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.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Estonica: Go!

I'd like to say that the shit has hit the fan, but actually the start of the Bronze Soldier excavation this morning has been relatively uneventful; so much so that the news outlets, reduced to CNN-style running coverage online, feel justified in putting up headlines like "A silver van has entered the perimeter".

Erick and I are contemplating the possibility that the van is there to take the monument away. There's an enormous tent over the entire square, ostensibly to protect the archeologists digging for the soldiers' remains, so nobody really knows what's going on inside. The Bronze Soldier itself is life-size, will easily fit into the back of a van. And weeks later, when they finally remove the tent, we'll all find out that Aljosha has actually been melted down and turned into Estonian eurocoins.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Home Stretch

So, eight short months later, and my apartment is ready. I'm moving in on Monday, which means that I'm having to think long and hard about what to do with it.

In the spirit of doing things that are slightly out of my nature, I've decided to take the absolute minimum of stuff with me when I move. The new apartment is a bit smaller than my current rental, but the use of space is a lot more efficient; however, it has a lot less storage space. Here I have a balcony and a couple of wall closets where I can simply dump stuff for later reference; there, I will not have the luxury. It is a brand new, modern building, a break with the incompetence and limitations of Soviet architecture. It's even got an unorthodox color scheme, contrived by an artist/interior designer. The point was that the foundation would be grayscale, onto which background I can then add wild and lively colors as I see fit. It came out great - very warm, unoffensive, classical rather than retro. I said it's unorthodox because most of these new apartments - as indeed most deep renovations these days - either end up with either a bland shade of beige, or lose all self-control when faced with a Pantone book. There's an apartment in another building, same floorplan as mine, that is painted a magic marker sort of neon-green. Boggles the mind, really.

But now, I need to figure out the rest of the stuff in the flat. The problem is that such sense of style that I myself possess is calibrated negatively. I mostly get the sensations of "hell no, definitely not that". The upshot is that I rarely end up with things I really like - rather, by process of elimination, I end up with things I can tolerate. I'm not non-conformist for the sake of rebellion itself, not in this case at least, because this is where I'm going to be living, so I need it to be comfortable and practical; at the same time, I despise both the prevalent conservative style and the prevalent modern style in furniture. The former is decadent enough to be offensive, the latter is impractical enough to be preposterous.

I've got two days to trawl Tartu's shops and come up with something acceptable. Wish me luck.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Estonica: Dead Men Travelling

In a feat of truly staggering timing, just as the newly formed Estonian government* was tooling up for the removal of the Bronze Soldier memorial ahead of the demonstrations planned for May 9th (the anniversary of Germany's capitulation in WWII), a grave of WWII soldiers was dug up in a Moscow satellite town. The area in question is apparently home to a cluster of megamalls, thanks to easy access via the metropolitan circle road. Most of the unoccupied real estate was apparently the property of a factory making space rocket components, so when the time came for a new shopping center, it was the memorial and six adjacent graves that had to go.

The gloating of the Estonian authorities has been relatively restrained, though there has been some talk of suspicions of foul play - that the whole Khimki debacle was orchestrated by agents in Estonian pay. (Does anyone recall what Estonia's foreign intelligence service is called? It was something ironically innocuous.) Of course, in this case we are obligated to invoke Occam's razor, more specifically the Heinlein corollary whereby one should never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity; making something like this happen with such impeccable synchronicity would be a victory for the Estonian intelligence community to make Mossad weep with envy.

Of course, anyone watching Russian events even moderately closely will have long gained the habit of presuming stupidity.

*I haven't been covering the government formation business, mostly because I didn't particularly care; but by far the funniest outcome is that our new Defense Minister, the person directly responsible for war memorials and military graves, is Jaak Aaviksoo - until recently the head of Tartu University (and a man with a gift of putting an audience to sleep that is outstanding even by the measure of Estonian politicians). This is specifically entertaining in light of the fact that the post - DM, not rector - has previously been held by Sven Mikser, a guy that was less than 30 years old at the time, and had been excused from Estonia's compulsory army service. He used to be a lecturer at Tartu University's English department, where I got my BA; I've heard stories of him doing improper things with a jack-o-lantern on Halloween, in the dark halls of the former departmental offices.

