September 11, 2015

Our Historic Frustration or Sharia on the Kopli Lines


An attempt at imperial thinking in implementing European integration policies.

Anno 2015—the text August Kitzberg wrote over 100 years ago is topical today as well: “What do you want from me?! You consider yourselves human, but you’re worse than beasts of prey! You call me a werewolf?—I am, as you want nothing else more dear! It is a thousand times better to be a wolf, a wolf among wolves in the forest, if people are not better than you are! A wolf kills only for hunger and—a wolf does not devour a wolf, but you!… And you consider yourselves to be better than me? Here—a wolf, a proud one, will not let herself be disgraced! But you—rods of shame salved with slaves’ blood lie behind fences, licked by dogs! A wolf is free, she does what she wants, comes when she wants, goes when she wants, loves and hates whom she wants! And she will leave you since she despises you.”1 Those were the words of Tiina in the play Libahunt (Werewolf).
Kitzberg’s writer’s senses foresaw how the ideal of a unified nation may give rise to self-imposed isolation, anger towards the Other and stigmatisation. He understood this perhaps even better than the politicians of the future Republic of Estonia. The other extreme is, naturally, a scene in Oskar Luts’s Kevade (Spring), where Estonian and German schoolboys have a fight. The old feud between Estonians and Germans did not disappear, but the question of Kitzberg’s Tiina or the Other seems to burden the whole of Europe in addition to Estonia.
The argument that emerged in 2013 over the book Eesti ajalugu II (Estonian History II, or EH II) displayed elegantly how the idealised idea of a nation triumphs over free thought or historical research. EH II diminished the importance of the Estonians’ ancient fight for freedom, which we know about from school textbooks, and the existence of the Estonians as a nation in today’s sense. EH II’s opponents claim that the Estonian nation had fully developed by the 13th century. Some thought that erasing the ancient fight for freedom from EH II was connected to an attempt to besmirch the War of Independence2, although EH II focused on the Middle Ages and does not discuss the War of Independence, and the two periods are 800 years apart! It has to be noted that EH VI writes about the War of Independence in the way it has been treated thus far in Estonia.
And so our discussion comes to the history of the 20th century. Any attempt to depict Konstantin Päts or Johan Laidoner in any other way than the canon established in Estonian history writing will be met with sharp resistance. The history of a nation state must be uniform. Or even more uniform than that. How else can we explain the endeavour to glorify the Vaps movement—they fit in with the image of an ideal nation state even better than did Päts, who had suspicions dealings with the Russian embassy.3 History must conform to ideals.
The problem that haunts Estonia and other European states is cognitive dissonance—the world that follows the ideal of a nation state does not correspond to the actual world. This creates frustration and questions emerge. In Estonia only a single question is asked—why do the “wrong” claims stray from the ideal of the nation state?
European states, which may be somewhat more removed from the ideal of the nation state, are struggling with the same questions. The great refugee crisis has sharply underlined the controversies. The Schengen Area is a pan-European space, but EU member states must cope with receiving refugees and integrating them on their own. Problems connected to refugees only provide arguments for extremists, who take advantage of voters’ frustration. This frustration, as I said before, is the result of cognitive dissonance—the world is not like we imagine it to be.
Opponents of multiculturalism love to quote a famous speech by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The quote attributed to Merkel is that: “Multiculturalism has utterly failed.” (“Multiculturele samenleving is ‘volkomen mislukt’.”) Yet the Chancellor also said that the integration model used THUS FAR (my emphasis, EB) has failed, while she added that Islam is a part of Germany today.4
According to Merkel, immigrants should put more effort into integrating into German society. The current crisis when thousands of immigrants arrive in Europe every day simply gives rise to the question of how we can find time for integration.
But what if … they should not be integrated? The history of the world’s nations, of European nations, is full of examples of communities that could live side by side for centuries without integrating along the lines of the contemporary model of the nation state.
Those who say “Multiculturalism is dead” ignore the fact that European history was the story of multiculturalism up to the 20th century when nation states emerged. Nearly homogenous nation states were established in Eastern Europe after World War I, after waves of ethnic cleansing and border-shifting had swept the area.
“In the space of only one or two years, the proportion of national minorities across the eastern half of the continent more than halved. Gone were the old imperial melting pots where Jews, Germans, Magyars, Slavs, and dozens of other races and nationalities intermarried, squabbled and rubbed along together as best they could. In their place was a collection of monocultural nation-states, whose populations were more or less ethnically homogeneous.”5
It may also be claimed that Estonia was ethnically most homogeneous in 1945 when the Jews had been killed, the Baltic Germans and Estonian Swedes had left and immigration from the Soviet Union had not yet started. Should we take the year 1945 as the reference point for integration?
