In 2011, the “Talents, come home” programme aims to bring back at least 25 of the 200,000 Estonians living abroad. But is the 125,000 euro campaign placed under the patronage of Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves a triumph or a farce? Each of the returning”talents” will cost the state 5,000 euros, which is about six times the average Estonian monthly salary.

In Finland, when I brought up “Talents, come home,” the subject prompted a disgusted reaction from the Estonians who live there — not because they never dreamed of going back to the old country, but because they find the “talents” word in the name of the programme offensive. For cleaning ladies, roofers and bus drivers, the call to return to their homeland is addressed to talented Estonians, to geniuses, but not to skilled or unskilled workers.

It is not the first time that they have felt snubbed by their homeland. All of them have suffered the initial insult of being separated from their families and the reality of having to embark on an often difficult life abroad because there was no work for them in their own country.

Estonians abroad to turn to Facebook

“The campaign doesn’t have a good reputation,” remarks Tiina Pintsaar, the deputy editor in chief of the daily Eesti Päevaleht, which is published in Sweden [a newspaper that is not linked to the Tallinn based Eesti Päevalht, which initially published this article].”No one here thinks that a campaign will lure people back, especially if jobs are hard to find in Estonia.” According to Tiina, the Estonians that are more likely to return home are those who have been living in Sweden for a few months or a year and still have friends in Estonia.

Further afield, Dannar Leitmaa, an Eesti Päevaleht reporter who recently traveled to Australia, noted that Estonians living Down Under have nothing but disdain for the programme.

There are two types of Estonians in Australia: those who were already working in the black economy when they were living in Estonia — the ones who have been hardest hit by the crisis — and the young graduates who for one reason or another did not want to continue working in Estonia. “When I hear about this nonsense in Estonia, I think they can offer what they want, but I’ll still prefer to live here,” says a young graduate, with a masters degree obtained in Estonia, who left a good job to work as a waitress in Australia.

For Estonians who left home after the Second World War, local Estonian papers were the main source of community news. Today they are more likely to turn to Facebook. Seeing that Estonians in Australia, Århus, Cambridge, Dublin, the Netherlands and Italy have organised groups on the social network, I thought it would be easy to launch a discussion on the subject of the campaign, but my idea was met with total silence.

Leaving home to work abroad can be a heavy burden

“I don’t want to draw a distinction between those who have talent and those who don’t,” says Aho Rebas, an advisor to the Ministry of Education and Research, and a representative of the Estonian World Council. Ahto Rebas is hoping that the campaign will be perceived as a friendly message to say that Estonia values its sons and daughters wherever they are in the world. At the same time, he acknowledges that there is almost no chance of convincing them to return home, especially when you consider they are usually paid salaries which are three times higher than those they could expect in Estonia.

However, even if they do not come back, he feels it is important that Estonians living abroad preserve their Estonian identity by staying in contact with the country and organising expatriate communities. With this in mind, Ahto Rebas has launched “Estonians Abroad,” a website developed with funding from the Ministry of Education, which gives details of 600 expatriate organisations.

Leaving home to work abroad can be a heavy burden to carry. Instead of offering reassurance, patriotic campaigns like "Talents, come home” can create confusion. The most important message should be one of homage to those who had the courage and the intelligence to embark on a journey to find a solution to their economic problems, at a time when their country in crisis was unable to help them.