Still, we're a right military superpower compared to Iceland's 30-strong civil defense team...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pülk for the win!

Siim Teller relates the story of the pülk - the new Estonian noun for a small portable mp3 player. A few days ago, the major news outlets carried a press release of the Amateur Linguists Union; it had ostensibly just held a ballot to select an authentically Estonian name of iPod-class devices. Among the submissions, the pülk just barely pipped the trühmul, said the Union's president, Kalmar Kalkun.

Except that the press release, delivered to the venerable Baltic News Service that never bothered to check it, was apparently the product of intoxicated minds playing a practical joke in the course of a particularly good party. As someone who's worked in newspapers a bit, let me tell you, it's not even all that funny. :P

The significance of this is that the Estonian language places great stock in phonetics and onomatopoea. While no more preposterous than the much-maligned (and real) rüperaal, the pülk is an incredibly funny-sounding word, especially when joined by its marginally unsuccessful sidekick, the trühmul. The fact that the name of the President of the Amateur Linguists Union translates as Squid Turkey only adds to the entertainment - it's laughable, but still plausible.

The upshot of this entire affair is that the pülk has made its rounds in corporate email lists, and solidified by this revelation, it has every chance of gaining the sarcastic support of Estonian youth. The pülk is liable to get a lot more popular usage this way than if Eesti Keele Instituut came out with it.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

In Desperate Need of REM Sleep

In my quest to evade stupid yuppie depression by filling up my time with important events, I have succeeded in transcending normal tiredness and passing into that elusive area of sleep deprivation that is sometimes described (by people with authority to speak of such things) as a marginally safer way to experience a drug trip. I spent Monday night in Akureyri, catching a bit of sleep in the relative comfort of a 737 over Scandinavia; that was followed by a two-odd hour drive to Tartu and the remains of a working day. Tuesday and Wednesday nights somehow turned out to be fairly late, and by Thursday I was back on the road, or rather on a ferry. Friday night was, of course, spent in Club Patricia. I'm on my way back now; and whereas on the way here I shared the four-bunk room with one other guy who had been drinking for 30 hours previously and passed out at first opportunity, this time I have been relegated to the least favourable bed. The room is hot, smells of dirty socks and is full of snorring people who haven't showered recently. And that is the reason why it is 3.45 am Estonian time, and I am posting this over the M/S Romantika's free WiFi connection, from the middle of the Baltic Sea.

Stockholm was, in a word, glorious. Two days of sunshine and cloudless skies were just what I needed to round off a week in easter-time Iceland. The contrast is staggering. I know that Reykjavik's nightlife doesn't come into its own until after midnight, but Stockholm's center evokes a special feeling even in the early afternoon; a feeling of a proper big city. It feels like things are happening there, like it's a significant hub of global activity; and it is. Swedes are, in my experience at least, uncharacteristically outgoing for this region, and when you combine that with the inevitable sheen of Scandinavian lawfulness and a quiet confidence that everything is right in this part of the world, you get a marvellously friendly night scene. Where else would the bouncer politely ask me to button up my jacket over my Independent MC Support T-shirt, explaining apologetically that they have a policy of no obvious affiliation in the dresscode; even Hell's Angels are required to check their colors. Could you see this happening in NYC, really?

Iceland has a peculiar attitude to its significant tourist industry. Where Tallinn is slightly pissed off at cross-gulf vodka tourists and Easyjet stag parties, and Stockholm embraces its visitors, the Icelanders seem to pay them the minimal possible attention. In a crowded tourist location like the Gullfoss waterfall, the only safety measure on a treacherous, slippery hillside path in early April is a rope at ankle height. It demarkates where you're not supposed to go; if a tourist ignores it and falls off, well, it's the tourist's own fault for being an idiot. In the same way, only a few years ago Easter time apparently meant that the whole of Reykjavik completely shut down; these days some restaurants and shops do stya open for the tourists' sake, but it still feels deserted. I asked our guide whether there were any tourist traps related to Brunhilde's castle, out of the Songs of the Niebelungs; she didn't know what I was talking about. It feels like the Icelanders know that their nature attracts plenty of tourists anyway, so they don't feel obligated to make too much of an effort: there's enough bodyflow to keep the industry healthy, and they're not hoping for too much return business, as you can see all of Iceland you'll need in one visit. Iceland's tourist trade came out of the first cheap transatlantic flights, which stopped in Reykjavik along the way, often with a significant hole in the schedule. Indeed, Iceland is good as a tourist's stopover, like Hong Kong and/or Singapore are supposed to be for Australia, but it's not really up to scratch as a destination.

