What the papers say: Bees, Baltic Germans and Boris Johnson's ancestor

Estonian newspapers (picture is illustrative).
Estonian newspapers (picture is illustrative). Source: Andrew Whyte/ERR News

Bees as a therapeutic diversion for city dwellers, the legacy of Estoina's Baltic German aristocracy, yet another scam and the sad but colorful tale of one of the U.K. prime minister's alleged ancestors and their Estonian connection were in the press for Thursday, Oct. 10. All links in Estonian unless otherwise stated.

No time for beekeeping? Why not rent a hive?

A social initiative on the shores of Lake Peipus in eastern Estonia sees beekeeping as a temporary way out of the rat-race for high octane Tallinn-dwellers, according to daily Postimees.

The project is the brainchild of Tauno Laasik, who bought a farm 12 years ago in Põldmaa village, about 40 km from Tartu, and was initially a reluctant beekeeper after being encouraged into the activity by a neighbor.

Searching for economies of scale in setting up some sort of beekeeping "Kolkhoz", Laasik realized that there was no need to exclude urban-dwellers, noting that there are even beehives at the presidential palace in Kadriorg.

With a 5 hectare plot of land containing around 50 hives, it will be possible to rent a hive for €400 per year, and for that you get all equipment, access to the hive, and of course the bee colony itself, Laasik says, and requires attending to about once per week from March to September, which should yield around 100 kg of honey in time for Christmas.

Laasik also noted the therapeutic nature of the hobby, as well as the project spreading beekeeping knowledge within an area which contains plenty of non-Estonian speakers.

The region's flora, which includes fireweed (põdrakanep) and St. John's wort (naistepune), can help to make delicious honey, Laasik says, as well as other bi-products including pollen and, presumably, royal jelly.

Boris Johnson's possible Estonian connection

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson may be all over the news these days as yet another Brexit deadline approaches, but ETV's Pealtnägija broadcast found that drama was somewhat in the genes as it examined the sad life of one of Johnson's possible ancestors.

Duchess Augusta of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1764-1788) the first wife of Frederick I of Württemberg, and the niece of Britain's King George III. The marriage was not a resounding success, however, though it gave rise to four children, one of them, Prince Paul of Württemberg is potentially the U.K. prime minister's progenitor, though the issue is clouded as it was via an illegitimate line.

Following gossip that Frederick of Württemberg was bisexual, Duchess Augusta sought refuge in the court of Russian empress Catherine the Great. Refusing to grant Augusta a divorce, the disgruntled Duchess was sent to Estonia, at a time when the country was part of the Russian Empire, namely to Kullamaa village in Lääne County.

She had one more child, a stillborn, fathered by local squire Wilhelm von Pohlmann, who was supposed to be Augusta's guardian, before dying from childbirth trauma herself, at the age of 23.

Augusta was buried at Kullamaa Church and her tomb is visible today. She was reportedly buried with her stillborn, and ghost stories soon abounded. Much later, her skeleton was exhumed and an infant skeleton was indeed found entombed with her.

A fictionalized version of her life formed part of the 1844 William Thackery novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon, itself made into a heavily-adapted Stanley Kubrick movie in 1975.

Beware fraudsters cold calling in Russian

News portal Geenius has warned of the latest scam to hit Estonia. This makes use of direct cold calling, whereby the caller speaks in Russian, offers a "great investment opportunity", and is notably aggressive.

Urmet Tambre, chief of the Criminal Bureau of the Northern Prefecture of the Police and Border Guard, said that the fraudsters use both foreign dialing codes and Estonian numbers, and can pester their quarry for days at a stretch.

Should a person succumb to the offered amazing scheme, they can kiss by to their money, the piece said, whereby they are required to download a program which makes their computer remotely accessible and requests the individuals banking codes.

Geenius warned users to beware of numbers from the +372 698 0665 to +372 698 0689 and +372 696 0669 to +372 696 0679 series appearing on incoming calls, and carried a much fuller blacklist of all known numbers which the fraudsters are reported to operate from.

IT minister pointing finger at wrong culprit?

An opinion piece in daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) noted what it called IT and foreign trade minister Kert Kingo's (EKRE) recent self-confidence, following news that state postal service Eesti Post/Omniva intends to raise its home delivery services for newspapers by over 10 percent; "neither the state nor Eesti Post can carry out business on behalf of the press," Kingo said.

