Tere! from Viljandi, Estonia,
Estonians are my kind of people. They walk around with straight faces, prefer to be as unobtrusive as possible and think collectively rather than individually. They talk openly of political matters, as though they are everyday items for discussion. Nationally, they have assiduously preserved large tracts of forest, coast and bog terrain. Individually, they revere nature and spend time out in the open when the weather is suitable. They eschew unnecessary encounters – even with neighbours – and have a completely phonetic language.
These national traits – like those of any other group – are under threat of being smudged out by the homogenisation that goes with globalisation but they are defining features in the meantime.
All the evidence suggests that the Estonians were hard done by, but they are definitely not a complaining people. They have never – until very recently – been the authors of their own destinies.
They have been subjugated by successive oppressors, including the Danes, the Swedes, the Livonian Order, the Hanseatic League and the Russians. Then they landed in the Soviet camp after the Potsdam and Yalta conferences, post World War 2. This last seems to cause no great resentment since the Estonians were actively sympathetic to the Bolsheviks in 1917 and similar land reform was instituted here soon afterwards as well. (The centenary of the establishment of the nation is this year but they weren’t independent under Soviet rule.)
They are currently enjoying the longest stint of independence: 27 years and counting.
The Hanseatic League
The Hanseatic League was never a nation- or city-state but more a loose commercial axis in which trading houses governed whole regions with laws, administration and armies. Its administration was based in Lübeck – in modern-day Germany – and ranged between London in the west and Peterhof in the east. The benefit which accrued to the participating communities was largely through trade. The principal means of expansion was via persuasion on rulers to remove restraints on trade. Sounds a bit familiar, does it not? Their influence along the Baltic coasts persisted for about three centuries.
Estonia is a very green, fertile but cold land. This is the height of summer but a vast majority of the locals have donned big thick jackets whenever they are about. Even on the sunny days, we have at least three layers on. Aavi says it was “beautiful in May”.
The country has one of the lowest population densities of any, and they want to keep it that way. Quite a large proportion of the country is still forested, and they want to preserve that too. The country is mostly flat.
Estonians have evolved during these long periods of subjugation to have a cool, almost aloof exterior but most of them warm up in time. They seem to adopt the attitude that everybody is a potential friend but they have the perfect right to suss them out first. It’s quite common for a local Estonian to look at you fairly piercingly, as though they’re trying to look right inside you, or as though they are about to question your presence. They subsequently thaw with smiles and unsolicited help. They’re a bit like their own domiciles: cool on the outside and warm inside.
And they eat beetroot with everything!