UK and EU: a horrible end

Posted: June 25th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: european union, governance, politics, things that suck, thoughts | No Comments »

With the UK referendum result, it makes sense to look at the troubled relationship that the UK and the EU have had, which might put yesterday’s vote into a perspective.

The UK did not join the EEC in 1958 with the original six because it thought that the much looser European Free Trade Area worked better for them and because it wanted to preserve its existing US and Commonwealth (colonial) trade links and relationships. This was a mistake because that meant that they did not have any say on the initial design of the EU institutions, thus voluntarily sidelining themselves and never being able to call themselves a founding member (which apparently still is relevant) and thus paved the way for the Franco-German engine of European integration.

However, they realised their mistake quickly and already in 1961 applied to join the EEC for the first time. This could have still given them a lot of leverage, because the EEC just did not appear in 1958, but over a gradual 10-year transition period. The French president Charles de Gaulle (in agreement with West Germany’s Konrad Adenauer) vetoed UK’s accession. The UK tried again in 1967, but were again vetoed by France. So for the crucial formation period of the EU, the UK did not have any say on its development.

The UK accession negotiations only became possible after 1969 when Charles De Gaulle had been forced out. So it finally joined in 1973 with Denmark and Ireland (and almost Norway). In 1975 they got worried about the loss of sovereignty and organised a referendum whether to stay or not. They decided to stay with a large, 2 to 1 margin.

Then came Margaret Thatcher, who essentially created the reluctant, half-hearted and antagonistic membership status that the UK has had so far. She fought with the most influential Commission president Jacques Delors and in 1990 her opposition to Europe caused her government to fall and ended her rule of the UK.

For the revolutionary 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which created the EU as a political union, the next PM John Major fought to have the opt-out from the euro and EU’s social rights, continuing the strategy of being a reluctant partner.

Tony Blair came into power in 1997 and was initially much more pro-EU, preparing not for a Brexit, but instead a referendum on the UK’s membership of the eurozone, which, of course, never happened. He also signed up to the social rights aquis. As a reaction, the Conservatives turned more eurosceptic and UKIP started to make gains, winning seats in 1999 European Parliament elections.

Then came the Iraq invasion, which the UK supported, but France and Germany opposed. This caused a lot of mistrust and probably also re-awakened concern in France and Germany regarding where the true loyalties of the UK are. Blair never recovered after that in the eyes of many EU leaders and Gordon Brown did not do much to repair the relationship.

In 2010 David Cameron became the PM and made a series of disastrous decisions on the EU (in order to hold support of the growing eurosceptic faction within the Tory party).

Already in 2009 he had engineered the change of alliances for the Conservative Party in the European Parliament, from the dominant European People’s Party (currently 215 MEPs) to the European Conservatives and Reformists faction (currently 74 MEPs). This meant that the Tory party MEPs were no longer in the same EPP group as Merkel’s CDU or French UMP (now Republicans) and other mainstream right-wing parties, but instead now were in the same fringe group with right-populist parties like the True Finns of Finland and Law and Justice (PiS) of Poland.

In 2011 Cameron angered other EU leaders by vetoing the amendments to the EU treaties on fiscal responsibility forcing the other EU countries to create the European Fiscal Compact outside of EU law. In 2013 he pledged to hold a Brexit referendum, after sustaining long pressure from within his party.

After the 2014 European Parliament elections, he fought against the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to the president of European Commission, calling him “the wrong man, from yesterday”. In the end he was only joined by Hungary’s Viktor Orban in voting against Juncker who was appointed to lead the EC.

In the run-up to the UK referendum and now following the result, he not only destroyed the UK’s membership in the EU totally and weakened the EU’s prospects at the worst possible time, he has also diverted the focus of the EU from issues like the migration crisis and other urgent reforms.

Taking the above into account, perhaps a horrible end is better than endless horror, when it comes to the UK-EU relationship.

The President of Exclusion

Posted: March 1st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Estonia, politics, things that suck | No Comments »

This year, Estonia will get a new president. This position is largely ceremonial, with very few executive or legislative powers except the possibility to block the proclamation of laws which do not conform to the Constitution. Despite this, the position of the president is seen as in an important symbolic role for the elites, mostly due to the persons that have fulfilled this before.

