Pavel

I come from Estonia. I'm ethnically and culturally Russian. I can only speak two languages, that is Russian and English. I do not speak Estonian. I lived in Estonia for the first 15 years of my life. Later I left Estonia to Western Europe and then I came back when I was a little older. My family comes from Russia. Well, nowadays Russia, it was Soviet Union before same as Estonia and it was just one country. No one knew anything what is Estonia. All their lives there were just Russians, both sides of my family. My mother comes from Estonia actually, but she's not ethnically Estonian. My grandma from the mother's side comes from a part of Estonia which is not Estonia any more. It's, well, you can say that maybe one-eighth Estonian but not Estonian per se.

A long time ago there was a purge in Russia on religious basis, and a lot of Russians moved to territories that are Pskov territories, and that's where my grandma comes from. My grandfather comes from the north, basically Arkhangelsk area. I have that, plus I have my father coming from Yoshkar-Ola, it's next to Kazan, it's very close to the Ural Mountains, I could be wrong but it's 200 km, but I could be wrong. So, I have that mix. My parents lived in Estonia and they had me and then the Soviet Union went down, and well, a new country was created, not by the people of this country, but by the government of— well, interested in that creation. That's about where I come from I guess.

Being Russian and Estonian is a very interesting experience in the sense that you have a big, giant subculture of Russians living there, about 30% to 33%, maybe 25% now, but it always was a very big part of Estonia. Especially Tallinn or especially, for example, Ida-Virumaa, it's a place closest to Russia. Tallinn as being the capital, it's not close to Russia but it's the capital. Most of the production facilities and production- basically most of the production was there and so Soviet Union moved a lot of Russian people there to support the production.

I'm from that area where there are a lot of Russians. Before I was 10, I knew I lived in Estonia, but I didn't really hear Estonians speak. I did not even know that there is another language around. I mean, I was aware that they exist, but I never– No, I'm sorry, I did hear it, but only in the classroom, only in this bubble society. So, I didn't have first-hand experience of being in Estonian society per-se. Only when we would leave this bubble and go to the city centre, and even then, I would only hear the Russians talk.

Then, slowly but surely it all started to change in the direction of Estonian plus English. Well, now, it's very different. Now the Estonian government is doing everything to basically say, we don't have any Russians anymore. We do not want Russians, but they can't say that we don't want Russians. They just say you don't exist. ‘You're Estonians, you all hold Estonian passports. What do you want? You need to know Estonian and stuff.’ I mean, I understand their position on this, that their language is so useless in the sense that some it's only 800,000 people talking it. I'd rather learn Finnish, 5.5 million. I’d rather learn– even Lithuanian is more useful than Estonian, but I know two languages, international languages. English and Russian as I said before. This is by far enough in that region because, I'm sorry, you go 150 kilometres in any direction and they speak completely different language. What is the use of this territory? There's no use in this territory.

What does nationality mean to me? Moving on to that question. Well, as my friend likes to say, you can do whatever you want, you can be whatever you want. Your nationality basically means what information have you grown up with. If you grew up with information saying that you're this, coming from this territory and following this A, B, C, D rules, then you're that nationality. If you come from exactly the same region but with a different information, you can say your different nationality. Nationality is something we dreamed up about because after all, we're all the same, it’s just genetic differences that define us. Nationality in my sense means that I am representative of one nationality, living among representatives of another nationality, namely, I'm Russian living among Estonians, a lot of Estonians. There are also a lot of Russians, I'm not alone totally.

How do I define myself? I define myself as a Russian, I went over that. What does it mean to be Russian and what does it mean to be Estonian per se? To be Russian, you speak Russian, you think Russian, you go home you talk to your mother in Russian. Estonian it would be exactly the same, but different is just the change one word. When you speak Estonian, you think Estonian, and you go home and talk to your mother in Estonian. I'm not saying that either Russian or Estonian is bad, it's just how it is.

What is my experience as being Russian in between two fires? Meaning, how does it feel to be Russian in a foreign territory– as I perceive it, a foreign territory– yet it's my home. Well, it's difficult to explain to a person who's not accustomed to this. How should I put it? First of all, it would be very difficult for me to live in Russia because Russia per se as a country and the culture is a little bit different from what I'm used to. The fact that I speak Russian, I feel Russian, and respect Russian ways and follow Russian politics and so forth, doesn't mean per se that I am 100% born and raised in somewhere, Vladivostok to Kaliningrad kind of guy. I am in-between, I'm a Europeanized Russian. In that sense.

Estonia had a very big influence on me. The territory where you grew up no matter if you are, I don't know, Somalian, if you grew up in Europe you end up being somewhat European even if you don't speak the local language. You still take in the customs. You soak in the culture. That's what happened to me. Yet I can't say I'm Estonian because I don't speak the language. I do not take part in elections. I never voted in Estonia. I never really cared about Estonia per se. It's not because I don't want to be included, it’s because I don't feel like it means anything to be included in that culture. Per se it's my opinion beforehand, would be that Estonia is a banana republic in that sense.

