ETV Interview


Who's in charge here?
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 23 December 2009

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is an eccentric chap. He is from an aristocratic background, earns the equivalent of 2,500,000 kroon a year, is wealthy anyway, but he likes to get about by public transport. As mayor he holds sway over millions of people. He is charge of a budget that runs into billions of pounds, he makes decisions for one of the world's three financial hubs, he's a powerful man.

The mayor of Tallinn you all know. He is runs a city of about 400,000 people with a budget of 700 million kroon. He is by some measure more powerful. In fact even the mayor of a small town like Haapsalu, a man by the name of Urmas Sukles, is more powerful than Boris Johnson. How so? To understand this we have to look at the way local government is run in Estonia

On paper there is nothing usual about local government. By the standards of many countries, Estonia has a remarkably simple system. Many countries have several tiers of local government, and convoluted, centuries-old, system. Sometimes local authorities have overlapping and conflicting responsibilities. Here in Estonia, local government is built on a single tier system.

When the local government system was set up in the 90s, the framers of the system had their eye on membership of the European Union already. Certainly they wanted Estonia to be part of the European family of nations.

Those of you who think that the European Union doesn't have any idealism, think again. The European Union is very idealistic, it's about giving power back to the people.

The principle behind the Union, written into the founding Treaty of Maastricht, is that things should be run, wherever possible, at a local level. Ordinary citizens should elected local decision-maker to run each village or hamlet. This system is called subsidiarity.

National government can only step in, if things can't be decided at a local level. They have responsibility for defence, border control, national finance, international relations, national education and so forth.

The principles of subsidiarity and decentralisation are written into the Estonian constitution which states:

“All local issues will be resolved and regulated by local authorities, which shall operate independently in accordance with the law.”

The key word is “independently”.

Although each county in Estonia has a governor appointed by and answerable to the Prime Minister, the key decision makers for most things are the local governments.

They are responsible for education, transport, social welfare, roads and safety, administration, culture, water supply, sports and grounds, health care, housing, city planning, business environment, public safety, youth work and environment protection.

So if the mayor of Haapsalu decides that all sausages are evil, because he had a stomach bug one morning, and assuming he can get the city government to agree to it, he can ban the sale of all sausages in the town market forever, or at least as long as he is in power; and the national government of the day can do nothing to stop him, without breaking the constitution

Even though all countries in the European Union subscribe to the principle of subsidiarity, in practice many countries find it difficult to apply.

In the United Kingdom with its centuries old way of doing things and unwritten constitution the national government can and do, step in and make decisions that in Estonia would have to be made at a local level.

Boris Johnson couldn't stop the sale of a single sausage. It's outside his remit. The Greater London Authority only has responsibility for transport, police, fire and rescue, development and strategic planning.

The British government could get rid of the of mayor of London altogether if they wanted to, abolishing the office and the the city government. This was done in the 1980s when a right-wing national government scrapped a left-wing local government.

Who has more power?

If we want to use a real world example, the city of Tallinn can make people from other parts of the country pay more for buses and trams, and the national government can do nothing about that.

In London the city government was once abolished precisely because it wanted to make people pay LESS for public transport.

Who has more power?

Local governments in Estonia have real tax raising powers. As well as it's share of centrally established taxes and allocation from the state budget, the city of Tallinn gets income from loans, the rent or sale city owned property.

The city of Tallinn just approved the budget and as we are all aware, this include a brand new one per cent sales tax to start in June 2010, as well as a tax on boats. Savisaar could if he wanted tax all sorts of things, medicines, foods, clothes, carpets.

He can even intimidate the Prime Minister how he should run his affairs. Earlier this month he suggested he would scrap the one percent sales tax if PM Andrus Ansip lowered VAT by two percentage points.

And what tax raising powers does the mayor of London have. None at all. That's right absolutely zilch. The mayor has a budget and is given money by central government. Local councils in Britain like elsewhere in Europe, and in Estonia, get most of their income from central government allocations. They have very limited tax raising powers they do earn income from a tax on property. It's called council tax and its the only type of tax that's allowed at a local level. The national government can restrict the amount council tax local council can charge. If you don't own property you don't pay.

Who has more power?

One foreigner was more angry than Estonians about all this.

“In ANY western country, a local mayor would be politically dead if he ever tried to interfere in the national government policies, ” he wrote on a news forum.

Some have pointed out that what is more shocking is not that Savisaar is dictating terms to the national government, basically blackmailing them, for want of a better word, but that Ansip and the government did not make a big deal out of it.

In any other country there would already be a bill winging it's way through Parliament curtailing the power of the local government.

Of course the principles of decentralisation and subsidiarity are noble ones, but Estonia is a decentralised nation with a too powerful centre.

Tallinn not only gets one third of all states money allocated to local government it also gets four fifth of all direct investment into the country. As far as the outside world is concerned, Tallinn is Estonia.

When the centre is so large, it makes a nonsense of decentralisation.

Foreigners visitors to Estonia are often puzzled by the fact that the leader of the opposition would want to be mayor. With this kind of power, why wouldn't he be? In fact who wouldn't rather be in local politics than in national politics.

So Boris Johnson may run a city of millions, but he can't make them pay more for soap, he can't decide breakfast for them; and he certainly can't bully the Prime Minister. No mayor can do that, except in Estonia it seems.

Tell me, who has more power?

Pyrrhic victory
By Abdul Turay

Published Postimees 23 October 2009

Tallinn let out a collective howl of anguish this Sunday night. Everybody knew what the results of the local elections would be, yet still people didn't want to believe it was true.

It was a resounding victory, an absolute triumph for the Centre party, or so it seems. They got an absolute majority in Tallinn, 53.5 per cent of the votes, better than last time round.

Overall they did better than even recent polls have predicted. The Centre party won 31.1 percent of the popular vote. If this result was reflected in a general election it would make the Centre Party the large single party in Riigikogu.

At least as far as Tallinn is concerned I was wrong about one thing. Savisaar is not “almost” the champion of the silent majority. He is simply the champion of the silent majority

Tallinn is the big prize and as mayor Edgar Savisaar will continue to be a major player in national affairs. In a highly centralised country like Estonia it means that in terms of real power and influence he is second only to Ansip.

