cartoon by Jevgenijs Cheksters
A nasty diplomatic scuffle has erupted over Estonia's integration track record after an astringent report by a representative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe - only this time, it wasn't a Russian, but a Dutchman.
There was a pre-accession time - prior to May 1, 2004 - when these reports were issued on a monthly basis, when distinguished guests from the EU descended upon the ambitious Baltic states much in the way a powerful state auditor would bear down on a lowly firm eagerly awaiting an all-imporant export license. In the past three years, however, the number of such "audits" has waned, and the Baltics have largely become unused to criticism from European institutions. If anything, the strong show of support after the April riots in Talliinn demonstrated that Europe stands behind the Baltics.
So when Rene van der Linden, president of PACE, came to the region last month - visiting all three Baltic states - and then issued an unexpectedly negative assessment of the integration situation in Estonia and Latvia, there was an enormous amount of dismay, and anger.
Estonians, who received the worst marks, were shocked. Ene Ergma, speaker of Estonia's parliament, said van der Linden had left an entirely different impression upon her and that she was aghast after reading the Dutchman's conclusions. Reformist Kristiina Ojuland, a former foreign minister, said she was worried about PACE losing its credibility and appealed to the legislature's factions to reassess their policies toward small states.
Marko Mihkelson, a member of the IRL union, went for the jugular and accused van der Linden of a conflict of interests through alleged ties to a commercial enterprise in Russia. The evidence is compelling, though van der Linden denied it vehemently, criticizing Mihkelson for not checking his facts. As one would expect, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves spoke with inimitable common sense, saying that Estonians would be better off just ignoring nonsense and getting on with their lives.
PACE has always been something of a circus - an unpredictable, rabble-rousing multitude combining professional lawmakers and professional baffoons. Russia's Vladimir Zhirnovsky, the firebrand clown, was once a member of PACE. The problem with van der Linden is that he was woefully unprepared for his visits to the Baltics, to the point that it is plainly obvious he has no idea what occured in the Baltics in the years 1940-1991. Judging by his assessments, he completely ignored this period in history. Accordingly, The Baltic Times would love to watch van der Linden read the conclusions of his report in front of an audience of Balts who were exiled to Siberia, forced out of their homeland, or had their relatives killed.
Likewise, we question whether van der Linden has the bravery to do it. Most likely not. Because only a coward - intellectual or otherwise - can visit a country, hand out handshakes and smile left and right, and then turn around and stab it in the back.
Van der Linden's report is a joke. He says, quite bullheadedly, that a multinational society should be multilingual. If he would have taken a few minutes while in Estonia to turn on the TV, the radio or glance at a newstand, he would have seen that the Russian language is alive and well in Estonia. In the Baltics, the markets have decided which languages should be used, which is why all three countries have largely become trilingual, something even Holland cannot claim.