What the papers say: NATO, education and the PÖFF film festival

Estonian Newspapers (photo is illustrative).
Estonian Newspapers (photo is illustrative). Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Continued fall-out from interior minister Mart Helme's comments on NATO needing a "plan-B", bilingual education, and what the Tallinn Black Nights film festival can do for Estonia were among the topics in focus in Estonia's daily, weekly and news portals on Wednesday, Nov. 20. All links in Estonian unless otherwise noted.

Interior minister's careless or intentional NATO commentsdo not serve Estonia's security interests

Mart Helme's comments to a Finnish newspaper on Tuesday, whether they were deliberate or careless, do not serve Estonia's security interests, according to an opinion piece by Ilimar Lepik von Wiren in daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL).

It was not NATO and the EU themselves that were the driving force behind Estonia's membership of both organizations, but rather Estonia itself, a process which involved making sure the last Russian troops leftover from the Soviet occupation of Estonia withdrew from the country (which happened in 1994), Lepik von Wiren felt, and Helme and his party's actions and words have posed a threat to this most critical of fields – national security – where games simply cannot be played.

Lepik von Wiren pointed to the example of Britain's Royal Navy, which was instrumental in the Estonian War of Independence in guaranteeing the integrity of a free Estonia and had also been driven by the efforts of Estonian diplomats and others, ditto with western nations such as the U.S. and the U.K. in not recognizing Estonia as part of the Soviet Union.

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas also bears responsibility in maintaining government unity, coordination and dignity including in the area of security policy – silence or platitudes will not wash, Lepik von Wiren said, in the light of all the had work done by the diplomatic service, the authorities, and Estonia's defense forces.

Ultimately, Lepik von Wiren said, the only 'plan B' on the table would be an intentional steering of Estonia into the sphere of influence, or even physical composition, of the Russian Federation.

Smartphones not a boon for students' Estonian reading and writing skills

Also in EPL, teacher and state examiner Anu Kell wrote an opinion piece decrying the decline in student's literary and writing acumen down the years, putting much of the blame at the door of smartphones or other devices at a time when the average score in the national Estonian language test is 62 percent: "It's a score of three in a five-point system...If Estonia's average rating is three, I don't think that is very good," Kell wrote.

In fact, smartphones have a double hold on students, Kell felt, since they even blind young users to the fact that there is plenty of other tech out there than just phones, as well as prompting a lack of interest in current affairs, the environment, and reading outside of the curriculum requirements.

"They are not doing anything smart with this smartphone," she said.

As to writers, while Estonian staples A.H. Tammsaare and Andrus Kivirähk remain in place, Jaan Kross seems to have waned in Estonian schools or the examples students give when writing, and a decline in writing skills and vocabulary is also a reason why Kell thinks that all-electronic state exams would be a mistake

The creeping influence of English is also a problem, Kell argued, saying that it is often the case that students will know an English word before they know the Estonian word for the same thing, or they will forget the Estonian word and retain the English.

Kell also pointed out what she saw as a self-centeredness, and problems which trends might lead to when students later reach the job market, and the importance of children getting a good example at home.

What does PÖFF's A-grade status really mean?

With the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, or PÖFF as it is more commonly known, in full swing, festival organizer Hannes Aava considered the significance of its being awarded a Category A rating among international film festivals, given the responsibilities it brings and questioning what difference it makes to film-goers.

In a piece for investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress , Aava said the answer is partly in Estonia's location – hardly likely to challenge Cannes or Venice, the piece argues, but more positively the status can help in developing the movie culture here as well as getting better exposure for the movies PÖFF carries.

The question is almost one of how you use something, rather than the thing itself, the piece finds, noting that for instance film premieres could play a better role as an influencer in the industry rather than self-reverence and glamorous posing.

Festivals also bring in money – one festival in Spain in 2013 was found to bring an additional €23 million to the region in the form of consumer spenging by those who came for the festival; in the case of Tallin this is useful since PÖFF takes place in the tourist low season, though it is important not to fly too close to the sun, matters which need to be considered in future, Aava said.

President meets head of the Catholic Church

President Kersti Kaljulaid met head of the Roman Catholic Church in Estonia, Bishop Philippe Jourdan, daily Õhtuleht reports.