Stockholm, on the other hand, is wonderful. I was last here roughly a year ago, and on that occasion it was cold and wet; but in good weather it is a visceral pleasure to be in. The city comprises all you'd want, from the medieval core to the authentic bohemia of Södermalm, the inevitable 60s-functional and now somewhat derelict blocks in the shopping area (if you bother to actually look up at the Ahlens City building, you won't be impressed, and whoever planned the escalators in PUB needs to be slapped in the face with a wet trout), the lovely homes of Norrmalm and the noble town houses of Kungsholmen... And it has an extremely cool subway, too.

You couldn't imagine Laugarvegur organically cordonned off by a crowd assembled to watch a breakdance crew performing on a Saturday afternoon, far more for their own pleasure than for any money passersby throw into the hat (it wouldn't even pay for sneakers); but on Drottninggatan, it feels proper. I mean, you really would, wouldn't you? Makes perfect sense.
I'm not alone - I'm on my way home
I am here, I'm standing on my own
Just a little bit tired...
I'm on my way - home

Thursday, April 12, 2007


I'm always on the run
Restless, searching the sun
I'm always on my way
It's all a timeless, neverending story

My life's a civil war
Between all open doors
So little time, so many goals left to achieve...

I apologise for maybe not giving the blog as much attention in the last few days as I should have. At this very moment, I am in the departure lounge of Tallinn's D terminal, about to get on a ferry to Stockholm for an E-type gig tomorrow.

What I can tell you so far is that I'm glad to be back in Estonia - especially after a four-hour delay in fucking Akureyri Intercontinental Airport, as the Estonian Air charter waited for a hole in the weather to land at this tiny airstrip at the bottom of a fjord hemmed in between two mountains, with a single approach vector that is impassable for anything so enormous as a Boeing 737-500 whenever there is any wind at all. I can also tell you that Tallink's booking department 0wns, getting me return ferry tickets and a night in a four-star hotel in Stockholm for 2600 EEK, whereas a single ticket for a Friday departure is 2800 EEK.

Full set of Iceland pics is here if you want it, and I'll be back with a full Stockholm report, as well as final notes on Reykjavik, in a few days. Wish me well.

Putin Pudding

Now in Polonium-210 flavour!

(Via Kitya Karlson, RU.)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Just Say Nyet

Sorry, but this is hilarious.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

And now for something completely different.

Over at Itching for Eestimaa, Epp mentions that the Tartu car cult is not as extensive as it is in Tallinn.

As someone who drives a lot in Tartu - this is true. Tartu traffic is a lot less frantic, and there are only a few tight spots, which can be avoided anyway (the worst being Freedom Bridge in the direction of Anneinn after 6pm on weekdays). More importantly, Tartu is generally not restricted to arteries. You can get right across town while bypassing nearly every major road.

I had the misfortune this week of attempting to drive from Järve Selver to Lasnamäe around 6pm on a Tuesday. The tailbacks on approach to the dreaded Tartu/Järvevana junction were so bad - from all directions - that I decided to take the clever long way around, and buggered off to the Tallinn ring road. It's a bypass that connects all three major freeways (maybe Paldiski maantee too, never got that far) some distance outside city limits. It was maybe a 40km trip, but because this was all at highway speed, and on Narva maantee the ring road feeds directly into the stunningly useful Laagna tee endcap, I'm rather convinced I did not lose much time compared to standing in the traffic jam, trying to clear a single intersection that the rest of the city was also interested in.

