Raul Rebane: You, Estonians

Raul Rebane.
Raul Rebane. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

I would hate for Estonians' pride in their country and people to be lost in today's general air of complaining, Raul Rebane finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

"You, Estonians" – the title of one part of a presentation by Icelander Vesteinn Hafsteinsson, coach to Estonian discus thrower Gerd Kanter, at the 2011 Pärnu Conference. Vesteinn is nothing short of a living legend in the world of sports as he also managed to make an Olympic winner out of Swede Daniel Stahl.

I recently stumbled on the presentation when going through archive materials and I realized he had phrased something that matters a great deal to us. I read it and wondered whether he had hit the nail on the head or whether he had simply phrased an ideal, what we might be.

Without further ado, Vesteinn Hafsteinsson's eight things about Estonians;

  1. He finds us quiet and reserved.
  2. We are disciplined.
  3. We have an excellent work ethic.
  4. We desperately want to succeed.
  5. We have great respect for our land.
  6. We are always willing to learn.
  7. We want to be modern.
  8. We believe in the future.

It all sounds like a dream to tell children if you want them to behave and excel. A closer look at these items reveals that Hafsteinsson has phrased Estonia's core myths and done a very accurate job of it. I'm quite certain he drew his conclusions by monitoring people in their work and personal lives, as opposed to relying on written sources. He was closely associated with Estonia 2000-2012 and visited many times a year during that period.

An excellent work ethic is one of the pillars on which Estonia's success stands. Praising work has been among our most important narratives since Estonians started buying their farms from landlords more than 150 years ago. The first volume of Anton Hansen Tammsaare's "Truth and Justice" has provided memes about work that are in use to this day.

The longing for education is another key characteristic of Estonia. Our 95-percent literacy rate 140 years ago delivered the country as it is difficult for the less educated to assimilate a smarter population. Allow me to point out that the general literacy rate was a little over 10 percent in Russia before World War One.

Respect for one's land is the very foundation of gaining and maintaining independence. Of course, there are grumblers and critics and not all of Vesteinn's items apply to all people, while we are proud of our country and people for the most part. Our rituals and symbols matter a great deal to us, while our flag has an almost cult meaning.

Looking to the future and keeping up with the times also matters to most people. The Icelandic coach's close ties to Estonia happened during a time when our e-state image was spreading the fastest.

I have been wondering whence his idea of Estonians being very disciplined. While many might disagree, I suppose there are two reasons involved. Vesteinn's students, also in Estonia, were all very systematic. Gerd Kanter was legendarily consistent throughout his career. On the other hand, his fellow Icelanders may be most impulsive and prone to improvisation.

As someone who had lived in a democratic and free marker country for a long time, he must have been impressed by our desire to fight for our place in the sun, which led him to believe we want to compete and excel at all times.

It also corresponds with his own frame of mind. Hafsteinsson made a great change in his life that year, moving back to Iceland to develop its sports system with the aim of winning more medals in the future. An idealistic move indeed and in perfect harmony with the "Talents come home!" campaign from back in the day.

The Icelander wrote all of those things more than a decade ago. Would he write the same things today? I do not know as we all change. We have been ravaged by Covid, the Ukraine war and recession. It feels like some people have lost faith in the future and are longing for a very different Estonia.

That might not be the best idea. These great national values that have brought us this far are precisely what will lead us forward. The eight items do an excellent job of outlining those values.

I'm saying these things because I hope people might find comfort in it. We would do well in general to listen to people looking at us from a distance as they often see us more clearly than we do ourselves. I would hate for Estonians' pride in their country and people to be lost in today's general air of complaining.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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