An Estonian newspaper is using a debate about freedom of expression on religious and political topics to launch an international contest to find the best jokes about Estonians.
After proclaiming on Facebook, "we dare you to make fun of us," the weekly Eesti Ekspress announced competitions for the best political cartoon and joke about Estonia or Estonians, with the winners to receive all-expenses-paid trips to -- you guessed it -- Estonia.
Eesti Ekspress editor in chief Allar Tankler told RFE/RL that after the shock terrorist attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in early January -- in which 12 people were killed, including five political cartoonists -- his staff debated the issue of media freedom and its boundaries.
"What if our tolerance for freedom of speech only stands as long as someone else is being made fun of?" Tankler said his staff asked themselves. "Can we actually remain calm and carry on, maybe even laugh along, when it’s us being made fun of? So we wanted to test our tolerance."
The weekly says in a Facebook promotion that the contests are being held to further the debate about the "role and boundaries of humor" and to see if jokes are allowed to be offensive and to test what is "politically correct and socially acceptable."
The Eesti Ekspress, which is Estonia's first politically independent newspaper, adds that the ultimate goal of the contests is to increase "the tolerance of everyone."
Tankler said the contest was also inspired by the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat's call in April for Finns to send in nicknames -- many of which were derogatory -- that they use for the neighboring Estonians, whose capital, Tallinn, is a popular tourist destination for Finns.
Tankler said many Estonians -- and Finns -- were outraged by the newspaper's contest and that even Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves intervened.
The Helsingin Sanomat later apologized and the contest was canceled.
But Tankler said the incident led his staff to again wonder what the limits are to humor and who sets those boundaries.
He said he thought a large number of Estonians are "terribly worried" about what other people think about them, something he believes comes in part from Estonia being such a small country.
Tankler said his newspaper's greatest disappointment would be if it discovered that "people can't think of anything -- not even a crass, prejudiced joke -- when they hear the word 'Estonia.'"
He said that "then we will know we have to give the world something to joke about."
All of the entries for the contest, due by May 29, will be published online and in the newspaper on June 3.
Readers will then vote on their favorite joke and political cartoon to determine the two winners, who are to be announced on June 12.
Tankler said he and his staff were looking to see if they can actually get outraged by the contest entries, joking that it will take a lot because Estonians are considered by some of their "dear neighbors" to be "notoriously stone-faced."
If anyone has a particularly off-color or stereotypical joke about Estonia or Estonians, Tankler said it should be sent to email@example.com by May 29.
-- Pete Baumgartner