Books on Estonia
Update No: 319 - (26/07/07)
Incumbent party by far the most popular
The ruling party or parties in transition countries are usually deeply
unpopular. If this is not true in Estonia, it is partly due to a very successful
experience of transition, by and large, although older people have been having a
hard time adjusting.
But there is a more basic explanation for a sudden jump in popularity of the
government. It has been beset by Russia in a tangled squabble over memorials,
indeed war graves, from the Second World War, that flared up in the spring. It
is true that the removal of a Soviet war memorial from the centre of Tallinn
took place before the election. One Russian protester was killed during the
unrest that followed and 153 people were injured and some 800 arrests made.
Estonians say the bronze soldier symbolises Soviet occupation, while its
supporters say it commemorates heroes who fought the Nazis.
Ansip called on the Estonians to not let hatred divide the country. He assured
the monument remains intact and the remains of the Russian soldiers would be
moved to the military cemetery. But this did not smooth ruffled feathers on
Moscow one bit. A series of heated responses from Moscow carried on afterwards,
fuelled by Estonian actions and threats since. Indeed, the first cyber-war in
history broke out. One backs the government in wartime, even if it is a
post-modernist war with no fighting and casualties.
The Estonian Reform Party (ER) in government is by far the most popular
political organization in the Baltic country, according to a poll by TNS Emor.
43 per cent of respondents would back the governing party in the next
This is dramatically up on its performance at the last election earlier this
very year. In early March, a legislative election took place in Estonia. Final
results placed the ER in first place with 27.8 per cent of the vote, followed by
the Estonian Centre Party [KESK} with 26.1 per cent, and the Union of Fatherland
and Res Publica (IRPL) with 17.9 per cent.
In early April, the ER, the IRPL and the SDE agreed to form a government. ER
leader Andrus Ansip retained his post as prime minister. The three parties hold
60 of the 101 seats in Parliament. Days before, KESK leader Edgar Savisaar said
his party had "no illusions of joining the coalition."
The KESK is now still second, but with only with 18 per cent, followed by the
IRPL, with 16 per cent, the Social Democratic Party (SDE) with 10 per cent, the
Estonian Greens (EER) with eight per cent, and the Estonian People's Union (ERL)
with four per cent.
Ansip maling history
Ansip made history, however, in April when he became the first leader to
survive an election as parliament officially voted him back into office. A
coalition agreement saw Ansip's Reform Party join with IRL and the Social
Democrats, forming an economically-liberal, politically-conservative government
balanced by a soft left minority.
The Estonian Greens, who fell out of coalition talks, predicted an early end for
the government because of Reform's dominating style. They had not reckoned on
the row with Russia.
Reform managed to bag most of the key cabinet positions, including the foreign
minister's post, which had been contested by IRL leader Mart Laar. Instead Laar
decided to lead his party from outside the cabinet, opting for no ministerial
position rather than a lowly one.
Another former prime minister, IRL's Juhan Parts, returned to a senior position,
taking the post of minister of economic affairs and communications, which was
vacated by Centre Party leader Edgar Savisaar. Former Tartu University rector
Jaak Aaviksoo became the new minister of defence, while former Tartu mayor and
choir leader Laine Janes became the new culture minister.
Rallying round the flag against Russia
The sudden surge in popularity of the government is not at all surprising.
It is less to do with a vibrant economy than with the massive spat with Russia.
At times of crisis, one rallies to the government in power.
Ansip is not afraid to escalate the conflict, which has after all seen him
become the most popular Estonian premier ever. He knows how to play on the
populace's deep Sovietophobia, which hides a good deal of Russophobia too. He
has suggested banning the display of the hammer and sickle as on a par with
brandishing the swastika. Nothing could be more incendiary. Their victory in the
Great Motherland War is the one thing that former Soviet citizens of a certain
age cherish most as the compensation for living through that ghastly regime.
Russians began a cyber-war in response, quite possibly quite spontaneously.
After all one thing that is very democratically run in Russia, as elsewhere, is
the web and internet.
It is vital to lessen energy dependence on Russia too. On July 6th, Ansip
discussed the possibility of building a joint nuclear power plant with
Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, which would be located in Lithuania. The Estonian
prime minister said he is confident the project will help reduce dependency on
Russian gas, and referred to how it might be developed, saying, "We prefer
European, North American or Japanese, but not a Russian producer to supply the
Estonia wants EU to impose duty on Russian electricity
Estonian Economy and Communications Minister, Juhan Parts, has urged the
European Union to impose a customs duty on electricity imported from Russia.
"Competition on the European energy market is distorted, because Russian
producers can sell their electricity on it without any restrictions, they are
not subject to any limitations on carbon dioxide emissions, and, unlike European
producers, they do not have to make large investments in environment protection
technology," Parts said at a conference of the International Council on
Large Electric Systems (CIGRE) in Tallinn on June 19th. "It is time to
think about import duties on electricity, which would ensure fair competition
and investment in energy security," he said, Interfax News Agency reported.
According to the Russian electricity monopoly Unified Energy System (UES),
Estonia neither exports nor imports Russian electricity. One of the major
importers of electricity from Russia is Finland, which consumes 11.15 billion
kilowatt-hours of power annually and which accounts for more than 50 per cent of
Russian electricity exports handled by INTER RAO UES, Latvia imported 1.086
billion kWh and Lithuania 1.413 billion kWh of power from Russia in 2006.
Compared to 2005, Latvia's imports of Russian electricity had grown twofold and
Lithuania's by 130 per cent.