The Ideological Challenge of Economic Success

In today’s column, Anne Applebaum spends some time in the Skype offices of Tallinn, Estonia to contemplate the difficult dynamic of historical reckoning, sovereignty, and economic growth among Russia’s former satellite states:

One Estonian politician told me that a German colleague had instructed him to forget about history and move on, saying that “you’re wasting your time.” But nobody ever asks the Germans to forget about history and move on, do they? Walk through the Skype headquarters in Tallinn, look through the big picture windows at the crumbling concrete buildings outside and it becomes clear that the phenomena of economic progress and historical contemplation are actually closely connected. The Central European economies are no longer basket cases, and the Central Europeans are no longer desperately poor neighbors. As the Hungarians, Poles and Balts become more successful and more self-confident, it’s natural that they want their stories told, their issues discussed. The Germans only properly came to terms with their history in the 1960s, 20 years after World War II ended. Almost the same amount of time has elapsed since 1989. There may be other forces at work. Without question, the economic success stories of the region, particularly in the former Soviet republics, pose an ideological challenge to the government of Russia. Estonia and its neighbors have joined Western institutions, expanded Western trade. Russia has chosen a different path: confrontation with the West and an economic model based on oil rather than genuine capitalism. The regional sparring over history is also an argument over whose definition of the past, whose ideology and whose economic rules will prevail: those of the big Russian gas concerns or those of Skype. Me, I’m rooting for Skype, or at least for its bearded, multilingual employees. Even if their company wasn’t worth all those billions after all.