Shortly after becoming president in 2016, media reports said she had turned down the opportunity to have a service honoring the event organized by the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK), as her predecessors had enjoyed, which she later explained was just an issue of conscience and would be insincere in her own case since she was not a regular churchgoer.

However, since then, she has met with head of the EELK Archbishop Urmas Viilma, and, as the Õhtuleht gallery shows, the head of the Catholic Church in Estonia as well.

Bishop Jourdan is only the second post-Reformation Catholic bishop to have been installed in Estonia; he is pressing for his predecessor, Archbishop Eduard Profittlich, to be made a martyr. Archbishop Profittlich was was arrested after the Soviet occupation of Estonia, and died in exile in a Gulag in Northern Russia in 1942.

Kersti Kaljulaid: NATO discussions a regular and important thing

On to more earthly matters, but still involving the president, Kersti Kaljulaid geave an interview in English to independent pan-European media network  Euractiv in Brussels on Tuesday, with Russia and NATO being at the fore (please note the interview predated comments on NATO by Mart Helme which appeared in Finnish daily Iltalehti-ed.).

President Kaljulaid was in Brussels for a meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, ahead of December's high-level alliance meeting in London.

The president said that her French counterpart Emmanuel Macron's recent claim that NATO was "brain dead" was not the reason for her meeting with Stoltenberg, which was more of a regular occurrence to talk about NATO's eastern flank.

Kaljulaid said that with the arrival of the Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup in Estonia, mirroring three other such groups in Latvia, Luthunia and Poland, a lot of ground had been covered on how the eastern flank could be defended, as well as logistical issues in doing this.

NATO, Kersti Kaljulaid said, was still standing.

"A strong NATO alliance is important to every member – it protects and defends our liberal democratic values based pat of the world. We all stick together, I don't see any stronger particular need to discuss the Baltic States in this context. Modern risks are not geographically concentrated close to the borders of the sources of the risk– think of Salisbury for instance. We need to stand up for each other," the president told interviewer Samuel Stolton.

On relations with Russia, the president said that this was always something which required special attention, even within the NATO framework.

"There is no secret about the fact that Russia does not respect its own signatures on international acts, and analyzing this has led NATO to conclude that there are risks which are considerable; if you look at the amount of forces Russia has in the west of the country close to NATO's eastern flank ... NATO should understand there is only a short reaction time should anything go wrong, and while of course we do not think there is any immediate risk, and we know NATO has a 100 percent success rate in defending its members, this all depends on being ready and having deterrents at a level where they would really deter," the president said.

Tallinn bilingual school not for everyone, but can be very beneficial

Putting her child in a bilingual school in Tallinn was a very positive move, Estonia 200 vice-chair Liina Normet wrote in daily Postimees on Monday.

Normet rejects criticisms that it will somehow "make the child Russian", adding that on the contrary it promotes greater cooperation and understanding between children of the two communities sharing the one country, though she also admits it is not for every child and not a "one-size-fits-all" solution.

Normet said her first child had received an education reminiscent of her own 20 years previously, so when the Open School (Avatud Kool) started teaching in Tallinn, with classes made up of 15 Estonian-speaking pupils and 15 Russian-speaking – a proportion roughly the same as the population of Tallinn, Normet points out - , two teachers representing each language, and days divided equally between instruction in the two languages, she decided to send her second child there.

While it is common to hear of a "threat" to Estonian-ness, Normet says, this is hardly something new; Estonia has always been subject to outside influences, languages etc. but at the same time, there's a big difference between having to speak Russian as part of a mandate from elsewhere (i.e. during the Soviet era) and voluntarily speaking it now, in a country which runs its own affairs and which happens to have a significant populace who speaks Russian as there first tongue.

Children from both communities talk and play together in both languages, she says, with her child already fluent in Russian at second grade, and Russian-speaking children quite happily celebrating Estonian independence day and other specifically Estonian events.

There is no more likelihood of a child "turning Russian" than there is of a child attending a bilingual school where French, English or German is spoken transmuting into those nationalities; all children born and raised in Estonia are our Estonian children, Normet concludes.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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