Many people were personally upset by the result. I am sure readers know co-workers who came into the office scowling. Maybe you were one of them You have probably read stories about the campaign for Tallinners to register as residents in other parts of Estonia, of the vomit that was deliberately thrown in front of City Hall this Wednesday, of the half-joking plan to tear down Lasnamae and deprive Savisaar of support.

But things could be worse. They actually are worse in other countries.

The Centre party could be running the whole of Estonia. Actually I'll rephrase that, the Centre party “would be” running the whole of Estonia, but for one thing; the party list electoral system.

I touched on this in another article but I will go into a bit more in detail here.

There's a country not that far away where one party rules with an iron fist and has done for the past 12 years. The ruling party has an absolute mandate to do what ever it likes. The opposition can and do complain , but they can do nothing because most of the MPs are from the ruling party. This country has no written constitution so the ruling party could in theory turn the country into a totalitarian state with one piece of legislation.

The majority of people didn't vote for this party. They got only 35.3 per cent of the popular vote at the last election, only 3 per cent more than the main opposition party.

We have put up with this system in the UK because it's the way things have always been. The last time we had a government which most people voted for was 1945 when the Labour party won 51 per cent of the vote on progressive political platform.

Most English-speaking countries operate a first past-the-post system. In each constituency the candidate who gets more votes wins the seat. Other parties may come second, third, fourth all over the country and not actually win many, or any, seats.

In the US this system, which they inherited from its mother country, is the reason why there are only two parties. In Britain there are three parties, but in practice more like two and a half. At each election we have a Mexican stand-off with two adults and a midget. The midget always loses.

In Estonia seats are allocated to parties on the bases of the proportion of votes that they got. This system encourages lot of parties, political deal-making and coalition governments as we see.

But here's the rub, the electoral system in Estonia was designed to stop people like Savisaar. And stop him it will. One of the purposes of proportional representation is to prevent populist leaders, promising bread and circuses sweeping to power. We can call it the tyranny of the silent majority .

The party list system in Estonia, also called the d'Hont system, was invented by American founding father Thomas Jefferson. It's used for congressional apportionment. Jefferson hated demagogues and populist leaders.

Thanks to PR in order to get leadership of the nation, Savisaar needs to work with other parties. He knows that.

Last week Savisaar offered a collaborative agreement to the other mayoral candidates. The offer was rejected. For once the cynics are wrong, I believe Savisaar is for real. He really did want the other candidates to sign the document. He must have known the offer would be ignored but he thought it was worth a try. It also explains his overtures to the People's Union of Estonia this week.

You'd think that after such a triumph Saavisar would get on with the business of running Tallinn, safe in the knowledge that at least in the capital he has a popular mandate.

Not a bit of it, he is thinking ahead to 2011. He likes to be mayor but he wants to be Prime Minister. More accurately he craves to be Prime Minister

Here is a prediction. In the months and years to come as the 2011 looms, you can expect more of the same. The Centre party will keep making public offers of co-operation with other parties and the other parties will continue to rebut them. Unless one of the other parties caves in, it will build into a crescendo.

You can sure that if the Centre party gets the most votes in the next General election, Savisaar will accuse them of being undemocratic, if he still has no deal.

Certainly PR has it’s flaws. It means people are not voting for individual candidates. It means that people with no credentials or background, other than a skill for brown-nosing, get elected. It encourages a culture of political deal-making behind closed doors. It makes political parties put forward candidates who are young and attractive, but have no intention of serving in public office.

I won't go in detail about the Centre party campaign, enough has been written about it already. I'll simply say it was crass, unscrupulous and wrong.

Through this campaign Savisaar may have succeeded in doing the impossible. He has alienated his opponents even more than they were already alienated. He might just have scuppered any chance of co-operation between his party and other parties and therefore his own chance of getting what he craves..

After he triumph over the Romans at the battle of Heraclea the Greek general Pyrrhus is reputed to have said: “One more victory like that and we won't need any more defeats.”

In the months and years to come people may look back on the Centre Party's triumph at these elections and decide that it was a pyrrhic victory.

Abdul Turay: The man who annoys Estonians
Interview by Priit Pullerits
Published Postimees 14 November 2009

He came here like a breath of fresh air. Some say he is showing us how the world sees us. Others question how he dare say something about us.
A year ago, a black man shocked Estonia when he wrote a couple of sentences in Postimees which enraged the nation.

“Suppose in three or four years, Russia decided to try its luck and attack Narva. We can be certain the United States and the whole West will condemn it publicly. But don't rule out the possibility that the United States and NATO are actually doing nothing, because the President's wife is privately thinking:
'Ah... Estonia, isn't that the little small-minded white country, to hell with them.'”

Curiously this do not lead to Turay becoming a pariah, quite the opposite. Through his work he has become an opinion leader (though he himself does not agree with the title). His opinion pieces have become eagerly anticipated and he is not cheated these anticipations.

In this week's column he decided definitively to settle the question why Estonian women prefer foreign men.

Namely, he argued, Estonian women prefer Estonian men after all.
Who is this black man who dares to talk so vigorously to a white society?

He was born and raised in England (Ed note: Britain), studied history at University in London, worked thereafter on the newspaper the Hong Kong Standard and in Taiwan on the China News. After returning to Britain, he went into public service. He led projects and wrote speeches (Ed note: and letters) for ministers.

Last year he came to Estonia together with his Estonian spouse to be Editor-in-Chief of the English-language newspaper The Baltic Times.

But soon he put that job behind him because the paper's owners refused to pay some of their employers.

Now Turay teaches at The Old Town Educational College; and he writes in addition for Postimees and Web sites.

How much courage do you need to come from a foreign country and start to write opinion articles here?

Quiet a lot; I am always nervous: do I have the authority to write about something? I am not Estonian, I don't speak Estonian particular well, I can read, but I need a dictionary. How can I write about economics or politics, if I am not an economist? So it needs courage.

Do many people listen to what you write?

Indeed, they listen but that doesn't mean that they always agree with me. A lot do not agree, but they at least think.

Sometimes it appears that you are tying to be provocative. Is that so?

No, I am just trying to be honest. It's said (Ed note: quoting Malcolm McLaren) that if you write something that doesn't annoy anybody, then you are doing something wrong.

Some people get annoyed simply because I am writing, and I can't do anything about that.

