The Washington Post
By Anne Applebaum
Tuesday, October 16, 2007; Page A19
TALLINN, Estonia -- From outside, the offices of Skype-- the company best
known for its free Internet phone service -- don't look very different from
the other Soviet and post-Soviet buildings that make up the nondescript
suburbs of the Estonian capital. But inside, the aesthetic influence of
Northern California is undeniable. The high-tech, open-plan offices; the
"playroom," complete with pool table and sauna; the young, bearded
employees; the Dadaesque plastic crocodile hanging from the ceiling; the
bluejean-clad spokesman who has been "too busy" to contemplate the fact that
eBay, which bought Skype for $2.6 billion in 2005, recently admitted that it
paid too much.
This tiny slice of Seattle-on-the-Baltic -- Skype's main center for research
and development -- is in Tallinn because Skype's original computer
programmers were Estonian and its Scandinavian founders were savvy enough to
know that Estonia is a country so eager to join the 21st century that even
its gas stations have WiFi: Fill up your tank, download your e-mail, drive
on. Despite its eagerness to join the future, though, the home of Skype can
also seem, to outsiders, paradoxically hung up on the past. Indeed, this is
a problem Estonia shares with some other Central European nations.
Everywhere you turn, historical arguments are dominating the region's
History certainly influences Estonia's relationship with Russia: The two
neighbors have a standing disagreement about whether the Red Army's invasion
in 1945 "liberated" Estonia from the Nazis, as the Russians would have it,
or launched a bloody Soviet occupation -- during which 10 percent of the
country's population was deported to concentration camps and exile -- as
most Estonians remember it. No mere theoretical dispute, this argument has
led to riots in Tallinn and Moscow, as well as a wave of cyber-attacks on
Estonian governmental and economic institutions in the spring.
But the Estonians are not alone. Last year, the Hungarians nearly came to
blows about the causes and current significance of their anti-communist
revolution in 1956: At one point during 50th anniversary celebrations,
police officers used tear gas against protesters riding a Soviet-era tank
through the center of Budapest, making for some eerily familiar photographs.
Ukrainian arguments over whether that country's famine of 1931-32 was
"genocide" have also taken a political turn, with different views offered by
different political parties. Poles have lately flocked to a new film
depicting the 1940 Soviet massacre of 20,000 Polish officers in the Katyn
forest; it, too, made the newspapers when the director, Andrzej Wajda,
accused politicians of using the Katyn story for electoral advantage.
Across the region, nonfiction bestsellers have similar themes: the war, the
communist occupation, the resistance. In Russia, stacks of such books are
also available -- but in Russia, these books have titles such as "Stalin,
Author of the Great Victory."
From the safe standpoint of Washington or London, it's easy to dismiss this
historical discussion as retrograde, paranoid, even a drag on economic
development. And it's true that discussing history with the Russians
probably hasn't been good for Russian-Estonian trade. Nor has debating what
happened in Katyn fixed Poland's crumbling roads. One Estonian politician
told me that a German colleague had instructed him to forget about history
and move on, saying that "you're wasting your time."
But nobody ever asks the Germans to forget about history and move on, do
they? Walk through the Skype headquarters in Tallinn, look through the big
picture windows at the crumbling concrete buildings outside and it becomes
clear that the phenomena of economic progress and historical contemplation
are actually closely connected. The Central European economies are no longer
basket cases, and the Central Europeans are no longer desperately poor
neighbors. As the Hungarians, Poles and Balts become more successful and
more self-confident, it's natural that they want their stories told, their
issues discussed. The Germans only properly came to terms with their history
in the 1960s, 20 years after World War II ended. Almost the same amount of
time has elapsed since 1989.
There may be other forces at work. Without question, the economic success
stories of the region, particularly in the former Soviet republics, pose an
ideological challenge to the government of Russia. Estonia and its neighbors
have joined Western institutions, expanded Western trade. Russia has chosen
a different path: confrontation with the West and an economic model based on
oil rather than genuine capitalism. The regional sparring over history is
also an argument over whose definition of the past, whose ideology and whose
economic rules will prevail: those of the big Russian gas concerns or those
Me, I'm rooting for Skype, or at least for its bearded, multilingual
employees. Even if their company wasn't worth all those billions after all.
Octobr 17, 2008 - President Bush Discusses the Visa Waiver Program
Office of the Press Secretary/
White House News
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Please be seated, thank you. Welcome to the White House. I'm pleased to stand with the representatives of seven countries -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and South Korea -- that have met the requirements to be admitted to the United States Visa Waiver Program. Soon the citizens of these nations will be able to travel to the United States for business or tourism without a visa. I congratulate these close friends and allies on this achievement, and I thank you for joining us here.
I also thank Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of the Homeland -- Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff for working hard to make sure this day has finally arrived. Appreciate other members of the administration here and members of the Diplomatic Corps.
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