This afternoon I attended a lecture given by Abdul Turay. He’s a British journalist and political columnist from England. Nevertheless, in March he received his long term Estonian residence permit. He is running for a seat in the Tallinn City Council, representing the Social Democratic Party. Because I obtained an Estonian ID card I received an invitation to let my voice be heard as well. What a pleasant surprise, I didn’t expect that. The elections will take place Sunday October 20th and since my education path indoctrinated me with the idea that not voting is coming close to being a sin, I decided to orientate a little on the Estonian political party landscape and their focus points. A lecture in English to start off with. Good.
I actually expected many students would be interested in what this rather well known famous fresh citizen of Tallinn would have to say. Guess I was wrong. I ended up in a class with future interpreters. As soon as Mr. Turay was about to start his lecture they basically all disappeared in their dark interpreter boxes. Only two other students remained seated, which made the total audience consist of three people only. My main goal of this meeting was actually to sit in a corner, listen, make up my mind and then disappear, but now it seemed I had to actively participate as well by asking questions.
Even though Mr. Turay does speak sufficient Estonian to carry out duties within Tallinn’s City Council, he delivered his talk in English. Interestingly enough there are in fact some council members not being able to speak Estonian at all, as was told by Mr. Turay. They rather stick to the Russian language, something I personally find hard to imagine in a country where Estonian is the only official language. He also told about not being the very first expat running in the elections. A Dane once managed to get a seat and I just coincidently discovered that even a Dutchmen with an unprofessional looking website will give it a try this year. Hm.
Turay spoke about the financial crisis, the possibility of the adoption of the Euro in England (“there is no public will”), Estonians and their Hummer per capita rate before the crisis and Tallinn’s Mayor Edgar Savisaar, being the leader of the Estonian Centre Party too. “Mickey Mouse would even be better than Savisaar”, Turay stated. He criticized that Savisaar is too much into cosmetic issues, like fancy road signs for building activities, while on the other hand using cheap and low quality building materials. Not even to mention his focus on Russia.
The main issue for Mr. Turay to get involved into politics is because of the future of his new born son in Estonia and to get Savisaar’s Centre Party out of power. There are two issues Mr. Turay is mostly keen on. Firstly, he wants to establish more kindergartens. With that he furthermore strives for warm meals at schools and better salaries for teachers. Secondly, he wants to represent Tallinn in trade businesses, using his excellent communication skills to persuade people to invest in Tallinn.
Silence… The right time for me to come up with a question. As the only foreign student representative present I asked why foreign students, many of them being able to vote during the upcoming elections, should vote for him. A lot of international students are here to follow a complete degree programme of a couple of years. So, a little insight in possibilities for their future in Tallinn wouldn’t be too bad. He responded that universities are more of a national thing so that from his position not much influence would be able to reach us all. He did however emphasize again that trade is an important issue he wants to focus on. The more money reaches Estonia, the more money will also be made available for universities. To conclude, Mr. Turay mentioned that many people in Europe still see Estonia as an Eastern European country, stressing I’d probably be familiar with this because it’s also the case in the Netherlands. Abdul Turay, being the first black person in Estonia to be possibly elected while furthermore being an expat, shows Estonia is not the Eastern European country as people have in mind, as explained by Mr. Turay himself. Yes, he has a point. Estonia Eastern European? No. Estonia North East European? Better already. Estonia is not what most people think it is.
All in all, it was a cozy small-scale meeting. In my eyes this is typical Estonian. During my internship at the Institute of Baltic Studies in Tartu I managed to meet some Estonian politicians already. I was surprised that they were all so approachable. At that time I furthermore noticed how many young people can make a career in politics and easily climb up the ladder of success. Not such a surprise in a country with just over a million inhabitants. By the way, it was during this very internship that I met Abdul Turay for the first time. He spoke about his life as an expat in Estonia during a conference of the British Council in 2011, here in Tallinn. That was mainly extremely funny. His political ambitions have a serious undertone though, luckily. I’m curious what his results will be during the upcoming elections…
I still don’t know whom to give my vote yet. I do however know that the interpreters I shortly met were very friendly and happy they could translate questions asked in Estonian into English for me. They did a good job :).