However there must be another reason why there is a turbulent reaction to your writing, What's your opinion?

Maybe the reason is this. As Barbi Pilvre(lecturer and political analyst) has said, in Estonia the same group of people are writing all the time and even if they write something very smart and special, people don't react because it's done by the same writers. I am different, I write in a different way and I have different things to say; that can be interesting.

How do people here relate to Foreigners?

If you are a foreigner, then it is automatically assumed that you are a tourist. People come and ask money from you almost every day. I have notice this more and more after the recession began.

Estonians are provincial, but the whole World is becoming like this. This is somewhat worrying. You'd think because of globalisation it would be the other way round. I am noticing also Britain (Ed note: he wrote England but I would have said Britain) is more provincial than 10-15 years ago. If you look at the British press for example it is all about local figures. Twenty years ago the picture the media painted was more international.

How do you feel walking in Estonian streets? Is it odd or different?

I am used to it. I grew up in a town where everybody was white. And if you are a child then you don't think this way. You can't see a white world, but only the neighbourhood, where you live, and if you are the only black child then you are used to this. That's your world.

But you notice that you are stared at sometimes?

Adults pretend not to stare, but children really stare. There is a big difference in how Estonian children and how, for example, Chinese children behave. Estonian children are just curious but Chinese children are sometimes afraid.

Once I was standing on a Hong Kong train platform and there was a woman with a child staring at me behind his mother's shirt. I started to fool with him slightly, I pulled faces, but his mother said that I shouldn't do that as the child was afraid. This has never happened here. In Estonia children are simply curious they are not afraid of anyone.

What was the most difficult to get use to in Estonia?

(He thinks for a long time) I don't like Estonian food especially. Obviously there is a reason why there are no Estonian restaurants in the rest of the World (laughs). You put sour cream on everything. I am not a big fan of Estonian food. There is not also a lot of variety of cuisines.

You have tried blood sausage?

Yes of course, In Britain there is something like this. We call it Black Pudding; and I don't especially like it.

What do you feel is strange of peculiar in Estonia?

Estonia are balanced, they rarely speak or express their emotions. But all the same they tell you all sorts of confidential thing which people from other cultures won't, even if you know the other person well. You can get closer to Estonians than with people from other cultures, where you do not talk about certain things for years. Therefore you have many open relationships with Estonians.

I was married before and I only discovered certain things about my wife after three year, which I didn't know. But I know similar thing about Estonian friends although I hadn't even known them so long.

You have written opinion pieces about Edgar Savisaar(Mayor of Tallinn, leader of the Centre Party) Mart Laar(Leader of IRL) What is your political viewpoint?

In Britain I was a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, which is the same here as the Centre party. I would define myself as an Adam Smith Liberal. Estonia has two party in the position of the centre, the Centre Party and the Reform Party

Even the right-wing IRL is more close to the centre than the equivalent party in Britain. Estonian politics is more grey in tone. There isn't strong opposition to the European Union or to membership of the Euro from the right, whilst in Britain the right-wing is strongly against the Euro.

So it is difficult to say what party I endorse. In any case, I am not a social democrat. In the long run socialism would be the best idea but then you need some type of “Star Trek” technology, like making water out of thin air, to make it work. Until we have this technology, socialism can't function.

Which way would you vote in parliament if you could vote?

For the Reform Party or IRL(Ed note: I can vote)

Interesting because the IRL embodies Estonian patriotism. Explain!

The IRL stands for liberal and conservative values. When I was young I was a Conservative, but the British Conservative party in the past 20 years has moved from Pro-Europeanism to Euroscepticism.

In Estonia, The IRL is both pro-Europe and pro-Estonia. They don't see a conflict between patriotism and internationalism. In Britain patriotism mean this that you must be against Europe. Therefore I have difficulty in supporting the Conservative party.

When it come to the question of the Reform party, they have made some mistakes when in government. I am not especially endorsing the Centre Party. They don't even have an ideology, except for populism and people know this. Even those who vote for the Centre Party know this. They do not represent anything other than getting back into power.

Have you noticed stress between Estonians and Russian?

The whole world saw this two years ago

Can Estonians and Russian reconcile?

This is a difficult challenge. The problem between Estonians and Russians is similar to the problems in Northern Ireland. The difference is it's a lot worse there and it's been going on for centuries.

The Protestants were originally a different ethnic group. They were brought there from Scotland to crowd out the Irish majority group. They looked different, they had a different language, different names. After four century the two group are very similar, the names and language are similar, but the conflict is still bitter. They don't live in the same areas, they don't talk to each other

I went to a school where there were Protestants and Catholics and there was conflict even there. One Protestant kid told me that he had nothing against Asians or Blacks, as long as I wasn't Catholic.

So it is difficult to say how to say how the problem between Estonians and Russians will be resolved. I don't have a solution for this. I don't believe anybody does.

Furthermore the emotions to these questions are too strong. So if anybody makes a proposal then he gets shouted down. And even if something is undertaken, it doesn't mean that this problem would be resolved. Look at Northern Ireland.

Despite the huge number of Russians, there is not especially much ethnic diversity in the Estonia. Would increasing diversity be beneficial?

The question is not whether Estonia needs more cultural diversity. Cultural diversity will come if you have a successful country. If diversity doesn't come then it's because the country is not successful. The Europe Union has a lot of countries that are already diverse, so this will happen also in Estonia if there is something here to attract a computer specialist or a doctor, for example a good salary. When people don't come its because there is nothing to attract them.

With success comes diversity, there is nothing that can be done to stop it, except leaving the European Union and if you did this you wouldn't get any more EU money, which is a bad outcome.

Is it good, when people of other background come here, or is it a risk to Estonia as the Estonian population is small?

Yes some people are worried about this. But I think that Estonian culture is very strong and will live on. You have preserved your own language despite 800 years of occupation.

The challenge is can you take it to the next level where people who are not from the Estonian population, speak also Estonian and have themselves become Estonian. This is a difficult task, because nobody wants to lose their own roots and origins.

Under what condition would you yourself become Estonian?

Then if I feel that people take me for that, if they are feel comfortable with me and dot want to eat me [after writing something] Estonians don't have a civic sense of national identity. It's difficult to be adopted here. People won't take you as Estonian.

It's harder to become Estonian than to become British or American.

