28.05.19 ... The Lord Mayor of London, Peter Estlin, was in Tallinn at the beginning of the week, and very kindly met us, providing a snapshot of what he was doing here, his role, and how he sees future relations between both the City of London and Tallinn, and more broadly, the United Kingdom and Estonia.
24.04.19 ... ETV current affairs show Pealtnägija has featured a 66-year-old Estonian self-styled prophet and pastor, who has allegedly worked miracles both in the West African nation of Ghana, and at home in Estonia, concocting his own messianic Judaism-style faith along the way.
04.04.19 ... As of Thursday, 4 April, coalition discussions between the Centre Party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa have gone all the way to the Riigikogu, as, for many people, disbelief transformed into bemused resignation. Is this lineup, then, going to find itself in the Stenbock House, the seat of the government, or is it all part of a strategy on the part of the two biggest parties, Reform and Centre? Whatever the outcome, it's looking like the political coming of age of Jüri Ratas, who has staked his reputation on the talks and seems to be winning.
26.03.19 ... As we enter the third week of the coalition talks, ERR's senior political editor, Toomas Sildam, takes stock of what has transpired so far, whether and how the discussions have a time limit, and how potential cracks in the EKRE-KEI proposed coalition could show up right from the get-go.
25.03.19 ... Some years ago, a social media global viral campaign appeared, known as the ice bucket challenge. This involved people being filmed getting deluged, or deluging themselves, in quantities of icey water, accompanied by groans, shrieks and expletives. With the snowballing of the Kõigi Eesti movement, running at around 27,000 fans at the time of writing, are we seeing Estonia's ice bucket challenge moment?
17.03.19 ... Having already interviewed some of the personnel from the 1 YORKS battle group, the third such battle group to form, together with its NATO allies, the core of the alliance's Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP), it made sense to catch up with the commander of the eFP, Col Giles Harris, formerly of the Welsh Guards. I was very privileged to be able to do just that, at the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) HQ in Tallinn, providing a great opportunity to colour-in further the picture of what the British-led eFP does here, its aspirations and its day-to-day activities.
12.03.19 ... Estonia has been a NATO member since 2004, but only in recent years has any of that become more visible to most people. With US troops first arriving in 2014, the impetus grew after the 2016 Warsaw Summit's decision to strengthen NATO's eastern presence in the Baltic States and Poland. Within a space of time which might make Brexit negotiators, on both sides, hang their heads in shame, the Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) and its principal base at Tapa became reality in 2017.
09.03.19 ... Saturday saw the 75th anniversary of the March attack on Tallinn by Soviet bomber planes. An installation entitled ''Images of Memory'' in Tallinn's Freedom Square, drawing on materials from the city archive and the Tallinn City Museum, under the direction of Loone Ots and presented by Anne Velt, featuring performances by actors Liis Haab, Katrin Valkna, Iivi Lepik, Tarvo Krall and funded by the city government, took place in the capital (see gallery above).
05.03.19 ... Sunday's election saw victory for the Reform Party, and presumed Prime-Minister-in-Waiting Kaja Kallas. The next few weeks will see coalition talks with three of the four other parties that got Riigikogu seats (Reform itself has ruled out the Conservative People's Party of Estonia, or EKRE), after which we have another election following — the European Parliament elections in late May. Here are some things the general election showed us.
04.03.19 ... What happened last night? I had said Centre were going to do it. My colleague thought the same, though with different permutations on what form the next coalition would take. Even three of the four ERR political journalist heavyweights over on Vikerraadio called it for Centre. Yet once the full picture of the e-vote came in, at about 20.00, it became clear that Reform had a massive lead, something which Centre never really recovered from, in the way it had in 2015. In trying to pick up the pieces, it might be easiest to explain why Centre lost.
03.03.19 ... I'm going to play it safe and say that the coalition after the current election will consist of the same parties as it does currently.
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. Please note this is an article which first appeared on 20 December 2018, updated to reflect developments surrouding Brexit since then, principally in questions 3), 5), 10) and 11).
11.02.19 ... Artur Talvik is a leading member, albeit not the leader, of the newest political party on the scene in Estonia, called Richness of Life (Elurikkuse erakond in Estonian). However, he is a long-established figure, having previously been at the helm of the Free Party. The son of the late Mati Talvik, a stalwart ETV journalist for many decades, Artur first caught my attention in the documentary The Singing Revolution, in which he appeared.
09.02.19 ... This week saw two political debates in English between representatives of all the major political parties, and most of the minor ones. This might set a good precedent for Estonia and provide an example to other European nations, and seems to have gone down well with viewers in the audience and online. There are some caveats and limitations too, however.
30.01.19 ... So the brakes are well and truly off Brexit juggernaut as it continues its unopposed trundle down the slope to god knows. The speed humps of the much raked-over up Irish backstop won't stop it, and nor will anything else at this late stage. All we can hope is there isn't a primary school at the bottom of the hill for it to go crashing into, which there won't be, of course.
18.01.19 ... The recent opening of the very admirable and very well-meaning Estonian Language House in Tallinn is another step in the phasing in of a much more proactive approach to Estonian and getting foreigners to speak it properly. But is the trend wholly helpful and will it bring results? After all, as people sometimes like to say, ''there have been people living here for 50 years who can't speak a word of Estonian''. If that is so, why will it be different this time?
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).
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 Dennis 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 Dennis 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).