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PostEstonia Report (Henry Levin, USA, 10/18/13 1:50 pm)
I have just returned from Estonia, my first time in that country. I went first to Helsinki where I have ventured before, and then took a half-hour flight into the capital of Estonia, Talinn.
The occasion was an OECD meeting in which there were representatives of somewhat over 30 countries working on data planning for the OECD publication, Education at a Glance. Since cooperation in obtaining the data is crucial, we must work to gain knowledge and approval of all of the countries to obtain good participation. I have been working with this group for about five years, with two meetings a year in such climes as Berlin, Copenhagen, Helskinki, Estonia, Tel Aviv, Rio de Janeiro, Oslo, London, and Amsterdam.
Estonia is the northernmost of the Baltic countries with a population of about 1.6 million, of which about 1.1 speak Estonian (a Finnic tongue) and many of the rest speak Russian and are of Russian extraction. In its history, the country has been dominated in older times by the Scandinavian nations and in more recent times by the Nazis and the Soviets. The country feels very Scandinavian in its customs, food, and architecture.
Talinn is truly a charming city with one of the most picturesque old cities in Europe. Although dominated by the Germans and the Soviets, they did not systematically destroy the old town as they did in many other countries, or as was done by the Allies with the bombing. However, they did allow buildings to deteriorate badly, but the last fifteen years with UNESCO support have meant rehabilitation of the physical structure, an effort that has been done well.
Estonia is the smallest of the Baltic states, but it is doing very well. It joined the EC three years ago and seems very well integrated with it in this short period. There is clearly a pride in being part of western Europe, and I heard many comments about turning its face to the west and its ass to Russia. Prices are cheap compared to western Europe, and especially compared to Scandinavia to the north. My hotel, a first class establishment in every respect, was 92 euros per night, and the food in Talinn is excellent and about 60 percent of the cost of equivalent dishes in other parts of Europe.
The country is wonderful to visit and explore, particularly if you are already visiting nearby. People are friendly, and English is common. In fact, the Estonians have one of the highest literacy rates in Europe.
JE comments: It's hard to believe that in nearly 31,000 WAIS posts going back to 1997, this is the first one in the "Estonia" category. I know this because I just had to create a category for Estonia.
My friend and faithful WAIS reader Paul Rootare is an Estonian-American, and follows the events in his father's homeland. I hope Paul will comment on Hank Levin's trip.
My favorite joke about Estonia goes like this: Q: Do they have Skype in Estonia? A: (This depends on your interlocutor. Most will say "I don't know." The smugger and better informed will give you a condescending smile and repond, condescendingly, that Skype was invented in Estonia. I enjoy giving folks this satisfaction.)