But if you stay here for 10 year do you hope that you'll start to feel more Estonian?

It got to be so, if I stayed here for 10 years and my children come from here.

I've heard you are Moslem?

I am not religious. My parents are Moslem but I was raised with the Anglican faith. I can't really call myself a Moslem because I don't even know the rituals.(Ed note: I went on to say that Islam is a compassionate, humanist religion which has been misunderstood in the West. But they didn't publish this part of the interview)

Say what keeps you here?

My spouse probably.

And you've not had enough of it yet?

(Laughs) yes a woman is enough motivation to be here.

What does your spouse do?

She works in government service. She is modest and I must honour her wishes. She doesn't want attention or her name made public.

What do you plan to do here?

I have certain goals, but firstly I must raise some capital. These plans can change as my mother's health is not the best. If it gets worse it could be that I must go back home. This is not difficult because I am on leave from my work in the UK. My place there still exists but I don't get a salary now.

Would you like to stay?

Yes I would indeed, until my Estonian gets better

Do you feel that you want to do something after your writing. You will still be of value in Estonia because your writing is anticipated?

Yes some people expect it, but not everybody.

Looking back on Abdul Turay's opinion pieces.

But one thing is clear for anyone who cares about Estonia; we should all do whatever we can to make sure the bank don’t go bust and stop Putin’s gang from coming here, even if it means living on potato peels. (Let's eat potato peels)

Now Ansip must realise that it was a mistake to hold up Ireland as a model for Estonia to follow. (The hairdresser who ruined Tallinn)

What is clear is that Laar is in a bind. If he is truly a believer in the free market he would go to the people and say: “Look, if I get back into power, I will do nothing... doing something will only make the situation worse, we must take the pain.” (Laar's dilemma)

There is more to Edgar Savisaar than Estonia's answer to Brad Pitt though. He is more of a cross between the aforementioned Hollywood star, Richard Nixon and Jesus. (Savisaar: Estonia's sexiest man)

The electoral system in Estonia was designed to stop people like Savisaar. And stop him it will.(Pyrrhic victory)

I hope I don't sound to dumb in stating the obvious. Estonian women prefer Estonian men and it is normal and natural that they should. (Black men and Estonian women: the truth)

Black men, Estonian women: the truth

By Abdul Turay

Published Postimees 11 November 2009

Well that got your attention; the headline I mean. Any story on this subject, the technical term is miscegenation, is bound to get punters. The yellow media, women's magazines and reality TV shows are obsessed with the subject. Not a month goes by without some publication writing about it. Anne and Style, for example, recently ran a long feature about mixed couples.
Most of these stories are muddle-headed and wrong. There's paranoia in this country that there is an army of dark-skinned men form Turkey, the tropics, some place south, who are going to make off with the nation's women. It's never going to happen. I'll explain why in a minute.
Seriously, I think there are more important things to think about and worry about. I worry about feeding my family. I worry about other people being able to feed their families, so I write about politics and economics.
But the press won't leave me, or any other black person in Estonia for that matter, alone.
A women's magazine contacted me once to join a round table discussion about foreign men and Estonian women. I told them I wasn't interested.
A well-known T.V. presenter asked me to go on her show to talk about foreign men and Estonian women. I told her I wasn't interested.
A journalist asked me about foreign men and Estonian women. You can guess my answer.
Since the issue is out there and because there is so much nonsense that's been broadcast and written about it, I have decided to set the record straight. I am hoping against hope that this piece will be the definitive story on the subject and the press will henceforth steer clear of it.
I hope I don't sound too dumb in stating the obvious. Estonian women prefer Estonian men and it is normal and natural that they should.

There are a million and one reasons for this, the underlying principle is it's more comfortable for anyone to be in a relationship with someone who speaks the same language and shares the same culture.

What it boils down to is an Estonian woman can joke with an Estonian man with something like: “How many times do I have to wash the same man's socks?” and not have to spend 20 minutes explaining what she means.

Not only are Estonian men, in my opinion, tall and good-looking, at least compared to the foreign men I see around Tallinn, with the type of looks that are popular in the Mediterranean, but they have skills that Western men don't seem to have. An Estonian guy knows how to be a “man”. He can put up a shelf, he can chop wood.

Of course some local women date foreigners. Part of the reason appears to be that there aren't enough Estonian men to go around. But some women like what foreign men have to offer. Foreign men can appear sophisticated and urbane. Foreign men in Estonia are by definition travelled, women like that.

But actually, the best way to appear sophisticated and urbane is not to be a foreigner. The best way to appear sophisticated and urbane is to be an Estonian guy socialising with foreigners. There are two guys in a club, a black guy and his Estonian friend, who gets the interest? who gets the girl? Think about it.

The number of Estonian women who are even remotely interested in foreign men is no more than in other countries and a lot less than most. The figures back this up. In the U.K. an estimated 30 per cent of all black women, my sister included, are married to or living with white partners. Could you imagine if 30 per cent of all Estonian women had Russian-speaking partners or vice versa? And Estonian and Russians are the same race.

What this demonstrates is for people to get along what matters is culture, not race.

All those black women, like my sister, share the same culture with their husbands. They speak the same language, have grown up with the same TV shows, have read the same books and played the same school yard games.

And what about black men in Estonia? I know a lot of anecdotal tales about foreign men in general and black men in particular who are complete failures with Estonian women.

I knew of one guy who was over here playing basketball. As a professional sportsman earning a good salary by Estonian standards you'd think he'd have no problem getting women. Think again. He could never get any woman to commit to him. He was looking for love, he was getting brief encounters. He felt exploited. He was frustrated and angry

“I really hate Estonian women,” he said.

I knew another basketball player. He was a real nice chap. His girl dumped him anyway, when the right Estonian guy came along. She gave no warning and no explanation, just “goodbye”. He was fairly philosophical about the experience; which was big of him because he had only stayed in the country for that girl. He has now left Estonia.

And there are others with even less success. Take a friend of mine, let's call him John Doe. He's 28, American, articulate, attractive, a graduate student, highly intelligent, and to make life really easy for him, white. He's been in Estonia for over two years. In that time he hasn't dated a single woman, not one. He said he found it difficult to have any kind of meaningful dialogue with Estonian women. He found it especially hard to talk to those women who hadn't spent any time abroad.

