Crossing North 5: An Army of One

Jonatan Vseviov in Washington, D.C.


Russia's willingness to exploit national tensions in former Soviet-occupied states has caused the Baltic countries to revamp their national defense policies over the past decade. Estonian Ambassador to the United States, Jonatan Vseviov, explains Estonia's national defense policy and how their reserve army model works.

Jump to Show Notes


Jonatan Veseviov: The best way I’ve heard it explained is actually by our president when she was asked the question: are you afraid of war? And she said no, and we’re not. You go to Estonia and nobody is afraid of war. But she made the comparison to earthquakes in Japan. And I think you could possible make it here, too, because apparently this is a rather risky territory. [*laughter*] So, are you afraid of an earthquake? And most people would say, “No, no, I’m not.” She uses the Japan example. She says: Japan gets earthquakes every now and then. So what the Japanese people do is: they prepare. They make sure their buildings are constructed in a way that make them safe. They make sure that if the worst were to happen that they would be able to survive for a few days without, maybe, electricity, whatnot. But they’re not afraid of earthquakes. Now, in Estonia we don’t get earthquakes. We have no understanding of what it even means. We don’t get forest fires that would threaten people’s lives—we do, but they are usually minor and local. We don’t get hurricanes or typhoons or tornadoes or any of that. What we get [*laughs*] is a neighbor that sometimes visits neighbors. [*laughter*] Are we afraid of that? No we’re not afraid of that. We prepare for that. And it—that’s what it is. 

 [*Intro music starts*]

Colin Gioia Connors: Welcome to Crossing North: a podcast where we learn from Nordic and Baltic artists, scholars, and community members to better understand our world, our communities, and ourselves. Coming to you from the Scandinavian Studies Department and Baltic Studies Program at the University of Washington in Seattle, I’m your host Colin Gioia Connors. 

[*Intro music ends*]

Jonatan Vseviov is the current ambassador of Estonia to the United States. He has served Estonia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense since 2005, and he has played a leading role in shaping Estonia’s national defense policy over the past decade. Ambassador Vseviov visited the University of Washington in November 2018 and explained Estonia’s national defense policies to the Estonian language class.

Jonatan: The roots of Estonian security policy go back to 1939/1940 and the difficult choices that our leaders had to make in those dark days. In 1939, August 23rd of 1939, the Nazis and the communists sign a treaty and become allies—the famous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which in its secret protocols also divides up eastern Europe. So half of Poland is to go to the Nazis and the other half to the Soviets, and all of the Baltic states and Finland to the Soviets. That was August 23rd, 1939. It was a secret, but it was widely rumored that there was something in the Nazi-Soviet pact that was not made public. But in general it was a major shock in European security because of course those two ideologies—they mainly attacked each other. So people assumed they would be natural enemies: the communists and the Nazis. And all of a sudden they become allies. And we find ourselves to be alone between two major empires. According to the agreement the Soviets then proceeded and presented us with an ultimatum, and not only us, but the Finns, the Latvians, and the Lithuanians. The ultimatum was to sign a treaty of friendship and peace or something like that. It came as a huge surprise. According to the treaty we were supposed to allow in Soviet bases into Estonia. Our foreign minister went to Moscow, he thought he was going to Moscow to negotiate some kind of agricultural deal and then he was met by the Soviet foreign minister Molotov himself and actually Stalin showed up at the meeting and they said, “Well, we need to go beyond the agricultural deal. We need— European security is changing, we need to secure the Soviet Union, we can’t secure the Soviet Union if you are overtaken by hostile powers, so we need our bases in your country. And if you don’t let them in, you know, we’ll invade you.”

They promised not to change the Estonian constitutional order, they promised not to overtake Estonia, but it was known from the moment the foreign minister got back to Tallinn that when we signed, bad things would happen. Now, they ended up signing it anyways. iT is difficult to say what exactly took place in their heads, but I have read a number of memoirs and original documents from the meetings, and it seems that the argument in their heads was: “If we end up fighting the Soviets, we’ll lose. We have no choice. Three are no allies. We are a small state. We may withstand the Soiviet onslaught for a few weeks, maybe two weeks, but eventually it’s gonna be bad. So fighting is not good.” And then they thought that—they saw the security situation in Europe evolving and the thought, “Well, war is about to come. Major war is about to come.” Poland had been overtaken already. The Brits and the French had declared war. It was likely that the Germans and the Soviets would end up fighting each other. So they thought that perhaps the clouds would somehow go away. That major developments would take place, and by sitting very, very quietly in our very, very quiet corner of the world, after all is said and done, once the dust settles, perhaps it’s gonna be okay.