The current president Toomas Hendrik Ilves has been a liberal moderniser, supporting publicly same-sex partnerships and acceptance of refugees, which are not popular positions. His profile has been more to give voice to Estonia (and himself) abroad and has achieved a lot. This means he is seen favorably by the liberal elites, as well as future minded technologists. For others, his last few years have been overshadowed by his private life.

The president of Estonia is also weak in terms of democratic legitimacy. He is elected by a supermajority of the parliament, which is usually difficult to achieve, or, failing that, an ad hoc electoral body which includes also representatives of local governments in addition to members of parliament.

The institution also carries historical baggage. The first president of Estonia was Konstantin Päts,  who in 1934 overthrew the existing constitutional order and established authoritarian rule. In 1938 he was ‘elected’ president, being the only candidate, because only three state institutions were able to nominate a candidate (these all nominated him) and all political parties were banned. After WWII Estonia had fallen under Soviet Union rule and when it became independent again, the institution of the President was re-established, but this time having totally different powers.

The biggest issue with the legitimacy of the institution relates to that fact that president can only be someone who was born Estonian citizen, i.e. at least one of her or his parents should have Estonian citizenship. This means that current president Toomas Hendrik Ilves qualifies, even though he had been born in Stockholm, educated and brought up in the United States and had not lived in Estonia until he was 40 years old. He also had US citizenship until 1993.

Compare this to one of the more popular Estonian Russian politicians Yana Toom, who was born in Soviet Estonia and has lived in Estonia all her life. Her parents had moved to Estonia during the Soviet era and thus she did not get Estonian citizenship until 2006, when she received it for special services to the Estonian state (most Russians have the option to naturalise, but some have also taken Russian citizenship or remained stateless). In the European Parliament elections in 2014 she was the fourth most popular candidate and was elected as the first Estonian Russian MEP. Unlike Toomas Hendrik Ilves, she will never be able to run for president according to the Constitution, as cannot any other naturalised citizens who are predominantly Estonian Russians, which is ca 16% of the citizens (many more Russians who have been born in Estonia do not have Estonian citizenship, i.e. are either stateless or have Russian citizenship).

The president is the only state institution in Estonia which has this requirement, and this requirement did not exist the 1938 Constitution. It is, however, not the only distinction between Estonian citizens who were those at birth and those who have been naturalised. The citizenship of those who have been naturalised can be taken away in certain situations, which leaves them in position that is vulnerable and produces instability.

It is difficult for me to imagine how it must feel like to be born and live all your life in a country and be denied the right to run for the position of the president just because you happen to belong to a minority. It seems an injustice to me. So even though I generally agree with the liberal stance of the current president, the injustice in who gets to be president taints the whole institution and undermines its legitimacy.

P.S. Yes, there are similar limitations in the US (which some people exploit to question the suitability and discredit presidential candidates), but in the US the system of citizenship is different. Anyone born in the US gets automatic US citizenship. Even so, I also think that the US limitation is unfair and goes against what the US stands for. President Schwarzenegger could have been great.

On Untitled12

Posted: February 13th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, human rights, things that suck, thoughts | No Comments »

In Estonia, the controversial author Kaur Kender has published a piece of transgressive literature at, a free-for-all alternative publishing platform that he himself has helped to create. The Untitled12 story depicts the character’s gradual loss of humanity and includes vile and depraved sexual acts, including against a minor. The publication of the work has resulted in the author being the subject of criminal trial, which has divided the public opinion.

The more traditionalist-conservative people seem to enjoy with glee that a subversive counterculture figure who criticises the status quo, existing hierarchies of power and stagnation of Estonian culture has finally received punishment. They see him as a symbol of a wider threat to nativist culture, Estonian language, to bourgeois living. For them, he is an outsider who is interested in ‘foreign’ rap music and who refuses to conform with the safe, static mainstream of the small Estonian cultural circles. Because he cannot be easily marginalised otherwise, he has to be dealt with some other way: boycotted or possibly put into jail.

Putting Kender to trial seems intuitively wrong to any person who has grown up with liberal democratic ideals. Tolerance of publications that shock, disturb and insult other people is a part of the bedrock of freedom of expression. It would be hollow and meaningless if only conformist mainstream expressions that everyone agrees with are allowed. Indeed, freedom of expression can only be limited if it incites violence against minorities. Even then, books and other forms of artistic expression require from states to meet a much higher burden than other types of expression.