Just to demonstrate how farcical all the stuff that is usually written in the press about this issue is; let's get back to the women's magazine and their round table discussion. They did eventually rope in somebody to take part. And who was this expert on Estonian women? you've guessed it, John Doe.

There was the women's media asking John Doe why more and more Estonia women are picking foreign men as partners, not realising the real story was right under their noses, namely: “How come there are all these foreign men living in Estonia now who can't get near a local women?”

So what happens when an Estonian women through accident or fate does end up with a foreign men.

Simple, they Estonianise them. It is universally true that foreign men with Estonian partners all develop a keen interest in Estonian language and culture. I don't know a foreigner who has been with an Estonian woman for any significant period of time who doesn't have a passion for Estonian culture. With some people it can become an obsession, but that's a subject for another article.

You'd think that an Estonian woman married to a Dutchman or American would chose to live in the United States or Holland. Salaries are higher there after all. However often the couple chose to live in Estonia. If you've ever wondered why, now you have your answer. It’s part of the process whereby those clever Estonian women customise their men folk, combining the best of Dutch or American with the best of Estonian.

Any guy with an Estonian woman will eventually learn how to chop wood or put up a shelf.

Not everybody adapts though. Take our dumped basketball player. After two years in Estonia he wouldn't have known who Mart Sander was, if he came up to him and smacked him in the face.

Things are looking up for John Doe though. He's met a blond, chatty, waitress in Vapiano whom he really likes.
“Why don't you ask her out?” I said to him over dinner.
“What do you know about her, do you even know her name?”
“Yes of course I know her name, it's Opi ...em... Opilane,” he said. (Ed note: Õpilane is the Estonian word for student or trainee)

Black man flies solo
By Mart Zirnask
Published Eesti Ekspress 2 October 2009
Political observer Abdul Turay columns' are causing politician to line up, publicly to churn out replies. What lies behind this phenomenon?

One day, Abdul Turay was walking through a small birch-edged Tallinn parking lot
Suddenly a young gentleman, driving a car shouted out: “Hey nigger, you fucking nigger! Get the fuck out of my country!!”

For fun Turay answered him in French (which he learned in his native country of Great Britain). The other person was silently surprised for a moment and then carried on shouting abuse.......also in French.

“Totally unbelievable,” Turay said rolling with laughter.
“Then I thought for a moment that this is indeed an odd country.”

Turay didn't say there is large scale racism in Estonia. He did say he has had more positive experiences than negative ones.
But he wouldn't permit the paper to name the cafe where we rested for a chat. (Ed note: because it's near where I live). As of last spring, Turay goes regularly to a sports club carrying a bag with boxing gear for self-defence.

Abdul Turay came out of nowhere. He is Black, agnostic, his family are Moslem, he went to a Catholic school (Ed note: It was actually an Anglican school the reporter made an error). To our way of thinking he is a minority of a minority.
From last November he has written for Postimees; about how NATO in all probability won't waste time defending Estonia against Russia, how Mart Laar's economic ideology is hopelessly in a bind and how Russia could theoretically buy up Estonian banks from the Swedes.

In his last opinion piece about Edgar Savisaar, Turay wrote that the mayor of Tallinn didn't offer the country anything of substance other than “oozing sexual magnetism”.

“Yes indeed Savisaar- he simply demanded a satirical analysis,” Turay said, squeezing a blue sweet wrapper and thinking a little.

“He's a very complete character! And Laar is a heavyweight, worldwide icon, a pioneer of an economy system, who theoretically could be Prime Minister again. It occur to me to ask, what would he do now, but I hadn't read or seen anything about this," Turay said.

Turay's arguments have brought immediate and public response from the likes of Mart Laar, Marko Mihkelson, Kadri Simson and Priit Pullerits (Ed note: politicians and newspaper editors). This foreign, black man, who struggles in Estonian, but has a surprisingly good understand of the political history, is really publicly shaking things up.

At one time Turay worked for newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan. When he went abroad for the first time long ago, his father explained that he should bear in mind that he was in some way an ambassador.

“Wherever I go, the first thing that people see is that I am black, But I myself consider myself British. So what am I am ambassador for? I became immediately apparent, I am an ambassador for Black Britons,” Turay said.

Turay heaves a mild sigh. But he isn't smiling currently, his brown eyes are focused somewhere else as they examine with glowingly attention his conversation partner.

“If I had been singing or playing (basket) ball, then no one would be bothered, because this is what people expect a black man should be doing. But if a black person writes in a newspaper then it's a big deal.

“The majority of Estonians simply don't have contact with foreigners. When they see one they think probably they must be here on holiday. But actually quite a lot of ex-pats know what's going on," he said.

Abdul Turay has read bits and pieces of Kalevipoeg, he has seen Tonis Magi in concert and listens sometimes to Raimond Valgre. Everyday with a dictionary at his fingertips, he keeps track of our papers, political blogs and broadcasts.
“Marko Mihkelson's blog is quiet challenging. And my old lady doesn't help me, mostly,” he complained.

Turay's "old lady" is Estonian (they aren't married) this was the main reason why he came to Estonia more permanently.

He first visited in the year 2002, Turay wanted simply to see the country because it was missing an aristocracy.
“This is quite unusual for English people.
"Moreover who would not like to live in such a country,” he said.

For clarification: Turay's West African father belonged to the generation, which after the war rebuilt England. Estonia is his opportunity to take part in the same process.

Turay's Estonian teacher, Maire Aarsalu, reported how her student researches his opinion pieces “He would you speak with people about the Centre party,” she said.
It seemed to her that he sympathises with the Russians living in Estonia because they are a minority like him.

All the same, the lesson in all those well worn articles about Estonians and Russians is that rubbing things up remains delicate.
"He still doesn't perceive this situation quite well,” Aarsalu said.
Turay himself believes that in the near future a vitality will grow out of Estonia, which will bring the minorities together. And not just the Russians, if the country succeeds, then it will attracts all sorts of nationalities to the country.

“But if Putin's gang were really to attack Estonian, I would be the first man who grabs a gun," Turay said.

Turay gave an interview to one foreign portal where he stated that the election of Barack Obama “opened door for me personally”.
As his own background is in writing, does he feel comfortable with the American president's slogan “change we need”.

