10.01.19 ... This week's headlines have been dominated by a poster campaign supposed to highlight the ongoing divided society existing in Estonia, ie the split between Estonians and the Russian-speaking minority. This has been something of a storm in an eggcup, however, and won't make much of an impact on polling day in March, assuming that was even its intention.
03.01.19 ... I recently took the B1 Estonian language exam, primarily because it was simply there and doesn't cost any money, but also to investigate how practical setting that level as the citizenship benchmark is.
02.01.19 ... Kristina Kallas, chair of fledgling political party Estonia 200, which will be contesting its first ever general election a couple of months from now, raised some interesting points in a recent opinion piece where she set out Estonia 200's in opposition to the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).
20.12.18 ... Given the level of concern amongst UK citizens living, working and studying in Estonia on the possible effects of Brexit, we thought it useful to put together some FAQs on what will and won't change, from the perspective of the relevant government ministries and other authorities.
23.12.18 ... Archbishop Urmas Viilma has been head of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELK) for four years, ample experience to draw on his reflections on the church, the largest denomination in the country by attendance.
12.12.18 ... Being a small, northern country once ruled over by Scandinavians, Estonians are in an ideal position to bring their e-government know-how to their distant cousins strung out across the North Atlantic, on the Faroe Islands. This is by no means, however, a one-way street, but more of a crossroads — or rather an X-Road, given Estonia's name for its widely-known interoperability solution — with Estonia benefiting just as much from the symbiotic relationship.
29.11.18 ... If the recent governmental crisis has revealed anything, it is this: The government is not in crisis at all, but rather actually somewhat in control of the situation. Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) emerged no worse for the episode, maintaining a detachment that wrong-footed more than a few people who interpreted it as indecisiveness or even the dreaded "weakness," whatever that means.
28.11.18 ... I took the Estonian B1 test — the level required for obtaining Estonian citizenship — a couple of weeks ago after explaining my motivations in another piece, so here are my reflections on the experience. I have to say it was certainly worth it. A useful rule of thumb calls to mind the old "ask a woman how many men she's slept with and multiply it by three to get the true figure; ask a man the same and divide by three" principle.
18.11.18 ... With the Estonian general election taking place on 3 March 2019, parties are already in the advanced stages of gearing up for polling day. Official manifestos are crystallising, prime candidates nationwide have been announced by most of the major parties, and outdoor and other advertising is starting to pop up.
13.11.18 ... Trying to keep on top of the movements of the political parties in Estonia can be a bit like herding the proverbial cats at times, particularly now we're in election season. From an "anglophone"* perspective, there are plenty of parties — around nine in all, three in government, three in opposition and three more potentially winning a few seats in March. This compares with three and a half parties in Britain (UKIP is the "half"), outside of Northern Ireland, plus the two major Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties. Or the two perennial players in the US, with a population about 250 times that of Estonia.
06.11.18 ... I'm taking the B1 Estonian language exam soon so it might be useful to journal those experiences, such as they are, not for their own sake, but as a practical how-to for others planning on taking any Estonian level exam. An additional reason is the particular level I'm taking is the minimum threshold for those applying for citizenship (not that I am). This will be a good way of testing how practical the benchmark is, on the grounds that if I can do it, anyone can. Or, should I fail, we can revisit claims that the level is too difficult. So here follows part one, of three.
05.11.18 ... Of Estonia's ministerial roles, all 16 of them, that of Health and Labour gets sidelined compared with more "glamorous" positions like defence, foreign affairs, finance, or justice.* It tends to get politicised around election time, often skewered by opponents for costing too much in taxation (via the health and unemployment insurance funds) yet paradoxically presiding over underfunded or ineffective systems.
09.10.18 ... With two elections happening in Estonia next spring, at the national level in March followed by European elections in May, questions about how the system works and who can vote are inevitable. The electoral system in Estonia is not especially complicated, and similar to those of many other European nations. However it is radically different from those in the UK or US for instance, so let's take an overview, focusing primarily on the general election to the Riigikogu.
08.10.18 ... It is hard to imagine the Estonian political scene without the Centre Party as a major player; perhaps Isamaa/Pro Patria (who have long been in the doldrums) are the only other party seeming to be a natural, if rather decrepit piece of furniture. The 2019 elections will be make or break time for Centre, however. Its leader, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, has turned out to be a mature, likeable and seemingly competent cove. But if the seeping Russian support is not replenished with replacements from the Estonian-speaking populace, the party will find itself out of office come March.
20.09.18 ... This month, Tallinn's Opera and Ballet House (Rahvusooper) finds time in its permanently frenetic schedule to host a new production of La fanciulla del West, by Puccini. Set in the old American West, it deserves to be as familiar as La bohème and Madama Butterfly, or, for hitherto opera ignorati such as myself, even simply Nessun Dorma as it accompanied Paul Gascoigne's crying at the 1990 World Cup Finals.*
15.09.18 ... Utility company Eesti Energia may hold more media headlines, with its wind farm acquisitions, green energy and charges of monopoly behaviour. But there is another utility – not nationwide and with a smaller turnover, but still providing for one third of the Estonian population with an absolute essential, water – which merits a closer look.
01.09.18 ... This summer, what would appear to be just another Tallinn construction site became something of a celebrated case as the preliminary digging work led to the discovery of a wealth of mostly domestic artefacts from the late middle ages. The find, in Tallinn's Kalamaja district, effectively filled in a gap in knowledge about society in Estonia in the 15th century.
21.08.18 ... It was thirty years ago this year that a small group of Irish musicians made their way to Estonia to take part in one of the most extraordinary, not to mention one of the first, albeit unofficial recognitions of Estonia as a (potentially) independent nation.
08.08.18 ... For many foreigners/expats/immigrants, call them what you will, living in Estonia, particuarly if they don't speak Estonian well, can be frustrating. Knowing where to find an English-speaking doctor or dentist when they are sick, or where to find a good lawyer, plumber or electrician, how the public transport system works – even such esoteric worries as where the best Vietnamese Pho Bo is to be had in town, can be far from clear. Fortunately Deniss Peld, himself formerly an expat who was living in Berlin, and a native of Estonia, has set up a helpful website which can answer all these questions and more. We asked Deniss about the site, his motivation for setting it up and how he sees it developing in the future.
04.08.18 ... I arrive slightly early for my interview with Yana Toom at her constituency office in a fashionable street in central Tallinn, only to find out that she has beaten me to it and is already there. A very tall woman, easily recognisable thanks to her distinctive russet hair, she is wilting in the current heatwave in Tallinn just as much as I am and we go out for a pre-interview cigarette on the office balcony (''I'm just a summer smoker'' I say, not very convincingly).