Mihkel Mutt: A Tori horse's dream

Mihkel Mutt.
Mihkel Mutt. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The observation that Estonians are slow to protest has been around for some time. Indeed, we could be seeing protests and strikes right now as people's subsistence is at stake. But Estonians are muttering amongst themselves or at most taking to social media. The reasons for this restraint are many, Mihkel Mutt writes.

"I will work harder," said Boxer the horse in George Orwell's "Animal Farm." He said it several times, in fact, on every occasion life in the animal world got harder. He was thinking of society and worked for its betterment. This seems to sum up the position of his Estonian colleague – the Tori horse –, even though with a slightly different emphasis.

Whenever circumstances change, the first question is always how will people react, how will they cope and how will they change in their hearts and souls. Like now when prices are already rising, with taxes soon to follow; when bureaucratic pressure – both local and from Brussels – is mounting and times may be taking a turn for the hard in general.

But we can be more or less certain that almost nothing will change on the surface. Those who visited Greece when the country was deep in crisis were surprised to see the cafes still full of patrons. In Estonia, street corner cafes have always been more of a tourist attraction, while there are other indicators for the locals, mainly house improvement. Houses are still getting new roofs and windows. The slender necks of cranes are still towering over city buildings many of which are new; whereas, they are not for immigrants, but rather locals who simply want to move into a better abode.

We cannot see half-finished villas in garden towns, at least no more than usual etc. One would have expected the number of cars to start falling on the backdrop of rising fuel prices and the frankly inhuman traffic situation a long time ago. Nothing of the sort. While their number seemed to dwindle for a short while, gridlock has become an everyday occurrence once again. A private residence's front lawn hosting more than one vehicle is the rule rather than the exception. Of course, this is pretty much the case everywhere. Mankind will not voluntarily return to less convenient ways of living. There will be no new "middle ages" after the current "antiquity," even though young people are staging climate and other types of crusades with that aim in mind.

Price advance? Just how we like it, some might even boast. Usually people who find a way to come through whichever times. Those who serve as the role model for the rest, the so-called tax humpbacks.

The observation that Estonians are slow to protest has been around for some time. Indeed, we could be seeing protest meetings, strikes and lockouts. More so because we are talking about people's very subsistence, unlike in France where millions have taken to the street because of the rising pension age, which in Estonia comes off as a tantrum by spoiled children.

But Estonians are muttering amongst themselves or at most taking to social media. No more. There are several reasons. I suppose some have simply come to realize that maintaining a small country is hard. More patriotically-minded people might be embarrassed to protest against their own country. However, the reason is much more prosaic for most people. They simply do not believe protesting would achieve anything and decide not to waste their time and energy. It's better to have a swallow in the palm of your hand than a dove on the roof (as the Estonian saying goes – ed.) – something tangible at least. Estonians will not waste even a few hours standing under slogans.

New hardship sends people scrambling to figure out how to cope, instead of how to try and reverse it through protest. But that does not mean people aim to settle for less. /.../ While the person will go over their spending and economize, this will not be done to any major degree. They definitely do not plan to "fall" anywhere. Riding bicycles and growing your own vegetables is a lifestyle, not a matter of saving up.

The main solution is to try and make more money, no matter how. Here we can draw a structural parallel with another social "hocus-pocus." As we know from history, goods were in short supply during Soviet times, while people still had a relative abundance of stuff in their homes. Most people got it "on the side." Today, supermarket shelves are full, while people no longer have the money to buy. Rather, they should not have it (looking at the median income). Because somehow they often still do. They are making money on the side, up top and down below, and end up spending quite a lot of it.

The number of people working several jobs is growing. But people also look for other opportunities. Everyone is optimizing taxes, enterprisingly inclined people are exploring "gray areas" and getting creative with the books. The number of those looking to take a ride on the state's dime is growing. Not like in Africa where a single government-sector employee feeds an entire tribe, but still... Astronomical performance pay at state-owned companies sparks feelings of indignation, but even more admiration and jealousy.

Then there is the phenomenon which we might be tempted not to call embezzlement of public funds as the term (riigivargus) sounds Soviet to Estonian ears and is a better fit for nations where the word "state" is uttered with a quivering voice. Rather, we could dub it an extrajudicial agreement with one's conscience. [Estonian President] Lennart Meri was paraphrasing John F. Kennedy when he said that before you ask what your state has done for you, ask what you have done for your state. It is quite likely that certain emphases therein are being reordered in the ordinary citizen's mind right now.

In the end, however, we have no reason to believe there will be much lamentation or grinding of teeth in Estonia. Perhaps there will be a few more losers and Valli Bar patrons. But we will not be seeing groups of sorry characters in worn-out coats, with a fevered look in their eye on the streets. The number of beggars, suicides or prostitutes will not skyrocket. Nor will we see more people emigrate. Life in Estonia will become even more businesslike, practical in the coming decades. There it beckons – the Tori horse's dream.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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