The D&O Diary completed its European assignment with a final stop late last week in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city. With a population of around 440,000, Tallinn is relatively compact. In fact, the population of the entire country of Estonia (with a total land area roughly equal to that of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire, combined) is only about 1.2 million, making it one of the smaller countries in the EU. Though Tallinn is relatively small, it is full of charm and history.
The most important thing to know about Tallinn is that its old town and historic city walls — including 26 watchtowers — are largely intact, making it one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. Within the walls, the city is full of Gothic-era houses, beautiful church towers, and graceful spires. The city’s fortifications were begun in the 14th century, when Estonia was a province of the Danish king, and, later a territory of the Teutonic knights. The walls were expanded during subsequent occupations by the Swedish and, later, the Russians. (Estonia was part of the Russian empire from the early 18th century until 1918.) Today, the fortified areas and much of the city within have been mostly (although not entirely) refurbished. After several days there, we found that we were still discovering new alleys, courtyards, and passageways.
We were fortunate that while we were in Tallinn the city was hosting its annual Tallinna Vanalinna Päevad (Old Town Days) festival, which featured a number of musical, artistic, and cultural events and activities at locations within and just outside the walled city. The festival was very cool – and I mean that in both the colloquial and literal senses. On Thursday afternoon, the air temperatures were, maybe, 43 degrees, and the wind was blowing a steady 25 mph, with occasional gusts up to 35 mph. Then it rained. And then – sleet. Eventually, and as happened every evening while we were in Tallinn, the skies cleared, the wind died down, and the seemingly eternal sunshine of the northern latitude late spring shone down on the city’s historic district. The weather did improve by Saturday, when we had a full day of sunshine and more moderate temperatures. Still, we kept out coats on and zipped up the entire time we were there.
The festival events included a broad diversity of musical and artistic performances, including traditional dancing by groups in authentic costumes representing ethnic minorities from the Baltics, from Scandinavia, from Eastern Europe, and from within greater Russia. The musical high point was performance in the Saturday afternoon sunshine by a brass band of students from the University of Tartu (second picture below). The afternoon program on the main stage in the central square also included a rendition of popular music from the Soviet era, including (I am not making this up) “Today I Play the Saxophone, Tomorrow I Betray my Country.” ( I understand from a little bit of Internet research that the phrase is a reference to Soviet-era propaganda which tried to suggest it was a short step from following Western culture, such as jazz, to betraying Soviet principles.)
There are several excellent museums in Tallinn that help explain the country’s fascinating and complicated history, including in particular the Museum of Occupations, which explored the city’s occupation by the Russians and Germans between 1939 and 1991. The country’s two century era as part of the Russian empire ended after World War I. The country’s brief existence as an independent republic from 1920 to 1939 ended all too soon, when the Soviet army invaded. The German Army pushed out the Soviets in 1941, but the Soviet army drove the Germans out in 1944, and the country remained one of the Soviet republics until finally in 1991 when, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country once again became an independent country. Because folk singing festivals were an important part of the independence movement, the Estonian’s refer to their independence efforts as the “Singing Revolution.” A key event in the drive toward independence was the day on which the Estonian flag replaced the Soviet flag on the tallest tower in the Old Town, the Tall Hermann tower, which rises above what is now the country’s parliament building.
Since 1991, the country has been transformed. The current atmosphere is overwhelmingly positive and forward-looking. Estonia joined the EU in 2004 and it adopted the Euro in 2011. Tallinn itself projects openness and dynamism. While the country is now thoroughly Westernized and modern, vestiges of the Soviet era remain. Redevelopment undoubtedly will eventually eliminate the crumbling remnants, but in the meantime, the authorities in Tallinn have tried to make a virtue out of a deficiency by turning sites that might otherwise be viewed as eyesores into a tourist destination. The city has created a walking trail called “Tallinn Culture Kilometer,” which encompasses a trail through an area in which art museums and galleries sit alongside (and are slowly overtaking or even replacing) abandoned buildings from the Soviet era. Because the area sits along the harbor shoreline near the passenger ferry terminals that is already actively being redeveloped, I suspect the remaining Soviet-era buildings in the area will soon be gone.
The primary reason for my visit to Tallinn was to participate in an event on D&O insurance jointly sponsored by the Sorainen law firm and Polaris Corporate Solutions. I was fortunate enough to be able to make a presentation at the event on the topic of the recent global rise of collective investor actions, as well as to participate on two panels on D&O insurance and director and officer liability topics. It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of this excellent event, and it was a great experience for me to learn about the D&O insurance market and liability environment in Estonia and in the Baltics generally. It was also a pleasure to find out how many professionals in the Baltic region follow The D&O Diary.
In the first picture below, I am standing with Reimo Hammerberg of the Sorainen law firm; Peter Schlamberger of Polaris; and Vanja Nadali of Polaris.
In this picture, I am standing with Dr. Milda Pranckevičiūtė of Nasdaq. Nasdaq operates three securities exchanges in the Baltics as part of the Nasdaq Baltic group, including the stock exchange in Tallinn.
While I was in Tallinn, I was fortunate to meet one of Estonia’s leading D&O insurance brokers, Helen Evert, of IIZI Kindlustusmaakler, pictured below.
More Pictures of Tallinn:
Just five tram stops east of the old town is Kadriorg, a city park build from the pleasure gardens of the palace that the Russian Emperor Peter the Great built for his wife, Catherine. The palace now houses an art museum.
At the northern end of Kadriorg is a memorial for the crew of the Rusalka, a ship that sank with all hands in the late 19th century. The memorial is built along the shoreline, with views out across Tallinn Bay and back to the Old Town.
Tallinn’s Old Town is remarkable and beautiful but it is hard to capture in just a single photograph. So, instead, here is a collection of photographs of the old town, its ramparts, walls, and buildings.