Young country, ancient history: global crime and security in Estonia

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A beach bar in a derelict Soviet prison, an art gallery in an abandoned factory and a medieval citadel with high-tech industry. These are the images I take away from my time in Tallinn, Estonia.

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Walking on the sea wall beside the abandoned prison

I went to Tallinn to present my Masters dissertation findings at the annual conference of the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control. The theme of the conference was ‘Social divisions, surveillance and the security state’ with a particular focus on gendered harm and research from Eastern European countries.

Estonia was the perfect setting for discussions on state security. Estonia is a tiny country that has a long history of occupation by various states and fighting for independence. Estonia currently hangs between east and west. On the one side there is the threat of occupation from Russia, following on from the situation in the Ukraine. On the other side, there are questions of how much support Estonia would receive from Western Europe, as an EU state.

The impression I took from Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, was of a former Soviet state rebuilding itself as an independent nation. This could be seen in the many Soviet era ruins that are slowly being reclaimed as social spaces and the building of Estonia’s reputation as a high-tech industry provider.

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Fried herring, donuts, pickles and garlic. Local foods sold in a market in a ruined factory

At the conference I was presenting my Masters dissertation findings on addressing demand for human trafficking for sexual exploitation.

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Graffiti in the abandoned Soviet prison – making a statement about human trafficking

As I come from New Zealand, a geographically isolated country, I wanted to make the most of my time on this side of the world to visit an international conference. I chose this conference as there were world experts in trafficking prevention attending. I was a little nervous before the conference – I was expecting a large-scale conference, which can sometimes be a bit cliquey and difficult to meet people, and was a little anxious about how my findings would be received. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the conference was smallish and close-knit but with a welcoming and supportive atmosphere. There was much discussion of my findings and I received a lot of useful feedback.

As well as being a welcoming group, they were dedicated to their work and saw themselves as having a role in addressing social injustices. For example, one proposed action following from the conference was for the group to call for the European Parliament to take responsibility for the state of asylum detention centres around the world. Their commitment gave me much needed motivation, as researching human trafficking can be at times quite depressing.

Overall, it was an extremely valuable opportunity for me. I learned from experts, received feedback on my findings, made contacts, and found the motivation to continue working in a sometimes difficult area.

Thank you to the Principal’s Go Abroad fund for allowing me this fantastic opportunity.

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Sights from Tallinn’s old town

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Doors of Tallinn

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