Where is that Estonian bluntness when it’s most needed?
"Don't get me wrong, I support the troops," Päivi Pilvepiir equivocated recently in her opening salvo to a piece on ERR News. Why any Estonian - reared in a culture that prides itself on not mincing words - feels the need for such a qualifier, I don’t quite know. Too many years in Marin County, mornings spent power shopping and afternoons a blur of Pinot Noir?
Has Estonia fallen to the low point of the USA, where every politician now must wear an American flag on his lapel or be accused of not loving his country?
Or perhaps “I support the troops” has become simple code for “Geez, those unfortunate bastards,” when any reasonable person knows that if a superhuman like Sir Bart Fitzroy Maclean couldn’t fix up Afghanistan once and for all, then anybody who comes after him is destined to make a mess of it.
But if Pilvepiir supports the troops, it follows logically that she should support those who support the troops. Like Comedy Estonia.
"When members of 'Stew and Louis' pose with automatic weapons on social media with self-celebratory hoo-ha, it's cute, but they are really playing to their own largely early 20s fan base," wrote Pilvepiir. Here, I would simply note that this is the entire point: Your average soldier in Afghanistan happens to be a 20-something, and it's those soldiers Stew and Louis were sent to entertain.
But Päivi's main beef was the queasy feeling she gets from the hypocrisy of a taxpayer-funded trip for Comedy Estonia, which apparently spends much of its time making fun of the establishment.
If we are to be completely honest: Which taxpayer among us does not both actively complain about government yet secretly long to travel far and wide at our fellow taxpayers’ expense?
Despite the often-heralded simplicity and transparency of the tax system, the Estonian tax cocktail is rather burdensome and can engender selfish sentiments: If our roads must look like the Luftwaffe has bombed them, then what’s wrong with a government-funded junket to somewhere warm and sandy?
When the grandchildren of Stew and Louis ask them if they ever ate the government cheese, they may answer in the affirmative without, I feel, an ounce of shame.
The free trip must be especially sweet for Louis, in particular, who has recently borne the brunt of a new immigration law, one seemingly at odds with Estonia's tax strategy, which forces him to pay himself a salary rather than to reinvest the money to fuel his company’s growth.
I would also point out that Ms. Pilvepiir should have sympathies for a citizen enjoying a trip at the taxpayer’s expense: The county government is Marin County's single largest employer.
It's also important to remember that two of the three comedians were not in fact citizens. Against the press coverage of the purported xenophobia of Estonians, sending two foreigners to Afghanistan at the taxpayer’s expense may be interpreted as proof that there are still some open-minded people left in the country.
Or, should one choose to see it another way, it might merely illustrate the gullibility of foreigners. To prostitute an old anecdote somewhat, perhaps second prize was two trips to Afghanistan?