maria ivanova (9)
Archived Articles 11 Nov 2008 Justin PetroneEWR
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If Americans could elect a black man president, ponders Rein Sikk in the Nov. 7 issue of Eesti Päevaleht, it can't be long before "Maria Ivanova," a fictional embodiment of an Estonian Russian, makes it to Kadriorg.

With her boisterous Slavic style and perfect Estonian language, the talented Maria Ivanova could claim to speak for all Estonians, just as the gifted Mr. Obama speaks for his gay friends in the red states and little league coaching pals in the blue states, Sikk writes.

I stood on line thinking about Maria Ivanova at Selver yesterday night, when I noticed that two "Estonians" on the front pages of different newspapers could be Maria Ivanova, too. One was Robert Antropov, the CEO of Paldiski Northern Port, and the other was Luule Komissarov, an actress. Then I glanced down at my receipt and noticed that the clerk also had an pithy Estonian first name [Triin] and a longer Russian last name [Aleksejev]. "Where did all these Estonians get Russian surnames?" I wondered.

Next to me in line were three Estonian Russian teenagers. It was Friday night and Selver was busy with young people buying up booze. These kids were no different. There were two young women and one guy, and all of them looked just old enough to legally purchase alcohol. The young man was in especially good mood (two dates for the evening?) and he was speaking loudly. He then got into a conversation with a guy on line, and switched into Estonian, even hitting the dreaded letter Õ in stride. Then back to Russian, with his friends, and back into Estonian again with the cashier. I was really impressed.

When I walk into a store and I am not feeling up to it, I can get in a lot of trouble with the troublesome letter "õ." Today I went to buy a basket -- korv -- and may have asked the clerk at the mööblimaja for an ear -- kõrv. The nature with which the young man at Selver was able to slip between languages is something that will always remain foreign to me. He's from here and has heard korv and kõrv side by side for his entire life. Even if his mother spoke another language to him, he is still, in some way, a native speaker of Estonian.

Sikk's article prompted 535 comments, some of them insightful [did you know that Konstantin Päts was half Russian?] and the others your typical outburst of "tibla välja" [tibla, get out!] The Estonian word "tibla" is a derogatory, yet not wholly malevolent term for Russians. It comes from the Russian "ti bliad," which means "you whore." Occasionally, the Russian Federation is referred to as "Tibladistan." I suppose some Estonian soldiers heard "ti bliad" on the front lines during the War of Independence and made it their own -- the term allegedly dates back to the First World War.

That being said, I have never actually heard an Estonian person use this term to curse any single person or group of people. However, it always manages to surface in the online comments of article's like Sikk's. There are some real armchair rullnokad in Estonia who spend their time giving all Estonians a bad name by writing offensive things about eestivenelased in the comments of Postimees or Eesti Päevaleht.

To me, though, Sikk's proposition wasn't so outlandish. Estonians are quite comfortable with the Maria Ivanovas of their country -- indeed many "aboriginal" Estonians have names like hers. And because of the cultural fluency of Estonia's youth, I don't think it will be too long before Sikk's hypothetical scenario comes to pass.

(Itching for Eestimaa, laupäev 10. november)
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