Raul Rebane: the three Brexit benefits for Estonia

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Raul Rebane.

PHOTO: Elmo Riig/Sakala.

It's not all bad with Brexit. With things as vast as this, there just has to be the sunny side as well. Even for Estonia, it contains some valuable lessons, writes PR-expert Raul Rebane.

For starters, pointing out three topics: 1) we got information of the length of imperial desires; 2) we’ll be better equipped to recognise populism; 3) we became better Europeans.

Imperial desire

Estonia has never been an empire. Therefore, it is difficult for us to understand people whose instincts pull towards grandness and impact. Even so, with this mighty desire we do constantly collide living next to Russia. Not limited to mere empire, terms exist as energy empire, military empire, cultural empire, defence empire.

Here, Russia is not alone. At the Beijing Olympics, I met young educated Chinese who absolutely failed to understand our independence: «You left an empire? One does not leave an empire! It is always better in an empire.» He could not be argued.

In the British empire, «the sun never set». Until India gained independence in 1947, that is. With that, many Britons have yet to be reconciled as several commentators stress it was the «post-imperial stress» that cause lots of elderly to vote for leave. Analysis of results show that the youth are better with UK as one among the others, thus voting to remain.

Hence a useful conclusion for us. With just 25 years after the USSR broke apart, it’s but a generation. Brexit teaches us that this is peanuts as it takes at least three generations to grow from empire into a state. As claimed by Juri Lotman, the defeat at Poltava saves Sweden by delivering it from imperial instincts. At this moment, England is still being delivered, the process being in-between of generations. For our consideration: in Russia, the passions will flare for some half century yet, so it’s sensible to have many friends and keep gunpowder dry.


The populist public communication is simple in its methodology. Generally, the target group is older, less educated and lower paid. One needs to select a one-type group (Jew, Muslim, rich man, migrant, homosexual etc) and diligently revile it, make it to be blame for all our troubles. At that, one needs to exceed the traditional moral norms, the text must be on the edge and beyond. Some like that. Good to do propaganda events, protests etc. As support grows, pull back a bit and achieve the «rescuing knight» image. And then head for elections.

The methods have been used in history, are used by Donald Trump, were used before Brexit, here and other places. New symbols are created such as the Polish plumber, Brussels eurocrat, and Moslem migrant. And with glitches in a system like the EU is, abundantly, such rhetoric falls on fertile ground. And one wonders at the election results.

Even so, Brexit was a cold shower for many of the naive believers. With an existential threat regarding the future, with tens of thousands dollars vanishing on stock markets, when states and nations are splitting and quarrelling, there is reason to think. I am excited to hear the soon to come populist statements by our politicians on «true independence» and calls to do the same here. Not predicting much success to these, with taste of copper penny in my mouth.

European way

Brexit made many think of what will be is all follow the UK example and go to their own corner. The mere thought of the sabre-rattling neighbour will sober many up, and the East-West choice is easy.

In his analysis «The 1,000 Causes for Brexit», Guardian analyst Philip Pullmann writes that «if we’d committed ourselves to Europe early, with everyone else, we’d now have a much deeper understanding of our real relationship to the continent, namely that we belong there.»

Weighty words, but gained by painful experience. We still having time to learn from mistakes by others.