Estonia, northern Europe’s young little nation snuggled against Russia and facing the Baltic siblings Finland and Sweden, opened its embassy in Delhi early this year. Viljar Lubi, who was posted in January as its first ambassador, discusses with The Hindu why he chose to spend two busy days in Bangalore last week and the big Indian picture that is before his Scandinavian country. Excerpts:
What brings you to Bangalore?
I have been in India for six months, since January. For most part of this time, I have been in Delhi as we were setting up the embassy. Now that the embassy is ready we found time [for this.] In India, Delhi is certainly important but it’s not the only place.
Bangalore is the most obvious place to visit.
Why do you say so?
If you go to Europe and ask anyone about Bengaluru, the first thing they say is IT [information technology]. This is like a trademark. Of course I know that Karnataka and Bengaluru are much more than just IT.
Estonia also is strong in IT. That’s why I chose to visit this place. I just hope that I can come back very soon!
How will be your future Bangalore connect? Will this be your next anchor outside Delhi?
Yes. Just as the physical presence of Estonia in Delhi is important, we are also trying to establish an honorary consulate in Bangalore. I may try to come here as often as possible but we could do with a helping hand here.
You met the president of our IT lobby, Nasscom, during your visit. What was the outcome of it?
We went through some of the aspects of our potential cooperation. Estonia is a small country. Not like India, you can’t do everything on your own, so we have chosen a few things.
E-governance, mobile solutions and cyber defence - these are the areas we think we can cooperate in.
The Estonian and Indian governments are just about to conclude negotiations on a memorandum of understanding on IT. We want it to be more than just paper and have practical outcome as well; try to involve the private sector from the very start. That’s why I met Nasscom [president K.S.Viswanathan.]
We have an e-government academy that offers training courses. 150 Indian civil servants from central and state governments have been there to train, I’m not sure if some were from Karnataka. It’s a globally sought-after institution. People keep coming there.
What is happening there in cyber defence? Estonia has had some incidents.
Cyber attacks are now happening daily [everywhere.] In the past we had some bad instances when Estonia was attacked from foreign countries and everybody knew about them. Now we have some expertise in it.
We started building our own defences and other countries noticed them and came to discuss with us and that’s how NATO set up its Cyber Defence Centre in Tallinn, our capital. Early this year the centre published the first Tallinn Handbook, a rule book on how to behave during a cyber war, what kind of an international law has to be in place, and such. For even in a war you should follow rules.
In these matters you have to have global partners. NATO is just a handful of countries, you need to have code links and full cooperation with all including India, which has a crucial role.
From a happy space in Europe, Estonia is reaching out all the way to India. What is the big picture you see for ties between the two countries?
Europe is our neighbourhood and backyard. We are also looking at other markets, for example the United States, Canada and Australia, where large communities are, post World War II. And now it is India.
Everybody talks about China, which may be the driver [of world economy] now. But most people I met say that by 2030, it will be India. Everybody wants to be in India and so do we!
Can you specify what the two countries can offer each other?
You often read about competition in the Indian IT sector to buy companies in Europe just as a means to access the EU market. Where do they buy – in France and Germany where acquisitions will be very expensive. Instead you can come to Estonia, establish yourself there and you can access the whole EU market. In the same way as you can from Germany or France.
Estonia offers itself as a gateway to Europe?
Yes, and to Russia as well. India and Russia have always had good relationships. Russia is our neighbour. Most of us, and I too, speak Russian. It can be an advantage.
In logistics, for example, we see mutual interest. I had many meetings in Mumbai with logistics companies on how to get a corridor for Indian exports to Russia and Central Asia. Today cargo [from India] goes through Germany via Hamburg, or [the Dutch port of] Rotterdam. These are not the only ports in Europe.
By unloading cargo in German or Dutch ports you have to travel by land to Russia and Central Asia, which is a very expensive route. Why not by ships? Why not you explore the sea route to Estonia and put it on rails there? When we discussed this with Estonian and Indian logistics companies, they agreed and said, “We never thought about it.”
There is also culture and education; some countries tap our film industry, `Bollywood’, to promote tourism.
Estonians would like to come and see India which is a big country with heritage, history and culture. Estonia also has a lot to offer Indians, it’s in a different part of the world with a different culture and climate. I can tell you it’s fabulous right now.
[The Bollywood idea - ] I would, of course, try to do that as well but like to go further than that. I don’t want to reveal anything here to my competitors!
It is excellent how people connect through cuisine and culture. Before this I was in Washington but I was in love with Indian cuisine even before I came here and I was happy to come to India when this posting was proposed. I like the saree so much. It’s so wonderful that Indian women have kept their national dresses.
We have many things happening on the education front, too. I recently gave visas to 60 Indian students going to Estonian universities. We, too, put a lot of emphasis on technical education. I also hope Estonian students come to IITs.