Books on Estonia
Update No: 296 - (26/08/05)
Fractious Estonian politics
Estonia joined the European Union (EU) in May 2004. Since 1991, only one of the
Baltic nation's administrations has lasted more than two years. This March,
Prime Minister Juhan Parts, a member of Res Publica-announced his resignation,
after the 101-member State Council passed a no-confidence motion against justice
minister Ken-Marti Vaher. A controversial proposal to establish quotas for the
number of corruption cases that regional prosecutors must pursue each year
contributed to Vaher's downfall.
On Apr. 13, a new administration-headed by Reform leader Andrus Ansip-was sworn
in. The governing coalition also includes the Estonian Centre Party (KESK) and
the Estonian People's Union (ERL). The cabinet features foreign minister Urmas
Paet, interior minister Kalle Laanet and finance minister Aivar Soerd.
On Aug. 4, Ansip announced a policy geared at allowing Estonian residents to
gain citizenship, saying, "In 10 years all stateless persons wishing to
become citizens should be able to do so." The Baltic nation is currently
home to 135,000 residents of unidentified citizenship.
Reform Party lose out to centrists
The KESK is still the top choice for voters in the Baltic nation, according to a
poll by TNS Emor. 24 per cent of respondents would support the KESK in the next
parliamentary election, up two points since June.
The Estonian Reform Party (ER) is in second place with 15 per cent - a two point
drop -followed by the Fatherland Union (EI) and the Social Democratic Party (SDE)
with seven per cent each, the Union for the Republic - Res Publica (RP) with
five per cent, and the ERL with four per cent. The next election is tentatively
scheduled for March 2007.
Estonian PM meets Chinese foreign minister; the Hong Kong of the North?
On August 17th Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip met with visiting Chinese
Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, with both sides vowing to strengthen cooperation
in various fields. Relations between the two countries are developing smoothly
and bilateral cooperation in various fields is full of vigour and vitality, said
Ansip. He said he believed bilateral ties would improve further in the future.
Ansip expressed the hope that China can make a use of Estonia's position as a
transit port within the European Union (EU) in further developing economic and
trade cooperation with Estonia. Estonia would become China's Hong Kong of the
North, as it were!
Li, for his part, said friendly cooperation between China and Estonia has made
considerable progress and he is full of confidence over the prospects of the
development of bilateral ties. China will continue to encourage enterprises of
the two countries to conduct cooperation and enlarge mutual investments, said
the Chinese official, who arrived in Tallinn on August 16th for a two-day visit
to the Baltic country.
China will also step up exchanges and cooperation with Estonia in such fields as
culture, education and tourism and deepen China-Estonia cooperation within the
framework of the EU and international organizations, including the United
Nations, Li said.
Li held talks with his Estonian counterpart Ulmas Paet and exchanged views on
bilateral relations and international and regional issues of common concern.
Estonia was Li's first stop of an European tour which took him to Lithuania,
Latvia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Cyprus.
Estonia the vanguard for Russia?
A giant country nearer home, however, is always going to be more important
for Estonia. Russia has had a huge impact on Estonia throughout its history, In
the new epoch of mass communications it is possible that Estonia will now have a
big impact on Russia.
The proposal of Georgy Satarov, former aide to ex-Russian president Boris
Yeltsin, to create a propaganda TV channel in Estonia to broadcast to North-West
Russia, including St. Petersburg, the Leningrad region and Pskov, has received
much coverage in the mass media. The press believes that Western countries,
interested in promoting democracy in Russia, could render assistance.
"There is no doubt that Estonia cannot wage an information war against
Russia," he was reported as saying by Parnu Postimees on June 15th.
"But taking into account that the West will necessarily have the need to
share independent information with states diverging from democracy (in the past
the Voice of America and the Radio Free Europe shared it with the Estonian
Soviet Republic), the idea does not seem such a utopia."
Another article devoted to the situation with freedom of speech in Russia, in
Parnu Postimees of June 16th, maintains that independent journalism in the
country has survived only in marginal publications. "The authorities rein
in opposition or criticizing newspapers if they have at least a little weight.
