Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Unleashing the (Estonian) hooligan within


“Of course you know”, said a friend of mine the other day, “Kalevipoeg is really simply a football hooligan”.

Well, of course, an Estonian mythical giant is, by definition, going to have certain Estonian characteristics:
A large capacity for alcohol- check
A desire to spend time deep in the countryside- check
An ambivalent relationship with Finland- check
Wanting to be anywhere except Estonia for long periods of time- check

Yet it had not occurred to me that Estonia’s great national hero could be seen in quite the same light as the A Team Young Casuals of [NAME DELETED ON LEGAL ADVICE] United FC. Now that a new translation of the Estonian national epic is available, it will give a wider audience the opportunity to encounter the proto-hooligan and judge for themselves. For, I have to admit, the behaviour of Kalvipoeg does seem to be predicated on a remarkable level of violence, drunkenness and yet more violence. It comes as something of a surprise to realise that the national epic is to a great degree the product of respectable medical gentlemen- particularly Drs. Friedrich Faehlman and Friedrich Kreutzwald. One cannot help thinking that the contrast between their sober Victorian existence and the litany of trolls, magic salt mills, dwarves, maidens of the North, giants of the West, incest, violence, drunkenness, murder, fights, more violence, spirits of the darkness, magic flying boats and so on reflects a degree of wish fulfilment. Either that, of course, or Kreutzwald had seen Cardiff on a Saturday after the match, though there is no record of him having done so.

These days, of course, the reality of Estonia has rendered the dreams of a mythic Estonia far less important. Estonians do not quote the characters of the national epic as archetypes, in the way that Latvians, for example, do about their national epic, Lāčplēsis. Yet still, there are many landmarks that retain a connection with the epic, in the same way that King Arthur has various seats, castles, pools dotted around the more scenic parts of Britain, so the rocky heights of Toompea form a fittingly giant grave for Kalev and in everyday life, there are various Kalev sports clubs. Yet, perhaps appropriately it is Linda, the leading female character in the epic, who carries most resonance today- the Linda’s stone carelessly dropped from her apron into Ulemiste lake- by Tallinn Airport- the tears of Linda, which seem enough to fill any mildly brackish body of water in the country, all these are indeed proverbial in their use. The sense of loss and sadness which sometimes seems to lie at the root of much of the Estonian psyche is certainly well expressed in Linda. Perhaps that is why it was at the statue of Linda near Pikk Hermann that the singing revolution first began to find its voice.

But what of Kalevipoeg himself?

He does have a large and ferocious dog, and, when drunk, is capable of exceptionally poor judgement- while also making a lot of noise. He is very keen to get into a fight, and in particular when away from home he likes to mix it with the nastiest trolls, sprites, devils etc.(not so often at home). So I think the idea of Kalevipoeg as a football hooligan might make some sense- if it were not for the fact that Estonia’s national football team is now doing so well. Hooliganism is usually the product of defeat, but as Estonia has just sailed up the FIFA world rankings to stand currently at 49th- above such former giants as Romania, Austria or Bulgaria, defeat for Estonia’s football team is ever rarer. So, whatever motivates Kalevipoeg- my own view is a truly massive hangover- it is unlikely to be football.

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