically at this point does not suggest that the riot was planned and executed by the Nochnoy Dozor or any other local pro-Russian groups.

The actions of the police, while perhaps operationally questionable - in that they did not manage to prevent the looting - were strategically sound and politically firmly in Ansip's favor. By allowing the crowd to disperse, they prevented civilian injuries and perhaps deaths on a larger scale; and at the same time the mob exceeded expectations by reducing itself to looting and violence.

With protectors of the Bronze Soldier, and by association local Russians in general, obviously shown to be violent, uncivilized, unreasonable and uncontrollable, Ansip now has a carte blanche. Even Savisaar appears to be stunned by the extent of the riot, and his "I told you so" is rather muted. Ansip's personal success at the elections has given him a carte blanche, and obviously his coalition partners aren't likely to protest any measures aimed against the Russians.

There is no benefit to the Kremlin that I can see right now, for much the same reasons - it is now painfully obvious that Estonia, as a country and as a nation, is facing the sort of sentiment and activity that nobody in Europe or the First World in general appreciates. By consistently and publically protesting the relocation of the memorial, the Russian authorities have now become inextricably linked to the riot, and everybody's going to be convinced, at least subconsciously, that they had something to do with it. I don't think Russia planned the riot, but Russia certainly caused it, and in terms of international politics, Russia is going to take the blame. And for most of Estonians, this is going to be a fight against an external enemy, an infiltrator, rather than a civil war.

The old curse appears to have come true - we are living in interesting times.


Anonymous said...

car·nage (kär'nĭj) pronunciation

1. Massive slaughter, as in war; a massacre.
2. Corpses, especially of those killed in battle.

antyx said...

Well, only one person got killed, and even that was a Russian kid stabbed by another Russian.

But yeah.

space_maze said...

I guess considering how long this time bomb has been ticking, the explosion could have, practically, been worse. One guy stabbed by another drunk guy - sounds like a standard Estonian party to me. And the property damage will hardly be unbearable for the government.

(political and social matters might be damaged for years, I suspect)

It's just a bit .. hard to believe, considering how peaceful and serene a society Estonia has always appeared to me. It was hard enough to imagine this kind of nonsense happening in France, but ...

antyx said...

Indeed. This sort of thing is not supposed to happen in little ol' Estonia.

Jens-Olaf said...

Welcome in "Old Europe". At the moment this is the strongest thought I have.

Konstantin said...

What do you think? Removal of the statue was a new bridge to make relations with Russian minority more friendly, peaceful and tolerant? Or was it burning the bridge?

antyx said...

It definitely didn't do anything good for Estonian-Russian relations.

Anonymous said...

As a foreigner living here, I'm astonished at the really stupid things I see & the inability of Estonians to get real.

The russian minority has NOT been consulted whether or not they want to learn and speak Estonian.
As one of the most DIFFICULT languages in the EU, it should be abandoned as a failed policy and teach ENGLISH, ENGLISH ENGLISH.
It's was the only unifying possibility in India, it worked, and it's essential for a modern economy.

That's democracy,- we don't live in times of coercion any more.

Estonia is anything but democratic, and has a desperately inefficient bureaucracy.

The russian minority feels confined to a dead-end existence instead of being the spearhead of aims to CONQUER parts of the growing Russian market place for little Estonia.
That is a HUGE opportunity wasted which will never come again.

Estonia is NOT a nation state. Since 2004 it is part of the EU, and has to respect EU rules on cultural and language diversity.

It does nothing but hedgemony calling it esoterically "integration".
This will not work and causes massive resentment.
In view of the superiority of a lot of Russian culture (it's a big country isn't it, Esti TV can't rival that output nor can its literature or music!), can you find it suprising that the Estonian language alternatives are pretty unpalatable particularly to Russian speaking Estonians.

Get real!

Making money is not about getting major economic projects cancelled, not forcing a tiny language down the throats of people who don't want it.
It's about tolerance, understanding and a multi cultural and multi ethnic modern society.

antyx said...

The russian minority has NOT been consulted whether or not they want to learn and speak Estonian.

So fucking what? It's not a choice. You want to live here, you learn the language, period. It's no more difficult for you than it is for Giustino, or for Tim King - but they've learned it to a sufficient level to get by. Suck it up and stop whining!

Estonia is anything but democratic, and has a desperately inefficient bureaucracy.

Estonia is entirely democratic, it's just that democracy does not satisfy every single member of the society. Boo fucking hoo.

That is a HUGE opportunity wasted which will never come again.

The Russian market is not a major factor in the Estonian economy, and hasn't been since the introduction of double tariffs by Russia years ago. When a market is unstable, you move away from that market before it blows up, even if you're giving up some of the profit. It's a sound business decision.

Estonia is NOT a nation state. Since 2004 it is part of the EU, and has to respect EU rules on cultural and language diversity.

The EU is a confederacy of nation states, with a common market and common foreign policy (to an extent). The EU does not regulate member states' cultural economy. Estonia has not broken any EU laws on diversity.

In view of the superiority of a lot of Russian culture

What's so superior about it? Dima Bilan? Daria Dontsova? The spirits of Pushkin and Dostoevski will only get you so far.

Now sit down, shut up and get with the program.

Anonymous said...

I don't have to learn Estonian to live here, and it just happens I don't want to either.
That's precisely the point, and where you totally lose the plot!

If I worked in the European parliament in Strasbourg I certainly shouldn't be required by some obscurantist law of the host state,- France to have to speak French. It might be a nice advantage (I do speak it fluently btw, and 4 others btw which I doubt you do), but coercion is both stupid and counter productive.

The language diversity of the Baltic area is such that the only common language of the area is RUSSIAN.

For stupid and historic reasons you can't speak any other language properly least of all English, but snobbishly refuse to use the common language.
Good luck to you with your "turning the back" on Russia, but with the clever idea the EU is going to save you, and such an anti business attitude you don't have a business future PERIOD.

When the downturn comes in about 12 months, the latent inflation has bit harder and house prices have doubled again in Tallinn I want to see your comments again, when Russia just puts 3 major projects on hold in NE Estonia.
Those things you can't afford...but you dare to talk about "nation states" in a mondial economy and an interdependent EU.

That's first class bullshit!

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous, if you worked in France you wouldn't be required to speak French (if not necessary for work). Right. Neither are you required to speak Estonian to work in Estonia (if not necessary for work). It is only required when you want to obtain citizenship (along with the privileges and obligations it involves). You don't need Estonian citizenship to work or live here. But it might be useful in job market (to get a job in service sector, for instance, you better speak _at least_ Estonian, Russian, English and in Tallinn, Finnish too)

As for Russian as only common language - not true anymore, at least not for my generation and younger ones (i'm 30). It is definitely English rather than Russian.


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