BBC – Estonia Country Profile

March 7th, 2012 → 11:31 am @

A small and heavily forested country, Estonia is the most northerly of the three former Soviet Baltic republics.

Not much more than a decade after it regained its independence following the collapse of the USSR, the republic was welcomed as an EU member in May 2004. The move came just weeks after it joined Nato.

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Estonian Troops in Afghanistan Clear IEDs, Save Afghan Lives

March 4th, 2012 → 4:11 pm @

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Roadside bombs pose a serious threat to the Afghan people as well as to the Afghan National Security Forces and coalition forces. Every disposed IED means saved lives.

The eleventh rotation of Estonian troops, serving with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, made an all-time best per rotation when they cleared 106 improvised explosive devices last year. However, the current, twelfth rotation, is half-way through their tour of duty and has already disposed of 68 IEDs.

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PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

March 2nd, 2012 → 3:59 pm @

About one in 10 Iraq and Afghan war veterans have develop serious mental health problems — from violent behavior to alcohol abuse — and that these problems actually get worse instead of better a year after vets leave the battlefield. Part of the cause is PTSD, or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. It’s a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood.

People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.

PTSD is complicated by the fact that people with PTSD often may develop additional disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health. The disorder is also associated with impairment of the person’s ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting.

Is PTSD limited to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? Of course not. It’s been part of every war as far as history can take us. The reason that it has surfaced more and more since the Vietnam War is because of the advancements of medical science. Also, as suggested above, the casualties of PTSD are not just the combatants. Depending on the circumstances, civilians caught in the turmoil of war are also likely candidates for this harrowing psychiatric disorder.

The bottom line is that we have thousands if not millions of people walking the earth today who will never be able to live their lives to the fullest extent possible no matter how supportive their immediate environments may be. So, no matter how you look at it, war is not only hell but it can last a lifetime for many people after peace is declared! Coming Home provides intimate details how that happen.


Estonians and the World Around Them

March 2nd, 2012 → 1:05 pm @

Laas Leivat wrote an interesting short article on February, 25, 2012 in Eesti Elu (Estonian Life) entitled, “Did You Know?” Below is what he brought to light.

Did you know…?

that the combined choir of the Estonian Song Festival has the largest number of singers (sometimes up to 30,000) in the world.

……that Estonia is an egalitarian country in which 51% of engineers and scientists are women. The European Union average is 29%.

……that Estonia is populated very sparsely having one of the lowest settlement densities (30.9 inhabitants per sq km) for personal space in the world – four times less than Denmark and 12 times less than The Netherlands. Although Estonia is small, both by area and population, it still has more than 100 different parishes, each one with its own regional dress.

……that one of the lowest settlement densities in Estonia itself is Hiiumaa with only approximately 10 inhabitants per sq km. Here visitors can find isolated beaches of their own, with no one else in sight. It’s like a Nordic Bora Bora.

……that by taking into account the farthest points and islands of Europe, the central point of Europe is Saaremaa, specifically, Mõnnuste village.

……that the last giant meteorite in the world that fell into a populated area impacted in Saaremaa, creating the massive Kaali crater some 4000 years ago. The power of the blast was comparable to a nuclear bomb, leaving clear evidence to influence the tales and mythology of the nations in the region.

……that Estonia is about 50% forest. It has 1500 islands, some very tiny, 1000 lakes (5% of Estonian territory), 700 rivers and streams. Lake Peipsi is Estonia’s largest lake and the biggest transboundary lake in Europe. By contrast, Latvia, Estonia’s immediate neighbor hasn’t a single island.

……that the Estonian language contains about a thousand words that date back to the last ice age? One of the first known daily newspapers in the world was published in Tallinn as early as 1675 (in England – 1702). The Estonian literacy rate in the 1850s was 80% of the population, exceeding almost all of the grand European civilized nations with the only equal ones being French and German.

……that the latest Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index places Estonia third in the world, sharing the spot with The Netherlands. Of the 179 countries ranked, Finland and Norway share first place. Estonia has held its position in the top ten for five years being one of very few countries to have been this consistent. Canada is placed at 10, Lithuania is at 30, the U.S.A. at 47, Latvia at 50, Russia at 142, and China at174.

……that Estonians are champion wife-carriers, and have come to dominate the World Wife Carrying Championships. Estonia is home to the game of ice cricket. This is precisely as it sounds – cricket played on ice.

……that in 1913, before Estonia’s independence, Encylopaedia Britannica wrote “that Estonians as a race exhibit evidence of their Ural-Altaic or Mongolic descent in their short stature, absence of beard, oblique eyes, broad face, low forehead and small mouth. In addition to that they are undersized, ill thriven people with long arms and thin short legs”. (The writer probably got lost on the wrong continent.) What has changed in 99 years? Well, at least the legs have grown longer.


