jumping on this EU train, they haven’t bothered to ask where it’s
said he’ll be damned if he’s going to stand idly by while Estonia, ten
years after escaping from the clutches of one union, turns around and
have bothered spelling out how he sees the Soviet Union and European Union
as the same sort of sovereignty usurping monolith. One symbol adopted by
his anti-EU group speaks for itself: It’s a blue flag with circling EU
stars, and with a hammer and sickle stamped in the middle.
A flier he
handed out during an interview goes so far as to suggest 22 ways in which
the USSR and EU are alike. No. 5 on the list likens Interpol, the
pan-European police network, to the KGB; No. 11 compares the European
Commission to the Politburo.
scoff, saying the USSR and EU are worlds apart—not least of all because
membership in the latter is voluntary. The parallel, they say, is a cheap
rhetorical trick, a scare tactic. (See interview
former Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves.)
But in nations
where memories of heavy-handed Soviet rule remain fresh, it’s rhetoric
that resonates with many—so europhobes trot it out as often as possible.
Law professor Igor Gräzin,
Estonia’s best-known EU detractor, says he agrees with Silberg about
purported similarities between the EU and the Soviet Union.
not his main gripe: his is the speed at which successive Estonian
governments have rushed to meet EU membership requirements.
We might miss the train!’ they shout,” said the 48-year-old. “Before
jumping on this EU train, though, they haven’t bothered to ask where
it’s going... or how much the ticket’s going to cost. Even if it turns
out to be cheap, it’s not such a hot trip if the end of the line is an
alligator-invested swamp, now is it?”
alligators that worry Gräzin.
advocate of unfettered free-markets complains that over 10 of 15 current
EU governments are socialist-oriented. He said it’s one of the reasons
the EU has pressed Estonia to abandon its ultra low-regulation, low-tax
for EU entry, we’ll have to ditch the liberal market system that’s
made us so successful,” he said. Many businessmen express the same fear.
much Gräzin doesn’t abhor about the prospect of EU entry, down to what
he says are inferior, EU-grown carrots and strawberries.
taste, or even smell,” he grimaced. “They’re so processed because of
EU regulations that by the time you eat them you have to run to buy
vitamins to supplement the nutrients that have been stripped out of
Food prices, he
adds for good measure, will rise by at least 10 percent if Estonia enters
be skeptical about EU membership?” he said. “Anyone who eats.”
EU backers insist the
pluses of membership, including better access to European markets, far
outweigh any minuses.
But many, if
not the majority of Baltic residents still seem unconvinced.
A recent EU-funded
poll concluded that the Baltic states were the least enthusiastic of 19
candidate states, with a mere 33 percent of Estonians and Latvians saying
membership would be “a good thing;” that compared to 80 percent of
here seem so ambivalent is all the more surprising given that Brussels
says the staunchly pro-West, pro-reform Baltics are among the best
qualified candidates. They could join by as soon as 2004.
front-runner status won’t do much good if an overwhelmingly pro-EU
Baltic officialdom can’t get the okay from their lukewarm constituents;
referendums on joining the EU are expected to be held in all three Baltics
The EU poll
itself raises a once-unimaginable prospect: that Balts could end up
saying thanks but no thanks to membership in the most prestigious
multi-national club on Earth.
But skeptics can hardly
count on throwing that proverbial train off the rails. Not liking the EU,
for starters, doesn’t seem to translate here into opposition to EU
Voog said recent surveys for the Tallinn-based EMOR agency indicated that
58 percent of Estonians would vote for membership when push comes to shove
i.e. when a referendum is held.
that such high levels of support don’t contradict EU polls indicating
such high levels of doubt.
Grandma Factor, he said.
he said, doubted they’d ever live to see benefits to themselves of
membership—hence their EU skepticism.
support entry because they see it’ll be good for their children and
there is one perceived advantage of being in the EU that overrides all the
Jane Saar, a
41-year-old school teacher in Tallinn, said she bought the argument that
this small, historically vulnerable nation would be immune from outside
pressure as a member of a European bloc that will unite more than 400
million people in over 30 countries.
are very ambivalent about the EU. But we simply can’t be left in a gray
zone,” she said. “If we’re not in one bloc, we risk being sucked
into another.” She said that other bloc would be Russia.
(For some, the
security argument carries less weight now that the Baltic states seem to
be shoe-ins for membership in the NATO alliance. But Estonian
parliamentarian Trivimi Velliste said NATO and the EU compliment each
other: “The EU is good life. NATO is life.”)
victory in 2001 at the Eurovision Song Contest illustrated just how
fickle EU sentiment is, and how it’s so bound up in psychology. A wave
of good feeling about Europe following the Eurovision triumph
caused support for EU membership to surge 10 percent, from 35 to 45
Pro-EU forces can also
take comfort in the sorry state of the opposition: it features just a few
known public figures and a string of rag-tag groups with sometimes
clashing political philosophies.
complains the EU’s too interventionist, for instance, others—like
Baltic framers who’ve been told they won’t get full EU agricultural
subsidies right away after their countries join—say it’s not
there’s money: just one side of the debate has any.
governments can be expected to spend many millions on pre-referendum
campaigns. They can also commit whole departments of employees to the
there doesn’t seem to be one anti-EU group here with the resources to
fund even a single full-time employee—never mind one that could bankroll
an all-out no campaign.
“None of our
groups have any money. Nothing,” lamented Silberg, who heads the
100-member No to the EU Movement.
Asked how he
pays for his group’s fliers—including the ones emblazoned with hammers
and sickles—he shrugs his shoulders, grins weakly, and pats his hand on
his own pant pocket.
See EU-related interview here.
CITY PAPER-The Baltic States
—Above illustration by Hillar Mets.