So they decided to buy time—sign the treaty. The Soviets came in, disarmed the Estonian military, which actually didn’t fire a single organized shot at the Soviets. I mean, they did fire—a few shots were fired here and there, but it was not organized in any way. They disarmed the Estonian voluntary defense league, which is a national guard type of organization. They organized what was left of the Estonian army into a unit of the Soviet military, called it up for exercises in Russia, and, the first thing, they shot all of the officers—top level officers. Junior officers were spared. They took over the country in June of 1940. It ended up with major deportations, an illegal draft of Estonian young men into the Red Army, who had not yet been members of the Estonian army yet, and killed the national elite—business elite, political elite, cultural elite, you name it. So we walk around in Tallinn today, and you look at the government building—the Stenbock House. There is a commemorative plaque on the wall which has the names of the prime ministers and other cabinet ministers, but the most important thing is the prime ministers we had between the two world wars on it. And I always take visitors there to point out the numbers—the dates—because they were all born at different times, of course. But they all, most of them, the overwhelming majority of them happened to die in 1940/1941 and not of natural causes. And then I point out to visitors that that’s not the list of prime ministers who died during the repressions. That’s the list of prime ministers. They all—well, the overwhelming majority of them. A few managed to escape to Sweden and ended up in the West. But the overwhelming majority of them died in 1940/1941.

Then obviously in 1941 the Germans do attack the Soviets. They reach Estonia relatively fast. What happens is, when the Germans, once they take over Estonian territory, they start drafting Estonian young men into the German armed forces, and organize them into Waffen-SS, which is what they did with every nation in the countries that they had overtaken. They didn’t trust the people enough to bring them into the Wehrmacht. So they organized them into Waffen-SS units. So if you were an Estonian man, eighteen years old in 1941, you were drafted into the Red Army. If your younger brother, sixteen then, but eighteen by the time the Germans had arrived, you were drafted into the German army. It was not unheard of for Estonian brother to fight brother.

In 1944, the Germans lose the war in our part of Europe and the Soviets return, and we end up with fifty years of the Soviet occupation. So, the lesson: not fighting was not the safer option. We ended up fighting the war, not in our own uniform, losing roughly one-third of the population because of the war, the deportations, the people who escaped. We ended up fighting the war not in our own uniform, we fought in the uniforms of inhumane regimes that committed unspeakable crimes both on our territories as well as others. But we ended up fighting anyways. The Finns decided to fight. They made huge sacrifices, lost a huge percentage of their territory. They fought in their uniform. Many Estonians escaped Estonia—they didn’t want to join the Germans or the Russians—and fought in FInnish uniforms because we had no choice of fighting in our own uniforms. So lesson number one that has guided our defense policy, security policy from 1991 on: not fighting is not the safer option. We will not go quietly again. We tried that, it didn’t work out well. You cannot sit around quietly and hope for things to turn out well. They will not.

So from 1991 on—remember we still had Russian troops in Estonia—the defense budget was zero. There was a moment when we actually had an army of one, [*laughter*] you know the big slogan of the United States army, but that did not mean what it means here. It was actually an army of one, the first person to join the Estonian army. We didn’t have money—I’ll tell you a funny story: the first constitutionally or absolutely freely elected Estonian government comes into power in 1992, and the defense minister is an Estonian Swede who comes from Sweden. So he’s used to the Western style of doing things. So he walks into the minister’s office, and it looks nasty and ugly and Soviet style, and so he says, you know, “I want people to fix the office.” And they tell him, “No, sir, we can’t do that.” “What do you mean? You must misunderstand. I’m the new minister. I’m telling to you fix [it up], get new furniture, fix it up.” And they said, “No, no, Mr. Minister, you must misunderstand. When we said we can’t do it, we didn’t mean that we don’t have funds for that project or whatnot… I mean we don’t have any funds whatsoever! We don’t have a budget, we can’t do anything!” [*laughter*] So he goes back to Sweden where he was remodelling his apartment and he takes his old couch from his living room and two arm chairs, and brings those over to the minister’s office, and they serve us well into the early 2000’s, by which time they were thrown out of the minister’s office. We found them! They were sitting in a warehouse somewhere. We brought them out, they’re now in the Ministry of Defense. When all of the dignitaries walk in, they walk right past these ugly brown couches and we put a sign telling the story. This is where we started in 1991. No-one would sell us arms. The Western nations didn’t sell us arms because they were afraid we might go insane and start shooting at the Russians and start World War 3 or whatnot. The Russians obviously didn’t sell us arms. Nobody sold us arms. Even with the minor funds that we did have we could not buy anything. So we didn’t have anything. And yet we organized defense. Eventually it was 1994 and the Israelis decided to sell us arms. And we are only now getting rid of the rifles, for instance, that we bought from the Israelis, the Galils. We are the only nation to join the United States in the Iraq War using Galils, Israeli-made rifles. You can imagine the surprise in the Arab world that created.