Smaller papers that are insignificant on the national scale are allowed to
operate almost without obstacles, even if they express radical views."
Transforming Estonia into e-Stonia: report
The vital significance of the new media for Estonia itself has been recently
underscored. Ivor Tallo of the Estonian E-Governance Academy said that his
country has achieved a great success in e-governance, Digitaldivide has
Estonia's population is only 1.4m and around 52% of the population has internet
access and 91% have mobile phones, he explained. Its neighbours Lithuania and
Latvia have only half of this penetration of the internet.
When the Soviet Union collapsed 15 years ago, Estonia faced an incredible
situation of building a government from scratch. "A big part of the story
from 1991 to 2004 was building e-government and an information society,"
said Tallo. "We never had a national strategy; when we started in 1991, we
didn't know where to go. So we created principles of information policy that
were passed by the parliament." This led to project-based development
guided by these principles. The country had hardly any baggage from previous
practices: as a new country, they could develop e-government with a clean slate.
"One of the main things isn't introduction ICT but changing procedures and
rules, and we were quite fortunate to do so because there wasn't much
resistance," he said.
But the country's gross domestic product (GDP) is generally lower than those of
the western European countries. All schools in Estonia are connected to the
internet, and there are more than 700 public access points around the country.
There is also an enormous proliferation of free Wi-Fi hotspots. The users of
internet can log on and do their business activity online even when they are on
Tallo said that many people believe that Estonia's success is simply because of
its location and small population but they must remember that Estonia invests
one per cent of its annual budget in ICT development. General consensus among
the divergent political forces are formed on such issues in such a way in
Estonia that ICT investments are considered necessary and are supported by every
political party. By 2001, Estonia managed to connect all local governments and
all libraries in the country were connected by 2002. A private sector
organisation called Look@World has worked to promote the concept of information
society to the general public. The programme taught basic internet use to
100,000 Estonians over a period of the last two years. The public started using
e-banking and other services on the net which resulted in saving a lot of money
for private companies.
Five years ago, Estonia introduced what was called the e-cabinet, which is a
very convenient tool, not just or the government, but also for the common
public. "It wasn't really difficult to put flat-screen computers in the
ministers' meeting room; it was a bit harder to get the ministers to use
them." But the programme has made decision-making at the ministerial level
much more transparent. "Our ministers now tend to participate in cabinet
meetings even when they're not physically there. Other countries at the time
said we couldn't do it, but we were a new country, so we didn't know, so we just
went ahead and did it," according to Tallo.
Internet elections in Estonia
Indeed, Estonia is moving a step closer to holding a nationwide election
over the internet, it was reported recently. On May 12th, lawmakers approved
internet voting for Tallinn's local elections scheduled in October. This is the
first step toward a nationwide voting system and probably a 'world first'.
Voters will need an electronic ID card, and ID-card reader and internet access.
Plans call for the system to be used in the next parliamentary elections in
2007. The approved bill was initiated by the parliament's constitutional affairs
committee, the national electoral committee has conducted trials since early
this year. It is estimated that nearly one million of Estonia's 1.4 million
residents already have an official electronic ID card.
Study: Age, income affects residents' e-voting perception
A poll, carried out at the end of May and in early June, shows that 40 per
cent of respondents regard the opportunity to cast one's vote on the Internet as
fully or generally reliable, whereas 44 per cent see it as rather or fully
People who trust the reliability of e-voting prevail among respondents aged
under 34, people with higher education, with above-average income and residents
of Tallinn. Russian-speakers are a bit more sceptical, showing that ethnic
background generally has a small effect on how respondents perceive e-voting.
Supporters of different parties, however, vary more widely on the topic.
Estonian Parliament ratifies border treaty with Russia
At its extraordinary session on July 3rd, Parliament ratified the treaties
on the land border and sea border with Russia that were signed in Moscow on May
18th. The ratification bill was passed with votes 78 to four with no
The borderline set out by the land border treaty is virtually the same as the
border between the Estonian SSR and Russia during the decades of Soviet rule,
which since 1991 serves as the de facto border between the countries.