“No! I am not standing for political office and the Centre party has already hijacked this slogan," Turay laughingly said.

Before coming to Estonia, for 12 years he wrote speeches for ministers in England (Ed note: The United Kingdom).
Actually he is formally a domestic government worker. He also belongs to the Liberal Democratic party. This is the party whose direct counterpart in Estonia would be the Centre party.

But by Estonian standards Abdul Turay is more right-wing.

And one last thing, before Abdul Turay emerged, the only black person in the Estonian media was Arkaadi A. Who was an invention of political and cultural analyst, Mart Juur in his humorous column.

Arkaadi was the beloved friend of our national leaders He divided Arnold Rüütel's presidential rally previous media agreement. And in the age of the popular front, he rescued the familiar Savisaar from behind prison wall.

In all seriousness, Express editors were openly speculating whether Juur had also simply invented Turay.

“Really you can see why this question came up. Is there really such a person? I don't go out especially much and nobody really sees me around,” Turay chuckles.

When asked what politicians he knew personally he casually answered.
“Only Andrus Ansip (Ed note: The Estonian prime minister) I had dinner with him once when I was at the Baltic Times!”

SB1 The destroyer of the culture of discussion.
By Barbi Pilvre TLU RASI lecturer.

The Abdul Turay phenomenon brings to the fore some Estonian cultural taboos, which are related to race.
The political and economic analytical premier league in Estonia is a famously narrow group of people. Open discussion is characterised by a settled hierarchy. We have a lot of well-known experts in their particular areas. Bystanders are not let in, not because they lack competence, but because we have this authoritarian discussion culture. Men write about men's issues and women write about women's issues. The themes are black and white. If the hierarchy had a chance they would keep it that way as the media loves to protect experts.
Now a foreign black man, living in Estonia, who has made off with a local girl, is tackling very difficult subjects which have not yet been talked about by white pure-blooded Estonian person with any degree of sophistication. He talks appropriately, emphatically but in a calm low voice. To quote professor Rein Taagepera: "There is nothing as carefully humorous as Estonian debating culture."

Even Russian-speaking people don't use the opportunity to ask, the public, politicians, and the country in general, key questions using Estonian.
So first a Finn can provoke Estonians by giving an evil interpretation of “our history”. (Ed note: a reference to a Finnish professor who was banned from Estonia for saying the Soviet occupation was legitimate). And now we have the writings of this one black man.

Abdul Turay has caused such a high level of reaction, and that shows that our political elite are in a sense surprised, even shocked, even if the average white columnist had the same courage, there would be no response from the top at all.
Abdul Turay is a highly welcome local connection.

Playboy cover girl and Estonian Foreign Policy
From Marko Mihkelson's Blog
Published 24 August

I do not regularly read the weekly paper The Baltic Times, but sometimes, especially whilst flying, it catches the eye. It's one of the few, if not the only English language press publications, which reflects events in the Baltics.

I am not up-to-date about who is behind this publication today and what is going on with the editorial line. But especially recently, I have noticed very bizarre editorial choice and stories of questionable journalistic value being published.

Yesterday on a plane back from Riga I picked up and read TBT's latest number (August 20-26 668). In the attached opinion piece stared back the heading: “The difficult lessons of Estonia's foreign policy”, authored by Tartu University “political scientist and foreign policy analyst” Anna-Maria Galojan

With this somewhat ambitious title she glorified herself. Galojan's story is one of strangest articles I have read about Estonian foreign policy in the last few years. She speak about how Estonian politicians and diplomats are using only their emotions to deal with democracy, human rights and economics. The example she brings forward was support last year for Georgian President Saakasvili (who was attacked in South Ossetia). What needs to happen now, is for this to be replace with disapproval (as the latter is persona non grata in the West)

It was interesting on what she based this odd opinion. Estonia has always supported both Georgian democratic reform and territorial integrity, not one or the other in policy making.

As a second example, the Playboy cover girl spoke about how Estonian foreign policy officials keep up only connections with the US Republican party. Again where did such as idea come from? The issue is not parties but policies which the administration is driving forward, be this Democrat or Republican

"Our foreign policy must also be balanced by developing positive relationships with our neighbours, including Russia, and with the very experienced British Commonwealth of Nations," Galojan points as the goal of Estonian foreign policy.

The issue is after all that our foreign policy should be consistent. Though there is always room for improvement.

But the criticisms which I have repeated here in the blog, when all is said and done, go to promote this thinking.

However Galojan's article, in all circumstance, will make quiet a few people very curious and puzzled.

I believe that TBT editors and journalists should assess the quality of stories before publishing them. I speak here as a former editor of Postimees, not as a politician active in foreign policy.

One more thought. As mentioned previously The Baltic Times is one of only a few English language news publications. There are certainly very few. In my opinion it would be extremely useful and even economically profitable to establish an English language multimedia operative news and opinion portal.

Estonia needs a bail out package (Response to The sexiest man in Estonia)
by Kadri Simson Centre party faction chairperson
Postimees 4 September

On 2 September, British journalist, Abdul Turay commented about my position that Estonia needs to boost its economy with a support packet model like US president Obama's.

Looking critical at the content of the article, gives rise to the question, did the foreign journalist critically read through the proposal. The journalist understands that aid packets by the governments of the USA and Great Britain are above all to get banks out of difficulties and points to how this proposal is irrelevant in Estonia, as here we don't have our own banks.

Unfortunately Turay is fighting with non-existent adversaries, because my proposals for an economic boost packet didn't even deal with banks, in that part. Obama package content, which deserves to be followed in Estonia, is compensation for decrease in internal demand through state orders, which will enable jobs to be preserved.

The crisis package has been taken up in Germany and France and their economies show signs of economic recovery, relatively successfully. So to name crisis packages dumb is indeed a fallacy. As proved by the performance of Estonia which is so far without a decent crisis package.

(Editor's note: Normally I don't comment on responses to my articles. I just publish them and let the reader decide. But with this one I felt I had to say something.

Ms Simson, the bail out package in the USA was designed primarily for banks, that is a fact. These new New Deal, rampant Keynesian, aspects of package, were tacked on later as an afterthought.
By talking specifically about the Obama package in the USA, you make a comparison between the US and Estonian economies. They are not comparable. That was my criticism and it is still legitimate.