So. Not fighting is not the safer option. The second lesson from 1939/1940 is that we ought never to be alone again. No matter what, never alone again. We can’t afford to be alone again. So from 1991 on, the goal has always been: integrate ourselves to the West, or reintegrate ourselves to the West. And once in the major organizations of the West—NATO, the European Union, the OECD, the Euro Zone, the Schengen Area—by 2012, I think, we had become the most integrated nation not only in northern Europe but all of Europe. It had nothing to do with Economic desires, nothing to do with cultural desires. It was a security policy driven process. Once in all of the clubs, the goal has been: make sure all of the clubs are as strong as possible, make sure the West is as coherent and strong as possible. Now, today, obviously, when we look at the European Union under stress, when we look at right now one member state leaving with Brexit, this obviously creates a number of question marks and concerns for us. If our security is at least partially dependent upon the stability of the West and Western institutions, then the fact that these institutions are under stress is not good. It’s not to say that we’re anti-reform. It’s not to say that we are anti-public unhappiness with some aspects of the European Union. We understand all of that. But the fact that theWestern order seems to be under stress is not good. And the reason why it’s not good, especially for us, is not because we think that liberal democracy will somehow fall. We don’t think that. We think that liberal democracy has had crises before. It’s always come out of these crises stronger than it went into them because we are flexible. If we don’t like the policies, we’ll kick out the president, we’ll kick out the prime minister. We’ll get a new one. If we are unhappy with her, we’ll kick her out and get a new one. That’s not going to be a problem. The problem is that during turbulent times, the boat is not going to sink. But we’re not the big guy sitting in the middle of the boat. We’re the small guy who sits on the very edge of the boat. So during turbulent times we’re getting wet, that’s for sure. But it’s quite plausible that we might fall overboard. So the boat is gonna be fine. But we’re not the captain. We’re the little guy. By that I mean that we live in a region where stability can turn into instability momentarily [*snaps fingers*] because of Russia, and the capabilities that Russia has, and the size of Russia, the policies of Russia that have been unpredictable to say the least.

So what should we do? The first is we spend heavily on defense. We are at or above 2% of GDP defense spending before that became a popular thing to do, before President Trump was elected, and we are continuing to increase. We work hard making sure that NATO does what it is supposed to do, that its defensive and offensive capabilities are up to the task, that the deterrents, the pressure it creates is credible. Because of that we have brought allied troops into Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania and Poland to make sure that everybody understands that there is no such thing as keeping conflict in the Baltics below Article 5 threshold. It has always been the concern. “Oh is someone really going to sacrifice New York for Narva? Or Tallinn? Or whatnot?” Well, we are trying to argue with that point that demonstrating that, “No, no, the allies are already there. And once you come and cross the border, we’ll shoot at you. And you’ll have to shoot back if you want to survive. And once you shoot back, you cannot be certain whether the person getting hit in those bushes or behind that hill is an Estonian sergeant, or a British private, or a French lieutenant, or, hopefully increasing as we get a more American presence, an American soldier.” And the point is not to fight the war. That would devastate us, and we are sure, the rest of Europe. The point is to convince the other side that the defense of the West, not just of Estonia, but the defense of the West really does start on Narva River, and that he ought not to cross that line if he does not want to create a catastrophe beyond what the human mind can contemplate.

