We need an EU Convention to Protect the Endangered Cultures of Europe (3)
Archived Articles 27 May 2009 Jüri EstamEWR
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If one has to give up something valuable, one ought to get something valuable in exchange. In my country of Estonia, they call this “give a sausage, get a sausage in return”.

If the Treaty of Lisbon is endorsed, substantial additional amounts of political power will flow out of Ireland and the other 26 member states of the EU and come to be vested in Brussels. Brussels will be rendered the center of government in Europe to a greater degree than ever before. The EU will truly begin to assume the guise of a “megastate”, such as the United States or China. The added power that the European Commission and Council will benefit from is the same power that the member states of the EU will surrender under the Reform Treaty, should voters endorse it.

I voted against Estonia joining the EU. It is a fait accompli that I now have an unsolicited European Union passport in my pocket.

I have pondered what it is that the EU could now give to people like me in Estonia and elsewhere. In Estonia, one voter of three cast a vote against the EU when the issue was put to a popular vote. When it comes to me, I favor deciding things locally over being part of a large federally organized Europe. To me, Europe is something I identify with culturally, not politically. To me, Europe is Michelangelo and James Joyce and and espresso, and not the large-power aspirations of Silvio Berlusconi or Angela Merkel. I have an issue in with large centralized regimes accumulating vast concentrations of power.

What is it that would lessen the continued discontentment of the likes of me?

The EU is Killing the Estonians

My specific concern has to do with the unnecessary extinction of small cultures in Europe. This is specific to small cultures like that of Estonia - cultures that are barely viable demographically. I write to sound a warning bell - for this is a legtimate worry that warrants attention. It is a worry that calls for the employment of countermeasures.

Estonia was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union for some fifty years. A lot of problems arise from being occupied, including a half century of economic mismanagement by Moscow. Before WW II, Estonia - a parliamentary democracy - was on the way to attaining a Western European standard of living. A great many Estonians were killed or died because of the tribulations visited upon us by Stalin and Hitler. A large number of Estonians went into exile. Having the clunky Soviet ideological and economic models foisted upon us after occupation and annexation, Estonian economic development went backwards during occupation from 1940 until 1991.

When the country became independent again in 1991, it was as if all the calves had been turned out to pasture after decades of being cooped up inside. People turned into consumers, makinng up for lost time. That this taste for finally renovating our homes and for buying well-functioning cars and sampling la dolce vita continues unabated is hardly surprising, even if harder financial times have recently hit all of us. While I'm against excess, the process per se is an understandable and even a predictable one.

As I write, tiny Estonia hemorrhages young people. Our brides emigrate to the West. Our young people study in universities all around the world, but many forget to return to the old country when they are offered jobs abroad. Estonian workers drive buses in Finland, build motorcycles in England and pluck turkeys in Ireland, much as Ireland once exported workers to the UK and America. The best parcels of land along lakesides in the Estonian countryside and real estate in our picturesque medieval cities are to be had for a relative song, bringing many immigrants.

Estonians have been perched in a precarious demographic situation all along. Now, the seeming good things that constitute the very foundation of the EU: the free movement of capital, people, goods and services - these things are starting to kill us. Estonia has a limited pool of people. The European Union is a sword that cuts both ways.

Painted into an Inescapable corner by EU membership?

I reckon Estonians have a better sense for what Irish culture stands for than the other way around. Ireland and Estonia have certain similarities. I refer above all to the Gaeltacht - the part of Ireland that forms the core of your ancient heritage. Both countries have traditional cultures that struggle to survive in a modernized world. Certainly: the Irish and the Estonians both understand the inescapable need to surf the modern waves of innovation and IT. The question for me is “how do we remain ourselves, at the same time that huge pressures for change are upon us”?

Like you, Estonians have a powerful tradition of poetry and song. Estonians are good dancers. We like our strong drink and beer- sometimes too much. Like the Irish, we've had had to resist foreign oppression - in our case, mostly at the hands of German conquerors and the Russian Empire. The social scientist professor David Vseviov says that despite wave upon wave of foreign occupation, Estonians have “iron constitutions”, capable of digesting everything that gets thrown at us. We are survivors.

