Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tartu Hanseatic Days

Over the past few years, the fast-food industry has been under mild pressure to improve their products in terms of health. Instead of just French fries, you can now choose from salad and carrot sticks. Even jumbo potato wedges. But you’re still consuming a mammoth burger and Coke. Coke Light (or Diet Coke in North America) is one of the most offensive misnomers in the world of healthy eating. By using aspartame in place of sugar, diet drinks actually increase your appetite for carbohydrates. Junk food is still junk food.

In much the same way, the Hanseatic Days, or Hansa Festival, or Hanseatic Festival Days, or whatever the official name is in English (I think there isn’t one) keeps improving itself. In order to stay successful, a product needs to be reinvented ever so often to avoid seeming stale. This year’s Hansa thingy in Tartu was called the Harmonic Tartu Hanseatic Days. As I’ve previously stated, it’s one of my favorite events of the year in all of Estonia. This year in Tartu it was apparently more musical than in past years. The only difference I noticed—apart from the main stage being relocated—was that it was smaller. It’s been getting smaller every summer.

There were only a handful of food tents, and they all sold exactly the same junk food. The tent I used to visit every year was, I think, Kalevi Köök. I believe they were Armenians. The shish-ka-bobs were huge, served with onion, and the baklava was amazing. They weren’t there this past weekend. I had to settle for Setu Köök. Why? Because out of all the places that offered grilled meat, boiled potatoes and frozen veggies grilled fresh from the bag, this was the only place that had no line.

I ordered the shish-ka-bobs. After I paid, the woman who worked there—Krista—opened a cooler and pulled out a stick of dried up meat and gave it to me on a plate. That’s when I noticed it was the only food tent lacking a man with a beer belly bigger than Mikk Saar’s ego slaving over a greasy round grill. I felt cheated. I felt like I was being served imitation junk food. And I was out of cash and had to eat it. I could have asked for my money back, but that would have involved an expert opinion, and in the best-case scenario I would have got a replacement stick of meat at next year’s Hansa thingy, which I will definitely go to either way. I’ll just bring my own grill.

Then Mrs. Mingus and I took the kids to the children’s area. They were afraid of the questionable entrance to the balloon house, so they decided to get their faces painted instead. As we were waiting in line, that’s when I saw the man in the next picture, taking photographs of our children, and others’ children. I’d seen him before, last winter when the city sculpted a fantastic ice village on Town Hall Square.

That day in winter, I noticed him skulking around, photographing kids. He appeared to be alone, but I couldn’t be sure, so I just kept an eye on him. For half an hour, I watched him capture image after image, and I finally pointed him out to some friends. They’d already noticed him, and we agreed he was potentially dangerous. I started trying to take a photo of him with my poor-quality camera phone, and he noticed me, avoided me. At that moment, I saw a random police patrol slowly approaching, and the man turned around instantly and walked the other way.

The police were very interested in my description of the events, and set off to look for him, based on this image. They did not catch him—he was gone too fast—but they asked me to send them a copy of the photo. I did. And so when I saw him again at the Hansa thingy, he apparently recognized me too, and started to leave quickly. I caught up to him and let my fury intimidate him into not fleeing. I asked why he was photographing kids. “I’m not.” I repeated my question with some more heat in my voice. “Children are just so beautiful. I love taking pictures of them.” I told him I was going to call the police, and that we would wait together. He complied. He’d been through this before. He was calm, and pulled out a book from his black bag.

Twenty minutes later, the police arrived. I recounted my story and registered an official complaint while they checked his identification on-line. He was released, but if he ever hurts a little child, he will already have a record. Yes, taking photos of kids is not illegal. He’d broken no laws that day. But the police did make him delete the shots of my daughters. They even thanked me for calling them. “It was unquestionably the right thing to do,” Officer Kristjan stated. If you see this man, play close attention to him. If you're a parent, you'll sense the same alarm going off in your head.