We’ve been relatively successful up until today.The fight continues. Security is not a box that you tick and then take care of and then go on to other stuff. We can’t take our eye off the ball. An allied presence has been established but we need to continue working on making sure that NATO can actually move when called upon, making sure that we have reinforcements in place for our region as well as others, and I am glad to know that NATO has now, not only as an organization, but NATO member states including the United States, have over the past few years started taking the very serious challenge that Russia poses seriously. Once we start taking something seriously, people start taking us seriously. I always love it when people ask me what keeps me awake at night. I always like to answer with what I think was the best answer I ever heard, which was when the current Secretary of Defense of the United States, Jim Mattis, got that question. He looked at the person asking the question and said, “Nothing keeps me awake at night. I keep other people awake at night.” [*laughter*] That’s what we do, in NATO, and that’s what all people who want to challenge the free world should feel. But we need to make sure that’s the case. It doesn’t happen automatically. We need to make sure that’s the case.

Colin: Even today in 2019, former Soviet-occupied states like Estonia have good reason to guard against their Russian neighbor. In 2008, Russia annexed parts of Georgia, and then in 2014, Russia annexed parts of Ukraine. Other destabilizing events in former Soviet-occupied states have been linked, either directly or indirectly, to the Kremlin. For Estonia, the largest of these was a series of cyber attacks directed at Estonian digital infrastructure in 2007. 

The attacks capitalized on a decision by the Estonian government to move a Soviet war memorial in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, to a military cemetery in the city. The monument, known best as The Bronze Soldier, was erected by the Soviets in 1947 to commemorate their liberation of Estonia from the Nazis. But the statue today is a reminder to many Estonians, not of the end of Nazi occupation, but of the start of Soviet occupation.

 The decision to move the Bronze Soldier was followed almost immediately by an onslaught of cyber attacks. The attacks targeted media outlets, publishing false reports that claimed that the government was not only destroying The Bronze Soldier, but also desecrating Soviet graves. Members of Estonia’s Russian community, which comprises about one quarter of the population, took to the streets in protest. The cyber attacks continued, disabling government communications, banks, and even ATMs. The protests led to the worst rioting and looting in Estonia’s history, which lasted two days and left 156 people injured and one dead . When order was restored, over 1,000 protestors had been detained.

These cyber attacks, combined with the Russian annexations in Georgia and Ukraine, have led Estonians to revamp their national security policies. Jonatan Vseviov was one of the principal authors of new policies enacted in 2009, 2010, and 2012. One such policy is an increase in snap-mobilization exercises that test the country’s readiness in case of an invasion.

Jonatan: It’s legally now possible in Estonia to make Governmental decisions without having to physically convene. So the government makes the decision. Then the message goes out to the military, and what the military does is basically informs two groups of people. It informs the unit and the professionals in the unit, so they would start getting stuff ready, physically, and then the messages go out to the reservists. And they get the message through online means. They receive emails, we do social media, they receive text messages, and we also publicize it through radio and tv and whatnot. The first time we conducted a snap exercise we gave the reservists, I think, 48 hours to show up. The last few times we have given them zero hours. The order goes out: “Come immediately.” Because we want to see how fast they would actually show up, who gets the message, who doesn’t get the message, what kind of problems we run into. And there are all sorts of problems we run into. There are people who are on a trip to Australia. They contact us and say, “I’m on a trip in Australia, do I have to come?” Well, legally, yes, but then we usually give them exemptions. There was a case, again not last time but the time before, where the unit that made the call, the first person to show up—it was in Jõhvi, which is in north-eastern Estonia—the first person who shows up maybe 30 or 40 minutes after the message goes out, and he has two plastic bags with him. And you’re not supposed to bring anything, except for personal stuff. Two, full plastic bags. And we’re like, “What’s in the bags?” It’s groceries. “You can’t bring groceries!” Well, it turns out he was shopping, doing his shopping, when he received the message, didn’t have time to pay attention to whether it was a test, an exercise, or war. And he just showed up! [*laughter*] He didn’t go anywhere, he just showed up. And we said, “No, no, no, it’s okay. Go take the groceries home, come back. You have a few hours.” We had cases where people have shown up with tickets in their hand, saying that: “My flight is leaving in a few hours.” And we’re like, “We don’t care.” “Well, I got married yesterday and I’m going on a honeymoon to Bali or whatnot and I have tickets here. Do I cancel? What do I do?” And then we said “Okay, go to your honeymoon. We are happy with the fact that you showed up. We know how to reach you. It’s not war, it’s an exercise. You passed.”

