Here’s a souvenir from a classic “only in Estonia” event, courtesy of To Breathe as One.
It’s a clip from last year’s Estonian Punk Song Festival in Rakvere, at which professional choirs performed punk rock songs, without a trace of irony. In this clip a massive choir is performing “Anarchy in the U.K.” by the Sex Pistols. What I love about it is that Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia, is singing along. He’s the fellow in rimless glasses, black turtleneck, and jacket, who appears at 0:54, 1:21, and 2:16 in the video.
Here’s some background for those who may be too young to remember. “Anarchy in the U.K.” caused quite a stir when it was released by the Sex Pistols, as their very first single, in 1976. The sound, shocking and even threatening to the ears of mid-1970s radio listeners, was groundbreaking and ushered in the punk era. Rolling Stone magazine placed “Anarchy in the U.K.” #53 on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
Rock on, Mr. President!
You can read more about the significance of the song here, and more about the festival here.
There seems to be an unwritten rule about how heads of state pose for their portraits. Whether they’re smiling (see, for example, South Africa and Finland), frowning (Russia), or projecting a carefully-composed neutrality (China, Poland, and the US), heads of state pose as a rule without props. But here, as in so many areas, Estonia breaks the mold.
First some quick background. Toward the end of my book I discuss how Estonia has successfully branded itself as “E-stonia” (or as it is sometimes styled, “E-Estonia”): a tech-savvy country that leads in Internet innovation and is all over Web 2.0. And of course this is not just hype. Readers of this blog are no doubt aware of the evidence backing the “E-stonia” brand:
- Massive wi-fi coverage in all Estonian cities
- 100 percent cell-phone coverage
- Massive cell phone penetration (there exists about a cell phone and a half for each man, woman, and child in the country)
- Estonia was the first country to enable online voting in national elections
- Two-thirds of banking transactions completed online
- 90 percent of Estonians file their taxes online
All very good. But any marketing professional will tell you that a successful branding effort must be pervasive and all-encompassing. Estonians seem to understand this intuitively, as even the country’s president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, is in on the branding campaign: on the president’s official website, in the first photo to greet visitors to this homepage of the Republic of Estonia, President Ilves is posed — behind a laptop computer.
Did he just happen to be paying bills or voting or filing his taxes when he was captured by the camera? Well, this being E-stonia, I do believe that he was.
(And as for that frowning visage above, it is Konstantin Päts, president of independent Estonia in the 1930s. No props for him.)