Anyone who insists that they’re immune to the opinion of others has a false sense of bravura or is likely deluding oneself. We’re probably all sensitive to what others think of us. It’s interesting to look at three separate observations on Estonia and Estonians over the last 100 years, all on different themes.
The first was published in the Encylopaedia Brittanica in 1913, before Estonia won its independence. “As a race Estonians exhibit manifest evidence of their Ural-Altaic or Mongolic descent in their short stature, absence of beard, oblique eyes, broad face, low forehead, and small mouth, In addition to that they are an undersized, ill thriven people with long arms and thin short legs”. So what has changed since 1913 during the last 100 years? It’s obvious. Our legs have grown longer!
On a much more serious note, a diplomat of a western country in dispatches back to his foreign ministry headquarters wrote during the politically tense years just before World War II: “I do not feel that the independence of Estonia or the other Baltic states is a European necessity”. That opinion was passed on some 70 years ago at a moment when Estonia was desperately seeking to stay neutral, independent and avoid war. No western country at the time saw any necessity in supporting the continued neutrality and sovereignty of Estonia and its Baltic neighbours.
Just recently a well-respected periodical published the following: “Estonia is small but feisty and resilient. From a European perspective its national debt ratio is negligible. Compared to the massive economies within the EU, Estonia is positioned to recover faster from the current economic crisis. The government austerity program has not elicited any major dissatisfaction from the public, private sectors or any specific interest groups. This displays incredible foresight and self-discipline.”
Recently on TV Stephen Colbert in his “Colbert Report” program said “Happy birthday to Estonia, a tiny country with a good PR department”. Estonians might rather have wanted to hear “with a good track record” than “with a good PR department”. Colbert’s humour often must be taken with a grain of salt. A wise PR veteran said that if you strip away the façade of a PR effort you get the hidden façade underneath. In the same vein an old Estonian proverb says that a word of praise is no substitute for a piece of herring or a bag of oats.
These days it doesn’t take much to find someone praising Estonia in the media, be it about IT, technological innovation, press freedom, political stability or coping with economic stagnation. I refer to the media in the western world. Perceptions have changed radically during 100 years. We’re happy to bask in the glow of a friendly press. Once in a while it boosts the ego to indulge in self-congratulation.
In contrast, the predictable bad review originates only from one source. However we know that propaganda, especially ill-prepared propaganda, is that branch of lying that often deceives one’s friends with ever deceiving your enemies. Estonians know how to cope with that.
Estonia as target of opinions over the last 100 years (3)