And then we have cases where people just don’t show up. And these people are basically in two categories: there are people who never received the message, and we’re working very hard to make sure that everybody receives the message. And it’s getting easier today with all of the contemporary means of communications. And there are people who are simply turned off that particular day. So we are thinking of ways to reach them. And there are people who receive the message, but pretend like they did not because they don’t want to show up—they have to go to school, they have to go to work, they don’t want to go all of a sudden on a Wednesday afternoon, for instance, or a Thursday morning, and ruin their weekend. And these people we will find and we will prosecute, and we will make sure that they feel the pain. Because that is not an option in Estonia. It is a tax, if you will. And just because you don’t want to pay the tax, because you have better ideas what to do with your money. You know, it’s not okay. The other people show up, and what we ask our reservists to do, is not only—and this is constitutional, you know, it’s not just some minor thing—we don’t just ask them to give us their nine months or eleven months of their life for conscription. We ask them to be able to show up, no matter what time it is, and to fight against overwhelming odds for the security of Estonia. Now the only argument that we have on our side is that it doesn’t matter who is against you when you know who is next to you. Right? So it is everybody’s task, shoulder to shoulder, we’re an army of one. That argument is only valid for as long as it is true. If it becomes apparent that I’m the only guy from my office that showed up—not because of medical exemptions, which exist, but—because the other person simply didn’t answer the email. If it becomes apparent that I’m the only guy from my class that showed up for the exercise, [then] in a time of war? I’ll think twice. Because why should I do this when everybody else is not doing it? Why should I pay the taxes if it is perfectly okay to not pay the taxes? Why should I not cross the street on a red light when everybody else is doing that? Can’t have that. If we don’t like the system, we should change the system, but if this is the system, then it is the government’s task to make sure it’s no laughing matter. A good number of our reservists work in Finland every day. We expect them to show up. If they don’t show up, we’ll make sure they feel the pain. And the flip side of the coin is that the people who do show up, we are thinking very hard about ways to highlight that. The past few years we have made a conscious effort to highlight the role our veterans play—veterans of foreign war, Afghanistan, Iraq. On a per capita basis, we lost more soldiers than most who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have more than one hundred who lost limbs, got seriously wounded, and then even more than that who have mental traumas from the conflicts. Over the past few years we’ve made sure that every Estonian knows the role our veterans play in our security policy. We are now thinking of ways to highlight not veterans who fought in foreign wars, but also the people who decided to show up on a Wednesday morning with their groceries, leave their job. They don’t get paid, by the way, during the days they are doing that service. So it’s not easy for the individuals, and neither is it easy to pay our taxes every single year, and yet we all do it, because if we don’t, no neighbor of ours will want to talk to us, if it became apparent that we are the ones who somehow cheat.

So that is what we are trying to do with the snap exercises. We have been conducting them twice a year, bigger and bigger, I would expect them to come more often in the future, and we will only be happy when they are so routine that people don’t even notice it, that it never makes the news. It is just an everyday thing that we do. When we have foreign generals visit, they listen to our officers talk about the reserve army model and the conscription system, and they look at our warehouses, at the way we have organized ourselves in the physical domain so that we can mobilize fast and move out of the bases—they all have this look on their faces, which says, “Yeah I hear you, but I don’t really understand or believe that this is doable.” Because most of our allies have a professional military system. So you can only imagine the shock, the positive shock, in their faces, when [the reservists] actually show up for these exercises. And we make the call [*snaps*], and in the next hours, we have hundreds and hundreds of construction workers and plumbers and lawyers and doctors and unemployed people and truck drivers and members of parliament and government officials show up, dress in fatigues, takes their rifles and go out in the woods and form a battalion. In a few hours! And then they’re all [like] “Oh my God, it actually works.”

[*Outro music starts*]

Colin: Crossing North is a production of the Scandinavian Studies Department and Baltic Studies Program at the University of Washington in Seattle. Today’s episode was written, edited, and produced by me, Colin Gioia Connors. Special thanks to Visiting Lecturer of Danish Kristian Næsby. Today’s music was used with permission by Kristján Hrannar Pálsson. Links to his music can be found in the show notes for this episode or on our website. Visit to learn more about the podcast and other exciting projects hosted by the Scandinavian Studies Department. If you are a current or prospective student, consider learning a Baltic language. The University of Washington is the only university in the country to offer courses in all three Baltic languages: Estonia, Latvian, and Lithuanian. You can find complete course listings for the Scandinavian Studies Department and Baltic Studies Program at Once again, that’s 

[*Outro music ends*]

Ambassador Vseviov stuck around after the bell to answer students’ questions, so we’re sticking around to share one of his answers. The question was about the effects of social media on Estonia’s democracy.