In Tartu, you really need to make an effort to spend more than 15 minutes driving right across the city. My drive to work, from literally the edge of town into the very center, with a bit of luck at the traffic lights can be done in less than five.

I like Tartu.

Beauty of the Beast

Originally uploaded by Flasher T.
Whenever I start feeling like I've got the hang of a new place, I ask myself if I'd enjoy living here. Answers are mixed: it was yes for Stockholm, which is a city I click with on an emotional level, and for London, which I want to spend time in at some point in the future. It was no for California and Israel, for roughly similar reasons - wrong climate and wrong mentality.

For all of Iceland's fundamental similarities to Estonia, I would not want to live in Reykjavik. It feels - and you must remember that this is in comparison to a campus town in an insignificant little country stuck between North and Eastern Europe - extremely provincial. It is a Scandinavian town, but it is viscerally a small Scandinavian town. Most of all it feels like Gjövik - the Norwegian community I visited back in high school. Gjövik's claim to fame is that it was involved in the Lillehammer Olympics, and it has an impressive hockey stadium hewn from a cliffside. Other than that it is a tiny, industrial town with a Main Street, a lot of ugly 60s-utilitarian buildings, and the obligatory Russian drug dealer.

Reykjavik doesn't have any old buildings. It rose to significance in the late 19th century, and before that it was nothing more than just another fishing village. For all of Iceland's proud history stretching back over a millenium, there is no medieval culture to be found; this is another aspect it shares with America. The island was isolated politically as well as geographically, with outside trade handled exclusively by Danes. We were shown today, as a special tourist landmark, a prominent merchant's home, preserved from 1765. As I have commented on an entirely different occasion, I have shat in toilets older than that.

Neither is Iceland a prominent source of Nordic design. Where Norway gathers its inspiration in the breathtakingly gorgeous scenery of its territory, Iceland's nature is only stunning - not pretty. The local specialty is wool, arctic gear, and jewelry styled on runes. The architecture, both in the capital and beyond, is a mix of traditional Scandinavian red-roofed cottages - nearly exclusively out of wood, which is a bit curious as there is decidedly no timber in Iceland to build homes out of - and post-war experiments with form-follows-function and quick-setting concrete. A wave of new construction in recent years has managed to produce no buildings of architectural significance or inspiration. Even the dreary Rotterdam was more exciting than this.

In the countryside, the impression is even more dire. As I mentioned, there are no naturally suitable places for habitats, so villages consist of a grid of bungalos dropped randomly into a bit of landscape. There are no fences, and in early April, no gardens. Our guide tells us it is a lot prettier in the summer, but I feel like I'm seeing the true Iceland right now. And the true Iceland, for a person born in a Hanseatic hub and raised among the lush forests of the Baltic, is an outstandingly depressing place to be.

It's a very impressive country to visit, but I absolutely wouldn't want to live here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


I've decided that I don't really mind the lack of a safe in my hotel room. This entire nation is smaller than Tallinn, and the island is surrounded by thousands of miles of freezing ocean on all sides. Nowhere to escape to, not even inland, as the nature can hardly a support a single frontiersman, no matter how well-motivated.

This country doesn't merit a police force. It should just have a constabulary.

Joke of the day, in co-authorship with the kid from the Domino's down the street: "The rest of the world thinks that everybody in Iceland lives in igloos. Whereas in reality, everybody in Iceland lives in Reykjavik." The town itself is about equal to Tartu in population, although spread over a far larger territory. The Greater Reykjavik Area houses over 60% of all the people on the island.

Driving down from Keflavik, you pass by the abandoned NATO base. Not even a year ago, the Americans simply packed up and fucked off, leaving behind a couple dozen decent-looking apartment buildings and a bewildered nation suddenly devoid of any sort of armed forces at all. I thought Estonia's military was a joke, what with splitting an air patrol subcontract three ways with the other Baltic nations, but Iceland - a small nation, but not Europe's smallest - does not have an army.

There are no more American soldiers to protect the country, but then there are no more reasons why anybody would bother attacking it.

