Ilves «speechless» at nickname competition in Finnish newspaper

Helsingin Sanomat

PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

This past Saturday, Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat asked their readers in web poll what nickname they use for Estonians. Among other variants presented, there were some that many deemed derogatory regarding Estonians.

A Twitter reaction followed by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves: «I am speechless.» The presidential tweet was commented by lots of people who thought the Helsingin Sanomat article was dumb and embarrassing.

Soon, the poll in question was removed from the Helsingin Sanomat website and the paper’s editor-in-chief Kaius Niemi tweeted to apologise for the article and to say he was sorry it vexed folks both sides of the bay.

«Nicknames and good-willed bynames are awarded to best of friends and to those considered one’s equal. For instance, the Estonians call Finns reindeer (põdrad). Finns do have nicknames for both Swedes and Norwegians, but not for Estonians. The initial idea of the poll was warm and friendly towards the kindred nation. The intent was that, among best of friends, good-willed humour is allowed,» read the apology posted at Helsingin Sanomat website. «Even so, some variants of the nicknames were of bad taste, which the editorial desk does regret.»

Meanwhile, Estonian journalists Kalle Muuli and Anvar Samost speaking at Radio Kuku programme «Muuli ja Samost» found that Estonian public figures tend to be easily offended. «Regarding a newspaper across the bat trying to find for us a nickname, we should have nothing to discuss at all here,» observed Mr Samost, very much surprised at the storm of disapproval triggered.

To this Mr Muuli agreed, adding they would never have bothered to even mention the topic had the Estonian President not spoken up. «Also, his former adviser and lots of public figures were upset. Like the princess on the pea, to feel it thru the thousands of mattresses. And Estonian public figures are as sensitive as well,» wondered Mr Muuli.

Helsingin Sanomat wanted its readers to share what nickname they would use regarding Estonians. Hundreds of variants were sent, 30 of which were also published. By Saturday, afternoon, ere the poll was removed from the website, eestit led with most votes, followed by kalevipojat. In May, the best would have been picked.

The list also featured bemmit (adding that Estonians will immediately purchase a BMW when they have the money), eteläespoolaiset or South-Espoo folk, and kalevit or kalevs. The poll also featured forest brothers, quarter Russians, potatoes, rabbits, kroons, dammits (from kurat), wild hogs, Raivos, radishes, etc.