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A Break from Boredom
by Stirred Up!
2007-07-08 11:12:21
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I was at the site of the Bronze Soldier with a friend, intending to show support by bringing along a bottle of vodka for the Russians. After hanging around for a bit, we went to a Spanish restaurant nearby for some wine and canapés. The atmosphere was normal for a Thursday evening: couples on dates, some having birthday parties, and so on. Suddenly, the restaurant was hit by a few Molotov cocktails and panic spread throughout the place. The managers immediately shut off the lights and we were shooed upstairs.

The atmosphere was tense, weird, a bit like being in a bunker during the war. Most of the Estonians were talking excitedly on their mobile phones or gulping down their glasses of wine. I wanted to leave but they said it was too dangerous outside: The R-Kiosk down the street was burning and angry Russians were just about to attack the Videoplanet opposite. Then I saw a friend of mine, a hard-drinking writer type, walking through the crowd with a Dutch advertising friend. We called him and he came and opened the door. We walked into the street and went past overturned cars, windows being smashed. It was, at the time, quite exhilarating. You’d have to live through the boredom of contemporary Tallinn for a few years to understand the feeling.

I was charged up, all sorts of contradictory emotions running through my mind. Then, outside the all-night store which was just about to be looted, I ran into an ex-girlfriend, a Russian girl in a Dolce & Gabbana jacket. She was livid, angry, almost foaming at the mouth, a stone in her pocket. “You fucking Estonians,” she screamed, tugging at my friend. “Fuckers, Estonians. Fuck you!” That’s when I realised it wasn’t just drunk hooligans but the entire Russian community that was pissed off at Estonians for having gone one step too far. We left her there and walked to Kaheksa, a pretentious lounge bar. Inside, it was as if nothing had happened. The rich sat around sipping their mojitos; there was boredom in the air, as there often is in Tallinn these days. We talked about the riots excitedly, sweaty, and nobody really believed us. Everyone was so used to peace, they wouldn’t believe that things had turned violent outside.

Half an hour later, though, even they could hear the sirens, the helicopters, and the rush of people coming across the square. Panic spread its ugly face again. We ran outside, and it was like Beirut, an unbelievable scene, hundreds of youths running across the square, shots in the air, stones being thrown. We ran for our lives, fearing the mob, and finally reached Noku, a quiet private artist’s bar deep in the Old Town where nothing usually happens. But eventually thugs were smashing the windows of the shops nearby. The lights were shut off and we all gathered in the back room. The atmosphere was quite intimate, and Estonians who had barely spoken to me in years were all smiles and friendly. We sat there, with the rioters outside, our hearts beating like drums, having double whiskeys one after another. Friends somehow arrived and made it past the front door.

Eventually, everything subsided and we went back home, walking the girls to safety.

What was shocking for most of us who live in Tallinn was the sudden flare-up of violence in a city that has become über-Nordic in the past ten years. The ruling elite in the city is rich and complacent, and one could even say arrogant. For most, Estonia is safe, cute and calm. However it has been stuck in a rut recently and is becoming increasingly inward-looking. While Estonia was once known for its innovative, lively underground culture and openness to the rest of the world, it has become a lot more closed and silly in the years since EU accession.

The riots are sad and brutal, and mostly fuelled by young, drunk Russian hooligans and activists from Putin’s Nashi nationalist party, who have arrived here in the past weeks to foment and lead the troubles. Rumour has it that they are staying at Tallinn’s Grand Meriton Hotel. But what a change of pace!

Vijai Maheshwari is the Publisher of BEAST Magazine, the fashion/attitude glossy for New Europe. www.beastnation.com

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