The question is - in a Europe with no internal borders , and with the big core countries with the largest populations tending to decide a lot of things for us (Germany, France, the UK, Spain. etc.), are Estonians going to survive the European Union? EU membership has brought a loss of control over much of what takes place on the territory of our little country. Have we of the iron stomachs finally met our match, now that we are in both the EU and fully exposed to tides of emigration and immigration due to our inclusion in the Schengen Agreement? Is the EU going to prove too large of a mouthful for us to handle? Will it lead to our undoing? Most Germans and the French, etc. have precious little awareness of what makes Estonians tick and what needs Estonians have. To be honest, why should they?

This spring, under Schengen, Estonia dismantled her borders except the one to the East with Russia. We have precious little awareness of who it is that comes to and goes from our territory. The population transfers that are currently taking their toll in my country - largely because of the EU - are significant.

Little Endangered Cultures in Europe are in Danger and even Dying, while Big and Medium-sized cultures in Europe have much less to fear

Under the EU, even a large land like France has concerns about the reduction of her “frenchness”. Things are much more dire for smallish peoples like the Estonians. There are no more than about a million Estonian speakers in the world. We are among the oldest “first nations” of Europe. As if the emigration of large numbers of Estonians for better-paying jobs were not enough, many of Estonia's statistical indicators bode ill for our future. We have an aging population. There is an HIV epidemic. Male longevity, and our figures on the use of alcohol and tobacco, as well as our driving habits - all these things are poor. Although the birth rate has marginally improving very recently, we are actually a culture that - in health and welfare terms, and in terms of our absolute numbers - is in serious trouble.

I reiterate: there are roughly 900,000 Estonians. In absolute terms, our population is aging and dwindling. We are literally engaged in a struggle for continued survival, and our prospects worsen with each passing year. More schools are being closed from year to year.

Many people nowadays take an interest in the endangered species of the animal kingdom. Why does the European Union make practically no provision for the protection of the endangered human “species” (cultures and ethnoses) of Europe? One explanation might be that the native cultures of Europe are poor at the skill of organizing, and have little clout in Brussels.

Unlike the melting-pot states that make up the USA, many of the countries of Europe are the ancient territories of a variety of peoples and tribes. The Irish are fortunate enough, like the Estonians, to have overcome adversity and established their own country. On the other hand, under current EU legislation, little favoritism can be shown by the Estonian government to provide protection and support to the Estonian ethnos - even if that were temporarily necessary to bring us demographically and otherwise out of the lurch. The EU is currently “one size fits all” - no exceptions.

Many of the smaller language and ethnic groups in Europe have never been able to use the mechanism of self-determination, and don't enjoy the privilege of having their own states. Europe is full of small essentially unrepresented cultures that are either going extinct, or are potentially or seriously endangered.

The UN, at least, has some frameworks for tackling these problems, such as the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (Paris 2003) and the recent UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. While these UN frameworks have little clout, the EU has nothing at all of the kind for her own first nations, the smaller ones of which seem to be destined to simply wither and die on the European vine.

Manx Gaelic is now extinct, while a number of the languages spoken by the Samis (once called laplanders) are either nearly extinct or seriously endangered. Breton and Yiddish are seriously endangered. Members of many language groups in Europe don't have the protection that they should have, if we only put our minds to it and wanted to help them to recover. While it is up to the members of these language groups to muster the will to live, the EU must also be brought to recognize the problem and to consciously and actively agree to permit and create the growth environments that would make the continued survival of these interesting and formerly vibrant cultures possible.

An unequal situation exists in Europe. Our large cultures, such as the French and Germans, have no need to ever worry about their continued existence. The prospect of culture death is a thought - a bad prosect - that never occurs to them. They are free to do other things with their time. To simply enjoy their free time. Even much smaller cultures such as the Finnish one (with nearly five million speakers) have so much critical mass that they don't have to worry about extinction. The 500,000 Bretons, on the other hand, have precious few young speakers, and their language may die out in the next half century. Needless impediments in French national policy (an, to be honest, EU policy) contribute to the decline of the Breton language. Couched in a more positive way, the European public and our commissioners - our body politic - must be brought to recognize the need for drafting and adopting legislation that enables endangered cultures to get out of the danger zone.

It is small cultures with insufficient critical mass such as the Estonian one that are not sufficiently cared for, and are under-protected under EU law. Possibly this applies to Gaelige too.

