Estonia

The road out of Latvia was as flat as the road in and I think we summated their highest peak on the way. There was one point on the road that seemed to give us a view then back in the flats again so maybe that was it. The weather was getting more and more wintry with snow all around. Davor plugged on into the thickening veil of white as the rest of us worked on our various projects. It still amazes me what can be achieved with a laptop in a car and a power inverter.

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It’s not so far to Tallinn and we arrived in the dark, which meant nothing as it still not late and fought our way through ever deepening snow to the hotel. The Portus City Hotel is right by the international ferry terminal and a hub for pissed weekend tourists from Finland. They jump the ferry from Helsinki for the weekend, get hammered on duty free booze and stay in our salubrious accommodation. The hotel was fine but so noisy all night with drunken blah blah babbling up the stairs.

There was time for a meal, so Mette and me headed off for a walk in the old town to find a restaurant. We had only gone a few metres from the hotel when we came across the worlds most dedicated hookers. In ankle deep snow in the dark and wind were a few girls hanging on street corners looking for passing trade. Not sure what they intended to do with any trade they did find as at these temperatures they may have trouble getting a functional appendage.

The old town of Tallinn is a UNESCO site and a great example of an old medieval semi walled city. The entrance into the town is through an old arch with round towers on each side. Its knight is shinning armour stuff. The fresh layer of snow gave the place a beautiful finish with only pedestrian traffic and subtle street lighting making it really peaceful to walk through. Nice to not be looking over your shoulder to see who is about to run you over.

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Pedestrian road death is a real issue in this part of the world in winter. You have to be careful where you put your feet so not to skid across the pavement and land on your arse or vanish into a slimy puddle of sludge and ice water. The drivers are having enough trouble just finding the road and working out when to stop and go. Add these two diverging views and distracted pedestrians regularly make it under the wheels of visibility hampered cars. Many people have small reflectors swinging from their jackets to add a little sparkle to the gloom. I felt completely invisible in my black jacket in a place like this.

The food was good, the walk was better and we headed home in degenerating weather conditions. It wasn’t long till a fully fledged gale was hammering Tallinn. All ice and snow was going horizontal and the conditions outside were appalling. The morning was not got better but worse. The city was fast filling up with snow and service by service was grinding to a halt. The radio broadcast was for all to stay inside unless they really had to go out. We worked indoors and watched the snow blast the ferry terminal outside. The ferries stopped working and the hotel filled up with marooned travellers, many who had already consumed their duty free booze. Nothing like a lobby full of pissed Fins who can’t get home to make a place feel special.

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By late in the day we were getting cabin fever and decided to brave another walk in the old town. Mette and me had every bit of clothing on and as much flesh covered and stepped into deep snow. It was cold but not too bad with the wind at our backs. Weird things happen on a night like this and a car blowing sideways across the ice was one example. The walk was nice and we finally got a little protection in the old town and had a meal. All was good till it was time to go home. As soon as we turned from the protection of the old town wall we were pelted with tiny razor sharp ice crystals head on. Bowing to the storm we forced ourselves forward for the walk back to the hotel. It was two kilometres away at most and every step was paid for. The wind was so hard and the wind chill so strong it was hard to breath. At any opportunity we would duck into a doorway and gather ourselves up. Stepping back into the blasting vortex of ice crystals we plugged on. Ice was building up on both our bodies and visions of Robert Scott dying in the Antarctic ran through my head. This was bloody painful trying to cover a few km, I can’t imagine what it would be like to walk thousands of kilometres in this.

The hotel was finally in sight but still we needed one more door way to shelter in. The last push took us in the front door and we looked like Frosty the Snowman’s cousins. Its ok being in the cold, ice and snow but the moment you walk into a warm environment you begin to melt. I could fast feel rivers of ice water trickling down my legs and into my boots. The trick is to get outer layers off as fast as possible and knock the snow off while it’s still frozen. The walk had cured our need to be outside and the warm lobby full of pissed Fins didn’t seem too bad at all now.

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The storm had calmed by the morning and we headed to the Irish Embassy to do a press conference. The embassy is in the old town and we found it easily. All around people were surveying the damage from the last 24 hours. Cars were being dug out and snow ploughs excavated the roads. I thought the last 24 hours had been bad, it seemed that the Estonians thought so to. It’s the same look as after a cyclone has passed through a town in Australia. It’s that ‘what the hell was that’ look.

