Friday, 28 March 2014

The United States and Europe need a new rulebook for Russia

An article written by president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, published in today's Washington Post.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine marks a paradigm shift, the end of trust in the post-Cold War order. This order, based on respect for territorial sovereignty, the integrity and inviolability of borders and a belief that relations can be built on common values, has collapsed. International treaties no longer hold, and the use of raw force is again legitimate. In its annexation of Crimea, Russia has thrown the rulebook out the window. The world is back in a zero-sum paradigm. This is not about only Crimea or relations between Ukraine and Russia. The shift has changed the assumptions underlying European security and dealings between democratic states and Russia.

Ongoing events in Kiev, Donetsk and Crimea put the international community’s relationship with Russia on a new standing. Justification of a military invasion by a fabricated need to protect ethnic “compatriots” resuscitates the arguments used to annex Sudetenland in 1938. For U.S. and European Union leaders, a Churchillian moment has come. We need to rise to the occasion with strength, clarity and speed.

Short- and long-term steps must be taken. In the aftermath of the 2008 war in Georgia, the world assumed that conflict was an ambiguous one-off, and we quickly returned to business as usual. Now, however, we know that we are witnessing a principle and a policy of restoration, announced at the highest levels of the Kremlin.

This is a time not for panic but for a calculated response to an explicit revision of the post-Cold War order. There is, after all, a toolbox for dealing with such challenges.
First, we must act decisively within NATO. Sen. Richard Lugar’s erstwhile dictum thatNATO had to go out of its area or would go out of business no longer applies. Clearly we are back in area. We need to get back in business. NATO’s raison d’être is to defend its members and their territory. Steps must be taken immediately to ensure a NATO presence across the alliance’s territory. A 1930s-style war hysteria has taken hold in Moscow’s official media (Russia is the only country able to reduce the United States to “radioactive ashes,” the head of Russian state TV announced recently); in this environment, only a calm but firm commitment to deterrence can be the immediate response.

Recognizing that this challenge will remain for the medium to long term, a refocus on NATO’s core responsibility should be the aim of the September NATO summit in Wales. This must go hand in hand with greater investments in defense by European allies. Maintaining 2 percent of gross domestic product for defense must become a major benchmark of allies’ commitment. Allies in Europe need to wake up and realize that meeting that target is vital to giving credibility to deterrence and for revitalizing the transatlantic relationship.

Second, neither the aggression in Ukraine nor the illegal annexation of Crimea can become cost-free successes. I am appalled that, for several weeks already, some have been discussing where in Ukraine Russia may hit next. In addition to military pressure, Russia continues to try to undermine Ukraine politically and economically. Political support, economic assistance and practical know-how must be extended to the Ukrainian government as much as possible. Doing so is in Europe’s interest. There must be no question about our commitment and clarity of purposes in this regard. Ukraine requires our strong support. We must remain committed to helping as much as we can. Moldova and Georgia must also be assisted and reassured.
The Russian Federation’s practice of instant citizenship, whereby Russian passports are distributed willy-nilly to ethnic Russians abroad so they can be “protected” in their current homeland, is unacceptable. Passports are travel documents, not a tool to justify aggression. What has been practiced recently in Ukraine, and in 2008 in Georgia, could be repeated in Prague, London or Brooklyn.
Third, Russia has to pay a price for its aggression. This is a matter of credibility of the international order, an order that, if it disintegrates into the “anything goes” model, will wreak havoc on international relations and peace and stability. Policies of positive engagement with Russia must be reconsidered in a number of international organizations, including at the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, NATO and the European Union. Our response to Russia should not be about the price of gas; it must be about respect for common values. Any economic sanction is cheaper than military intervention. Nothing costs more than the loss of freedom.
In years past, the transatlantic alliance has withstood some difficult challenges. Today, we face the most difficult one in generations. The lights of liberty are being extinguished in parts of Europe. We must take decisive and united steps to ensure that future generations do not question why nothing was done and why we didn’t act when so much was at stake.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Estonian Photographer Arthur Lestal

In many countries, Estonia included, photographers are not widely recognised for their work. Even if their pictures become famous, the photographer remains somewhat anonymous and obscure.  Their craft is, however, of great importance as it captures fleeting moments in time for future generations to study and enjoy.  Both the everyday and the exceptional images caught by photographers make a nation's history somehow real and tangible.  Through the medium of  photography we can witness events we didn't attend and catch glimpses of a bygone era.

Arthur Lestal's work is of particular value to Estonian history as his pictures capture the essence of Estonian life during the country's initial twenty year period of independence.  Estonia at that time flourished as a nation. People bought their own homes, set up businesses, and children grew up happily in safe and beautiful surroundings.  It was an idyllic chapter in Estonia's history.