Use the “No” vote as a Lever to Influence EU Policy - Save the Small Nations from Dying

The full-blown (and in some cases excessive) openness of the EU eliminates the protections previously enjoyed by those small peoples fortunate enough to have their own completely sovereign states before joining the EU. For example, until accession, Estonia had a limit on the number of residence permits that it issued to new immigrants each year.

Rather than to thoughtlessly push small European peoples to their extinction, serious EU programs need to be created that give small cultures the prospect not only of continued survival, but of being demographically brought back from the brink.

I am no specialist on Ireland, but it seems to me that the Gaeltacht in specific and the Irish nation in general would benefit from such programs.

Until representatives of the endangered cultures of Europe jointly devise a special program or set of programs designed to compensate for the damage done to small peoples and ethnic groups of the EU by the EU, and until such a program is made a formal and active part of EU policy, Irish voters should reject the EU Reform Treaty. Approval for the Lisbon Treaty should be withheld until the European Commission, in cooperation with groups representing the numerous endangered language groups of Europe, works out and implements EU legislation that will provide small European cultures with the means and measures that they need to rebound, to the extent of setting up special protected areas for them, if necessary. Many countries have received opt-outs from the EU in respect to certain aspects of EU legislation. The small peoples of Europe should also be afforded opt-outs if their continued existence depends upon it.

Measures for the protection of the lesser peoples of the EU could draw on many mechanisms, starting from help to schools, broadcasters, publishers and filmmakers, and extending to subsidies and even to special dispensations that would allow putting curbs on immigration in certain areas, much as national parks already function as protected areas in regard to nature that is worth preserving. Whatever it takes, measures all the way up to territorial autonomy (territorial homelands) should be considered. Human heritage is also worth protecting, not just animals and plants. Symbolic measures are not enough. Such opt-outs need to “have teeth” and be under the day-to-day control of the small nations and minority groups in question. Special conditions can in principle be relaxed or even dropped later, once specifically set demographic and cultural goals have been met.

Until we help to devise and are offered means of affirmative action to help us recover, is imperative for the smallest and most endangered cultures of Europe to reject “ever greater union” with the European Union. It is high time for the EU to recognize this problem. While making Gaelic an official language of the EU was an important step forward, additional steps are required to afford the small and endangered peoples of Europe the “life insurance” that they cannot do without.

Needed: a Charter for the First Nations of Europe

The Treaty of Lisbon will make the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU legally binding. The EU also needs a similar Charter (or Convention) for the First Nations of Europe. Need I really point out that all members of the many language groups of Europe pay taxes and have the right as citizens to prioritize what uses the taxes are put to?

Representatives of the EU love to talk about the importance of diversity, but do too little to actually ensure that we have a policy framework that will enable the native diversity of Europe will continue to flourish. The Irish, on the other hand, are pioneeers in showing the way on how to bring an endangered European language back from the brink of extinction. It would be considerate and responsible of the Irish to work together with the likes of the Estonians, Bretons, Corsicans, Welsh and many others to devise and secure a set of protective measures for the small cultures of Europe. Only when Brussels has accepted that such protections are of critical importance and has implemented the needed legislation, can we afford to give the go-ahead to a treaty of such huge impact as the Treaty of Lisbon. Safeguards must be secured in advance of giving a go-ahead on the Reform Treaty.

The Estonians have been part of Europe's landscape for 10,000 years. Surely the EU was not created for the purpose of, within the next century or two, of placing a headstone in the Northern corner of the Baltic region where the Estonians once lived?

For as long as protections that bring results are not put in place throughout the EU in the interests of cultural survival, I urge Irish voters to say “no” to the Treaty of Lisbon.

Text revised minimally in May 2009.

Jüri Estam is the lead candidate for the European Parliament elections in Estonia of a total of six Estonian candidates. Last year, when Irish voters were going to the polls to decide on the Lisbon Treaty, Mr. Estam wrote two opinion pieces and sent them to various Irish newspapers. One cautioned Irish voters against hastily voting for the Lisbon Treaty, should they have doubts, while the other proposed a protective Charter for the First Nations of Europe – particularly for small European peoples who are imperiled demographically and for cultures with endangered languages. Although the Irish referendum is long past, it appears as though Ireland will be gearing up for another round at the polls to decide the Lisbon Treaty a second time this fall. The basic arguments made by Juri Estam last year remain valid in the present. Therefore we offer his essays to our readers once more. http://www.libertas.eu/en/news...
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