Jonatan: We are a democracy, we have elections coming up next March, hotly contested, as always. Our elections, it always feels that everything is going to be dependent upon the next election. Feelings quite similar to the feeling people have here. [*laughter*] Very hotly contested, the election campaign is only now beginning, so the active phase of Estonian campaigning will probably be January/February time frame. Election always on the first Sunday of March, every fourth year. And we’ll see! The question probably alludes to the fact that the Russians have attempted to influence not only the election results but to influence the societies in the West by spreading false rumors and trying to make divisions that are natural in our societies bigger, heat up the internal rhetorics, and so on, so forth. We have gotten used to these sorts of things over the past twenty plus years. The good thing with constant propaganda that is directed at you, is that you do become immune. It’s like a vaccine that forces your organism to create antibodies. And we have lived through fifty years of outrageous propaganda that was all-encompassing in every aspect of your life. From young childhood in kindergarten, you were told about how Lenin was the person who made everything possible—up until the late 1980s, weren’t we just discussing that yesterday? I remember my wife told a group of other ambassadorial spouses, they asked her, “What was life like in the Soviet Union?” It is very difficult to explain that to people who have no experience of living in a not-free society. It is three-year-olds coming home crying because Lenin is dead and he was such a great leader but no longer is he with us to guide us through our daily lives. That is how deep propaganda is. And it works on three-year-olds, I mean, for the day and then the parents explain [*chuckles*], and then the next morning. But it’s difficult for a three-year-old to understand it, but by the time a three-year-old is eighteen years old, he or she is immune, if he has any brain whatsoever and most people do, he or she becomes immune to the propaganda that is thrown at you through television or newspapers or, you know, your boss lecturing you. Oftentimes the boss doesn’t believe what he has to lecture you on. And nowadays also the internet. So I think as free societies the more used we get to these activities, the more immune we are. We in Estonia, we think, are pretty immune because of the fifty years and then the twenty years of Russian propaganda that has been directed against us.

I do think that we as democracies have a hard time adjusting to technological development in general. Democracy as we know it—one man, one vote—became possible once the printing press was invented, and we created a way to disseminate news to people who lived far away, and who could then make up their minds about what was going on and decide on who was in power and who was not. That was not possible before we could disseminate news to people in far away places. The age of the printing press is only now coming to an end. It didn’t come to an end with the invention of radio, it didn’t come to an end with the invention of the tv, you were still dependent upon the anchor explaining what had happened to you. And you had a choice: if you didn’t like ABC, you could watch NBC. But it wasn’t possible for you to come to a conclusion by talking only to the people who share your viewpoints. To come to the conclusion that everybody thinks exactly the way I do, and then when the outcome of the election, for instance, is different to believe that, “Oh, some sort of conspiracy must be at play because it is such a no-brainer that we ought to do X, because everybody says we ought to do X. Why is it the government is doing Y? Must be a conspiracy, must be the elites, must be the swamp-whatnot that’s affecting it.” Social media, and the 24 hour news cycle, but mostly social media is changing the way we get information, and changing it in more fundamental ways than tv or radio ever did. And we just need to learn how to deal with it. I think the solution, the long-term solution is education. If people are educated, and I don’t mean just higher education, I think it is more importantly does not have to do with higher education but it has to do with primary education, high school education, early childhood education, where people learn to think critically, and critically not only in general but critically with regards to the sources of information. If we fail to bring everybody along on that path, we’re gonna head into turbulent times. If we succeed, then I think we’ll be fine because people will adapt and they will learn. And that is why we in Estonia are so proud of the fact that our education system is egalitarian. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, how poor you are, where you live: the early childhood education you get is level if you are in downtown Tallinn or a far away countryside place, it is more or less level. The same is true of primary or high school education. And I think that’s important because without that, you are creating pockets in your society who feel no hope, who feel trapped, and who don’t believe that they too have a chance to succeed. And you couple that with social media, with an ability to disseminate false news as fast as we have the ability to disseminate the true news, and the one man, one vote construct might start falling apart. So I think education is key.

[*Second outro music plays*]


Release date: June 6, 2019.

This episode was written, edited, and produced by Colin Gioia Connors. Special thanks to Kristian Næsby.

Theme music used with permission by Kristján Hrannar Pálsson.