Arthur primarily did pavilion-studio photography, working with children and families as well as private sittings in the clients' homes, using magnesium. Another area of Arthur's work included his production of postcards. These postcards are a window to the past, revealing everyday Estonian life up until the year 1940. Many of Arthur's images were taken in areas in which he lived - Tallinn, Raasiku, Undla, Albu county and at events he attended. Arthur also held exhibitions of his work. In 1938 his photographs taken at the Tabasalu Red Cross summer camp were on display at the Art House at Vabaduse Plats, Tallinn.

One of the features which make Arthur's work stand out is the fact he often wrote the year, location and a brief description on the actual picture, adding great value to the image for later generations. Today, several of Arthur Lestal's photographs can be found in the Estonian Film Archive, The National Library of Estonia and several other museums across the country.

Brief biography
Born in Ravila in 1887 Arthur Lestal was the son of a pharmacist. His father Alexander Otto Lesthal came from a family of stewards who managed several manors in Estonia including Luke, Keedika, Kurnaja Lehmja, Saksi and Ravila Manor. As a child Arthur attended a private German boys school in Tallinn then in 1912 he began his career as a photographer. In his early twenties Arthur spent several years living in Finland and Russia where, in addition to his photography work, he also worked as a translator, bookeeper and customs official for a shipping company.

Arthur's brothers Paul and Hans both fought in the Estonian War of Independence and in 1921 Arthur and his wife Margarethe decided to return home. They were among the 38,000 returning Estonians from Russia who applied for their Estonian citizenship to start a new life in the nascent republic.

The freedom Estonians enjoyed for twenty years came to an abrupt end with the arrival of the invading Soviet forces in 1939. The majority of Arthur's family fled to the West but Arthur decided to remain in his beloved Estonia. Sadly, that decision cost him his life. He was murdered during the German occupation in 1941.

Seventy years after his death, Arthur's work can still be found in Estonia today. His postcards are still traded among collectors.

More of Arthur's photographs can be seen on the Flickr account I created in his memory:

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Remembering those we loved and lost due to the Soviet Deportations

Today marks the 65th anniversary of the mass deportations of Estonians to Siberia by the occupying Soviet forces.

In Freedom Square 20,000 candles can be seen burning brightly in remembrance.

The memory of these innocent victims will always be kept alive in our hearts.

May we never forget the atrocities perpetrated against Estonians by the evil Soviet regime.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Proud to be Estonian

Estonia - beloved to all Estonians and an example to the world.

  • Hardworking and self sufficient nation
  • Technologically innovative
  • Fair country with a functioning constitution and legal system that guarantees individual rights
  • Efficient and transparent government
  • Immense cultural and natural beauty

Friday, 14 March 2014

Happy Mother Tongue Day Estonia!

Recognized as a national holiday in 1999, Mother Tongue Day marks the birthday of Kristjan Jaak Peterson (1801–1822), who is considered the founder of modern Estonian poetry.
The Estonian language is spoken by roughly 1.1 million people. Closely related to Finnish and more distantly to Hungarian, Estonian belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group, which includes about 40 languages spoken by around 20 million people that are thought to have originated thousands of years ago in the Ural mountains, now in western Russia.
Estonian has a number of dialects, broken into the larger northern and southern groups, the most distinctive of which are Võro and Seto, both currently seeking language status. The oldest records of written Estonian date from the 13th century, and in 1525, the first Estonian book was printed, a Lutheran manuscript that was destroyed immediately after publication. Due to a long history of occupation, the nation's language did not have a chance to truly flourish until the 19th century.
Happy Mother Tongue Day Estonia - there isn't another language on this earth as melodic and as gentle as yours!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Marie Under's Works to be Translated into English

Estonia's greatest poet, Marie Under will soon have her work and biography translated into English thanks to the dedication of Estonian literary scientist Sirje Kiin. For over tweenty years Sirje has studied Marie Under's life and poetry and has published several books about her in both the Estonian and Russian languages. She now feels the time has come for the English speaking world to discover the genius of Marie Under and to learn more about her eventful life.


Marie Under, the daughter of a teacher, was born in Tallinn on the 27th March 1883. She attended a private German girls' school and showed a talent for writing from a young age. Marie began writing poetry when she was fourteen and had her first poem published in the Estonian newspaper Postimees in 1904 when she was twenty-one. Marie wrote most of her poetry in German and was later encouraged to translate them into Estonian for her fellow countrymen to enjoy. In 1944 Marie and her family fled the Soviet occupation to Sweden where she remained until her death in 1980.

Considered the Goethe of Estonian poetry, Marie Under is one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. She was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature thirty times after WWII  but sadly never won it. It has been speculated that she never received this honour possibly due to being a political refugee in Sweden or the fact that her works were not translated into many languages.

Here are four of Marie Under's poems translated into English. Her works reveal her deep love of nature, romantic heart and, after her exile, her deep longing for her homeland.

Summer Memory
The door ajar, I stood at point of day,
Tiptoe for you and with awakened eyes.
The sun's gold slipper trod the gravelled way,

The grasses spilled their dews in glad surprise
And then you came out of a mist of flowers
That clung and swayed like knots of butterflies!

