There is a surprisingly readable story in Spiegel Online about the "NATO-Russia" border, as if NATO was a great power with its own leadership, flag, and military ... oh wait, never mind.
Predictably summoned is the metaphor of Narva, the two castles opposing one another on the Estonian-Russia border, the one on the left symbolizing the Catholic and, later, Protestant West, the one on the right symbolizing the Byzantine, and later Orthodox, East. Except the city on the left is inhabited by people of the city of the right's persuasion. The world lacks ordnung, as writer Walter Mayr learns:
In the city of Narva, where Stalin had apartment buildings and factories built over the ruins of blown-up Baroque houses, 96 percent of residents are ethnic Russians. Only 40 percent have an Estonian passport. To this day, almost one in five city residents have no citizenship to this day, while the rest have opted for Russian citizenship.
There is an interesting correlation in the minds of some writers and readers between citizenship and loyalty: as if passports were handed out in Narva from the back of the lorry, the situation would change. I would like to remind those who would read, that most of those on trial for the pronksöö riots are Estonian citizens. But I will accept that citizenship serves here as a metaphor for national influence. The Estonians, I suppose, are free to do as they like with their own citizens. The Russians, as we learned in Georgia, feel the need to protect theirs, wherever it suits their geopolitical interests. And the stateless? Under whose dominion do they fall?
Spiegel's Mayr is definitely not the first to play with these ideas of Estonian apocalypse. But what frustrates me is the extent to which local officials play along.
See Mart Helme, former Estonian ambassador to Moscow and patron of the Estonian National Movement, describe Narva as a ""frozen and hungry fifth column," full of Kremlin spies waiting "to creep out into the streets and provoke clashes because Estonia troops are incapable of staving off the Russian army as it marches into Narva."
Now witness Narva City Council head Mikhail Stalnukhin conjure up a South Ossetia situation for Narva: "Such a scenario can only become reality," Stalnukhin is quoted as saying, "if people in Estonia interested in seeing it happen make the preparations. In other words, if a genocide takes place first."
Comments like these make Andrus Ansip and his rival/partner Edgar Savisaar look like adorable, centrist teddy bears. Grown-ups are desperately in need to calm Helme's déjà vu vision of Baltic eclipse and Stalnukhin's nutbar allusion to genocide. And in walks Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, "a man with a typically Nordic mix of a gloomy and placid temperament, " to assuage the the working people of Narva's concerns over the war in Georgia:
"For two hours, speaking in Russian, I attempted to explain to the angry workers why the Estonian government supported the Georgians, not the South Ossetians," says Paet in his office in the Estonian capital Tallinn. "We have a communication problem with the ethnic Russians in our country, and that must change."
What I have found interesting in recent months, is how Estonia has suddenly become a focal point of those describing a "new cold war," while Latvia, where even more people are stateless, where even more people belong to ethnic groups other than Latvian, seems to have been forgotten. Is it just strategically unimportant? Is the focus on Narva as a future possible site of discontent just part of an amazing spin-job launched from the Estonian Foreign Ministry to squeeze NATO for more support? Is Kaval Ants picking the master's pockets?
President Ilves now appears, sans colorful descriptions, to address the shortcomings of the alliance to which Estonia so proudly belongs. The American writer Tom Bissell once described Ilves as Estonia's "bow-tied and owlishly appealing president." I like that word "owlish." I'll make sure to use it sometime:
Says Ilves, it is high time to clarify how much Article 5 of the NATO Treaty would be worth for Estonia in an emergency. Article 5 describes the obligation of alliance partners to protect a fellow NATO country in the event of an "armed attack." But, as even Ilves knows, NATO is not responsible for domestic conflicts within Estonia.
Hmm, fearmongering much. Or just being prepared? If I make it to Narva one of these days I'll make sure to bring along some protective nordic walking poles to fend off any domestic conflicts at the Kerese Selver or occurrences of genocide at the local Swedbank office. A dispute over the last six-pack of Jõuluporter could trigger World War III! But, in all, a pretty fair piece with some honestly included. Not bad.
(Itching for Eestimaa, 3.detsember 2008)