Man on the fringe: Georg Kirsberg (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Make It Easy On Yourself

Free Party member Georg Kirsberg’s recent opinion piece stands out for its far-right-leaning language as well as all the things it doesn’t say.

Kirsberg is a member of Vabaerakond, the Free Party, who scored part of the protest vote in this year’s elections. He’s also an Estonian writer, political scientist and reservist — according to a Wikipedia page that features his travels, his brand, an overview of his social activism, and a rather exhaustive list of articles and interviews.

He clearly didn’t spend as much time on the opinion piece he had published on ERR’s English page on Monday.

What appears to be an unedited post leaves the impression that the editors couldn’t be bothered to read and think about it. That, or they’ve really come to a point where they don’t care anymore that they’re creating the impression of running like it was a random news content platform, and not the national institution its much bigger Estonian-language part is.

Kirsberg’s piece oozes with ethnocentrism and xenophobia. One could leave it at that if it weren’t for his use of plenty of phrases that solidly belong to Social Darwinist and National Socialist vocabulary.

And which are now featured on Estonia’s number one source of information for English speakers and people abroad. All that, of course, without any kind of context or comment provided.

Throwing a piece like this online and giving it the “opinion” sticker won’t do. ERR now features statements like “terrorism, war and human trafficking are endemic in Africa and Asia”. As if any of these were unheard of elsewhere.

There’s a reason why language like this doesn’t get the treatment it deservers in the Estonian media. In the eyes of quite a few people here, the Estonians are eternal victims, and as such not bound by the common decency and restraint their counterparts in other countries have to show.

A self-righteous attitude prevails on the political right of this country that uses Estonia’s experience of war, occupation, loss and humiliation to justify saying whatever they feel like, no matter how socially disruptive, demeaning to others, or actually racist it is.

This isn’t to belittle Estonia’s history and its events. But there is the small matter of present-day reality, which unfortunately tends to be incompatible with race-based dreams of greatness and justice.

Still, the local political right feel they can justify whatever random and incendiary thing they say by pointing to their own history and repeating ad nauseam how mean it’s been to them and their kind. More than that, they don’t just feel justified in doing so, they feel entitled to it.

Because after all, how could we dare to hold them accountable for their negative opinions of others — they were overrun, dragged away, murdered and occupied. They’ve never done anything bad to anyone, but became embroiled in conflicts they neither caused nor wanted. Only to then be abandoned by the West; continue the story at your leisure, adding or taking away as the occasion calls for it.

This is the justification plenty of people here resort to when asked about their sudden carelessness when it comes to ideologies and ideas that have meant murder and destruction for millions of people over the last 100 years.

Looking at the recently thriving far right in Estonia, there are interesting parallels to the past. A body of thought like EKRE and apparently now Vabaerakond as well cultivate it usually builds on the experience of humiliation and loss in the past. Right-wing rage and racism in Estonia today grow on feelings of humiliation and injustice going back to the events of the 20th century and the Soviet occupation —

Which resembles the rise of similar ideologies in Germany, Austria and Hungary after the treaties of Versailles and Trianon, where empires were chopped into little pieces, and the core countries left over felt betrayed and humiliated by the sorry state the rest of the world had left them in.

But ideology is ideology. What’s really striking about the practical situation these people find themselves in is the pointlessness of what’s going on over at the brown end of politics.

Pointless in the sense that they don’t contribute to what’s happening. Do they have ideas that could hold up in practice? No. They’d rather limit themselves to whimsical populist demands, and radical, but very general ideas. Virtually nothing they say makes sense in the context of the current political reality, which includes the EU and NATO, and a very high degree of dependency concerning Estonia’s national security.

Xenophobia, racism and ethnocentrism, at their essence, are intellectual sloth. They’re a combination of a refusal to think, to put up with the less convenient sides of life, to look beyond the tip of one’s nose, and most of all to make an effort to back up one’s statements and opinions. As if hiding your head in the sand could save you from reality.

Opinions like Kirsberg’s don’t just damage the social fabric of a society, they’re also materially costly. Setting up your own little lily-white isolationist country comes at a price. It seems we’re witnessing the Baltic Tiger struggling with the fact that you can’t be the planet’s digi-tech booster and hook up everything to everything else without the rest of the world moving in a little closer.

Estonia owes much of its recent development to how it connected itself not only to the surrounding states, but to the world at large. Cherry-picking who should be allowed to come here and who shouldn’t can only have the effect of alienating its partners, and will eventually cost the country a lot.

Which is no surprise — dumb spite, when occurring in grown-ups, is always expensive.

And Kirsberg’s piece features plenty of it. “European Union countries with long histories and highly developed cultures” — as opposed to African and Asian countries without long histories and with less developed cultures, we’re left to assume. They’re “severely affected” by people whose culture is “alien”.

Man, don’t we love this kind of talk! Nothing takes us German speakers back to our secondary school history lessons more effectively than the language of Goebbels and a whole succession of German Social Darwinists.

