Three Days In Estonia

Spent Wednesday through Friday in Estonia at the kind invitation of Marge Konsa and the Institute of History and Archaeology in Tartu. Gave a lecture on computer-aided statistics for burial studies (here’s my presentation), then went to Tallinn, where Jüri Peets and Raili Allmäe showed me the finds and horrifically battle-damaged bones from the two 8th century Swedish mass burials in ships at Salme on Saaremaa. Also had time to meet with my grad school buddy Marika Mägi and do a lot of sight-seeing. Pics on Flickr!

The vibe in Estonia is optimistic and self-confident. Plaques about EU funding are everywhere. Much fewer run-down buildings than last time I was there, in January of 2002. But there is still a lot of squalor. The post-Soviet world has a particular kind of patchy microsqualor. I found a juicy bit just a stone’s throw from the seat of government and the country’s most expensive apartments. This comes not of poverty, but of uncertainty about ownership after property was nationalised and then de-nationalised. Decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain, people still don’t quite know who owns certain property, and before they do, nobody will renovate it.

Graffiti in the Tartu University student jail, c. 1900.

Graffiti in the Tartu University student jail, c. 1900.

Tartu is very much like Uppsala and Lund, down to the details of academic culture. Though mensur ritual fencing was never as big at the Swedish universities as in Tartu. I was interested to learn that among the student fraternities / nations there before WW2, there was a Jewish one with a proud Star of David on their velvet cap where other fraternities had similar symbols. Today only the more conservative and nationalistic students join fraternities, and they tend to be organised by academic subject rather that the origins of the members.

I visited the students’ jail in the attic of Tartu university, full of graffiti in German and Latin from c. 1900. There were five of these detention rooms, but four perished in a fire in the 1960s. Apparently the walls were frequently whitewashed, so with the right methods you could probably image many older layers of graffiti there.

On my way home I flew in an Air Baltic Bombardier DASH 8 from Tallinn to Riga. It’s a Canadian 1984 model.

Bombardier DASH 8 at Tallinn airport.

Bombardier DASH 8 at Tallinn airport.

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