The Irish Ambassador was an entertaining host and his staff had contacted all the press and invited them to come. The usual gear was brought in and set up, photographs, fake cluster bombs, projector and computer, all ready. We stood and waited and waited some more. Some of the staff from the Norwegian Embassy came over too so we waited even more. The dark realisation that we may be crashing and burning crept through our minds. “It’s the weather”, said Peter the second secretary. He was right. Everyone was emerging like those from a bomb shelter and getting to a morning press conference came far down the food chain.

The morning wasn’t wasted as I did get to educate the Ambassador and staff and impress why they are so important in engaging the local government officials. The pictures went up and strike footage from Georgia shown. I could see the level of interest rise in all of them.

We packed up and headed out into the ice and snow to do a public action till the afternoon when there would be a more formal reception. The area chosen was a small square and park in the centre of town and was a natural crossing point for shoppers. We were to set up here from 11 am till 4 pm. The embassy driver, Sergey, escorted us to the park and made sure we were in the right place and official papers displayed properly to avoid any police problems.

Sergey struck me as a young guy who may be a little dual purpose. He certainly could drive in snow and bad conditions at high speed and I had a sneaking suspicion he would be a reasonable hand with a Kalashnikov too.

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The Ban Bus was parked in place and pictures set into the snow banks. This was definitely going to be a cold morning. As we had no local assistance it made it hard for us talk to too many people so resorted to handing out information we had translated into Estonian. Everyone took the flyers and went away reading them. A few even stopped and wanted to talk about what they could do. One woman was a teacher at the local university and wanted us to come back some time and visit the university. Slowly we met more people like her and had a good core for future local campaigners.

By the time we had finished and were packing up we had handed out over 500 flyers and talked to many people. We didn’t expect to get through to as many and the ones who stopped and talked wanted to get involved. As we were out of material to give away and the sun was dipping were began to pack up for the reception.

Sergey arrived in the Ambassadors Audi A6 and slipped in behind the Ban Bus. Only the material that had to come with us was packed into the Audi, the rest went into the Ban Bus to go back to the hotel with Davor. The trunk of the Audi was deceptively large and took everything we had easily.

Daniel commented to Sergey, “You could fit a body in here!”
“Two,” came the reply with a grin.

Davor went home and Sergey took us to the residence. The Ambassador lived just outside of old town opposite the Prime Minister and other embassies. The pictures were carried to the dining room and all made ready again. We were now nervous of who would not attend due to the storm. A call was received from the Norwegian Ambassador that he would be coming and he had only just been dug out of his house. The city had been paralysed.

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The most important people we need to talk to are representatives of government. The Secretary General of the Estonian Red Cross arrived with a staff member as did members from the Irish and Norwegian Embassies. The Norwegian Ambassador arrived then in came the parliamentary adviser to the Foreign Affairs Committee. He was our man and I launched into the talk. We hit all the issues yet again and really worked over the issues of interoperability and the recent fighting in Georgia. This was all for the benefit of our adviser. I needed him to go back to work with a far better understanding as to what is going on and why it is important to Estonia to move towards signing.

The talking finished and I asked for questions. There were none. I needed to get to this guy and have a private talk but I couldn’t do it in an environment where we could be overheard. Mette and the Ambassador sensed this simultaneously and struck up some noisy small talk with the others.

I lent across the table and said, “What will it really take to get Estonia on board?”

This opened the way for an excellent discussion that distilled the local issues down to some core points. The points he had were not insurmountable but he did seem determined that they would not sign next week.

“We will look at this in all good time. Maybe in 12 years,” he said.

Basically they seemed stuck in the mud and following Finland’s paranoid self suicide strategy. Campaigning from the ground up is what is needed in a place like this. At least the Ban Bus had contacts that could be turned into some future campaign.

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Tomorrow we head for Helsinki and possibly the toughest fight we were to have so far.

The local hookers were back on the beat as we headed for dinner. As we passed a frozen street walker Daniel muttered, “BOBFOC” to himself.

“What the hell is BOBFOC” I ask?
“Body off Bay Watch, Face off Crime Watch” came the reply.

Good to see Daniels power of observation not failing him now.

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