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LITHUANIA: EVEN BETTER THAN LATVIA

Lithuania is older than Estonia. Tomorrow, 16 February, our neighbouring republic but one will be celebrating its centenary. The Annals of Quedlinburg mentioned it for the first time more than a thousand years ago, in 1009. 

Lithuania became a state in its own right under the tutelage of its Grand Duke and King Mindaugas in the 1230s.

Personally, there’s a lot that links me to Lithuania. My very first trip outside of Estonia was as a 10-year-old in 1984, when I took part in draughts championships in Vilnius. I lost most of the games I played, but that did little to dampen my enthusiasm for the game overall. Lithuanians have outstripped me many times since then, too.

After setting up the PR firm Powerhouse we gained, via Lithuania, the Russian oil company Yukos as a client (or at least its operations in Estonia), which 15 years ago was a big deal. Pure gold. Well, black gold. Yukos’ output for the PR service was produced for all three Baltic States via Lithuania, since the oil-processing plant Mažeikių Nafta – more than half of which belonged to Yukos – was the only one of its kind in the region. Playing a no less important part in my love for Lithuania is the fact that Ramūnas Karbauskis, the long-standing president of the Lithuanian Draughts Federation with whom I’d played in my younger years, pulled off a win in the parliamentary elections of 2016 as part of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union.

In the game of politics, professional draughts players have been just as successful elsewhere in the world, including in Estonia, where both Jüri Ratas and Kaja Kallas are devotees of the game.

I remember visiting the enthusiastic Lithuanian sub-federation as the newly elected president of the European Draughts Federation in 2007: Karbauskis and I played a game, which ended in a draw. The mood was much better than it had been in 1984. Lithuania’s role in Estonia where entrepreneurs are concerned has changed over the last 10 years. Until the global financial crisis, many large companies considered it important to be represented in all three Baltic States, with Riga as their capital, since it’s right in the middle. I’ve met up with my Lithuanian colleague Arturas Jonkus (who 20 years ago served as a diplomat in Tallinn and even learned a little Estonian) many times in Riga. The distance to get there is the same for both of us.

There’s little that ties Lithuania and Estonia together historically, and only around 1000 Lithuanians live here. Perhaps this is where our sense of superiority over Lithuanians stems from. Not that we have any amazing success stories to boast of in Lithuania, or in Latvia for that matter. With Maxima, the Lithuanians are players both here and in Latvia.

Historical rudiments, however, dictate that we view or at least construe Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as one. The Reform Party tried passing Estonia off as a Nordic country, but it’s not like we see ourselves that way. Even Finland, as much as 8% of whose population is Estonian, is a foreign land with a strange culture and different ways of looking at things. Although, that said, Finland has also historically been considered a Baltic State. And at one point there was even a Lithuanian-Belarusian SSR, which as marriages go seems particularly poorly arranged. But then if you travel by bus from Vilnius to Minsk it doesn’t seem so brainless after all.

In cultural terms, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland – all modern countries that have marked their centenaries – have very little to unite them. We don’t know any Lithuanian writers; we’re still in shock that Latvia managed to win the Eurovision Song Contest right here in Tallinn. What we are united by is politics, specifically the winds of history we have all walked or been led into, sharing similar fates.

While right at this very moment it seems to every intelligent Estonian that Latvia is much better than their own country (and not just because of the vodka, beer and ice cream), then under a veil of secrecy I can reveal to you, having been their several times last year, that Lithuania is even better than Latvia. That’s why I was succeeded as president of the European Draughts Federation by Lithuania’s Ingrida Drukteinytė. Many happy returns to you, Ingrida, Arturas and Ramūnas! I look forward to many more games with you.