Danes, Germans and Russians—The Ultimate Conquerors of the Ancient Estonians

February 23rd, 2012 → 4:51 pm @

February 24th is Estonian Independence Day. As the title of this blog suggests there is much, much more to this event than the declaration of independence on February 24, 1918. From that date on it took the Estonians two more hard fought years against Germany and Soviet Russia to regain their independence. The ancient Estonian tribes had battled gallantly for 20 years against the Danes, Germans and Russians before being finally conquered in 1227. During World War II the Estonians again lost their independence and were occupied by the Soviet Union until 1991 when they again were able to govern themselves. To mark this special occasion for my country of birth I will cite some passages from Chapter Two of Coming Home.

As Naissaar Island became more and more visible on the starboard side, the steady beat of the ship’s diesel engines faded, and the Georg Ots slowed its pace as it glided into the motionless waters of the Bay of Tallinn. Although it was late afternoon, the northern midsummer sun was still high in the cloudless sky. For the first time in my life I had a clear, breathtaking panoramic view of Tallinn and its surrounding landscape. Three years earlier a steady rain had obscured much of what was now clearly discernible….

At last I had a chance to observe from the sea one of the most sacred areas of the Estonians who have lived, fought, suffered and died on these Baltic shores for almost the past ten thousand years. With considerable emotion and pride, I recalled how my earliest ancestors followed the reindeer herds northward as the glaciers slowly receded after the last ice age. Eventually they sparsely populated an immense area that extended from Poland as far north as Murmansk, Russia and from the eastern shores of the Baltic to the Ural Mountains.

Today the lands of the remnants of the early reindeer hunters have been reduced to essentially two relatively small pieces of real estate: Estonia and Finland (The Hungarians, relatives of the Estonians and Finns, migrated to their current central European location around 900 AD)….

Thoughts of the ancient past continued to race through my mind as I studied the Tallinn skyline. In antiquity, Kalevipoeg (Son of Kalev), the mighty legendary hero of the Estonians and Finns, is said to have built Fort Lindanisa (Linda’s Breast) in honor of his mother, on top of the limestone cliff overlooking the bay where Toompea Castle stands today.  What excitement this view must have brought to the ancient Estonian seafarers as they returned in their sleek sailing ships from forays to Sweden, Denmark and other places in Europe.

The sight must have also brought pleasure to the thousands of foreign traders who passed this way for tens of centuries since Tallinn’s history as a trading center is well documented. For example, in 1154 the Arabian scholar, Mohammed Al-Idrisi, visited what is now Tallinn. He had been commissioned by Roger II of Sicily to compile a world map. When his work was completed, Tallinn appeared on the chart as “Kaleweny.” The name most likely is associated with Kalev, the father of Kalevipoeg, who is presumed to be laid to rest below old Fort Lindanisa.

Al-Idrisi described Kaleweny as a small town and trading center with an accompanying large fortress whose people were tillers of the soil and breeders of cattle. Oddly enough, the Scandinavians and Russians called Tallinn “Lindanisa” until the Danes gained possession of the citadel in the early part of the thirteenth century.

King Valdemar II of Denmark and his allies, the Rügen Slaves (Poles), were probably equally impressed with this captivating sight as they sailed into the Bay of Tallinn with supposedly 1,500 ships of war in June of 1219. They, however, didn’t come to trade or visit. Their goal was the conquest of the northern independent tribes of Estonia. They were supported by the German Knights of the Sword who had been attacking the southern Etonian clans since 1200 without much success. The Danes caught the residents of Tallinn by surprise and occupied the stronghold without much resistance since the Estonians did not have a standing army defending the city.

The Danes immediately began to dismantle the old stronghold and to lay the stone foundation for their own castle. Three days later the Estonians counter attacked. At one point they had the Danes in full retreat fleeing to their ships when Prince Wenceslaus of the Rügen Slaves, who was guarding the fleet, came to their rescue and reversed the tide of the battle.

Although the Estonians managed to remain in control of their lands for another hard-fought eight years, the Danes held Lindanisa. They built a new stone fortress and named it Reval after the lands of the Estonian Rävala clan that surrounded the citadel. The natives, however, began to call the stronghold Taanilinn (Danish Castle). Through the years Taanilinn eventually became Tallinn. In 1346, when the Germans bought the city from the Danes, they called it Reval and this is still what Germans call the city. Estonians, however, have continued to call their city Tallinn.

