Friends Like These

Welcome to the Nordic lands, you poor Latvians

Welcome to the Nordic lands, you poor Latvians

Who said Estonians have no sense of humour?

Latvians, mainly. But the joke is definitely on the luckless Letts after Estonia graciously offered to help out with a loan to Latvia to help it get through what promises to be an awful couple of years.

The reaction of ordinary Latvians to the news has been acute embarrassment, and rightly so.

It’s as if Latvia was waiting outside a shop while its freind Lithuania nipped inside to buy some cigarettes. Estonia happened to be passing, and mistaking it for a beggar, pressed a couple of kroons into its palm with a pat on the back.

It was surprising, it was patronising and it was quite funny.

But Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip’s offer to help wasn’t just jest. It marks an important psychological moment in Baltic relations.

First, the comment was made in Brussels, in front of all the other EU heads of state. It signalled that despite being in a pretty sharp recession, Estonia is not in the same dire straits as Latvia, which is perceived to be in a league of its own.

But perhaps more importantly, Ansip’s philanthropic gesture marks Estonia’s Nordic identity as being much more important than its Baltic identity.

He said something along the lines of “We all have a duty to help Latvia if we can,” with the “we” referring to wealthy Nordic and Scandinavian states like Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

“We” are modern, Nordic democracies. “They” are struggling former Soviet Bloc states.

Given a choice, Estonia would rather be a member of the Nordic club than the Baltic brethren, and who can blame them?

I have an inter-war map of ‘The Baltic States’ hanging on my wall, and at that time Finland too was considered one of the Baltics.

It seems to have done alright since handing in its resignation, and is routinely referred to (incorrectly) as a Scandinavian country by the rest of the world.

Maybe Latvia should also signal its superiority somehow as a way of winning back prestige? An offer of a loan to Zimbabwe or Belarus might do the trick.

Then again maybe not – with two current vacancies in the Baltic membership lists, we wouldn’t want to encourage the likes of Mugabe and Lukashenka to apply…

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