Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Estonia marks the years of freedom but Russia marks the dark hours of the night

Today is the day that the life of Re-independent Estonia becomes longer than the period of independence before Soviet occupation. It is a significant milestone in the psychological recovery of Estonian society from the Soviet occupation. Yet it is also the anniversary of the March deportation of 1949 when tens of thousands of Estonians- many, indeed most, were women and children- were sent to exile and often death in Siberia. Those that returned were brutalized and traumatized for the rest of their lives.

For the first decade after the recovery of Estonian freedom there remained a deep seated fear that this second period of independence would prove as fragile as the last, and that once again occupation, famine, torture and death would become Estonia's lot. Gradually that fear has begun to lessen, and as a whole generation has grown to parenthood with little or no recollection of Soviet power, the psychology of Estonians has subtly changed. The 2008 crisis has passed, and it is widely seen that Estonia has passed a severe test. Despite criticism from such biased witnesses as Paul Krugman, Estonia is proud of her achievement in weathering a storm which has shipwrecked other, supposedly more stable, countries. Indeed it is a testimony to the wry sense of humour that is increasingly evident here that the Krugman "twitterstorm" has been turned into an opera, which receives its premier next week.

More seriously, Estonians increasingly feel secure because they can contrast their achievements as new members of the OECD and the Eurozone (as well as NATO and various other international clubs) with the failures of the legal successor state to the Soviet Union: the Russian Federation. 

As Estonia has cemented its freedom with democratic norms, so Russia has become the plaything of a corrupt political-industrial class which seeks to remove its money from Russia as quickly as possible. The fact is that, despite the risks, even offshore centres such as Cyprus or Latvia, let alone Switzerland, are still far more attractive than the certainty of theft by the Russian government. Five years ago the use of gas supplies as a political weapon by the Putinistas was a significant threat to European democracy, but by being incompetently brutal, the search for alternatives- especially US shale gas- was rapidly accelerated. Now the market for Russian gas has weakened dramatically and Gazprom, the erstwhile largest company in the world, is being driven out of existence in its current form. It is another  profound defeat for the Kremlin. 

Despite the braggadocio that the Kremlin displays in approving the murder of its political enemies, it is a measure of weakness, not of strength, that the Russian state continues to use Soviet measures of repression. Likewise even Russia finds that its freedom of action is constrained, and their front of unity with their Chinese neighbours is not entirely convincing: it is a subservient relationship to Beijing and the Chinese respect strength, not weakness.

As Russia seeks to restructure its energy sector- again rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic- Estonia is building a new reputation for innovation and openness. As Russia considers how to stop the flow of capital leaving, Estonia considers how to recycle capital in the country and expand the network of successful  entrepreneurs that are driving the country back up to Nordic standards of living.

If in 1991 someone had said to the newly free Estonians that, over the next 22 years, the country would not only be a member of NATO and the European Union, but that it would be at the heart of EU decision making and a full member of the OECD- the club of the richest nations- and that there was the real prospect of the country being as wealthy as oil-rich Norway, then I think the reaction would have been tears of joy, even from the unemotional Estonians. That all of this has come to pass despite the hostility of Russia, which still refuses to acknowledge the scale of the crimes that were committed by the USSR (indeed Putin continues to praise the tyrannical Empire), would have seemed not far short of a miracle.

Well, it seems I live in a miracle.

On a day of mixed remembrance, there is much to celebrate in the Estonian Free State. 

If only the Russian people could recover their self respect in the same way as the Estonians so that they could drive out the thieves and murderers who continue to hold their state hostage and prevent it becoming a free, prosperous, and democratic citizen of the global community of nations. 

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