It's only when I published my article that you backtracked and started to talk about Germany and France. As yourself have said, it's too early to say whether this crisis is over. If that is true in the USA, surely it is true in Germany and France?

You still haven't answered the main question I posed, at all. How is this country going to pay for this, with no mechanism for deficit spending? Raising taxes perhaps. That won't go down to well with Centre Party supporters and kind of defeats the point, don't you think?)

The sexiest man in Estonia
Return of the silent majority (well almost)
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 2 September 2009

The three faces of Savisaar

At a festival at Linnahall a public figure stepped on the stage, gave a speech and announced it was his birthday. The crowd oohed and aahed like he was a movie star. They were lapping up his every word, they loved him. This was more than just charisma, this was pure sexual magnetism. Unless the paper have stuck a picture of Brad Pitt next to the story, you know where this is heading.

There is more to Edgar Savisaar than Estonia's answer to Brad Pitt though. He is more of a cross between the aforementioned Hollywood star, Richard Nixon and Jesus.

A visitor to Estonia would get the impression that everybody, everywhere hates the mayor of Tallinn. A friend described how her 14 year old daughter had scrawled abuse on Savisaar's poster, which for some inexplicable reason was in the school poster board. Actually she didn't finish the word. She got as far as “SIT” before a teacher caught her.

“My daughter did a very bad thing,” my friend said smiling broadly.
Another “friend” threatened not to talk to me again if I joined the Centre party. He wasn't smiling.
Yet month after month, opinion polls tell a different story. The Centre party consistently comes ahead of every other party. And not just a little ahead, but by 5 to 10 points. In a country which has half a dozen political parties, all with a chance of winning seats in Parliament, this is a huge margin.

Watching the crowd cheer him on at the festival, you realise Savisaar has tapped into something that no other politician in Estonia has been able to. He is the champion of the silent majority.

The term “silent majority” was first coined to describe those people who supported the late US president Richard Nixon. He won the 1968 election by a comfortable margin and went on to win the 1972 by an even greater margin, despite being passionately hated by large swathes of the American population. The same type of people who hated Nixon, hate Savisaar; the young, the educated, the intelligentsia, the urban, the well-to-do, the left leaning and the forward-thinking right.

The silent majority were and are blue-collar, politically inactive and don't have a voice in the media. They were against 60s' counter culture and for traditional American institutions.

They liked Nixon, their counterparts in Estonia today, like Savisaar. It simply isn't the case that only Russian-speakers support him. Anyone who worries about paying the rent and having enough food, supports Savisaar. Pensioners, who have to turn down the heat in winter because they can't afford their bills, support Savisaar. Check-out girls, who work all hours of the day but still don't have enough money to enjoy themselves, support Savisaar. People, who don't comment on Postimees articles because they don't have a computer, support Savisaar.

Strictly speaking, this group of people is not the majority of course. You can't have a majority when you have a multi-party system.

For them Savisaar is a sort of tin-foil Jesus. He promises to fed the hungry, heal the sick and provide for the old. Yet he puts forward no tangible plans as to how all this will be paid for. It will be a miracle.

Savisaar's program is what political analysts used to call “sexy.” So sexy that people continue to back him even when they don't really believe him. Savisaar's supporters may be poor but they are not stupid.

“I know that he probably won't deliver what he promises but he is the only one who is offering us anything at all, so I will continue to support him,” a Russian-speaking friend said to me once.

There is little point in discussing Savisaar's flaws. You are all familiar with them. The similarities with Nixon are eerie. He is accused of; taping political enemies, cronyism, nepotism, political opportunism and corruption. Some of you will be old enough to remember that Nixon came to a very sticky end. The only US president to be forced to resign.

Nixon also had great achievements. Nixon pursued a policy of détente with the communist block and the Soviet Union. He ended the first phase of the Cold War and built a relationship with China that is still flourishing today.

Nixon was a man of the right. Working things out with Russia seemed like pragmatism. With Savisaar it seems like cynicism.

It's ironic then that Savisaar's attempts to heal the rift between Russia and Estonia have led to the entire establishment and one teenage girl to pour scorn and contempt on him and his party.

There is an old English saying that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. In Savisaar's case, as many people believe, being unpatriotic has made him a scoundrel

Still Savisaar is an enigma. He is a very clever man. Technically he is Dr Savisaar Phd. So why does he allow the people around him to keep spouting nonsense?

The latest was from Kadri Simson, rising young star of the party. She recently suggested in this paper that we have a bailout package for Estonia like the one in the USA.

I'm British, we have had a bailout package in the UK already, I've just come from the UK. It is a very, very, dumb idea.

In the USA and UK bails-out were considered a necessary evil to stop British and American banks from going bankrupt and destroying Wall Street and the City of London (London's financial hub).

Estonia doesn't have a City of London or a Wall Street. Estonia doesn't even have home-grown banks. The banks are Swedish. And they are not going bankrupt.

And how is the country going to pay for it without devaluing the currency, as has happened in both the USA and the UK.

I refuse to believe Simson doesn't understand basic economics. I think it’s more likely that she is playing to a typical Centre party populist agenda. The Centre party needs to show that it has ideas and give the patriotic people of Estonia the illusion that they are in control of their own economy and therefore their own country.

Some people read these pronouncements and feel a patriotic rush.

“Yes we can manage our own affairs,” they think. It's all about sex appeal.

If Estonia had a first-past-the post system, Savisaar's party would be in power already, despite all the vitriol that has been poured on him over the years.

He commented recently that the Centre party isn't going to be part of any electoral alliance and Centre party candidates will continue to stand under the Centre party name.

If he is not trying to be a dictator and he doesn't want to work with other parties then what exactly does he want? What is he good for?

The Centre party doesn't stand a cat in hell's chance of getting back into power as things stand, and for the very reasons Savisaar has stated. He doesn't want to work with other parties. Supporters of other parties hate him so much that they won't allow their leaders to work with him.

Benjamin Disraeli once said the role of the opposition was to: “suggest nothing, criticise everything and turn out the government.”
We have two out of three. It isn't good enough.

So Savisaar is not letting the country down with (alleged) corruption or shameless populism. He is letting the country down by not delivering an effective opposition. He is letting the country down by not being able to get back in power.

