What angers me the most about what happened to me last Saturday evening in Tallinn is that it was all a lie. It’s not that the middle-aged swastika-tattooed Estonian man who told my friends and I from his table at a restaurant “Estonia is for Whites only, go to your country” didn’t believe in what he said —idiots be idiots everywhere—, but the fact that he was echoing a false debate taking place right now among Estonians is worrisome. This lie has a strong potential for harming the country, and something maybe even worse: to make it waste its precious time.
The truth is immigration is not a problem in Estonia. There are barely any economic migrants coming here; it is rather the opposite: Estonians tend to be economic migrants themselves. Neither giving shelter to 150, nor 1,064 poor devils fleeing a war-torn country will turn this country into the deranged fantasies of the new racist party —EKRE— and of other extremely ignorant or extremely cynical individuals. It is enraging to see even ministers using this to try to score populist points putting forward ridiculous laws, such as the proposed preemptive ban on burkas, or Kristiina Ojuland talking about “the future of the White race” in deeply concerned terms.
It feels very strange having to say this in the year 2015, but the colour of your skin doesn’t make you more prone to violence, crime, drug addiction, or to burning Estonian flags. The way you are generally treated by the people surrounding you, particularly when you are in a moment of deep need —such as when you have had to leave everything behind and start a new life in a strange country— does. In what is a dark-skinned Estonian different from a white-skinned one exactly? He or she speaks Estonian, probably loves kohuke and kama too, and has been raised on a diet consisting on potatoes and imported Spanish tomatoes in Winter. What is so terrible about this person? Ok, they are black. So what? They don’t look exactly like your grandfather. Big deal. They are Estonians, they feel and think like Estonias, because that’s what they are. Maybe they have some cultural traits they have inherited from their foreign parents, but, for example, since when have Estonians traditionally been so addicted to spicy food or prosecco as they are today? Cultures change, evolve, constantly. There is not such thing as a “pure Estonian” or “pure German” culture. If that’s what you want, you should shut the Internet down immediately.
The preachers of hate, xenophobia and racism in Estonia are scaring you by hand-picking examples of crimes committed by individuals who happened to have a black skin or be Muslim. They speak of Sweden, France, Germany, the UK, as examples of countries ridden by a horrible immigration wave that is suffocating their cultures and economies. Is that so? How are these countries even managing to be so successful and a model for Estonia then? What racists are hiding are the millions of immigrants and descendants of immigrants who are perfectly integrated and contribute every day to the success of their countries.
Yes, each of these countries has made its own mistakes in how they treated the populations they received from their former colonies or from their generous asylum policies. Chiefly among them, they developed at some point in their history racist policies blind to cultural differences that have resulted in the creation of pockets of poverty and crime, due to unequal opportunities because of race. Consciously or unconsciously, they made a problem out of race. Shouldn’t we be profiting from their experience and studying the abundance of lessons they have produced to avoid making the same mistakes? Instead we are being led exactly to the same trap, so we make the same mistake and get the same results. We can be better than that.
Because saying “no” to immigration is not an option. Sooner or later other people come to live by your side, that is how our species is. Estonians are moving to other countries and other people are coming to ours. The main difference between you and those 150 is that they are poor. They are very poor because they have lost everything. And they want to work for a better life. Wouldn’t you want that should you be in their place? Anyone else who tells you stories about loafers and crime empires is either consciously lying to you or being extremely ignorant. While you are busy worrying about keeping out of Estonia 150 people in need, you are not worrying about fighting the inequalities and corruption that keep too many Estonians struggling economically. But, hey, let’s ban the burka.
Repeating racist ideas without stopping to think has consequences in real life. If the debate on immigration hadn’t taken the ridiculous kindergarten turn it has, an idiot with a swastika in his wrist wouldn’t have felt bold enough to go to five Spaniards (he had balls, I’ll give him that) in a restaurant and tell them what he did. My sense is that the current public debate is encouraging the racist to behave like such, making Estonia a worse place. And it is so because it seems to me Estonians are not standing up to this nonsense. You are letting the racist get away with racist comments and arguments without telling them that is stupidity and they are idiots. Well, you shouldn’t. The usual indifference is not an option here. When Fascists —yes, that’s what they are behind their sensible-sounding arguments about the “survival of the nation”— feel brave to go shouting around, it is usually just the beginning.