Saturday, January 24, 2009

Eesti ühiskonnast ja tolerantsusest

Following text is related solely to Estonia and will therefore be in Estonian.

Lugesin täna tavapärasel viisil Postimehe online-versiooni. Valik lugude pealkirjadest:
"Itaalia saarel murdsid sajad migrandid laagrist välja"
"Homod pöörduvad inimõiguste kohtusse"
"Oisaar: islamistid loovad Eestis sidemeid"

Ja igale loole järgneb kümneid ja kümneid vaenu ja viha täis kommentaare. Peamised sõnumid: "Mustad ahju", "Homod ahju", "Moslemid ahju".

Imelikul kombel jäi see kord puudu mõnest artiklist sõnumiga "Venelased ahju".

Kas see on kollektiivne alaväärsuskompleks - nii meediakanalite toimetustel kui üldiselt Eesti ühiskonnal? "Meid on varem kiusatud, nüüd saame meie kord end peremehedena tunda ja kedagi meist erinevat sõimata"...

Eesti patrioodina teeb see mind muidugi kurvaks. Just seetõttu ei tahtnud seda kirjutada inglise keeles - kahju, kui välismaalastel tekib just selline pilt Eestist.

Olukord ei ole siiski üldsegi lootusetu. Esiteks on sellised reaktsioonid mõistetavad ja nendele on seletused olemad. Teiseks on õnneks Eestis siiski väga palju neid, kes ei pea vajalikuks oma lahendamata jäänud psühholoogilised, seksuaalsed või füüsilised probleemid ja kollektiivsest mälust saadud kompleksid teistsuguste inimeste peale välja valama.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

All people are equal - thank you, AIESEC, for reminding it!

I was a chair at national conference of AIESEC Norway about a week ago - meaning leading the whole process of conference, making sure everything runs smoothly, leading its flow. Apart from the nice feeling of having been back to AIESEC for a while and having done something useful for dozens of young people, I made one striking conclusion again - this conference was absolutely the same and the people here behaved in absolutely the same way as everywhere else at the national conferences which I have been to - in Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Croatia, and Kazakhstan. They were dancing, laughing, joking, having troubles with their responsibilities, having dreams for a future just like any other AIESEC member in Kazakhstan or Croatia, for example.

Sure, people in Norway, as true Nordic nation, are somewaht less expressive and more calm... but essentially there is just no difference!

It may sound very trivial thing to say that all people are essentially the same... but after having spent about six months in Norway, I started to have a feeling that there is something about people in different countries. Why do Norwegians live a life that 90% of world's population cannot match in even a close way? How come this society is so well-organised, secure and peaceful (there are surely many problems here as well, but compared to most of other countries it's paradise in terms of social quality fo life)? Are people here somehow smarter or more developed?

AIESEC as international youth organisation is an excellent place to prove that people, once put in similar conditions, are no longer a product of their societies. They are individuals instead, who can perform, achieve and be successful, despite their ethnicity or nationality.

Bad luck and bad governance are probably two most prominent reasons for people to suffer in so many corners of the world...

"All men are created equal" - the U.S. Declaration of Independence proclaimed more than two centuries ago. I am not completely sure if it is so. But if there is any inherited mental difference between us, humans, it definitely does not lie in geographical place of birth. Human stupidity is universal. Luckily, compassion, care and determination to create a peace where others don't believe it happening are universal virtues too.

Here is one AIESEC alumnus who proves the latter sentence:

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Why global financial crisis is good fo us?

I had a blast New Year's eve with my girlfriend. Only me, her and enormous amount of fireworks everywhere seen from the upper floors of my dormitory in Oslo. Picturesque view it was!

There is a tradition in many countries for the top-person to deliver New Year's greetings to the people. I watched recorded speech of the President of Estonia, I read the speeches of the King of Norway and the President of Kazakhstan. They all had one obvious common trait in common - they all touched upon global financial and economic crisis as well as upon the need for national unity in order to overcome economic difficulties.

These days financial crisis (or economic crisis followed by it) is in the top list of the most discussed topics around the world. Many fears and many negative thoughts are expressed in relation to it.

There is indeed much trouble for people who have lost their money due to previously done risky investments, for people who are loosing their jobs, for small and large businesses which are losing their clients, for national governments which do not receive enough money with taxes to sustain necessary level of social services and so on and so forth.

Yet there is another side of the coin which is not that obvious. Taking an abstract side away from individual troubles and personal losses (which are hard to underestimate!) one can indeed find a number of positive sides about current economic outlooks.

1. A crisis cleans up a system. When we don't clean after ourselves in our apartment, the rubbish piles up. It may not worry us in the beginning if we are not all too aesthetes. Once it starts to smell badly, however - a crisis! - we move ourselves to clean up this mess and make our house tidy again.

Economic crisis wipes out inefficient corporate companies, shows clearly the holes in national and local financial governance, punishes people who have misused seemingly easy credit opportunities.

2. Growth is always followed by decline. Growth is not eternal. People and organisations tend to forget these two simple theses and become too careless. Living organisms grow, but then decline and die. Empires, states, organisations, religions all experience their growth and decline phases. Decline may well be followed by growth again, but this change is always there.

Investors putting their money into risky projects, people taking large loans, states expanding their national spending all have made these decisions taking into considerations that "my stock price / salary / tax revenue will continue to grow". Alternative scenario planning is always useful... Many have hopefully learnt at least that from current situation.

3. It's not wise to live beyond your means. People like to feel reach. They like expensive and shiny things.

People working in financial services have universally enjoyed the highest payments. If you work in the bank, investment company, trust fund etc, a very high personal bonus would be guaranteed. Yet financial services do not create any value - people there just move money around. And often this money is not simply moved from those who have money in excess to those in need for that, so that latter would pay interest to former (that should be the basic logic of finance world). In contrary, many smart people around the world spend days and nights playing on speculations, on risk perceptions and so on. Being straightforward, many people get paid a lot for doing something similar to a man going to casino.

Financial services' officers have indeed a very high responsibility. But don't engineers, scientists, doctors, journalists (you continue) have lesser responsibility than them?

Financial crisis has shaken this self-created money-creating-money-world. I am not naive to believe that many dwellers of this world have become poor thanks to that (ex-executives of infamous Lehmann Borther have gotten millions of USD as a compensation after the bankrupt). Yet probably many of them had to refuse from buying a yacht, a diamond or another expensive thingy making them a little bit more happy.

On the other hand, there were so many people all around the world miscalculating their ability to pay back the loans they have taken in order to have bigger house, another car, to consume more. I know personally people in Estonia who have taken a loan to buy something, then took another loan to cover payback of the first loan and so on... until they got in the real trouble with paying all of their debts back.

Island has been labeled a notorious victim of financial crisis. How about the data from 2006 which shows that Iceland has been of the biggest consumers of oil per capita in 2006 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7090664.stm)? One could indeed argue that Iceland is cold country which simply requires a lot of oil to heat up itself. People who have travelled to Reykjavik said that literally every household there had their own 4x4 Jeep or another huge truck (although most of them would go at most 2-3 times a year outside of the city)...

4. Crisis triggers entrepreneurial ideas and improvements. When everything is good and rosy, we don't seem to want to change something much. Difficult circumstances, on the other hand, push us to think in a creative way. Of course, this creativity may manifest itself in more creative ways to commit crime. But it also may mean improved effectiveness of existing companies, better calculation of personal expenditure and savings, new ways to do business.

5. Economic crisis pushes oil prices down. Oil prices have sunk dramatically over the course of October-December 2008 - more than twice. National economies don't simply need that much oil to sustain themselves in times of decline.

This is certainly bad for environmental reasons: cheap oil will not push humankind to think of new, environmentally-friendly sources of energy. Yet low prices of oil may make radical elements in governments in such oil-rich countries as Venezuela, Iran or Russia to think more before wasting money on populist nationalistic projects which are not sustainable for their own people and dangerous for other nations.

Happy New Year, with the crises or without them!
There was an error in this gadget