About the author: José Tavares is a Portuguese foreign correspondent based in Turkey. He writes on Turkish politics and foreign relations in the region for Expresso, Portugal’s biggest weekly newspaper.
“There is no such thing as bad weather”, once a good Estonian friend told me. “Only wrong clothing”. A nice way of saying you were not blessed with good weather, but you know how to cope with it.
I was reminded of this last Saturday, in Ankara, Turkey, on a rainy, grey and miserable morning, when Aivo Orav, the Estonian ambassador here addressed a crowd of Turkish politicians, diplomats and foreign expatriates by a lake near the Turkish capital, on the occasion of the Estonian national Day reception. “It’s raining out there – not as bad as in Estonia, where it is now – 30°C and there is lots of snow”, Mr. Orav said. “Let’s go out there and enjoy our Nordic walk”.
It was an unusual, remarkable sight. In the tent by the beautiful Gölbaşı lake, one could spot Egemen Bağış, the Turkish minister for EU affairs and Ankara’s chief negotiator for the EU accession process, a number of ambassadors and diplomats, and Embassy’s Turkish friends and contacts eagerly waiting for their poles for a bit of ..er…unusual exercise. Was this really a diplomatic reception?!
And off they went, having first been instructed about the correct technique by the very founder of Nordic walking, Mr Marko Kantaneva. Surrounded by a battalion of photographers and cameras, Mr. Orav led the way under the relentless Anatolian rain, side by side with a beaming Mr. Bağış trying to cope with the novelty of having to deal with those long poles. Yet soon the problems of negotiating a new process were over, and a minister from one of the biggest countries in Europe, and a proud ambassador of one of the smallest countries in the continent, led a colourful, diverse, happy and noisy crowd around the lake.
The message from Minister Bağış was clear – EU friends, here we come in good form. At least this was what his white hat, carefully adorned with Turkish and EU flags, did suggest, together with his smile throughout the walk and reception, and his valiant effort alongside the other guests.
“This is so nice”, I heard many people saying. “Different from the usual conventional receptions”, other familiar faces uttered while I passed them, myself gripping here and there with the now famous Nordic poles.
The rain did not stop, but hey – there is no such thing as bad weather, right? And in Rome do as the… well.
There were some good leather shoes here and there – I think I even spotted some tweed trousers among the crowd. The elegant invitation from the Estonian embassy did say “sportive clothing” – but in a multicultural environment, one has to expect different interpretations, right?
Later, during the relaxed, yet delicious meal, after a sip of Glühwein or, alternatively, good Turkish tea, needed to comfort the spirits after the (strenuous?) sport, I have approached ambassador Orav to congratulate him on an excellent, even exquisite, event.
“Estonia and Turkey’s relations are very, very good”, he confided in his usual contained yet genuine self.”We don’t have any disagreements. Business relations are good. Turkey is one of our first tourist destinations. And this goes a long while: Turkey never recognized Estonia as a part of the Soviet Union, and after we re-gained our independence in 1991, Turkey always supported Estonia’s NATO membership. We very much support Turkey’s membership in the European Union, too”.Ambassador Orav paused his eyes on the chattering, relaxed crowd, among trays of delicious köfte, pirzola or kebab. “There is also an emotional link in our relationship. Arvo Pärt has composed a piece for Istanbul, which was played for the first time there last year. Turkey’s highest mountain Ağri [also known as Ararat] was first climbed by an Estonian mountaineer. We have tried to promote cross-country skiing in this country – I simply could not imagine celebrating our national day this year among the four walls of a soulless luxury hotel!”.
Quite right, ambassador Orav! Coming from a small country myself – one with good weather though!-, I could not stop but admire the scene. Even though Port is arguably better than the Vana Tallinn I tasted that morning, I think this was Estonia’s day. Be it these “emotional links” – or the creativity of the Estonians – diplomats, businessmen, sportsmen, and students – the truth is that Estonia sticks out in Turkey. Like the many hundred Nordic poles stubbornly going up and down (and sometimes sideways!) on a grey, miserable winter morning in Anatolia. But hey – there is no such thing as bad weather – right?