Western Europe may have escaped the ethnic cleansings that happened in Eastern Europe, but different nations and religions have existed side by side for centuries there are well. One of the best examples of this is Holland, where the policy of verzuiling (pillarisation) was implemented even in the 1960s. In verzuiling, different groups in society lived in separate “pillars”, meaning they had their own schools, hospitals, newspapers etc.
The inability to cope with otherness may be a blessing for one society and a curse to another. Spain banished all Jews from the country in 1492. Some of them reached the Ottoman Empire: Sultan Bayezid II ordered that the Jews be greeted and treated in a friendly and helpful manner. “They say Ferdinand is a wise monarch,” he told his courtiers. “How could he be, he who impoverishes his country to enrich mine!”6
Non-Muslims were divided into millets in the Ottoman Empire that united many religions and nations. The word “millet” comes from Arabic (millah) and signifies both a people and a nation7. Jews got their own millet when they arrived in the Ottoman Empire, but others like Orthodox Christians and Armenians also lived in millets. As long as the millets did not confront the Islamic society, paid their taxes and kept their houses in order, they were allowed to do what they wanted. The Empire did not force people to convert to Islam—according to 16th century registers only 300 families in the entire Balkan region became Muslims. The Empire wanted tax-paying subjects, not Muslims. Mehmed the Conqueror always met with the Patriarch Gennadius II of Constantinople at the doorstep of a church, not because he feared that he would become impure by visiting such an infidel place, but because he was afraid that he would consecrate it—wherever he stepped became holy ground, and his followers would have used this as an excuse to turn the church into a mosque.8 Compare this with the visit of Ariel Sharon, former prime minister of Israel, to Temple Mount.
Do not get me wrong—the Ottomans were merciless when it came to getting even with their enemies, and often impaled them. Neither was the fratricide law which required a Sultan to kill all his brothers so that there would not be any pretenders to the throne humane according to today’s standards. Yet, in a modern sense, the Ottoman Empire was completely multicultural.
The Russian Empire was also multicultural. I do not intend to idealise the state, but it is a fact that Estonian politicians decided to separate from the Empire only after the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917. The levels of autonomy were different in imperial Russia—the Grand Duchy of Finland had perhaps the greatest level of autonomy, while the Kingdom of Poland and the Baltic provinces had slightly less freedom.
Yet the dusk of empires began with the dawn of nation states. A nation state turned out to be much more efficient in warfare, since it could mobilise an entire nation. The Ottoman Empire was called the sick man of Europe in the 19th century, and you can read about the Austro-Hungarian army from Jaroslav Hašek’s “The Good Soldier Svejk”. The unification of Germany in 1871 led the Russian Empire to believe that they need a unified Russian nation to cope with the Germans, and Russification began. World War I ended the existence of empires. Russia was replaced by the Soviet Empire, which, however, could not proceed with policies that differentiated between nations for ideological reasons and it is no wonder that everyone wanted out of that empire as soon as its weaknesses were revealed.
Nation states in Europe, however, reached a point in warfare where war became pointless—waging one more war would have destroyed all states. Warfare ended, but the nation states remained. The question is whether they can last in this form or should they be altered. Will the nation state collapse under its own weight like a dying star, and form a black hole? You may also ask whether a nation state can guarantee that Estonians will remain on their own land?
Adopting an imperial way of thinking in integration politics presumes that several preconditions are met. Firstly, not all of the imperial mind set can be adopted—one of the underlying causes for the existence of empires was that they were to expand. The Ottoman Empire was constantly at war and it was a matter of honour for a sultan to participate in campaigns—returning without a victory could mean death. The raison d’êtat of the Russian Empire was to expand up to “natural borders”, meaning the sea, since the Muscovite grand duchy had no natural land borders, and the state needed to move forward to secure its position. It must be also kept in mind that in empires multiculturalism was in many ways only a display, as the absence of conflicts was achieved through coercion.
Just like imperial central power in the past, the imperial way of thinking involves the understanding that people over whom the empire wants to rule are different. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights naturally declare that all people are born with the same rights, but cultural differences play a great part in this. Empires did not want to make all their subjects the same, since this guaranteed stability. This was especially true of areas that had been newly incorporated into an empire. People living in these regions could not be transformed into the loyal sons and daughters of the empire overnight. Attempts to force this to happen failed miserably. For example, Elmar Salumaa has asked the following question about the events that happened in 1940 in Estonia: “Perhaps it all could have been organised in a clearer and more sensible manner, abstaining from steps that created only estrangement and disappointment later, even in the people who had certain hopes and had been ready to participate in establishing a new social order?”9
The current situation in Europe is exactly the opposite—Europe is no longer expanding, but new people arrive here every day. The enlargement of the European Union in 2004 was preceded by several years of screening and accession negotiations; only after this process could tens of millions of people who lived in their own homes join Europe. How can we make the people flooding into Europe similar to us? We really cannot.