It’s strange though, you know? A man who is potentially dangerous is released, but a man who commits a violent crime and laughs about it is also released? Late this winter, I wrote about street violence in Tartu. The victim of one of the incidents was David Haslam, a farner. Well, he’s English. He’s a foughnuh. He was in town for his art exhibition, which opened two days later. He had to attend it covered in bandages. While walking with two Estonian friends on Tiigi Street in Tartu at night, two other Estonian men, Alvar Sillaste and Martin Kramin, attacked them with mace. One of the Estonian victims managed to escape and call the police. The attackers singled out David and repeatedly kicked him in the head and face. They were so engrossed with kicking this man to a pulp that they only noticed the police when they were being handcuffed. They hadn’t noticed the flashing lights on the squad car.

David was taken to the hospital. Later, I contacted Indrek Mustimets of the city government, asking if he had any information on this. He replied that he did not believe David was taken to the hospital, because there was no record of it. David has photographic proof of his visit to the emergency room, as well as all the paperwork. The police said two individuals were arrested for a drunken street fight that night. David was instructed by the police not to talk to anyone (including the British embassy) about what had happened because it could somehow affect the pending court case.

The court date was in the past few days. As expected, the criminals were set free. They pleaded guilty and were given three years’ probation. If they consume alcohol or drugs, then they are in violation of—what? What will happen to them then? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. This whole case was a tremendous waste of taxpayers’ money. The prosecutor even warned David that nothing would happen. Why have a court if it isn’t going to do its job?

The fact that mace was used was not considered, because the court could not identify which of the criminals had used it. Despite David informing the court that he could, in fact, identify who had used the mace. David’s being a non-Estonian was also not considered, because the police officers who witnessed the anti-foughnuh slurs were not asked to testify. Martin Kramin said, “It wasn’t because he spoke English. I’ve worked abroad.” (Norway, in fact.) “I was just too drunk.” Well, I’ve eaten peanut butter, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

These two criminals showed no remorse. Anyone who’s taken high school psychology will notice that Kramin, in the interview, only looked at the reporter when listening to a question, but looked any which way while speaking. That indicates a lie. And alcohol is just an enabler. The real you comes out when you’re drunk.

I’m sure Judge Ene Muts did a very professional job of following directions, so I cannot hold her in contempt for freeing these two clearly dangerous fuckwads. Minister of Justice Rein Lang said five years ago that he wanted to lower the number of prison inmates in Estonia by roughly a third. Compared to the population, Estonia has the highest number of inmates in the European Union. Almost four times that of Finland. My question is, if two men get off for a violent, unprovoked crime directed at a random foughnuh, what do you have to do to actually go to prison? And why are there so many of these even worse criminals in Estonia?

Many Estonians will point out that about half of the prison population is Russian, yet they make up only a quarter of the national population. That may be true, but these people must realize that there are still twice as many Estonians in prison per hundred thousand population as in Finland. These “even worse criminals” and anyone else who would commit random acts of violence are proud of their country, as they should be, and celebrate their freedom despite their incarceration. Yet they live their lives based on their old Soviet mentality. They may wear modern clothes, having abandoned denim bodysuits and Nike tracksuits, but Coke Light is still Coke, and junk food is still junk food.


Recently I spent the night in Tallinn’s Old Town. At night I was thirsty, so I filled a glass with tap water. It was yellow. I took a bottle home and photographed it next to a glass of Tartu tap water. I’m so happy to live in Tartu. Sometimes I have to wonder though: as Tartu has very little crime reported, is it because there is no crime, or because it’s just not reported? Perhaps Tartu’s water is just as nasty as Tallinn’s, but it’s somehow manipulated? It sure looks clear though, and it tastes good.


Márton Barki said...

it is a fantastic /again well structured/ and thoughtmoving post

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Somehow, that idiot Giustino never writes anything about the real, dark side of Tartu and just goes on and on about how safe and wonderful Tartu/Estonia is because nothing ever happened to him.

Refreshing post.

Justin said...

I think it's a cover-up by Tartu police, though I don't know if it's intentional.

