Out of the Morass
One of the Netherlands’ most popular travel writers on life in Estonia after its independence
Countries are in the news for a short while only to vanish from the public eye. Estonia is a case in point: it attracted attention while winning its independence from Russia in 1991; since then this small nation on the Baltic Sea seems to have vanished from view. In Uit het moeras Carolijn Visser relates the gripping story of the Estonians’ struggle to extricate themselves from the Soviet morass. How do people who have never learned to make their own decisions cope with newly-gained freedom?
Using the case of two young Estonians, Aavo and Daina, with their dreams and ambitions, Visser writes an account of life in a country that has been radically transformed from one generation to the next. The skinny chain smoker Aavo is half Chinese and hence an atypical Estonian, a man who yearns for the new times, for gates open onto the world. His wife Daina comes from Latvia and is less interested in the present than in a past that is fast disappearing.
Visser herself becomes involved in the new developments when she decides to invest money in the conversion of an old school into a hotel. She moves in with her new friends in Kurtna and joins their attempts to build a new life. The fight for survival in Estonia is hard. Winters are long and severe, and summer is ‘the time when you prepare for winter.’ Many former state enterprises have been privatized, but many have also gone bankrupt. Those that have survived are still being milked by Soviet bigwigs, and the mafia is thriving. Daino and Aavo try their hands at all sorts of things, but without much success.
The constant failures take their toll of long friendships, and the inhabitants of Kurtna split into hostile camps. Many of them long for the good old Soviet times, for the pull of the morass. ‘An Estonian remains a homo sovieticus,’ a local says. Uit het moeras shows how macro-economic developments can turn lives upside down.