Artists usually occupy spaces in the margins of the society, because they create original works that challenge the status quo in order to shape the culture in a continuous communication. If those margins were cut off and only conformist works allowed, the culture would wither and die quickly. The government and society needs to accommodate these expressions, even if they go against the most basic moral standards. This case is about morality, and not the abuse of children.

The more liberal part of the elite support the view that the trial is a misguided enterprise and blame the authorities in having a too wide of a interpretation of the criminal code, which puts many other works of art in danger. For them, the eventual vindication of the author would be a statement of Estonia as a liberal country. However, it can also be a Pyrrhic victory.

Hannah Arendt described in the Origins of Totalitarianism the public mood in the 1920s. The ‘anything goes’ roaring twenties were a time of redefinition of morality. She wrote:



Hopefully we are not re-living the preWWII era, but there are dangerous similarities with the current case. Kender is so effective in his onslaught against moral values that he risks (with considerable help from the prosecutors) that the effect of his work could be the opposite of his intentions. That it trivialises the sexual abuse of children or that it actually helps to bring about more mob-mentality, not less. For the mob that is currently rallying behind extreme right this is a sign that the liberal elites have lost it, because they are defending someone who is so profane and who has written something so vile and unacceptable. The liberal elite may become more amoral in the eyes of the masses.

It is difficult to know how this case ends. The debate around it already shapes the reality and creates unintended consequences. It would have been best for the authorities not to get involved, in which this niche work could have remain just that. Whatever the solution that the justice system comes up with, it seems to be a lose-lose proposition for everyone involved.

The danger posed by the far right in the Estonian Parliament

Posted: March 7th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Estonia, human rights, politics, things that suck | No Comments »

Last Sunday’s parliamentary elections resulted in a far right party Eesti Konservatiivne Rahvaerakond (EKRE) winning 7 seats in the 101 member Estonian parliament. Soon after the win, several scandals have rocked the party, as their record and previous statements are being analysed by the media, bringing out extreme views ranging from questioning the numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust to discussions about positive sides of German Nazi politics. It appears that at least one of their campaign promises is mirrors one from that era. Aro Velmet has analysed why the media, analysts and other parties did not want to know or care about this before.

It would be easy to explain the success of EKRE as a counter-reaction to entrenched liberal democractic values or opposition of the same-sex partnership law by a vocal, frustrated minority that has failed to keep up with the times and adopt European values, but that does not tell the whole story (or explain why there are so many relatively successful young people involved). I use Cas Mudde’s framework to show that EKRE is much more mainstream (and thus dangerous) than the simplistic explanations show.

The ideological underpinnings of EKRE are fairly standard far right stuff: a mixture of nativism, authoritarianism and populism. Nativism plays an important role for EKRE, their leaders have emphasised time and again that they believe that people who belong to one ethnic group should live in their own land with their nation and not somewhere else. Nativism is a rather mainstream way of thinking in Estonia because of historical traumas, and many parties exploit it in one way or the other (but not as forcefully as EKRE). Authoritarinism is present in their election manifesto in which they strive to fight with “anti-state activities” and populism is embodied in their anti-establishment rhetoric, arguing that the “homogenuous will of the people” should override “undemocratic” institutional constraints or constitutional protections for minorities (most clearly evidenced by the demand to hold a referendum on same-sex partnership regulation). Each of these ideologies hold wide support in Estonia, which means that ideologically EKRE lands on a fertile ground and has considerable potential to grow.

In terms of nativist attitudes of the public, it is not a secret that tolerance towards people with a migrant background is low in Estonia. Even though Estonia gets the least number of asylum applicants in the EU (ca 100), public opinion surveys show that people perceive immigration as a threat to the Estonian nation. Strict citizenship and naturalisation policies have resulted in low integration rates for the ethnic Russians that make up ca 25% of the population. Fuelling ethnic based antagonism is still the main modus operandi of all parties to win votes at elections, depriving people of real free choices. Taking account of all the above, it is clear that nativist attitudes are present in Estonian mainstream.

