Bird Droppings from Estonia: Charitable works
Archived Articles 11 Apr 2008 Hilary BirdEWR
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One of the most enjoyable events of 2007 was the Women’s Club of Tallinn Christmas bazaar. Reportage is a bit late but it was a fine day and I wouldn’t like to let it pass without comment! The club had a free venue at the Reval hotel, a refurbished Soviet monster next to the harbour and the monumental stairs built for the Olympic games in 1980. The top of the stairs has one of the best views in all the Baltic and I have taken many a visitor there.

The organizers had a done a marvellous job. The bazaar was busy all day and the place was like the League of Nations - over 20 embassies were there, as was Father Christmas (complete with gifts), a children’s crèche, two performances of song and dance from the Viljandi Children’s Home (many of whom have special needs and for whom we raised a great 60,000 EEK – around £3,000 an excellent sum for anywhere let alone Estonia).

Early birds were the Chinese, out in force with a stall of brightly lit wares and panda wall hangings, the Italians (with piles of panettone) who were just as temperamental as they were last year (when they swore they would never come back) and jolly Lithuanians with some interesting tree shaped cakes and heart shaped cheese with seeds. I (being half Lithuanian according to my mother and she should know) took the oppo to ask if they could help me have one last ditch attempt to find my father and got a heart shaped cheese for being of the blood.

Estonia, sporting Pärnumaa national costume sold some great pottery. There was a very strong showing from Central and Eastern Europe. I bought almost all the music on the Czech Republic and Polish stands (again!) and there were goodies from Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia (so handsome and impressed when I saluted the Land of the Golden Fleece) and (Hurrah!) Russia, despite this year’s troubles. There was no sign of the Brits at the bazaar, as usual, and it was left to my good self to fly the flag.

It is fascinating to watch changes here in the microcosm of the Women’s Club. Lithuania, is rising, it’s GDP accounts for 47% of the Baltic States GDP. Poland too is rising fast – Poles are not just building roads, they are building business. Russia, as always is the major market in NE Europe and one of the Poles quite rightly pointed out ‘we can deal with Russians, we are used to them’. Give ‘em another 10 years and the Poles won’t be leaving their homeland in droves. I blame the inverse effect of Soviet propaganda. There are still many people in Eastern Europe that believe that the streets are paved with gold in ‘the west’ but many working class people live in 1960 and 70’s council (soviet) tower blocks in the UK. It is certainly true, however, that despite 17 years of going without and working hard for a better future the Estonian kroon (EEK) is still only worth 75% of the Euro, and the Poles told me that it’s poverty that drives people abroad.

There are signs that dogged Estonian patience is running out. There are now more jobs than workers and the balance of power is changing. The economy is slowing down as inflation hits in due to an imbalance in what we used to call ‘the trade gap’ (more goods coming in than being exported) and world recession. It’s a problem advanced capitalist societies know well (boom and bust) and the social scientist in me will be interested to observe what will happen to Eesti during their first ‘bust’. A combo of worker shortage (and opposition to immigration on a large scale to ameliorate the situation) plus rising and but frustrated expectations could be very combustible indeed. And there’s a bear with a very sore head and a predilection for s*it stirring next door … There, are however, definitely some up sides to this development. The price of beer (and I daresay prostitution) has risen and British stag parties have now been diverted from Tallinn to Riga. The rather laddish local rag (the Baltic Times aka BT) was complaining recently that the price of a main dish when eating out had risen from 60 EEK (£3) to 150 EEK (£7). Notwithstanding the 100% increase this is still vastly cheaper than London, though perhaps not Berlin. Marie Josing of the Institute of Economic Research told BT ‘the future of Estonia is not as a cheap country. There was an image of cheap vodka and cheap girls. I am happy this is disappearing … we must be a country of good quality goods and high education. I hope we are able to offer something more than just cheap things.’ Me too.

There’s a sad end to my fine day. I came a real cropper on a Soviet pavement and hurt my leg badly. I was picked up, wincing and brushed off by Ireland, Canada, Poland, Estonia and Finland. Canada checked that my leg wasn’t broken and there were demands to go to the hospital. I resisted this as I am half deaf and have poor balance and fall over often. I am best left alone to feel sorry for myself. So, the Ireland brought a load of ice packs to the flat and I stayed in bed with my leg up for a few days before the Ireland resurfaced (with Russian chauffeur) to take me to the bus station to return to Tartu. Meanwhile I was able to text my helpful neighbour in Tartu to pop in and feed the puss!

I once had a mug, a gift from an Irish friend , that had a bl**dy awkward shamrock shaped handle and a leprechaun on it. My favourite mugs all got chipped or broken but not this one! The message on the mug was ‘May the hand of a friend always be near you.' And so say all of us.
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