A year of persistent alarm clocks

Marti Aavik, Postimees editor-in-chief. PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

The story of the man who burned his fence for heat every winter and had to build a new one in the summer is a sad one. I would not like to see the whole of Estonia be like that man. We can do better, Marti Aavik, Postimees editor-in-chief, writes.

For example, in addition to testing and vaccination, two consecutive governments could have addressed ventilation in schools and other public buildings or looked to procure devices that can kill virus particles in the air. It is expensive and we cannot take every possible measure? Some progress could have been made. We could start now and still reap various benefits. It is tragic to look at the level of carelessness with which we are slipping into the fourth wave of the coronavirus.

It is peculiar that it took an energy price shock to realize Estonia and the entire region have not invested enough in power generation. This despite warnings repeated for long years at various conferences and seminars. Unfortunately, only wind farms, energy storage solutions and other production capacity that physically exists and works counts.

The dream for the future could be greater energy independence, cleaner air for people and animals and a wealthier society.

World trade disruptions and the global chip shortage have also been serious wake-up calls. Perhaps the Western world, including Estonia, will now come to realize that even modern technologies require something as simple and banal as natural resources. Alas, the free world does not have the luxury of leaving the latter in the hands of communist China and washing its of something “that basic.”

It is possible Estonians will also have to consider whether we are willing to mine something other than gravel. Whether it can be done by balancing the needs of the environment and people? Are we even capable of debating such matters without it resulting in clenched fists and a smoldering conflict?

Arguments over the distance of wind turbines from houses pale in comparison to the quarreling potential accompanying new power lines that will be needed to transport electricity from where there is wind to where people and industry need it.

It pays to realize that what we call the green turn or climate policy really constitutes a technological and industrial revolution that requires a lot of things to be built from scratch. It heralds immense possibilities but also risks and the need to get used to the unfamiliar.

Added to the mix in Estonia is what we can refer to as social inexperience. Very broadly speaking, we have become accustomed to seeing unpleasant and bothersome industry falling back instead of expanding.

We lack the skill to calmly debate major undertakings and arrive at a conclusion where at least some great things would get done without steamrolling the little man. So that people could believe their summer home and childhood playground will not be decimated and the flying squirrel killed off in the process under the aegis of protecting the climate. Therefore, our great touchstone is not “better” public relations or the art of propaganda and pulling the wool over people’s eyes but rather the ability to reach fundamental agreement.

How loud and unpleasant should the alarm clock be for its message to be received? You wake up, wash yourself, eat breakfast and put on your clothes – just like every morning. But then you realize that it all happened while you were still sleeping. You haven’t even raised your head off the pillow – a message driven home by the annoying alarm clock on the bedside table. And what if the alarm clock and the breakfast, coffee and brushing your teeth to follow would simply be the next layer of the dream as opposed to really waking up? A perpetually repeated illusion of having gotten up and started your day.

It would be sad and devastating for the future if attitudes toward higher education funding and language would be careless, a continued awakening into a dream, illusions. We discuss it and complain, while the convenient thing to do is to postpone taking actual steps, to keep thinking that both the fruits of labor and potential pestilence are decades away. Our tiny nation has but a few universities dispending the best knowledge in the world to the talented among us. It is not a field we can afford to leave fallow.

It is embarrassing that we dare not even match the courage of Germany, Sweden or Latvia when it comes to our language. Corresponding alarm clocks are also treated as tedious yet bearable background noise about which nothing needs to be done. This should not be the case, and we should instead be consistently and forcefully investing in our language.

It is also strange that a deliberate attack by a malicious dictator is needed before border checks and migration are taken seriously. I hope that all political parties in Estonia agree that mass immigration should be avoided. The differences concern point of view and details rather than actions and legislation.

Perhaps the closing of Memorial in Russia and China’s ruthlessness in Hong Kong can remind us of what true Western values mean. Let us start with negative human rights or what public authority must not be allowed to do to people. Those who find the banning of an organization studying the crimes of communism, closing of newspapers or lack of rule of law to be somehow abstract should still be able to acknowledge concentration camps in China and cases of torture in Russia.

One of the outgoing year’s alarm clocks is warning us of tax hikes. We know that it is relatively easy to compile a list of all the things the state should be doing or the dialing back of which is disgruntling. What we need more of is the attitude that the state should not be doing things the private sector can handle or throw around promises of free stuff. There is a lot that we want from the new year, while the tax burden growing is not among them even in our worst nightmares.

It is an illusion that the world is somehow a fun and safe place for dreamers. Survival and growth require persistent action each and every day, and I am sure the new year will be a good one in that way!

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