Iceland is half way between Europe and America, and it shows. In this way it is an extremely curious object for observation, and wondering if this is what Estonia would have been like if the Molotov-Ribbentropp Pact hadn't happened. The westward shift is reminiscent of Finland's American fetish, or Sweden's ala raggarbil scene, but to a much greater degree. Cars are everywhere. The very low population density - or rather the fact that all of the landscape is equally difficult to terraform, so you might as well not stick to just the bayside valley - means a sort of urban sprawl without the underlying overpopulation. Consequently the residential areas are largely self-confined: every community has the necessary set of church, musical school and swimming pool, and you can go a long time without needing to leave the immediate surroundings of your home. But if you do, you will need a car, as public transport is thin on the ground.

The Icelandic private fleet is a mix of small Euro-spec hatchbacks and American SUVs. Roads are smooth and sweeping; at their best, these are highways that any Estonian driver would kill for. At their worst, they are chip-sealed, twisty back roads, raised over a landscape devoid of any vegetation reaching higher than the ankle of a very short man. The fact that there is no Icelandic rally champion or even any noticeable drivers boggles the mind. Our tour guide said that icelanders are very keen drivers and love to go fast; but she looked up the numbers and was surprised to see that Estonia has three times the traffic-related fatalities per capita. No wonder: put your average badass icelandic street racer on the Tartu-Tallinn road on Friday night and see how far he gets.

I know that some of my friends reading this blog will never let me live this down, but: the Blue Lagoon mud has really made the skin on my face silky-smooth!


The best thing one can say of Copenhagen Airport is that it really has a sufficient quantity and frequency of toilets. You can see that they have made a real effort to make sure you are never more than twenty meters away from a urinal. Very commendable indeed. The second best thing one can say of Copenhagen Airport is that it is strung out along a single main passageway, so you're not too likely to get lost. But an hour between flights is still really not enough time if you have to find the bloody transfer desk to check in.

Iceland feels very Scandinavian indeed - narrow but well-paved roads, lots of street lighting, and the requisite yob in a bodykitted Astra GSI burning rubber in a KFC parking lot. The three-star hotel I'm staying in doesn't have a minibar or a safe, but has free WiFi in all rooms; on the whole, I rather prefer it to the pompous Sheraton City Tower in Tel Aviv, ostensibly a five-star business hotel, but I still had to open a bottle of Coke against the TV stand.

The myth of Icelandic alcohol prices is overblown - I just bought a pint of the local Viking beer in an all-night convenience store for about $2, which is expensive, but not oh-my-fucking-god expensive. The downside is that like elsewhere in Scandinavia, the best you can get outside a government monopoly store is 2.25% semi-lager. It tastes good enough, but it somewhat offends my sensibilities.

Tomorrow, Reykjavik sightseeing and the Blue Lagoon; and I leave you with a question. Why is it that I had to go through passport control airside at Copenhagen, but arriving in Keflavik Airport - having exited the EU! - I got all the way outside without a single person so much as glancing at any form of identification?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Chasing Sunset

…writing this airside at Tallinn Airport, on my way to Iceland. The airport is improbably busy for an early Wednesday afternoon, and the view out onto the runway is partially obstructed by that most Estonian of sceneries – a construction site. They’re building a new terminal in a T-shape to the old one, designed to accommodate low-cost airlines. Easyjet doesn’t use a second-rate airfield in Estonia, because if you get far enough from Tallinn for there to be any point, you’re closer to Riga anyway.

This is my first time flying after the new rules on liquids in hand baggage, but the imposition is minimal – I can still buy a drink airside and carry it onto the plane. The prospect of a long trip with short layovers and an arrival time of half past ten at night has convinced me that a meal is unlikely until tomorrow morning, so I have gone for that ever-beloved standby of drunks and stoners everywhere: the Statoil hot dog. It’s served by a rather more presentable establishment around here, but form does not change function.