It all sounds superbly civil, of course, like a lot the scarily eloquent people of the German establishment said back then — but this kind of talk, especially when it dresses up in the language of popular science, still is the gateway drug to totalitarian hate speech and abuse.

“Normal interaction of different countries and diverse cultures benefits the development of the human society, but wholesale infusion of aliens into long-established native ethnic structures is destructive to the entire human civilization.”

Makes you ask yourself what’s next — suggestions how we should all breed from here on in? Will Vabaerakond soon start handing out brochures with helpful tips how to make sure children are born with the right-colour hair? After all, wouldn’t it be terrible if we suddenly had cream and fawn litters instead of only white ones? Somebody’s got to keep the lineage clean, and Mr Kirsberg obviously sees himself as a front runner.

But he won’t stop there:

“Just as biodiversity is needed for a healthy earth, diversity of human communities must be maintained to save them from extinction and to honor the right of ethnically homogenous people to their way of life.”

Where he sees the connection between biodiversity and “the right of ethnically homogenous people to their way of life” isn’t quite clear. What is clear though is that we’re looking at somebody here who has no qualms whatsoever comparing human society to a stud farm.

(In how far such an ideological stance is sexually motivated, well, we’ll leave that question to the social psychologists.)

The article then goes on to demonstrate how the local racists don’t really have to worry about the effects of their statements at all. Where in Western European countries their brothers and sisters in spirit have to tread carefully, society here and apparently also the national broadcasting network are so utterly oblivious to context that Kirsberg gets to say something like the following practically without provoking any reaction:

“Somehow the solution to the wars and terrorism in the Middle East and Africa has become the relocation of tens or hundreds of thousands of people to Europe, which is ten times smaller, climatically unsuitable for them, and culturally, religiously, racially and genetically vastly different.”

We’re genetically vastly different. How exactly do genetics enter into it? Back to cream and fawn litters. At this point, we’ve already been treated to Social Darwinism and eugenics. Welcome to the stud farm.

All this random racist nonsense builds on Kirsberg’s piece’s basic premise that the problems that caused the refugee crisis should be solved not in Europe, but where they came up. This may well be the reason why the editors of chose to overlook all the Nazi-esque references in the piece.

Part of the sneaky nature of coordinated and dressed-up racism is that it comes in the disguise of a reasonable proposition. Kirsberg’s angle here, and the title of his piece, aren’t at all nonsensical. On the contrary, they make a lot of sense. And in the present debate of the refugee crisis, his stance is still rare enough to make him conspicuous.

The problem is just that there’s a reason why it’s mainly people of his ideological persuasion that bring up this argument — because to honestly stand for it, you have to take into account a deluge of problems of trade, economies, laws, customs policies, military operations, social implications, international aid, diplomacy… There’s no end to it.

Kirsberg makes a few vague suggestions how the EU should work with organisations like the African Union and the Arab League to stop emigration from their areas. But, as he would, he stops one step short of having to mention the enormous commitment this would mean both financially and politically. Because that, of course, is something his political camp would be ferociously opposed to.

Of course, all that is conveniently ignoring that the humiliation and harm that befell Estonia in the last century was to a large extent due to the exact same kind of carelessness, convenience and disinterest on the part of the Western political elites that preferred dealing with their more immediate problems over trying to understand the hardship this meant for others.

For the remainder of Kirsberg’s piece, we’re again left with the realisation that far-right polemic is usually a sign of intellectual laziness. In spite of Kirsberg’s credentials and experience, he goes on and brings up the Arab League and the African Union as if they were directly comparable to the EU.

He suggests that the “oil-rich Arab League” should take in other “Arab” refugees, dismissing the fact entirely that to a Saudi, having to accept the arrival of ten thousand Syrians is much what accepting the arrival of ten thousand Russians is to an Estonian of Kirsberg’s own convictions.

He ignores the fact that the African continent is still being ransacked for its natural resources by the same multinationals that run the economy in the US, in Europe, and in Asia. And when he says that “Africa’s climate is favorable for human habitation”, Kirsberg surely doesn’t take into account how both Western and Eastern companies have been gobbling up its best farmland for two decades, forcing millions more into poverty and dependency.

When he says that the “mass exodus of population from its home continent is not only unethical”, but that “it must be avoided to prevent the lawlessness and chaos that inevitably accompanies by relocation of large numbers of people with substantial economic, cultural, religious and national differences”, he leaves us with the question of what would be more ethical then — for the Africans to starve to death, or for us to look away as they’re being good golliwoggs and just give in and disappear?

We’re left wondering what the next step in Kirsberg’s rejection of any kind of connection between the refugee crisis and our own lives could be — perhaps to lecture Africa and the Middle East on how they should rise up and throw off the yoke of international corporations? How they should be as innovative and inventive as the Estonians? How they should display similar pride and strive for the well-being of their kind?

All, of course, things that Estonia excelled at in the past without the slightest help from anyone else. Yeah, right.