Except that for their export they have this hatred toward Russian state and that's very sad. For the simple reasons that they're still technically betraying 25% to 33% of their population, a third or a quarter [of their] people. I don't think it's something you should perceive. That is entirely my position on it. I can't claim that this is correct and I'm pretty sure politicians will explain to you with very beautiful words that it's absolutely not that and we're super inclusive and we're changing Russian schools into Estonian, so the Russian parents cannot even talk Russian to their kids one day. It's a transition that is going without asking people what they want. It's a transition where you push and not pull, so to speak.

Has my identity changed over time and things have changed in Estonia? My identity has not changed in the slightest, but things changed in Estonia and that just brought people together. Wherever you can call people because that is a completely entire other subject. I probably should talk a little bit about that.

Well, whenever people grow up unincluded in society, they have basically three routes to take. The first one is, you join the bigger group, you technically learn Estonian, become Estonian, go to Estonian university and everything should be fantastic. The result of it is always, you're going to have a Russian second name and you're not going to be included. Everyone is going to smile at you, everyone is going to be fine, you're never going to be a politician. You're never going to mean anything. You are still a Russian. You're branded for life with a name ending in ‘ov’ and, you know, "Sorry, we don’t have a vacancy," technically. A lot of people are trying to say, no, it's not like that, but I spoke to a lot of people in a lot of industries and it's exactly what I think it is.

Second option would be to completely alienate yourself from the Estonian segment of the population. You turn into this state within the state, where you live in the Russian area, you work in the work with only Russians, rarely Estonians. You have, well, basically, very exclusive life in the sense that you exclude a very big part of what you can be doing, and you just live this life. It's also not a good life in the sense that schools right now are being changed from Russian to Estonian. You also fall out of a lot of activities that go on. That kind of stuff.

The third option is just to leave the country. Then you can go to the east if you only know Russian or you can go to the west. Since you have Estonian passport you're able to travel to western Europe. In Estonia we have pretty decent teachers of English or any other science. When you come to western Europe you end up being very well equipped, very well prepared for anything that you gonna meet. The only trouble is the financial side, and that's actually the joke of Estonia because in Estonia you have enough money to survive but you don't have enough money to leave the country. That's what ends up happening.

Hasn't Estonia changed over time? It has, it just became more and more war rhetoric country. It's not something you want to perceive being, well, a river away from your technical supposed enemy. Basically, when I served in the army, they told me– well, I asked, I'm not sure if it was a joke or not, but my entire war goal was to defend Tallinn for 20 minutes until the NATO bombers come in to relive us. Whatever that means. Whether they’re going to bomb us, or whether they’re going to bomb the enemy. It’s another question. Estonia in the global side would be– how do I put it? It’s a buffer zone. A buffer zone that has been allowed to dream that it can be something more than that. In Soviet Union as I remember, Estonia was also a buffer zone, but it also had another– how do I say? It had also another function, it was sort of a showroom for the west to see how well the Soviet Union is doing. You would have a very big selection of– I don't know– all kinds of goods in Estonia. You would have all kinds of sausages– for a European it's like what are you even talking about but for a person who knows a little bit about Soviet Union, having selection of sausages means a lot about the well-being of the state.

People, for example, from St. Petersburg, or– maybe not St. Petersburg. Maybe not like that. I would say people from forgotten cities Izhevsk for example in this faraway north region. Nobody would go to Izhevsk for just meat production, no they would go to Estonia because they're all accumulated in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania those countries. It was not enough for the people living there apparently.

I spoke to a lot of older generation Estonians. They had that accent, but they still were able to speak Russian. It's funny, 25 years later they still remember. I spoke to them and asked them, what do you think? Because a lot of– on the TV they say Soviet Union was really bad. Soviet Union was this, was that. They said, ‘I had the best time of my life there’ and that is just their opinion. I asked why– it's supposedly no freedom. No this, no that. They said, ‘no, that's a lie, and I don't need a choice between 25 cereals or 15 bubble games, it's not freedom, it's illusion of it.’ So, Soviet Union– it's just people were people. That's how they explained it to me.

Politically-wise, I would say, in any country, in any regime, at any form of rule, the last form of rule would always be the bad one. Let's go back in history. Right now, Soviet Union is the bad, communism is very, very bad. Before that, fascism was bad. Hitler was very bad. Before that, Soviet Union was bad, Stalin was very bad. Before that the capitalist Estonia was bad, it was robbing people off, and before that the Russian empire was bad. Before that Swedish empire was bad, and so on and so forth. It can go back. Every time whoever comes to power claims that the previous guy was incompetent, was a horrible person and so on and so forth. What you have now is just people proving this over and over.

Whenever Estonia is going to fall, guess who's going to be bad– and they know it. That's a vicious circle that keeps happening. The funny thing about Estonia specifically is that, the same people that were serving the Soviet government at the time are right now in the parliament. Right now, we have a prime minister who is ex-soviet prime minister, Andrus Ansip. Before that, he was saying, students should not violate the Soviet rule and so on so forth. Students should not rise up against the soviet- basically, I guess, Soviet government.

When Estonia became sovereign country or, so they say, all of a sudden, it's like, yes, well, Estonia is a sovereign country, we should protect that freedom and so on and so forth. So, they switch in the middle of a heartbeat. It's those, people they just want to stay in power. Those decisions are not always true and they're not always representing what is really happening, it's just people trying to stay in power. That's about it.