Following an intense two-year War of Independence fought against both the fledgling Soviet Union and the Germans, Tallinn became the capital of Estonia and its blue, black and white flag was proudly displayed from the top of Tall Hermann marking the seat of the national government.

In Tallinn I learned to laugh and cry, and to love and hate. Here I felt the tenderness and security of my mother’s embrace while at the same time experiencing life under two of the most brutal dictatorial regimes in times past. And, before I was nine, my boyhood dreams and family ties were also abruptly shattered in this historic place. Indeed, old Tallinn is my shrine for joy and laughter as well as for suffering and tears.


Coming Home Newspaper Article in The Davis Clipper

February 18th, 2012 → 4:51 pm @

A very big thanks goes out to Jennifer Wardell and the Davis Clipper for their newspaper article covering Coming Home. It includes some good summaries and works in an interview with me as well. I’ve included a snippet below, and you can read the rest of article on the Davis Clipper website.

Ehin, who now lives in Bountiful, has captured the twining stories of war-torn Estonia and a family torn apart in his book, “Coming Home.” The story, which includes Ehin’s and his father’s escape from the country and coming back to it to finally visit his sister again years later, includes war, separation, loss, politics and love.

“When people read the book, they realize I didn’t skimp out on anything,” said Ehin. “I wrote it the way I saw it, and the way I felt it.”

Read more:The Davis Clipper – Local author shares story of escape loss and hope


Are Relations between Russia and the Baltic States improving?

February 12th, 2012 → 3:02 pm @

Laas Leivat writes in Eesti Elu (Estonian Life) on February 3, 2012 that, “In an interview with the Baltic News Service, Valeri Fjodorov, the director of the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VtsIOM), stated that amongst the residents of Russia there is a noticeable lessening of negative attitudes towards the Baltic states.”

Leivat quotes Fjodorov several more times in his article and then concludes, “It seems that Russian public attitudes towards the Baltic countries to fluctuate from year to year depending on issues current at the time. The controversies between Estonia and Russia have been many over the last 20 years: the departure of Russian troops from Estonia fully three years after independence was regained; the Orthodox church controversy; the unsettled Russian-Estonian border issue; language and citizenship questions of Russian residents of Estonia; Moscow’s accusations of fascism against Estonia; Russia’s resentment of Estonia’s accession to NATO and the EU; the relocation of a Soviet war monument in Tallinn; Russia’s 2007 intention of stopping all oil transit through Estonia; cyberattacks from Russia; Estonia’s exhibit dedicated to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army; Russia’s regular protests on gatherings of Estonian war veterans who fought with the Germans etc.

The causes for forming attitudes have been plenty. Certainly the Russian media here plays its central role. An anti-Estonian pejorative neologism, eSStonia, appeared in the Russian media and at street protests during the Bronze Soldier incident in 2007. In fact in November 2007 the largest daily in Russia, the Komsomolskaya Pravda ran a campaign asking readers to boycott Estonia, its goods and services. The slogan “I don’t go the eSStonia” was prominent. President Ilves was spelled IlveSS and Prime Minister Ansip as AnSSip. Obviously all of these neologisms were meant to portray Estonia as a Nazi state.

Fjodorov seems to leave the impression that the Russian population`s sentiments towards the Baltic states change organically, uninterrupted by artificial stimuli. It`s more likely that systematic manipulation from the Kremlin is often the cause. Some even insist that the Russian leadership always needs a foreign enemy as a diversion from domestic problems and as a way to stimulate nationalistic fervor.”

So, is Russian hostility towards Estonia and the other two Baltic States really on a decline? Don’t hold your breath!


My First Estonian Song Festival

February 9th, 2012 → 5:36 pm @

Below are some excerpts from Chapter Three of Coming Home highlighting my uniquely emotional experiences (excluding the 1982 Children’s Song Festival) at the 1984 Estonian Song Festival. The monumental national event is held every five years. I attended the 2009 Song Festival with our grandson, Matt Sampson, who is completing a documentary video that includes selections from the event that included 34,000 singers and over 200,000 attendees during the two day event.

“Promptly at 3:00 p.m. the combined choirs totaling 30,000 singers began to sing “Dawn,” the traditional opening song, as the flame in the cauldron began to flicker towards the heavens, ignited by a torch-bearing runner who had entered the Festival grounds just minutes before. It was an indescribably stirring moment as we all stood tall with tears running down our cheeks and pride of our ancient past swelling within us. The people surrounding me, young and old, were far from fully submitting to the latest invaders who had conquered their land.