Eesti Post's concerns are understandable, the piece says – in 2017 making losses of over a million euros on home delivery of periodicals and newspapers – but at the same time, it posted profits of €2 million last year, the bulk of which went to state coffers, so in this Kingo is barking up the wrong tree in pointing the finger at the press (private media firms, including EPL's parent company Eesti Meedia, have been unanimous in their opposition to the price hikes, saying they will spell the end of newspaper delivery outside the main population centers).

Noone can win from this approach, the piece says, as prices increase, subscriptions are cut, in turn leading to further price rises, while at the same time the government Kingo is a part of maintains free bus services in much of rural Estonia in the interests of regional policy.

This might be more understandable if Kingo as IT minister had planned to simultaneously bridge the digital divide by making internet access, particular for older people, easier in the regions, but in fact it appears the minister has as poor a grasp of the IT half of her ministerial role as she has done with the foreign trade part, spurning the bulk of foreign visits as she has done.

The danger goes beyond just having a potentially incompetent minister, the piece argues, pointing out that in a democracy, place of residence should not determine the extent to which a person can get access to accurate information and thus can contribute to the life of the state, though in the meantime at least criticism of Kingo can be read nationwide.

What did the Baltic Germans ever do for us?

Daily Õhtuleht meanwhile speculates on whether, given the current tendency towards people apologizing to each other all the time, Estonians should apologize to the Baltic Germans, or their descendants.

However, the piece immediately states that they should not, noting that the situation would be almost on a par with Kurds or Armenians having to apologize to Turkish people, Tibetans and Uighur to the Chinese authorities, first nation Americans to the government in that country etc.

The context of the piece was an Isamaa politician who had suggested that such an apology should be made.

Estonians owe nothing to the descendants of the Baltic Germans – German-speaking aristocrats who owned most of the land in Tsarist Russia, land which was sequestered from them after Estonia won its independence after World War One, as this was a victory for justice given the Baltic Germans had looted every suqre meter of Estonian land.

In fact, the reverse is the case, Õhtuleht says, and Baltic Germans' descendants should engage in both apology and reparations for centuries of murders, mutlilations, rape, torture, land theft and using Estonians as slave labor, even as the occupiers may have brought some benefits in the field of education and holding off enslavement by Estonia's eastern neighbor (at that time).

But this would be a bit like saying that a rape victim should thank their attacker on the grounds that another potential rapist could have meted out much worse treatment, and such a stance could diminish Isamaa's already small voter base even further, the piece said.

Russia calls TTV closure "Russophobic"

Finally volunteer Defence League (Kaitseliit)-staffed anti-misinformation blog Propastop reports that the recent closure of Tallinn Television (TTV) by mayor Mihhail Kõlvart had been met by state and other channels in the Russian Federation with accusations that the move was "Russophobic" (link in English).

News portal Gazeta.ru described the termination of TTV as "a forced ban on the broadcasting of Tallinn City television," but even more than that, state-operated domestic news site RIA Novosti span this into the completely false statements that a TV channel which had wanted to carry (TV broadcaster) PBK shows had been shut down, accompanied by president Kersti Kaljulaid's criticism of PBK (Tallinn city government had made a plan to purchase shows and broadcasting time directly from PBK, however, Propastop says).

Other errors in the Russian media were that TTV broadcast in Russian (it carried Estonian-language programs), that its closure was a threat to the freedom of speech, and that Kersti Kaljulaid had said the Russian language was a threat to Estonia, as well as conflating the arrest of the Lithuanian branch of Sputnik, yet another state-owned Russian news agency, in Vilnius airport with a pan-Baltic anti-Russian program.

Propastop also notes the somewhat complicated nature of Estonian politics and in particular the Centre Party, at present: While TTV was shut down by Centre, a party with traditional support from the Russian-speaking populace, the same party is in office with the nationalist EKRE at home and other nationalists at the EU and NATO level.

Propastop says that TTV was closed down, in fact, due to its high costs (over €4 million per year) compared with negligible viewer share (just over 1 percent in August this year).

ERR also operates a Russian-language TV channel, ETV+, as well as a radio station (Raadio 4) and news portal.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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