Here's a list of all "crimes of note" this weekend for each district in Estonia. Note in Tallinn, any fight or attack is listed (and the same with some other districts). In Tartu, nothing is listed except thefts.

You can go back other days and see the same things. So either fights aren't important, or they aren't being reported.

Mingus said...

Thanks Anonymous, but perhaps we should try to be constructive and not defamatory.

And thank you Márton.

Justin - I think you wanted to post a link? It didn't come through. But I have to agree with you, at least as much as I do think it is intentionally covered up.

Justin said...

Hmm guess I forgot to post the link. Here it is:


Giustino said...

I swear I've seen that pervert guy before, but not at a playground ... got to think of where ... hopefully not a friend's party ...

Giustino said...

Thanks. Somehow, that idiot Giustino never writes anything about the real, dark side of Tartu and just goes on and on about how safe and wonderful Tartu/Estonia is because nothing ever happened to him.

Maybe because compared to the other places I have lived (New York; Washington, DC) Tartu is comparably safe and wonderful. DC was the worse of the two. When I lived there, in 1998-2002, it was just beginning to climb out of its Marion Barry-era abyss, when it was America's murder capital for a number of years.

In an urban situation, you sadly learn to avert your gaze, you say nothing to the person who accosts you, you hold your breath, hoping that the assailant will bother someone else, and you know you can't exactly count on the police to come to your rescue. Here's a question: has anyone ever been accidentally shot to death by the police in Tartu? It's happened multiple times in New York City.

Perhaps my previous experiences have jaded me. Like this comment from Mingus:

They may wear modern clothes, having abandoned denim bodysuits and Nike tracksuits, but Coke Light is still Coke, and junk food is still junk food.

Have you ever been to Queens? In some places, they are still wearing Nike track suits! And they are dangerous guys. I used to live close to Howard Beach, in 2005 and 2006 two separate racially-motivated attacks occurred there. The difference was that in at least one case, the perpetrator, one Nicholas Minucci, actually went to jail.

I hope that pressure from blogs like Mingus' can somehow push the Estonian criminal justice system on the path of punishing criminals. If such attacks had happened pre-Civil Rights movement in Howard Beach, they probably would have gone unpunished.

Giustino said...

By the way, does Estonia have a public online database of registered sex offenders? I always used to check out our neighborhoods in the US.

Justin said...

I lived in DC around the same time Giustino did. I suppose it's just personal experience, but I was never a victim of crime there, and I've had more problems living in Estonia.

I've called the police a few times both in DC and Estonia, and the police in DC were much quicker and efficient. Twice in DC I called 911 for a crime in progress and multiple patrol cars were on the scene within 90 seconds. Meanwhile in Tallinn I've called for crimes in progress (a rape, multiple fights), all in old town, and response times were usually at least 5 minutes or more.

Of course that's all anecdotal. I certainly have no fear of someone sticking a gun in my face in Estonia, while that could definitely happen in DC (note that guns are illegal in Washington, DC, but criminals don't care of course).

Estonia does appear to have a higher homicide rate than the US, if you look at the overall country and not just urban areas:

Still I'm not saying Estonia is full of crimes -- I certainly feel safe. Just that the US is not as crime-ridden as it may seem.

Giustino said...

I am ashamed of my indifference to my fellow man, actually, Justin. I went to school with violent skinheads, so they don't shock me; I had friends beaten up, so it doesn't surprise me; I don't put my faith in the police, so I am not disturbed by their poor performance. I sadly may not feel true outrage until something happens to me (ph ph ph - spitting in the air). Knowing Estonian does help. If you are a foreigner, you can change the dynamic of a bad situation by pretending to be a local ... The idiots might not buy it, but it may also confuse them.

Justin said...

Looks like Tartu Police may be doing a cover-up again. Here's a report from Ohtuleht about how a boy in Tartu was severely beaten and later died. It happened on Sept 20:


Now here's the police listing of "major events" from Sept 20, 21, and 22:




The only "crimes" in Tartu during that time worth listing appear to be property crimes. Hmm...