Authoritarian attitudes are also present, people prefer a strong ruler and would like to regulate the behaviour of others even if it does not concern them. For example, the ban on drinking alcohol in public was quickly reinstated after protests in the media. Also there is wide support for harsh punishments for criminals.

Anti-establishment attitudes are also gaining ground, both because of fatigue with the long-term rule of the Reform party, the disconnect between successful elites and less successful masses. There are low levels of trust of the parliament and government. EKRE probably would have recieved more votes, if the anti-establishment centre-right Free Party had not also taken a lot of the protest vote.

Thus it would be wrong to claim that EKRE represents ideology or attitudes that are shared only by a minority. They gain support by presenting the same basic ideology that is espoused by mainstream parties, but in a purer, more ideological form. They exploit the same basic attitudes, but in more extreme ways.

The scary conclusion is that EKRE still has vast potential in terms of ideology and attitudes; what is holding them back is their lack of professionalism in messaging and internal organisation. Now that they receive funding from the state, they can work on these organisational matters. It is a stark warning for all centrist and mainstream parties that in order to defend liberal democracy, they have to let go of the previous antagonisms and be much more engaged with the public and willing to clearly articulate more value-based messages on issues that are not usually considered important by them.

The mainstream parties should not allow the far right to monopolise divisive issues, because this is what makes them thrive. EKRE was the only party that took up the civil partnership law and made opposition to it into their issue. Not having any other party to challenge them on this issue was the reason they were able to gain support quickly.

A Russian-language TV channel would be a mistake for Estonia

Posted: November 22nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: elections, Estonia, governance, human rights, politics, things that suck, thoughts | 1 Comment »

The Estonian public discourse is engulfed in fear and paranoia about Russia, even more so today than usual. This is understandable because of the Russian actions in Ukraine and other countries and because of the large ethnic Russian population living in Estonia. According to the results of the latest census, there are ca 890 000 ethnic Estonians living in Estonia and ca 320 000 ethnic Russians. All other ethnic minorities have smaller numbers.

Many Russians (especially the majority that has either a Russian citizenship or is stateless) have little to no political representation rights, because non-citizens are not allowed to belong to political parties, vote or stand as candidates in the parliamentary elections and stand as candidates in the local elections (they can vote in local elections, however). This was a decision made by the Estonian political elites when Estonia regained its independence, to ensure smooth integration with Western political structures and escape influence of Russia. These decisions made 23 years ago have resulted in fast economic development (at least in terms of neo-liberal model) and membership of EU, NATO and OECD. The cost has been the political disenfranchisement of the ethnic Russian population which has fueled societal segregation and a created a flawed democracy.

Recently, however, the Estonian political elite has become worried that the Russian minority might be used against Estonian territorial integrity in a way similar to what happened in Crimea and is happening in Eastern Ukraine. The prevailing view is that many Estonian Russians watch Russian TV stations and are thus subjected to anti-Western propaganda. Thus it is necessary to offer them a more balanced and objective media channel, which is why the Estonian government decided last week that Estonian public broadcasting ERR will get 4 million euros to create a Russian-language TV channel.

This is fundamentally a wrong decision, albeit a convenient one.

It is a wrong decision because it treats Estonian Russians as objects not subjects and reinforces the idea that they are the problem and their minds need to be changed, very much similar to the employment benefits reform, which also saw the main obstacle for disabled people not working the lack of motivation of people with disabilities. This paternalistic view reinforces the understanding that people are not capable of thinking for themselves, that they can be influenced by propaganda and that it is the governments job to tell people what is right and what is wrong, who is enemy of Estonia and who is not.

It also creates a false impression that there is one ‘objective’ way of looking at things, which can easily lead into propaganda. I mean, if the Estonian government is creating a TV channel, which it says is not to be used for propaganda, then that they even have to mention this makes one doubt the objectivity of it. Coupled with the recent serious discussions on the need for “psychological defense” for Estonia, impartiality on issues of integration seems to be impossible if not intentionally then because of the difficult historical context. This is such a difficult topic for Estonia that wading into it cost Jürgen Ligi his job as the Minister of Finance a few weeks ago.

There are no easy solutions, because all the effective options need more equal treatment of Estonians with Russians, which is more difficult for Estonians to handle, because of historical wrongs perpetrated against Estonians and Estonia.

