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Saturday, July 15, 2923: Statelessness

Our hotel is close to the Viru Hotel. This hotel was built by the Finns at the direction of the Soviets and completed in 1972. Officially it has 22 floors, but on the secret 23rd floor was the KGB headquarters. Estonians asked what was above the 22nd floor, and they were told that it was janitor rooms, air conditioners, etc.

This hotel was built only for foreigners. The main purpose was to get foreign money, but also to spy on the foreigners.

There were 1,000 guests and 800 hotel workers, roughly one worker per guest. In fact, ten percent of the Estonian population were Soviet soldiers. They did not carry guns. Today there are 1,000 hotel guests and about 100 workers.

Although all the rooms were bugged with microphones, the first six floors were occupied by KGB spies in the adjoining rooms to where the guests stayed. Here is the camera that they used.
After the Soviets left in 1991, Estonians were scared to go to the 23rd floor because they were not sure if there were bombs or booby traps. The Finns went in and made sure that this area was preserved.
The Soviets left in a hurry.

We had a class to give us some cultural perspective. Raivo Vetik, Professor of Comparative Politics, Tallinn University spoke to us about economics, the post-1991 transformation in Estonia, and human development factors vs. US levels. He has a positive view of former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin who advocated Russia as a separate country and a negative view of Mikhail Gorbachev who tried to keep the Soviet Union together. Russia’s separation gave an opportunity for other republics to break away also.

Tallinn Song Festival started in 1869 and occurs every four years. It is a very important event that speaks to their national identity. In fact, singing played a huge part in the national awakening for independence in 1991. There is a documentary called The Singing Revolution.

One third of the current population of Estonia is Russian heritage and Russian-speaking. Empires don’t dismantle easily. Russia wants to gather back all that was once Russia. Ukraine is the first in line. It started with Crimea. Estonia feels that they might be next.

Estonia needs to do a better job of assimilating Russians living in Estonia. From 1945 to 1991, Russification was happening. Some ethnic Estonians were forced to leave the country, and the Soviet Union brought in Russians. The hope was that Estonia as a culture and group of people would disappear. However, they preserved their culture and established their second independence in 1991 (the first was in 1918).

By 1992 each person in Estonia was required to declare citizenship. In 1991 the government had decided that the citizenship of the newly independent Estonia would be automatically extended only to those who were its citizens before the occupation in 1940, as well as their descendants. This made 40% of the population “stateless”. The Citizenship Law allowed for people to live stateless in Estonia until they declared their citizenship. There are still about 70,000 people (5%) in Estonia that remain without an assigned home country. The stateless population in Estonia includes mainly older Russian-speaking residents who arrived in the country during the Soviet occupation and stayed there after the collapse of the USSR. It also includes their descendants.

Here is an article that describes the stateless situation and the implications for individuals:

Implications of Statelessness

We noticed that freedom of speech is big here. When you haven’t had that for almost fifty years, it becomes important. As Americans, we are many years removed from the struggle to establish the right to free speech so we tend to take it for granted.

Estonia has a population of 1.3 million. 450,000 live in the capital city Tallinn. Many people leave for better jobs mostly in the UK and Ireland. All three Baltic countries have negative population growth. The median age in Estonia is 43 compared to 38 in the USA.

Estonia’s neighbors have always wanted this land. Danes were the first. Germans wanted new trade routes and have always been in Estonia. They are called Baltic Germans. They asked the Swedes to protect them against the Russians.

The Estonian language only has past and present tense but has sixteen different gender distinctions? It is difficult to navigate but speakers just try and listeners can figure it out. Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian have a common root language.

One can witness either in person or online the parliament is session. The topics are publicized ahead of time. People vote electronically through their unique 11 digit number that is assigned at birth. All of your records are tied to this number, such as medical, homework, taxes, voting, etc.

There are over 10,000 startups in Estonia and it is a good place for entrepreneurs. Skype originated from Estonia.

In the city center we saw some young chess geniuses playing. They would move from board to board.
This is St. Olaf’s church. He was important to the Swedes. At one time this church was considered the tallest structure in Europe.
Our climb to the top of the tower.
Made it!
What a view!
What goes up, must come down.
We went to a wonderful museum about the anatomy and physiology of the body. This was an exhibit about hair. Rob is a neanderthal and I have an afro.
It takes five years for a gull to have the recognizable white feathers that we are accustomed to seeing.

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