The Worldly Wise: Insider Views From Estonia

In a new series we will interview a person from a country outside of UK for their views on their life in their native country. This week we speak to Carmen, born and raised in Estonia. 

Where are you from?

A village in Central Estonia.

(If a student) What are you studying? (If not a student) where do you work/what do you do?

I’m a final year undergraduate student of Medical Genetics.

What do you think is a unique aspect of your country?

Estonia is often being pointed out as the country that does most of its things online or on mobile phones – from paying for parking to voting in general elections. Every citizen has an ID card which can be used online for identification and signing documents, a digital signature is as valid as a handwritten one. Due to that all processes of that kind are done very quickly without having to leave the house or even print anything out. Since the population of the country is just one million it is possible to experiment with new solutions. Estonia is also known for having free wi-fi almost everywhere, including provincial areas.

[Source: Kadriog Palace, Mike Beales, Flickr]

What do you think is the biggest issue facing your country at the moment?

Since we are located next to Russia, and formerly belonged to the Soviet Union, a lot of people fear that a similar situation that Ukraine is facing right now could happen in Estonia as well. Russians make up about 30% of our population, many of whom cannot speak Estonian (which is the only state language and completely different from Russian) and are therefore following the Russian media which often promotes a biased view towards Eastern Europe. I would say the main concern of Estonia is to ensure that the Russian-speaking population would feel part of the country they live in and would not go along with any provocations.

What do you think first comes to mind when people are talking about your country?

A lot of people probably think of Estonia as a post-communist country, corrupt and in deep financial troubles. However during the past 25 years, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Eastern European states have been taking different ways and are not all that similar to each other anymore, which is something many people probably don’t realize. I doubt there are any common stereotypes about Estonians in particular.

[Source: The Alexander, Nevsky Cathedral, Harvey Barrison, Flickr]

Is there anything you wish people knew about your country that doesn’t get mentioned in the media?

I would like people to know that Estonians are a nation with a unique language and traditions, and that Russia is a foreign country and a foreign culture to the native population, therefore calling us a little piece of Russia that broke away from it is inaccurate. Estonia filled the requirements for the European Union in a very short time and has one of the smallest debts in the eurozone today. The progress made in the past two decades is unbelievable. I believe that the generation born today will know a very different Estonia than their parents do.

I also want people to be less afraid of Eastern Europe in general. It’s probably much safer to travel to than they think, I’d say walking in the streets at night doesn’t feel any less safe in Estonia than it does in England. The locals are constnatly becoming better at English, prejudices towards other nations are constantly decreasing, people are becoming more open-minded. 

I am aware that I might sound too optimistic and patriotic, and Estonia still has a long way to go, however I have no right to complain since the situation has never before been as good as it is today. 

Have a question for one of our worldly wise interviewees? Or would you like to talk about your country? Leave a comment below.