The third question is the hardest if we consider the mostly Islamic background of the immigrants. What should be the point where the loyalty of the immigrants is focused? In empires, the focal point of loyalty was the emperor. Loyalty to the emperor or his representative was usually sufficient. There can be no emperor in a democratic state based on the rule of law. The US has solved the problem by making money the focal point of loyalty, but the issue of race that still creates tensions in their society shows that the matter has not been fully solved.
Can the answer be “a land where everyone likes to live”? I know that this answer sounds hollow, like something off an election campaign poster, but demanding a 100% Estonian identity (or that of another European country) is a dead end. Does this mean that the integration process used thus far should be scrapped? No, the local Russians have lived in Estonia long enough and the integration will continue. But this process also bears a resemblance to the Ottoman millet, not to the integration characteristic of a nation state. How else can we explain the essentially extraterritorial units such as the Bronze Soldier monument in Tallinn on Filtri tee on 9 May, the Nevsky Cathedral or the new Orthodox church in Lasnamäe. These phenomena most certainly have not been integrated into the Estonian society, yet the people who visit them live side by side with us.
So, what can we do with the Muslims coming to Europe? Let them be. In addition to ending the nation state-like standardisation of people, we must stop playacting as a welfare state and do everything in our power to transform the immigrants into taxpayers as soon as possible. We cannot force them to become Estonians or make them identify with Kitzberg, Tammsaare or the story of the Estonian flag.10 Similarly, we cannot magically transform the boat refugees swarming across the Mediterranean Sea into Germans, Italians or Frenchmen.
The problem also lies in the fact that unlike the regions empires conquered and the people who lived there, the new immigrants who arrive in Europe have no land. On the other hand, neither did the Jews when they arrived in the Ottoman Empire in 1492. The Sultan allowed them to settle in the larger Balkan cities, first and foremost in Thessaloniki, which the Jews found to be nearly abandoned and which they transformed into what was basically a Spanish town.11 Today we can read in the papers about entire Spanish villages that are for sale.12
It may be that we should create something similar to the Ottoman millet, where people unlike us have their own sanctums, schools, and laws. Sharia on the Kopli lines is not out of the question, but I doubt that there will be a large Muslim community in Estonia. Several points in the Sharia clash with the laws of a democratic state, but compromises are possible and parties can agree upon subsidiarity—what the Muslims cannot decide upon among themselves will be handled by an Estonian court. Arguments between a Muslim and non-Muslim will also be resolved in an Estonian court.
Does this way of life mean ghettoisation? Not necessarily, since we do not live in the feudal era when the classes were set firmly in place by birth and moving from one class to another was virtually impossible. Thus, Muslims, Russians and others may freely integrate with the Estonian society and all opportunities must be freely available to them. But they must have the opportunity to live on their own.
Islamic terror must undoubtedly be battled and the states that support terror must be kept at bay, but there is also a controversy here—if we support heavy-handed action against ISIS (or ISIL), the flood of refugees will increase even more.
Ultimately, all integration policies in the European Union must be reviewed, otherwise the historic frustration emerging from nation states will only give rise to greater instability.
1 August Kitzberg, Libahunt, digitised edition of Eesti Raamatu from 1969, pg 27, 2 See Vello Helk, Vaba Eesti Sõna, 01.04.2013, 3 See Ivo Karlep, Jaanus Karilaid: vapside hävitamine on eesti ajaloo häbiplekk – Pealinn, 06.10.2014 –
4 See Ingrid Piller, What Did Angela Merkel Really Say – Language on the Move, 20.10.2010 – the full text of the speech is not available on the web page of the Chancellor of Germany, which is why we must be content with quotation from the media.
5 Keith Lowe, Savage Continent. Europe In the Aftermath of World War II, Viking 2012, pg 248.
6 Jason Goodwin, Lords Of The Horizons. A History of the Ottoman Empire, Vintage Books, 1999, pg 98.
Goodwin, pg 95.
9 Elmar Salumaa, Tiib pandud aastaile õlale. Mälestuskilde minevikust – Eesti Päevaleht, Akadeemia, 2010, pg 490.
10 See also Erkki Bahovski’s collection Uued mütoloogiad. Tänase Eesti enesekuvand ja koht maailmas, Eesti Päevalehe AS, 2008.
11 Goodwin, lk 100.
12 See For sale: one Spanish village, free to the right owner, The Guardian, 10.03.2014, -


This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.