If I was in charge, this is what I would do to make sure that there is a democratic and independent Estonia:

1. Ensure that any and all instances of discrimination of Russians (and other minorities) in Estonia can receive an adequate legal response, either in employment or in other areas. Investigate in detail where are the more systematic problems (rental market, recruitment) and deal with them. Invest money in this, because this means a more just society that is more stable. The Estonian equality body (Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner) suffers from chronic lack of funding (it receives annually ca 70 000 euros from the state budget), last year only 2 people turned to the office with complaints based on ethnic or national origin. There are very few cases in courts and employment dispute commissions. This means that there are massive number of unresolved discrimination claims. If we deal with these claims and give access to remedies, the perception of Estonia discriminating against Russians can be easily countered.

2. Ensure that all people that live and intend to continue living in Estonia are part of the Estonian public sphere. This means that there has to be a solution to statelessness and citizenship issues. It is possible to create a radical plan to ensure that in 10 years almost all people who are permanently living in Estonia have (at least) Estonian citizenship. If there is enough time to prepare and everyone knows that it will happen, the political parties will have to be more inclusive or face the loss of the Russian votes to others. Any other solution for integration does not work, because citizenship is fundamental. This means that many more Russians will get a say in Estonian politics, which is more democratic and leads to a better governance on the whole. If Russians are 25% of Estonian people, then this should be also reflected in government, its policies and resource allocation.

3. Spend considerably more on educating all citizens to make up their own minds. The best guarantee of the continuation of Estonian democratic statehood is a citizenry of independent autonomous individuals that are able to make up their own minds. So what is needed is education of people to recognise propaganda, to evaluate and analyse information based on source and strength of argument, to make rational, research-based, not emotional decisions. I see every day that people cannot cope with all the information, they are unable to understand what is authentic and what is astroturfing, many people seem to lack functional reading skills and critical thinking is not appreciated or taught. Media has a key role in this, but not only. This also means that civil society must play a larger role than the state-dependent sideshow it is today.

Thus it is my argument that the Russian-language TV channel is really meant to placate the majority population that something is being done. It will have no impact on the situation or mindset of Estonian Russians, because it conveniently misidentifies the problem, as there is not enough political courage and/or will to do something that has a real impact.

Additional reading:

ACTA, innovation and human rights

Posted: February 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, human rights, politics, things that suck, thoughts | No Comments »

The Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip today in the Estonian Parliament ridiculed people who are against the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). He accused them of paranoia and suggested they wear tinfoil hats and that they have eaten some bad seeds. This seems rather unusual for a top European politician, while Polish and Czech governments are reconsidering their support of ACTA.

For me this is not about paranoia or mob-mentality trying to ruin a perfectly reasonable international agreement. There is a legitimate concern that ACTA, while strengthening the global protections against counterfeiting, will also result in less protections for some of the most fundamental human rights. There have been also people like Linnar Viik saying that rather than helping young new startups, it might stifle them in a difficult-to-navigate labyrinth of intellectual property rights. Instead of fostering innovation and creativity, ACTA might instead will be used to try to fight innovation and preserve business models, which are long overdue to be dismantled. Of course, it is difficult to say what will be the actual impact of ACTA, because much of it depends on the interpretation and implementation of the agreement.

Intellectual property rights are a legal construct, created by people for people for specific goals (to provide creators and inventors incentives to create and invent). Thye give certain exclusive rights (monopolies) to use and licence etc. However, any intellectual property reform will be fought by the monopolies that have been created as they will lose their business even if different system might make more sense for the society as a whole. I refuse to believe that if we were to start afresh with the IPR framework, we would end up with anything remotely similar to the terrible mess we are in today. As a lawyer I feel sorry for my profession as instead of trying to enable and support actual innovation and creation (which in today’s world is usually built upon exisiting technologies or art) we as lawyers mostly work to try to prevent and stop the spread of technology. Fortunately there are some like Karmen Turk or other people at Estonian law firms who see that the IPR system needs reform. (A sidenote: Tallinn Law School will begin from Autumn 2012 with a new Master programme in Law and Technology where these issues can be studied and researched in depth.)