Tastelessly and unavoidably, “Dawn” was followed by several long-winded speeches by Communist Party bigwigs, the Soviet National Anthem and a number entitled, “Song about Lenin.” Seeing my discomfort, Maimu smiled and told me that we only had to endure these “formalities” at the beginning of the concert. She assured me that tomorrow afternoon we wouldn’t be subjected to similar “required propaganda” as now…

The next day it began to rain about noon. During the concert, which started at two and concluded at seven in the evening, warm, gentle rain continued to fall but hardly a spectator moved until the last song was sung. As luck would have it, the drizzle stopped before the last two songs, “Mu Isamaa on Minu Arm” (My Fatherland is My Love) and “Kodumaa” (Homeland) were performed. For a moment I thought that maybe somebody greater than man was watching and listening to these people who had endured so much over the last half century.

The two-day Song Festival was undoubtedly one of the most moving and rewarding experiences I have ever had during my entire life.  I was surrounded by my sister, her immediate family and other relatives for whom freedom had been merely a dream for more than four decades. I saw them smile, shed tears and pump their umbrellas up and down with renewed hope for a free Estonia as they joined in song with the members of the combined choirs at the end of the concert. They stood with their backs straight and heads held high, refusing to be intimidated by their current landlords. I had sensed the strife and emotions of the Estonian people; I had felt their agony and pride — their willingness to suffer rather than yield to tyranny. I had touched the heart of my ancestral past. I had sensed the vastness and depth of this tiny nation’s soul.”


Tallinn’s Soviet Era Bugged Viru Hotel

February 4th, 2012 → 4:18 pm @

I write about our amusing experiences in the “wired” Viru Hotel during the first visit in 1982 in Chapter One of Coming Home. Here is a related excerpt from “Tallinn’s secret history of espionage” written by Matt Bolton for the BBC.

…there was more to Hotel Viru than met the eye. ‘No, foreign visitors did not know about this,’ says Peep Ehasalu, the jovial manager of today’s Hotel Viru. We’re on the famed 22nd floor and he leads me to an anonymous white door at the end of the corridor. ‘There is no 23rd floor button in the elevator, and yet here we are,’ he says. Through the door, a short flight of stairs leads up to the floor that isn’t there, and the two rooms that Peep has spent years trying to convince his bosses to let him convert into a museum. This January, he finally succeeded in his aim. The first room, formerly a broom cupboard, has been converted to a Soviet-style manager’s office, complete with telephones and a TV from the era, as well as what Peep describes as a musty ‘Soviet smell’. It comes from the original, and now rather yellowed, lino flooring. ‘Everyone who was around in Soviet times comments on the smell,’ he says. ‘This is what Communism smelt like.’

The second room has the blinds drawn tight. The walls are lined with bulky green and silver machinery, an array of knobs with buttons and switches covering every metallic surface. This is where four KGB officers would sit each day, intercepting radio waves from Helsinki and sending cables to Moscow. It was also where information from the 60 or so hotel rooms that were routinely bugged would be processed. ‘Certain VIP guests always had certain rooms,’ says Peep, with a knowing smile. ‘Gaps between the walls allowed the rooms to be wired with equipment like this’ – he holds up a long tube that looks like a bicycle pump – ‘and transmitters were attached to the underside of dinner plates and ashtrays.’ The thick, coin-sized microphones don’t exactly scream subtlety, but they were once state of the art. ‘A lot of the staff knew what was going on up here, of course,’ says Peep. ‘It was quite normal. Surveillance was a way of life in this city.’


Estonia Listed Third in the Press Freedom Top List

January 29th, 2012 → 4:21 pm @

Journalists’ organisation “Reporters without Borders” listed Estonia among the top four in the fresh press freedom top list, which is a major improvement from the previous list, LETA/National Broadcasting reports.

The 1st and 2nd positions are shared by Finland and Norway who were in the top of the list two years ago too, but the 3rd and 4th place are shared now by Estonia an Holland. In the previous list two years ago, Estonia shared 9-10th positions with Ireland.

Latvia shares the 50th position together with Trinidad and Tobago this year and Lithuania shares the 30th place with Australia.

Latvia has dropped 20 places in the index from last year; in 2010, Latvia was ranked 30th. On the other hand, in 2008, Latvia was ranked 7th.

Lithuania also saw a dramatic drop this year – from 11th in 2010 to 30th in 2011.

Latvia and Lithuania received much criticism from RWB that there has been more and more interference in the work of the press by local security structures.

Finland and Norway topped the 2011 Press Freedom Index, with Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea on the bottom of the lost.

The press freedom index of “Reporters Without Borders” is based on the evaluations of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists.