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Layered Spaces of Meaning: The Estonian National Museum - Cultures of History Forum

On a bright morning in late October, the gloomy days of Soviet rule are a distant memory. With substantial international funding, including from the European Research Council and the Human Frontier Science Program, he has assembled a system to measure the volatile compounds that trees and grasses emit under heat and other stresses. It now boasts strengths in numerous fields, including ecology, molecular biology and genetics, and has built up extensive international research networks. And its research prospects are tied heavily to those of the EU.

Latvia, for instance, borders Estonia and joined the EU at the same time. With just 1. Its research community comprises just over 3, full-time researchers in academia, and a modest number of small and medium-sized tech companies. But its research base was even smaller when independence arrived. At that time, government spending on science had dropped to almost nothing — as it had in Russia and other former Eastern-bloc countries in the region. Five years after independence, Estonia-based authors were publishing just or so scientific papers per year in English-language journals covered by the citation database Scopus.

One major reason, he says, was a set of changes launched shortly after independence by a forward-looking government. After the Soviet Union collapsed, a young, technophile and Western-oriented reform government dismantled defence-related research capacities and handed control of institutes run by the Estonian Academy of Sciences to universities.

It also moved to a system in which science was funded by competitive grants, so that hundreds of uncompetitive researchers had to look for new jobs outside science. A measured, stepwise transition was crucial, says Allik; in Latvia, he says, funding policies were radically upended and it scattered the unprepared research community.

In Estonia, by contrast, changes came more gradually, so people had time to adapt. Scientists enthusiastic about their work did have a chance to stay. Credit: Raigo Saariste.

Bibliographic Information

A dramatic but necessary break was to transform the underperforming Soviet-style Estonian Academy of Sciences from a research organization into a solely advisory body, says coastal engineer Tarmo Soomere who heads the modern academy. Drawing on long-standing relations with Finland, a forerunner in information technology IT , Estonia used its Nordic neighbour as a model for setting up its own digital infrastructure.

The Tiger Leap Program, launched in , made sure that all Estonian schools and universities were equipped with modern computers before the turn of the millennium and connected to the Internet by Combined with intelligent devices and applications, language technology will help Europeans talk and do business together even if they do not speak a common language. We are witnesses to a digital revolution that is dramatically impacting communication and society. What can this analogy tell us about the future of the European information society and our languages in particular?

Around one million people speak Estonian as their mother tongue. Most of the speakers , live in the territory of modern Estonia, but approximately , people speak the language also in Russia, US, Sweden, Canada, Finland and many other countries. According to the census of the year , there are 1,, inhabitants the Republic of Estonia, and of those , speak Estonian as a second language.

Estonian is the only official language in the Republic of Estonia. Human language comes in spoken and written forms. While speech is the oldest and in terms of human evolution the most natural form of language communication, complex information and most human knowledge is stored and transmitted through the written word.

Speech and text technologies process or produce these different forms of language, using dictionaries, rules of grammar, and semantics.

Eesti keel digiajastul = The Estonian language in the digital age

This means that language technology LT links language to various forms of knowledge, independently of the media speech or text in which it is expressed. I went to visit him one morning, and was shown into a stateroom with a long conference table and French windows that looked out on the trees. Martens was standing at one window, with his back to me, commander style.

For a few moments, he stayed that way; then he whirled around and addressed a timid greeting to the buttons of my shirt. Martens was wearing a red flannel button-down, baggy jeans, black socks, and the sort of sandals that are sold at drugstores. He had gray stubble, and his hair was stuck down on his forehead in a manner that was somehow both rumpled and flat. This was the busiest time of the year, he said, with the fall election looming. He appeared to run largely on caffeine and nicotine; when he put down a mug of hot coffee, his fingers shook.

When the cards were released, in , Martens became convinced that they should be both mandatory and cheap. We sold it for ten euros at first, and what happened? Nobody has it. Before the first i-voting period, in , only five thousand people had used their card for anything.

More than nine thousand cast an i-vote in that election, however—only two per cent of voters, but proof that online voting was attracting users—and the numbers rose from there. As of , a third of all votes have been cast online.

