Embassy of the U.S. Tallinn, November 4, 2015
(Article was published in the newspaper Õhtuleht on November 4, 2015)
Chargé d’Affaires Chever Voltmer
I find it impossible not to shake my head in disbelief over reaction to two recent press stories: The racially-motivated verbal and physical assaults of our American soldiers in Tallinn and the misguided uproar over the American mink cartoon. Normally, the embassy wouldn’t wade into what is and should be a healthy Estonian internal debate. However, these stories have a very direct American connection, we’ve been repeatedly asked our opinion, and in this case, I believe it could be helpful since a large part of the discussion is on how Estonia is viewed from the outside.
First and foremost, this is not about our soldiers nor is it about the physical security of Estonia. Our NATO commitment to Estonia is iron-clad and our troops will continue their work here with their Estonian counterparts as long as needed. However, the same types of incidents that our soldiers have experienced are also happening to others in Estonia with darker complexations. Our friends and colleagues within our embassy community have directly experienced this unpleasantness themselves. Our soldiers and embassy will continue to stand with the vast majority of the Estonian population who do not support or condone intolerance. However, businesspeople, tourists and students who experience similar treatment may take away a very different view, which over time will erode Estonia’s positive international reputation. Strong statements by Colonel Jaak Tarien, Prime Minister Rõivas, Defense Minister Hanso and Sven Mikser just to name a few are greatly appreciated. But, more than that, everyone needs to make clear on a daily basis that racism is unacceptable. And, if you see someone verbally assaulting anyone else, say something or call the police if you fear it could escalate.
Related to that, I’m surprised that there has been little, if any, public outrage over public money being spent to produce an overtly-racist “educational” film. It needs to be emphasized and remembered, that this offensive video was meant to help children understand the world. I am genuinely shocked that the media has framed the government’s reaction to this video as a censorship issue. If you enjoy watching or producing content offensive to others, nobody is going to stop you. That is free speech. That doesn’t mean the government must use taxpayer money to fund or otherwise promote hate-filled ideas. On the contrary, it has an obligation to do the opposite.
We have our own legacy and continuing issues with race and discrimination in America. While we’ve made significant progress in recent decades, events in the last year have shown how racism can still escalate and turn violent such as at a church in Charleston, South Carolina this past June. As President Obama said following that tragic event, it led to not just revulsion across the United States, but to a thoughtful introspection and self-examination. Fortunately, in Estonia, we have not seen acts of violence of such as this, but we must not be complacent or think that it somehow could not happen here.
What we can do, quoting President Obama, is to recognize “our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real.”
Racism Concerns Us All (3)