Archive for June 6th, 2012

Estonian president to Paul Krugman: Shove it! Update: The final battle?

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Estonia’s high-tech president is fluent in the language of the tweet.

I spent several hours today with the Estonian mastermind behind Histordamus, an interactive website that is being adopted in half of the small Baltic nation’s schools.  Now that I have a number of Estonians among my acquaintance, I’ve learned about Estonia’s enviable technological savvy.  Estonian engineers invented Skype.  Who knew?  The small, mercifully debt-free nation has universal WiFi.  Citizens vote online.  And my Estonian visitor today told me that he did his taxes online in six minutes.

Silence is golden.

When I got back to my computer, however, I learned that Estonia had just declared war in the Twittersphere.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves responded to a volley from the New York Times with  … a handful of tweets.

Nobel economist Paul Krugman started it.  He scoffed today in a short blogpost:  “Since Estonia has suddenly become the poster child for austerity defenders — they’re on the euro and they’re booming! — I thought it might be useful to have a picture of what we’re talking about. Here’s real GDP, from Eurostat” – then there’s a lackluster graph.  Then he asks: “this is what passes for economic triumph?”

President Ilves (@IlvesToomas) is no stranger to America: he grew up in New Jersey and has a 1976 bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University and a 1978 master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. The Guardian has a profile of him here, hailing him as the hero of the Baltic states and saluting Ilves for the nation’s “robust economy.”  Clearly Krugman doesn’t agree.

In addition to Estonian and English, Ilves is fluent in German and Spanish.  But clearly he knows the language of the tweet as well.  Here are five of today’s tweets to Krugman, in chronological order:

Let’s write about something we know nothing about & be smug, overbearing & patronizing: after all, they’re just wogs:

Guess a Nobel in trade means you can pontificate on fiscal matters & declare my country a “wasteland”. Must be a Princeton vs Columbia thing 

But yes, what do we know? We’re just dumb & silly East Europeans. Unenlightened. Someday we too will understand. Nostra culpa.

Let’s sh*t on East Europeans: their English is bad, won’t respond & actually do what they’ve agreed to & reelect govts that are responsible.

Chill. Just because my country’s policy runs against the Received Wisdom & I object doesn’t mean y’all gotta follow me. [The article praises Estonia’s economy.]

Sorry, not conserv. or leftist. Just can’t fathom why following agreed upon EU fiscal rules justifies smug & snide gloating re: my country.

No replies from Krugman. Perhaps it’s best.  A closed mouth gathers no feet.

Update on 6/7:  The war continues… A few more tweets followed in a similar vein, plus some back-and-forths with what appears to be the public at large.

But many wondered: Was it really the president of Estonia tweeting his peeves this way?  Terms like “y’all,” “chill,” and “wog” seemed to leave some room for doubt.  (They forgot that he grew up in New Jersey.)  The New York Observer‘s column “The Politicker” left no stone unturned in ferreting out the truth: it reached out to the Estonian government and received confirmation and a statement from the man himself:   “Yes I send my own tweets,” Mr. Ilves said. “It was a sincere and immediate defense of the major and often difficult efforts of Estonia to deal with the economic crisis and to stick to the rules adopted in the European Union.”

A few hours later, Krugman finally responded loftily in his own column, “Ballistic in the Baltics”: “I’m hearing from various sources that my rather mild-mannered post on Estonia has generated a vitriolic response from the nation’s president. I’m not going to try to track the thing down.”  Mild-mannered?  I think not.  And somehow I doubt Krugman was so far in the clouds that he couldn’t  click on the links to Twitter to find out what a foreign president was saying.  Fortunately, Krugman more wisely turns to a graph for the economics of FDR’s administration, and let the matter rest.

Would I have gone Ilves’s route in riposte?  Probably not.  But I notice he’s gained about 2,300 Twitter followers in the last 24 hours.

Twitter seems to be cheering for Ilves.  The New York Times comments strongly favor Krugman.  Both sides are saying … exactly what you would expect them to say.

Food fight over.