From May 31 to June 3, 2022, faculty members from IAUNRC partner institutions traveled to Tallinn, Estonia to attend the 14th International Conference on Cyber Conflict (CYCON), organized by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence.
One of the faculty members who participated in this event was John Messmer, professor of Political Science at St. Louis Community College – Meramec. Recalling this experience, he writes:
"I had the pleasure of joining several faculty and students from Indiana University on a trip to Estonia this past spring. It was a very valuable experience that I’ll never forget.
Our main purpose was to attend the 14th International Conference on Cyber Conflict (CYCON) in Tallinn, Estonia. I was admittedly a bit intimidated by the subject matter. But despite not being an expert in this field, I still came away with a tremendous amount of valuable information.
This was truly an international gathering with representatives from around the world. The focus across every panel was the need to create new – and maintain current – diplomatic, political, and cultural ties among nations committed to cyber security.
As a professor of classes in international relations, CYCON provided me with valuable insight. Teachers can sometimes get overly complacent with the security brought by teaching out of standardized textbooks. This conference reminded me of the need to bring “real world” issues into the classroom. And I am doing that. Not only am I telling my students about this conference – and how it perfectly illustrates the power of international collaboration – I am incorporating valuable information that I learned from the conference into my lectures on modern warfare.
The value that I gained from this trip did not stop with this conference. On our first full day, in Estonia our group met with Estonian government officials. Estonia is known as a leader in incorporating electronic solutions into public policy. Government leaders were proud to demonstrate “e-Estonia” – innovative modern solutions to common public services. As a political science professor, I was particularly fascinated with their embrace of “i-Voting” – voting through secure internet connections. Needless to say, this innovative way of expanding voting opportunities was certain to be something I would share with my students.
But as important as these more formal interactions were, I gained just as much value by soaking up the rich culture of this part of the world. Walking around Tallinn was a treat – particularly in “Old Town”. This beautifully preserved medieval part of the city is full of restaurants, shops, and reminders of the incredible history of Estonia.
While participating in a guided tour of this part of Tallinn, we were shown the building that houses the nation’s seat of government – the Parliament. The next day I returned to the grounds and politely asked if I could tour the interior. To my delight, a kind government official actually gave me a personalized tour! Moreover, he gave me a brief synopsis of Estonia’s current political climate and was more than happy to answer my many questions. As a self-professed “politics nerd,” this was heaven!
On another day in Tallinn, a small group of us visited the Estonian History Museum. This gave us a wonderful appreciation for Estonia’s incredible – and often tragic – past. Of particular interest to me was how Estonia was able to recover from the Soviet occupation. In the courtyard of this museum is a nod to this occupation: a graveyard of toppled statues of Soviet and communist leaders.
By all accounts, Estonia seems to be embracing the trappings of democracy with vigor and determination. Still, remnants of their rule under communism are always present. This is especially seen in architecture. Tallinn is a beautiful city with a modern vibrant city center. But strewn throughout are buildings obviously constructed during the Cold War. Most are cold, plain, depressing, and occasionally, imposing. Their contrast up against the modern buildings of a free Estonia cannot be lost on any visitor.
Our trip wasn’t just about Estonia’s capital. On our last full day, we took a day trip to Helsinki, Finland. Unbeknownst to any of us, we were arriving in Helsinki on a public holiday. A Finn that I spoke to described this day of national pride as a combination of “flag day” and “veterans day.”
Much of downtown was closed for a massive parade. Though that gave us navigating the city some logistical headaches, it was wonderful to see all the people in the streets celebrating their national identify. Americans aren’t the only ones who honor their military or who love parades!
I can’t speak enough about the wonderful memories I will always have of this excursion. Much of this, of course, was because of the setting. Tallinn and Helsinki are magical cities. But not lost on me are the personal connections that I made. The Estonian and Finnish people are kind, generous, and remarkably gracious to visitors. I never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome.
But also important were the personal connections with my fellow travelers. I can’t thank enough the wonderful faculty, students, and staff – from IU and other places - that accompanied me on this trip. We ate together (oh, boy, did we have some wonderful meals!). We drank together. We laughed together. And we soaked up some wonderful culture together. It was a joy to share this experience with them."
Another faculty member from St. Louis Community College – Meramec who attended this conference was Steven M. Schamber, professor of Economics and Business Law. He writes:
"Before traveling to Estonia, I had to find it on a map. Sure, I had heard of the country, and I suspected that it was one of the eastern European countries that did not exist when I took geography in grade school, but that was about it. Needless to say, I learned a lot on our trip.
The architecture of the city was phenomenal, with buildings dating back to the 1400’s. On the left is our group in front of the old town hall. On the right is the town square next to the old town hall.
Not all history is remembered fondly. We also visited a site that was a bit less aesthetically pleasing: a Russian sculpture garden with works reminiscent of the communist era. Estonia was under Soviet control from 1940 – 1991. The then-recent Russian invasion of Ukraine brought back memories and fears to the Estonian people. Estonia borders Russia and has a sizeable Russian population. In fact, Russian is still today a required language taught in Estonian public schools.
Estonia is located pretty far north, and has long winters. During our orientation, we were informed that Estonians love to eat outside when the weather permits. Our visit was in the beginning of June, so the weather was very nice. Many restaurants had outdoor seating available. We took advantage of the opportunity when we were able.
We had some time to explore the streets of Tallin. Of course, the old town center was where we spent the majority of our time. My wife, Maggie, was born and raised in Poland. So when I stumbled across the Polish Consulate, I had to take a picture for her.
Not all of the consulates were so ornate. We also came across the Russian consulate, which had some added decorations. I think it is safe to say that Estonians have some not-so-warm memories of their Soviet occupation.
We had the opportunity to learn about E-estonia from two field trips: one to a government office and the other to a leading private cyber-security firm: CybExer. We learned that the Estonian government made a conscious decision to pursue e-commerce after obtaining their independence from the Soviet Union back in 1991. Every citizen receives an email account, and all government services are integrated. Individuals who qualify for social services based on income, marriage, childbirth, etc. automatically are contacted through their email account. Estonia even allows voting online, and that option is heavily used. The photo below is our group at CybExer company.
The conference itself was very interesting. While some topics were more technical than I could comprehend, most were surprisingly accessible. Presentations at the conference were made by an interesting mix of presenters, including politicians, military personnel (especially NATO), and the private sector. I personally met military personnel from across Europe, and government representatives from Australia and Canada as well as Estonia.
Our trip had the added bonus of a day trip to Helsinki, the capital of Finland. We left early in the morning to catch the ferry across the Baltic Sea.
Upon arrival in Helsinki, we discovered that our day trip fortuitously coincided with Flag Day of the Finnish Defense Forces. We had the opportunity to observe the ceremony in the Senate Square with the Helsinki Cathedral in the background. The ceremony was followed by a military parade.
The parade stretched so long that we feared missing our ferry back to Tallin. (The ferry was on the other side of the parade route from where we watched.)
Of course, we also found time to visit some sites around Helsinki between the ceremony and the parade.
Thanks so much to the Inner Asian and Uralic National Center at Indiana University for organizing and financing the trip and to Scott Shackelford for leading the trip. It was a wonderful educational and cultural experience."
Thank you to John and Steven for kindly sharing your photos and memories from this experience!