Thanks to Savisaar, Estonia is becoming, as the saying goes: “a banana republic without the bananas”, that is a one-coalition state. Ansip may go, but it's going to be the same crew running things. The conductor may change but the tune remains the same.

Still we should be grateful for what we have. The man oozes sex appeal. If there is any doubt about it, one needs only to look in the pages of Kroonika for his latest shenanigans.

At least he has something to fall back on. If Savisaar decides to throw in the towel he could always consider emigrating to the USA and pursuing a career in show business. It's high time Estonia had its own Hollywood superstar.

How Estonia made Michael Jackson a megastar
By Abdul Turay

Years ago as an undergraduate student I had conversation with someone who was studying psychology. I didn't know anything about the subject at the time, so I asked him what he thought of Sigmund Freud.

He said something so simple and so sage that I have never forgotten it.

“He was a genius, but he was one genius out of many geniuses.”

What he meant was that fame and genius are not the same things. Freud was one of a number of men and women doing ground breaking work in his field. Though he became more generally known by the public at large, Freud wasn't better than these other pioneers, he was simply more famous.
The same principle can be applied to any field; physics, acting, invention, history and pop music.
Some would have us believe that Michael Jackson was somehow superior to everybody else working in showbiz. That he was the world's greatest entertainer, a megastar in a premier league all by himself. He was none of those things.

I was living in the USA about the time that “Bad” came out. This was an album aimed at my target group, teenagers. We didn't like it, we didn't like him and we couldn't fathom who the hell was buying this overblown, self obsessed, pretentious, rubbish.

To be fair Jackson's career had its ups as well as its down. He did some good stuff, he did some really good stuff, but he did some em........ bad stuff, not to mention the downright silly stuff.

So why all the hyperbole especially from young people not old enough to remember his career peak “Thriller”?

Estonia made Michael Jackson. Not just Estonia of course but all the countries of the former Soviet Block, the Middle East, Africa, the Far East and Latin America. He was the biggest thing everywhere it seems except his own backyard.
Michael Jackson hasn't been especially popular in his own country for decades and the sales figures back this up. None of the albums Michael Jackson released in the 90s were the top selling albums for that year in the USA. A couple of them weren't even in the top 10.

Some of the claims about Michael Jackson are just plain lies. It is a complete fiction that Michael Jackson has sold 750 million units in total. A Wall Street Journal investigation on 15 July debunked this popular myth. It's not even clear if “Thriller” is the biggest selling album in the USA of all time. It is globally, but in the USA it is vying with an Eagles album for top place.

Michael Jackson has actually sold 200 million units worldwide. To put that in context, Michael Jackson's one time great rival, whose career declined in the early 80s, Donny Osmond, has sold 100 million units, and those figures are accurate. So in the end "Michael" was only twice as successful as "Donny", despite the fact that Donny didn't have a single hit record between 1979 and 1989.
Yet the average Estonian under the age of 30 probably hasn't even heard of Donny Osmond, whereas everybody knows Michael Jackson.

The explanation for this is simply. Michael Jackson was American. And he was the top American entertainer in the mid-80s at the height of the Cold War. He came to symbolise America.
Many Estonians, like the unwashed, huddled, masses from the rest of the developing world, looked to the USA as a shining land. It embodied freedom and prosperity. We call these people American Wannabes.
When the USA eventually won the Cold War, American Wannabes needed a symbol. Jackson fell into that role really by default. American Wannabes liked Michael Jackson because they thought that's what Americans liked.

The point is beautifully illustrated by something a close friend told me when I first met her years ago. Like a lot of young Estonian women, she was a hopeless American Wannabe. She liked Michael Jackson of course and the Rolling Stones and AC/DC. She told me she had only just discovered the Rolling Stones were British.

She described her stepfather having a rock history book. She was shocked to discover, on looking through it, that actually ALL her favourite rock bands were British.

With a couple of notable exceptions, none of the World's top artists in 80s fitted the profile unwashed, American Wannabes wanted. None of the World's top artists were actually American.

People have forgotten it now, but back in the 80s at the height of the Cold War most rock stars were British. Elton John, Depeche Mode, George Michael, Phil Collins, Fleetwood Mac, Duran Duran, Queen, Bowie, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Ozzy, etc; were all British.

I was in the USA at the time and most of my contemporaries took for granted that most music came from the UK in the same sense that people took for granted that most movies came from Hollywood.

Some rock stars had other nationalities. U2, without a doubt the biggest rock band in the English-speaking world in the 80s, were Irish. AC/DC were Australian; as was Kylie.

Other stars didn't suit for some other reason. Prince was just too weird for the conservative tastes of the Second and Third World. Frank Sinatra was too old. And Elvis, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix were dead.

That left Madonna and Michael Jackson. You could argue Michael Jackson is weird too, but no one thought that in 1985. Besides, his music has never been weird sounding.

Once the USA "won" the Cold War Michael Jackson's star went up, as the representative of US culture at a time when the sales of his records were dropping off in his own country. So if Michael Jackson had been from anywhere else, he wouldn't have had the same level of adulation. The irony is that Michael Jackson's act wasn't especially American. He could have come from anywhere.

Really the role of American icon for American Wannabes should rightfully have gone to Bruce Springstein. By the late 80s he was putting on a better show than Michael Jackson, he was undeniably more popular in his own country, he sold more records and he was more quintessentially American. But Springstein's star didn't take off outside the English-speaking world at all.

The trouble was his act was based on language. Michael Jackson's and Madonna's acts were based on dance. Your typical American Wannabe hairdresser, living in Haapsalu in 1989, didn't speak English. She couldn't have known that Springstein was singing heartfelt, witty, songs with biting social commentary, but she could enjoy Michael Jackson and Madonna swinging their hips and shaking their booties.

Also Springstein is honest about his country and therefore somewhat cynical about it. Any American Wannabe, sad-faced clown, who does eventually master English is going to realise this. And the last thing an American Wannabe wants to hear is: “America sucks”.

In knowing Jackson the unwashed, huddled, American Wannabe masses in places like Taiwan, El Salvador, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Estonia felt that they knew USA. In actuality this has never been true.

None of this means Michael Jackson was crap. I have enjoyed his music along with many other people. His gig was good, sometimes it was great. He was a genius, one genius out of many geniuses.