Human rights are in a way very similar to intellectual property rights. Both got started internationally after WWII and reached real global acceptance in the 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. After that time both human rights and intellectual property rights have spread internationally all over the globe. However, IPR are usually supported and promoted by multinational corporations whereas human rights do not have such wealthy and organised proponents. At the same time, human rights are at least in most countries considered far more fundamental than IPR.

Intellectual property rights can be also considered human rights, as right to property is also recognised as a human right. However, the case-law of European Court of Human Rights so far has emphasised other rights such as freedom of expression or freedom of speech as more fundamental to the functioning of a democratic society than property rights. With ACTA this balance is under threat.

If there is a choice to have ACTA or not have it then it is for sure better to not have it. What we would rather need more is a global freedom of movement of information agreement, protecting internet from unreasonable interference from states. The European Commission a few years ago proposed to add free movement of knowledge to the EU’s current four fundamental economic freedoms (goods, persons, services, capital). I think that would do much more for both European competitiveness as well as helping creativity and innovation. Sadly, not much has been heard about this idea after 2008.

Causes are not excuses

Posted: August 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, european union, human rights, law, philosophy, politics, things that suck, thoughts | No Comments »

In light of recent extraordinary criminal activity (mass killing in Norway, looting and riots in London, also the gunman at the Estonian Ministry of Defence) there have been calls not to look at the causes of these crimes. These actions have been deemed by some as mad or crazy acts which supposedly took place irrationally, from some sort of natural evil that surfaces from time to time. Those acts might have been desparate and committed by people who are not sane and they are, of course, criminal, but that should not prevent us from looking into why these actions were taken. What was it that has driven some members of the society into these horrific actions against their own societies? As a side note, it is interesting to observe that although the preoccupation of governments have been focused on how to react to an outside terror threat, these actions have been taken by the citizens against their own state.

I do not advocate shifting the blame from the individual who committed the crime to the society on the whole. It is clear that those individuals who were proven to commit a specific act deserve to be punished according to the law. However, in order to prevent such acts in the future, it is important to look at and analyse the causes of these events. The society should also look into things that are wrong and try to remedy these. This way, the horrific events could be turned into possibilities to make a better society. This does not mean that we somehow reward the criminals, because the motivation should not be fear of someone doing something similar again, but to eliminate the root causes of these actions.

Some people (especially those who like to see things in black and white terms) think that there are people who are evil and that is that. Those ‘evil’ people need to be tracked down and put to prison or even killed. That is not the way I look at things. I think people and life in general is much more complex. Goodness and evil are subjective, relative terms that could, at best, relate to specific actions in a specific ethical or moral framework, but not really to the whole of a person.

Faced with complex set of issues that shock or frighten, people tend to seek for strong leaders with simple, harsh measures. However, I think it is best to analyse the situation and also look at the root causes of these criminal events. Trying to ignore problems will not make them go away.

Who to vote for?

Posted: October 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, politics, things that suck, thoughts | No Comments »

I have already voted at the upcoming local government elections in Estonia, but I have been thinking about my choice (or rather lack of good choices). Here is my take on the Estonian politicial party landscape:

1. Keskerakond (Centre Party): They are dishonest and populist to the extreme. Although they have certain redeeming features in what they want to achieve, I could not vote for them because of how they behave in politics.

2. Reformierakond (Reform Party): I have been disappointed with them in recent years. In their hunt for popularity they have let go of their principles and become more populist than I would have expected. If you have to change your principles in order to get more votes, then what point is there to having power if you cannot do what you would want? They have disappointed me with many things, but mostly with dropping their fight to end compulsory military service. They have changed from a less popular party that got things done to more popular party that gets nothing substantial done.

3. Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit (Pro Patria and Res Publica Union): They are simply too conservative, nationalistic and sometimes even fascist to appeal to me. I cannot consider voting for them until they become less radical.

4. Sotsiaaldemokraatlik Partei (Social Democrat Party): They lack consistent ideology that would offer a specific plan for Estonia. They have locked themselves to oppositionary thinking and rather than coming up with new and interesting ideas, they just rehash the same old stuff. They are economically not credible and their leadership is completely uncharismatic.

5. Erakond Eestimaa Rohelised (Greens): It is just a big mess, not a party. They are not organised, which means they will remain marginal. I have severe issues with several people who belong to that party.