They were not convinced that the servers were entirely secure, either. You needed both the passwords and the hardware the chip in your I. Estonian trust was its own safeguard, too, he told me. Earlier this fall, when a Czech research team found a vulnerability in the physical chips used in many I. His office announced the vulnerability, and the cards were locked for a time. When Sikkut held a small press conference, reporters peppered him with questions: What did the government gain from disclosing the vulnerability?

The Sound of the Estonian language (Numbers, Greetings & The Parable)

How disastrous was it? Sikkut looked bemused. Many upgrades to phones and computers resolve vulnerabilities that have never even been publicly acknowledged, he said—and think how much data we entrust to those devices. In any case, the transparency seemed to yield a return; a poll conducted after the chip flaw was announced found that trust in the system had fallen by just three per cent.

What follows is as practiced as a pas de deux at the Bolshoi. NATO troops on the ground scramble an escort. Estonia calls up the Russian Ambassador to complain; Russia cites an obscure error. Since the eleventh century, Estonian land has been conquered by Russia five times. Yet the country has always been an awkward child of empire, partly owing to its proximity to other powers and their airwaves and partly because the Estonian language, which belongs to the same distinct Uralic family as Hungarian and Finnish, is incomprehensible to everyone else. Plus, the greatest threat, these days, may not be physical at all.

In , a Russian cyberattack on Estonia sent everything from the banks to the media into chaos. Estonians today see it as the defining event of their recent history. You enter through a gatehouse with gray walls and a pane of mirrored one-way glass. I slid my passport through on a tray. The mirror was silent for two full minutes, and I backed into a plastic chair. Some minutes later, a friendly staffer appeared at the inner doorway and escorted me across a quadrangle trimmed with NATO -member flags and birch trees just fading to gold.

Inside a gray stone building, another mirror instructed me to stow my goods and to don a badge. Since starting, in , the center has done research on digital forensics, cyber-defense strategy, and similar topics. Estonia is also building data partnerships with Finland, and trying to export its methods elsewhere across the E.

A blockchain is like the digital version of a scarf knitted by your grandmother. She uses one ball of yarn, and the result is continuous.

Each stitch depends on the one just before it. In a blockchain system, too, every line is contingent on what came before it. Any breach of the weave leaves a trace, and trying to cover your tracks leaves a trace, too. Popular anxiety tends to focus on data security—who can see my information?


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The larger threat is data integrity: whether what looks secure has been changed. The blockchain makes every footprint immediately noticeable, regardless of the source. Ruubel says that there is no possibility of a back door. To guard secrets, K. But, to deal with a full-scale cyberattack, other safeguards now exist. Earlier this year, the Estonian government created a server closet in Luxembourg, with a backup of its systems. Then, from cars leaving the capital, from hotel rooms, from seat 3A at thirty thousand feet, they will open their laptops, log into Luxembourg, and—with digital signatures to execute orders and a suite of tamper-resistant services linking global citizens to their government—continue running their country, with no interruption, from the cloud.

The history of nationhood is a history of boundaries marked on land. Today, the old fatuities of the nation-state are showing signs of crisis.

Virtual citizens

Formerly imperialist powers have withered into nationalism as in Brexit and separatism Scotland, Catalonia. New powers, such as the Islamic State, have redefined nationhood by ideological acculturation.


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  8. It is possible to imagine a future in which nationality is determined not so much by where you live as by what you log on to. Estonia currently holds the presidency of the European Union Council—a bureaucratic role that mostly entails chairing meetings. The presidency rotates every six months; in January, it will go to Bulgaria. One September morning, a car pulled up in front of the Tallinn Creative Hub, a former power station, and Kersti Kaljulaid, the President of Estonia, stepped out.

    Tall and lanky, with chestnut hair in a pixie cut, she wore an asymmetrical dress of Estonian blue and machine gray. She had previously been an E. The leaders of Europe were arrayed in folding chairs, with Angela Merkel, in front, slumped wearily in a red leather jacket.