One of Spain's Estonian expatriates - writer and journalist Helen Eelrand - penned an opinion about the unappreciated ways in which Estonians abroad are not just working hard but still very much involved in the life of the nation, in response to comments from a former politician, Tõnis Lukas, who said that some expats were escapists who took the path of least resistance. Here are excerpts from her piece.
I was "authorized" by Estonians living in Spain to write this. Actually, they practically begged me to write.
It is clear that people don't move to Europe's sick man on a lark, out of pure laziness, in hopes of good fortune and a better life.
There has to be something else. I think the community we interact with here in Spain has one thing in common: they want to take healthy risks and have an interest in life. They want to see more, experience more, and - why not - share it with the ones back home. None of us have burned our bridges to Estonia.
Some of us have came to Spain to study and ended up staying. Some came for love and started a family. And there are simple sinners (I am one of them) who traveled here a few times and fell in love with the country and its people.
"What right do you have to love Spain, you're a girl from Pärnu?" a fellow Pärnu resident once asked me. I carried that incomprehensible and stupid question around with me for a few years before I dared ask it again within earshot of my fellow expatriates.
“But what right to do have to love anything or anyone at all if the normal is to fear, hate, accuse and attack?" a female friend of mine asked in Spain.
Opposing pairs. Us and them. I fear that is what resonates in Tõnis Lukas's comments. But it is still frightening for "us" even to our own surprise to become "them." Apologies after the fact don't count if the damage has been done.
“We thought we were helping the Estonian economy, by selling Estonian products to southern Europe..but it turns out we have built our company on 'slacking'," grumbled another female friend, who has been working in Spain for 14 years with her Estonian husband.
Besides the self-employed business owners, there are also medics, European officials, lawyers, receptionists, marketers, IT specialists, journalists, ex-athletes, musicians among us.
We have all had to start from scratch in a foreign language environment and completely different culture. There have been times when we had only our willpower and blind faith in life to get by. It's possible there will be more such situations. But only a person who has never left their own comfort zone can consider that "slacking." They simply can't imagine that.
The Estonian "thing of ours" takes on a different meaning when you're living abroad. I suspect that even though we live far away, we know a lot more about national solidarity than do some who declaim on the subject from the Song Festival pulpit once every few years. Maybe we, the new emigrant Estonians, do not necessarily gnash our teeth about the 700 years of serfdom Estonians survived, but we are making sure our children find friends to speak Estonian in, we hold Estonian music and food evenings, we look out for new arrivals and sometimes even host perfect strangers among our countrymen who don't have enough "slackness" and "laziness" to stay in Spain for a long period but have simply come to see this lovely country.
We sense a personal stake in spreading the word about Estonia among Spaniards who wouldn't ever have heard of Estonia its customs and culture, let alone traveled there. We are glad to talk about the country of our birth here. We are a community… actually we're even a family.
Each one of us in his or her own way and in their own profession tries to generate added value for Estonia. We hope with all of our heart that we all would do well. We all have loved ones in Estonia and we follow their lives, their ups and downs, and worry about them sometimes.
But we focus on the good. The public rhetoric - with one extreme being chest.beating and moral superiority (on work days) and the self-pitying false pathos about how much Estonia has suffered (on holidays) is simply lame and even laughable when viewed from a distance. This is something to consider for our esteemed politicians and opinion leaders. In such a context, there is no point in talking about "bringing talent home" especially if the prize is the above said opposition and put-downs.
Twenty-three years ago, as a recent high school graduate who still knew very little about the real world, I thought in waving the blue-black and white flag that the battle was for freedom in the broadest sense. Including the freedom to travel, come, go, breather, feel, experience, be inspired and share. And everyone in precisely the manner they see fit.