Ask an Estonian: A new president of the U.S.? | KALW

Ask an Estonian: A new president of the U.S.?

Jan 23, 2017

Our news department has a visiting journalist this year, Jürgen Klemm, a professional broadcaster from Estonia. His nation borders Russia; in fact, Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union until 1991. Jürgen has seen the allegations of Russian involvement in the U.S. election. And he's heard President Trump's statements about NATO. We realized we can learn a lot from Jürgen's perspective, so we're debuting this new segment, 'Ask an Estonian.'

When the Baltic States and Estonia were accepted to the NATO alliance in 2004, it seemed as if the question of where the Baltic States belonged was off the table--that according to the will of these people, these three small countries belong to Western democratic civilization. But in the last six months, and looking at it from a distance, the situation might not be so. It seems to be that the Baltic States still exist in a gray area.

A complicated history as Russia's neighbor

Estonia is a small country in the North Eastern part of Europe, which means that we actually are not that far away from the USA. There is only Russia in between us. It’s been a complicated history for a hobbit neighboring a giant. At one point, Estonia was part of the Russian Empire, but we established our independent state after the first World War. We lost it during the second World War. Then came mass deportations and the Soviet repression, the Cold War and 50 years of Soviet occupation. And in the 1990's the country regained its independence. But lately it feels as if our eastern neighbor is again going to jump the fence.

And this is not about the Russian people. Because they are one the nicest people and richest cultures. It is the Russian state, the Vladimir Putin regime. The fact that there is a big Russian community here in San Francisco and not a big American community in, say, St. Petersburg, may indicate that the state can be displeasing even to its own people.

How it looks from Eastern Europe

When I was in Europe for the holidays, of course the news talked a lot about the U.S. presidential elections, the scandals, the possible contacts between Donald Trump’s team and Putin’s regime. But I could sense that the people in eastern parts of Europe were not that interested in Brexit, or Trump, or the German or French elections. The question on people's mind was, can we stand on our own? You can sense a bit of disappointment in eastern Europe. Take for example the annexation of Crimea.

After the Cold War, Ukraine gave away its nuclear arsenal. In return they were guaranteed their independence and territorial integrity. But a few years ago the Ukrainians were left on their own. And why are we talking about Russian sanctions? It wasn’t just Crimea. The tipping point was shooting down a commercial airliner with almost 300 people about, 80 of whom were children. So if we lift these sanctions - what exactly is this compromise and what are the moral concessions?

An era of concession and compromise?

I have been following the U.S. elections from the very beginning as a journalist back in Europe, and since June here in San Francisco. I have watched since President Trump was only one of many Republican candidates. And what I have seen is one compromise after another.

"Well, he is not a party member, but we can let him in the race."

"Well, it is not exactly political debate as we know it, but the true Republicans will surely beat him in the next round."

"Well, we know nothing about his finances, but he is the party nominee."

"Well, his words and actions are morally and ethically unacceptable, but he is the only chance to win."

And don’t get me wrong on this. There were many compromises made on the Democratic side also.

So, if you would ask an Estonian, what do you think about the new president of the United States? I would ask in return: are we again entering an era of concession and compromise?

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union until 1991. The language in the audio file has not been updated.