What was supposed to be a direct charter has now turned into a layover at Copenhagen, where I will need to do an airside check-in, but they’re shipping my checked baggage direct, so again it’s not such a massive inconvenience. I’m writing this into a Word file, as Tallinn Airport’s WiFi is restricted; I’m not entirely certain what the connectivity will be like in Reykjavik (the experienced Estonian traveler knows not to take the Internet for granted while abroad; our infrastructure really is preposterously advanced in comparison to most even fairly developed locations), and I probably won’t have time to send this off at Copenhagen. So at the absolute worst, you’re going to get all my travel notes in a big batch next Tuesday.

There’s an increasingly likely chance that I will be going to Stockholm next Thursday night, for an E-Type gig on Friday. If I can pull that off – if I can go from Iceland to E-Type to new apartment to Brainstorm gig to birthday, and all that before the beginning of summer – I’ll have gone a long way to my New Year’s resolution of making more of an effort to be sociable and do fun stuff. Here’s hoping.

UPDATE: No faith. Serves me right. Figured out how to get the airport WiFi working. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Estonica: Sour Cream

Earlier today, Russia's deputy prime minister Sergei Ivanov (scandalous former defense minister and apparently not related to Sergei Ivanov of the Estonian Reform Party) called for a boycott of Estonian goods. He remarked that a lot of Estonian processed dairy products are consumed in northwestern Russia, and suggested that the common folk stop buying the fascist yoghurt as a personal political statement.

This is not a new tactic in any way. Russia is currently blessed with a character by the name of Onischenko, who heads the agency responsible for quality control of food - the rough equivalent of what would be the FDA in America. The character has previously banned Georgian mineral water and wine; Kremlin's intention was supposedly to cripple the Western-minded Caucasus republic's export-oriented economy. That plan failed miserably - the supply was easily taken up by other markets, Estonia among them. This latest statement, from the man that was widely speculated to be Putin's successor until he grossly mishandled a scandal concerning the terrible treatment of Russian army conscripts by denying anything untoward was taking place, has no degree of plausibility as far as damaging the Estonian economy is concerned: thanks to double tariffs, Russia has not been a significant trade partner for Estonia for years. And the popularity of the deputy PM is such that Russian blogs are suggesting that people buy up every Estonian-made item they can find and send it to Ivanov. To quote one blog comment: "Estonian sour cream is awesome. And Ivanov is a fucktard."

The most ridiculous thing about this public statement is that by far the most widespread Estonian item, an item that millions of Russians have the opportunity to use on a daily basis, is a safety belt. The restraint systems in Ladas are manufactured at Estonia's Norma factory.

Of course, these things are being boycotted anyway.

Memoriam Reval: Sakala

Sakala Center
Originally uploaded by Flasher T.
The Sakala Center, built in 1985 as the central conference point for the Communist Party, was known colloquially as the Karl's Cathedral (Karl Marx in this case, and a counter-reference to the medieval catholic St. Charles Church, not too far away). It housed training facilities as well as a massive main hall; like many other 1980s Soviet public buildings in Tallinn, its architecture was about sensation rather than function; it was intended very much as a tribute to the grand power of the state.

Sakala Keskus now has a special significance as that very rare thing - a decidedly Soviet symbol that modern Estonians enjoy having around. When the government gave permission for redevelopment of this location, and the winning bidder unveiled plans to tear down the entire compound, it caused an uproar among the general population. The developer actually took out centerfold ads in full color in the major newspapers, defending the plans for the new mall. But eventually the Tallinn city government was forced to renegotiate its planning permission. The corner tower marking the entrance to the old Sakala Center, a gray tower vaguely reminiscent of a Flaktürme will be incorporated into the new structure, as will some other parts of the compound.

Karl's Cathedral is, it seems, one Soviet memorial that 21st century Estonians would like to keep.

Memoriam Reval: City Hall

City Hall
Originally uploaded by Flasher T.
I spent Monday wandering around Tallinn, taking pictures of monumental Soviet structures that are still significant. Probably the greatest of these is the City Hall, an enormous bunker of a concert venue and ice rink erected for the 1980 Olympics. Like all these imposing buildings, its footprint is vastly disproportionate to the useful space. Where modern buildings such as the Plaza multiplex manage to fit a surprising amount of function into a seemingly minor volume, these Soviet architectural memorials of gray stone and concrete strive to comprehensively fill up your vista.