6. Rahvaliit (People’s Union): Like Centre Party Light, but with no clout or support. Politically a lame duck, deservedly. Hopefully these elections will end their misery and they will finally disintegrate completely.

I made the choice reluctantly by voting for the party I thought might be least capable of completely screwing up, but for a long time there has not been anyone to really vote for.

Estonian Higher Education is systematically flawed

Posted: September 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: education, Estonia, things that suck | 3 Comments »

Estonian higher education is deeply, systematically flawed. The greatest flaw is not the lack of cooperation among Estonian universities, but rather forced cooperation where competition should be encouraged. Dreams of one and only “Estonian University” or the University of Tartu’s dream of them as the only university in Estonia will end up a nightmare where there are no substantial universities in Estonia at all.

The main problem of Estonian universities is the small pond effect. Universities, and Ministers of Education seem to see only Estonian higher education space, where they should see at least European or global higher education space. Today’s academic world is not constrained by boundaries and the more time we spend closing our higher education space off for foreigners the worse off we will be. If we want our universities to be European class or regional centres of academy we need to do the following things:

1. Forget about Estonian-language higher education: This single biggest thing holding back Estonian universities is the lack of teaching and studying in English. Using English as the only language for studies will be an enormous benefit. Today, Estonian institutions of higher education work against, not towards internationalisation, mostly due to the lack of English language skills of faculty and staff.

2. Stop discriminatory practices in admissions, forget about state exams: SAIS only for Estonians with Estonian ID cards has perhaps made it easier to administer the admissions process, but it has also separated Estonians from other students.

3. Admit the failure of state regulation, give universities their freedom. Forced migration to 3+2 is an ongoing disaster that has resulted in terrible loss of academic quality and competitiveness. The same applies to all state mandated reforms that no one really needs. At the moment Estonian universities are extensions of the Ministry of Education and Research, they are being pushed and pulled by different reforms and practices. Forget about state funded places, forget about state funded research libraries: just give the money to universities so that they can be responsible and choose their own means of providing access to universities for disadvantaged students or decide which books, databases etc to buy.

I think it is worth to try this radical new approach instead of driving off the cliff, but faster.

The bizarro-world of Tallinn city government

Posted: September 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: politics, things that suck, thoughts | 1 Comment »

People tend to think of municipal politicians all over the world as more corrupt and less talented as those governing a state. Tallinn however is in a class of its own. All traditional elements of corruption are present: nepotism, favouritism, special deals with certain businessmen, shady advisors, city officials forced to become members of the ruling party, increasing propaganda-machine to hold power, rigorous court actions to defend against supervision etc. Corruption in Tallinn has become so commonplace that people have ceased to expect more and kind of accepted dishonesty as a part of a political ideology used by the Centre Party. No one in their right mind would tolerate the kind of behaviour exhibited by those governing Tallinn among their friends, or in their workplace.

“They are all the same” is just another way for them to shift blame for corruptive acts to someone else, to the democratic system.

The idea for this blog came, as I took trolleybus no 3 back home from work I saw the new “conductor” the Centrist city government has put to many of the public transport buses, trolleybuses and trams in order to create “social” jobs ahead of the local government elections in October. There is nothing social about these people, to me this particular individual seemed to be bored out of his mind. No-one spoke to him, no-one even looked at him during the 25 minute ride. He strolled back and forth through the trolley-bus (which fortunately was not very crowded), fiddled with his phone and tried hard to look important.

In my opinion these people are not conductors, rather they are people who the city government pays to ride the buses and trolleybuses and trams the whole day. I think that being paid to be a commuter is a horrible job, because commuting already for half and hour is quite difficult task. I probably would not survive the full workday in this meanial, boring job. This reminds me of the film where it showed how Nazis tried to break the will of their prisoners in concentration camps by having them move a pile of rocks back and forth between one place and another. I don’t understand why they don’t just pay these “professional commuters” their small salary and let them do something productive. Or put them all in one bus that takes more diverse, scenic routes and where they could play chess, read books. This saves us, the commuters who are not paid to commute, some space and allows to travel comfortably, without having to tolerate watching a person who is in the brink of being bored to death.

I plan to vote for someone who is sane and sensible in the coming local elections and not for someone who only looks at everything through narrow ideological perpective.