Now that the border has become official, Estonia has lost about 5 per cent of
its pre-war territory as set out in the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920. Thus, on a
proposal from five parliamentary factions, lawmakers added a preamble to the
treaties saying that in ratifying the treaties Parliament keeps in mind that the
treaty on the state border partly changes in agreement with Article 122 of the
Estonian Constitution the boundary line as fixed in the Tartu Peace Treaty
concluded between Estonia and Russia in 1920 but does not affect the rest of the
peace treaty or predetermine future handling of other bilateral issues not
related to the border treaties.
Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said that in creating the preamble Parliament wanted
to place the two agreements that were technical by their nature into the general
context of Estonia's statehood and foreign policy.
"At the same time, the Riigikogu has created no additional conditions or
anything else here that could be treated as reservations or influencing of the
content of the treaties," the minister said.
No need for separate declaration in border treaty
The treaty's cover letter would be complemented with an analysis of all
legal consequences, a press service representative added.
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip underlined that the government would work out a
concrete programme in finding a solution to the Seto minority problem The border
treaty will divide the Seto area between Estonia and Russia.
A committee of experts headed by Regional Affairs Minister Jaan Ounapuu met on
June 3rd to discuss proposals connected with cultural and legal problems of the
Seto area, as well as infrastructure development in the region. The government
will next present a plan of action to factions of Parliament.
Russia dissatisfied with preamble to border treaties
Russia is never easily satisfied, however, with its Baltic neighbours and
former satellites. Russia's Foreign Ministry voiced dissatisfaction with the
preamble added by Estonia's Parliament to the border treaty with Russia,
concerned about their own Federal Assembly.
"The Russian side warned its Estonian partners that any attempts to add
trend-determined assessments of events that happened in the Baltic countries in
the 1930s and 1940s to our modern bilateral relations are fraught with
complicating the process of the border treaties' ratification by the Federal
Assembly," a ministry spokesman was quoted by Interfax as saying, the
Baltic News Service reported.
"To our regret, we have to acknowledge that the authorities in Tallinn have
not listened to our arguments and consequently have assumed responsibility for
the future of the border treaties," the spokesman said.
German president visits Estonia
Estonia has much better relations with Germany. German President Horst
Koehler arrived in Estonia in early July for a short visit that included
rededication ceremonies for a restored Lutheran church. The president
accompanied by his wife dined with his Estonian counterpart Arnold Ruutel in the
historic fishing village of Altja in northern Estonia.
The two heads of state were present at the rededication ceremony at St. John's
Lutheran Church in Tartu, the intellectual and cultural centre of the Baltic
republic and home to Estonia's oldest and most renowned university. The church
was restored with German funding. Tartu was a commercial centre of considerable
importance during the later Middle Ages. It was a member of the Hanseatic League
and had close ties to Germany for centuries.
Ruutel vetos law on local councils
In declining to sign a law that would allow members of Parliament to serve
simultaneously in local councils, Ruutel said on May 30 that such a situation
would reintroduce contradictions in the separation of powers principle.
In the president's words, local councils' activities in deciding on municipal
matters must primarily be steered by local conditions and needs, so that council
members could make decisions independent of national authorities.
Tallink deals with Fincantieri
Estonian company Tallink and the Italy-based group Fincantieri reached an
agreement for the construction of two last generation cruise ferries that will
be able to transport 2,000 passengers in 200 cabins at a speed of 29 knots, the
Italian news agency AGI reported on August 5.
The ships will weigh 36,000 tonnes and will have a cargo keel of 2,000 metres.
Fincantieri Managing Director, Giuseppe Bono said, "This is a great
commercial success for us in a particularly qualified and competitive market
such as that in Northern Europe, which will allow us to add a prestigious brand
to our client portfolio, and at the same time consolidating the global
leadership reached in the building of large ferries, which for some time now
flanks our leadership in the cruise ship sector."