You approach the City Hall via a large plaza, and climb a wide stairway, the bunker shape rising to your eyeline as you ascend. The long walk from the stairs to the main entrance - necessitated by the harbour rail line passing underneath - gives you time to take in the expansive projection of the complex. The amphitheater of the main stage is dug into the ground, a massive 6000-seat semicircle. A concrete pier juts out behind the structure, now the home of a Helsinki commuter ferry and a closed heliport.

It is difficult to find the one angle that would convey the brooding dominance of this compound. An amble through its courtyards and back passages leaves you with the impression that it could very easily feature in the next Half-Life or Stalker game.

Monday, April 02, 2007


...watching Die Another Day on TV, and once again I am reminded of how much Daniel Craig is not a Bond. He simply does not have the same effortless yet menacing elegance that allows Pierce Brosnan to knock on a hotel door, punch the occupant in the face, come inside and root around in the desk without the exotic beauty on the bed in her underwear so much as batting an eyelid.

Daniel Craig can be a wonderful Mossad assassin, and a wonderful Irish mob assassin. But he is not an assassin In Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Day of Fools

Best gag yet is Delfi's newscast, featuring items like the Bronze Soldier being repositioned in Tallinn Bay where the statue of Kalevipoeg was supposed to be; a glass sarcophagus will be erected in its place, housing the giant chocolate bear that Laima, the Latvian chocolate factory, will present to the people of Ruhnu island. (Trust me, if you follow the local news, these make a lot more sense.) The anchor is Liis Lass, the Estonian equivalent of a Paris Hilton, taking her clothes off throughout the show. Hell, it's a way to boost viewer numbers!

Meanwhile I've been in Tallinn for two days now, and still have three days to go before I leave for Iceland. It's been over a month since I was last in the capital, and I am starting to feel once again that this is no longer my home town. It's also a very different city to drive around. Tallinn is only four times as populous as Tartu, but feels far larger. In Tartu, navigating involves figuring out where your destination is; in Tallinn, it involves figuring out how to get there. Tallinn traffic is a lot more intense (although nowhere near as bad as Riga), but most parts of the city are connected by thoroughfares with a minimum of traffic lights. Any trip by car is based around the arteries. The consequence of this is that you stop thinking of it as a single area, and start considering it as a set of plains, separate locals between which you can only travel on a main road. It is akin to the feeling people get in London when travelling by Tube: the physical proximity of objects is less relevant than the links between them on the Underground map.

Saturday afternoon, I found myself in an industrial back yard, phoning my friend the postal delivery driver, asking how to get from the Kristiine shopping mall to the Mööblimaja furniture emporium. I knew that they were very close and I vaguely knew which sidestreet I needed to take, but I got lost in the jumble of old houses and one-way streets in Haabersti - even though I regularly navigate similar terrain in Tartu.

The reason why I was going to the furniture shop is that my new apartment is ready ahead of schedule; I'm due to move in at the end of April, which means I'll have a massive rush right after I get back from my holiday. I need to figure out how to fit all the requisite stuff into a 36-square-meter apartment; or rather, I need to figure out a way to pack the maximum functionality into the minimum amount of furniture, where the furniture must still look good to my rather critical taste. This is compounded by the fact that I have only once been in a display apartment of the same floorplan - done up in a truly mind-boggling neon green, something between a magic marker and a high-visibility jacket - and I have no idea how the conservative-but-unorthodox color scheme that Nerva came up with for me is actually going to look. The concept was to do everything that can't easily be replaced in grayscale, and then add color with the furniture and art. The walls alone are three different shades of gray - and if Nerva had negotiated more than three different colors with the builders, it would have been more - plus the kitchenette furniture in its own variation. I still think it's going to be very nice, and an asset whenever I sell the apartment, but the sort of capability I want of the apartment is not easy to fit into the floorspace of a bachelor's semi-studio.

Still, I am starting to get a general idea of how to get it done. My birthday is coming up in early May, and I intend to have a great big party to celebrate it along with my housewarming. AnTyx readers are all invited. :)


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