August 23, 2017

Tallinn, Estonia – a swift 100 years by way of introduction

Tallinn, capital city, population 392,331. Language, Estonian and Russian.

Independence stated 24th February, 1918. Handed back, by pseudo-authoritarian Konstantin Päts in a shady May protection pact, 1940. The red bear swallowed the country whole by June.

For 50 years, Tallinn was the evil empire’s frontier (communist or capitalist depending on your perspective). Under Soviet yolk, but through Finnish TV and an oversized television mast, all absorbed in the Western individualistic cultural soak. Then in 1991, at the tale end of a song, communism came a tumbling down and independence got declared once more.

With freedom new, all bets were off and the cowboys came to town. Raised on Dallas and disco, rounding up the nation to stamp its hide with a modern ideology – new era, new century, money, materialism and all restrictions down. The Baltic miracle ensued.

In 2008, the whole world crashed…

But for now the swallow flies again, at the vanguard of austerity, whistling with the new-fiscal-conservatives (perhaps a little shrilly) at whatever doubts the new-new-left can voice.

Such a potted history yields a baffling culture equally. The sexcess and shine of the cowboy years has worn off by now, but its still a well-aged nation taking baby steps in self-determination. Nordic ambitions clash with the remnants of Soviet times, and an older medieval heritage, evident in old town Tallinn, beautiful but disneyfied.

Esteemed Brit Meades found nothing but sex-trade and an architect, whilst fellow traveller Palin found himself – tree-hugging, coal-walking – putting capitals on the new age. Six months here and I can say they both shot wide the mark, but just who the nation really is confounds me.

What it is though, is exciting. Cultural confusion’s not taken lightly here, but a challenge – and from art to philosophy, theatre to food, design and literature, Estonia is a nation intent on answering.

From Tallinn (and the occasional foray into Estonia proper), we will be there to meet the surge head on, exploring the cultural movements and moments, places and people – with a touch of social commentary thrown in for good measure – as Europe’s Baltic fringe finds its true place in modernity.

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