When afterwards we two, in softened hours,
Walked through the fields of rye all red for reaping,
I felt as if my heart obeyed new powers:

The old in me seemed either dead or sleeping,
And as I glimpsed the poppies' fluttering fire,
An eager pleasure set my pulses leaping.

And you, these sang, could give me my desire. 

Over the garden the moon's tide tumbles;
Shrubs are shaken by gusts and tremblings;
Pathways ribbon with sudden dissemblings
Towards the threshold where false foot stumbles.
Out of the soil of midnight, tender,
Lift my arms' white tendrils and, weaving,
Motion to someone shadowy and absent,
Someone who tarries somewhere, perhaps may not be existent.

Oh, do I fear the days of torrid splendour,
Nights full of flowers? Oh, do I fear when I see that
These would not yield to the ultimate depths of my choosing?
My heart is breaking little by little
As a ripe pomegranate, skin parched brittle,
Breaks: full loving is prelude to losing.

Cords are unknotted, the covers have parted,
And I rise winged from where I have smarted.
Oh, do I fear now what heart discloses,
All these desires in fevered legions?
And shall I gather the pure cold roses,
Open and waiting in those white regions,
Towards which the days have died and the nights have faded,
And my blue sail wafts a burning soul that has loved as they

We saw those berries, over-ripe and glowing,
in weak and tepid light of the October sun
persisting red as blood, in right full-growing,
without much inkling of the winter clouds to come.

And then a wind-gust brushed those heavy bunches:
and some of them burst, falling to the ground
on wilted grass, soon after, under branches
gold leaves with purple berries lay around.

And hand in hand we walked uphill together
and pushed by the capricious wind's bad weather,
eye to eye, as in anxiety, we asked:

our love's moist, joyful red in present flowering,
will life's wind carry it away, devouring,

or will it fall to the grave's soil, and last? 

Christmas Greetings 1941
I walk the silent, Christmas-snowy path,
that goes across the homeland in its suffering.
At each doorstep I would like to bend my knee:
there is no house without mourning.

The spark of anger flickers in sorrow's ashes,
the mind is hard with anger, with pain tender:
there is no way of being pure as Christmas
on this white, pure-as-Christmas path.

Alas, to have to live such stony instants,
to carry on one's heart a coffin lid!
Not even tears will come any more -
that gift of mercy has run out as well.

I'm like someone rowing backwards:
eyes permanently set on past -
backwards, yes - yet reaching home at last…
my kinsmen, though, are left without a home…

I always think of those who were torn from here…
The heavens echo with the cries of their distress.
I think that we are all to blame
for what they lack - for we have food and bed!

Shyly, almost as in figurative language,
I ask without believing it can come to pass:
Can we, I wonder, ever use our minds again
for sake of joy and happiness?

Now light and darkness join each other,
towards the stars the parting day ascends.
The sunset holds the first sign of the daybreak -
It is as if, abruptly, night expands.

All things are ardent, serious and sacred,
snow's silver leaf melts on my lashes' flame,
I feel as though I'm rising ever further:
that star there, is it calling me by name?

And then I sense that on this day they also
are raising eyes to stars, from where I hear
a greeting from my kinsfolk, sisters, brothers,
in pain and yearning from their prison's fear.

This is our talk and dialogue, this only,
a shining signal - oh, read, and read! -
with thousand mouths - as if within their glitter
the stars still held some warmth of breath inside.

The field of snow dividing us grows smaller:
of stars our common language is composed….
It is as if we d started out for one another,
were walking, and would soon meet on the road.

For an instant it will die away, that 'When? When?'
forever pulsing in you in your penal plight,
and we shall meet there on that bridge in heaven,
face to face we'll meet, this Christmas night. 

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Five Interesting Facts about Pikk Hermann Tower

Pikk Hermann Tower has long been considered a symbol of Estonian independence. The Estonian national flag can be seen in all its splendour, flying on top of the tower as it has did for the very first time on 12th December 1918.

Here are five interesting facts you may not know about Pikk Hermann Tower:

1. Located next to the Parliament building on Toompea Hill, Pikk Hermann Tower was built during the 14th century and is part of Toompea Castle.

2. Every morning at sunrise the Estonian national flag is raised, accompanied by the national anthem which can be heard in the street.

3. At sunset the flag is lowered to the song  "Mu isamaa on minu arm" (My Fatherland is my love).

4. The flag is changed approximately six times a year with all flags preserved in the archives.

5. Whenever an Estonain athlete wins gold at the Olympic Games, they are given the flag from Pikk Hermann Tower which was flying on the day they won the medal.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Tanja to Represent Estonia at the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest

The grand final of Eesti Laul 2014 took place in Tallinn last night with singer Tanja declared the winner with her song Amazing. The annual event which was held in the Nokia Concert Hall  saw the ten finalists battle it out for the top spot. Tanja will now represent Estonia at the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen on May 6th.