ESTONIA: Alice in Foreign Affairs Wonderland

Posted in Europe | 20-May-03 | Author: Hubertus Hoffmann

TALINN. May 2003.

What sounds like a fairy tale is actually a true story: about a small country that went from oppression to freedom, from abject poverty to growth and prosperity. The miracle is Estonia. You owe it to yourself to visit this small country on the Baltic, located across from Finland and not far from St. Petersburg (

Only 13 years ago Estonia was the smallest republic within the USSR and firmly entrenched in the Soviet system. There were attempts to dissolve the Estonian nation through ethnic Russian resettlement. The old system meant no freedom of the press, no freedom of speech, run-down factories, dilapidated dwellings, no hope, no future.

And today:

  • Soon full membership in both NATO and the European Union.
  • Four percent annual growth of real GDP. The economy is booming.
  • Democratic freedoms for all, including the strong ethnic Russian minority.
  • No dependency on Russia, Estonia's former oppressor; instead, there is a growing mutual partnership, even following Estonia's decision to join NATO.
  • 700,000 Estonians out of a population of 1.4 million are online. In Tallinn, Estonia's ministers convene via computer and hold paperless cabinet meetings which now only takeone hour per week.

What is the secret behind this "Alice in Foreign Affairs Wonderland"?

What lessons can other small states learn from Estonia?

That's what I asked Tunne Kelam, a national hero who led his country to freedom and today serves as Vice-President of Parliament in Estonia: (info at

  1. Establish a radical commitment towards democracy and brook no nonsense or foot-dragging towards its rapid implementation.
  2. Immediately grant all democratic freedoms to everyone, including ethnic minorities.
  3. Stand tall, do not submit to intimidation by your "Big Brother".
  4. Immediately seek alliances with Western democracies (EU, NATO). Show solidarity.
  5. Take a giant leap forward into the 21st century. Establish civil order, and implement confidence-building measures both at home and abroad.
  6. Make no half-hearted attempts at liberalizing the economy; embark on a radical introduction of market economy. Make currency stability a priority.
  7. The children are the future: give them responsibility now, in order that they may take responsibility down the road. Make education your priority.
  8. Always look ahead, never look back. But never forget the bitter lessons of the past.

Lessons that made a Baltic success story come true.

Lessons which even today are egregiously neglected in Kaliningrad, Russia's enclave on the Baltic, and in Russia itself - with predictable negative consequences.

Estonia proves each day anew:

The doomsayers were wrong.
Peace in freedom can be accomplished, without resorting to appeasement.
A small nation can rediscover its identity.
And all within just 12 years.

The key elements: freedom, democracy and market economy, in alignment with the West.

Speech by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe,

Mr Walter Schwimmer
on the occasion of the
10th Anniversary of Estonia’s accession
to the Council of Europe
(Estonian National Library, Tallinn, 19 May 2003)

Mr Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

“For fifty years, the three Baltic states have been kept in the basement of the European condominium.” These words were pronounced by Tunne Kelam ten years ago at the Parliamentary Assembly, when Estonia’s application for the membership of the Council of Europe was being debated. His words reflect well the circumstances and the atmosphere we lived in at the time.

Today we are celebrating Estonia’s tenth anniversary of accession to the Council of Europe. In less than one year’s time, Estonia will celebrate its accession to the European Union. Times have moved ahead and circumstances have changed during these last ten years.

Anniversaries are a good time to take a moment and feel proud about past achievements.

Not only Estonia, but also the Council of Europe has moved ahead. Over the last decade, the Council of Europe has progressively raised its political profile, adjusted its objectives and priorities. It has changed its working methods in order to carry out its new tasks and responsibilities as a genuine pan-European organisation in which all member States enjoy the same rights, share the same duties and participate on an equal footing.

“Estonia intends to play an active, constructive role in the Council of Europe ….” continued Mr Kelam in the same speech I quoted earlier. Estonia has certainly done so. In the important contribution of Estonia to the Council of Europe I would like to recall Estonia’s strong support for the first steps in the procedure that led Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to accede to the Council of Europe. The Baltic States continue to be considered by our three Caucasian members as a model for their democratic transition.

This, together with today’s 10th anniversary of membership also of Lithuania, gives me the opportunity to salute and encourage the continued cooperation and century-long tradition of concerted action with the two other Baltic States, Lithuania and Latvia.

As in all new democracies, the Estonian Parliament was the first institution to establish working relations with the Council of Europe, becoming in September 1991 Special Guest with our Parliamentary Assembly. It played an essential role in adopting the new democratic legislation, compatible with the Council of Europe standards, which formed the basis for the rapid transition of Estonia to pluralist democracy and market economy, essential steps on the country’s road to further European integration.

Estonia was amongst the first countries to have its commitments and engagements monitored as a member of the Council of Europe and Estonia was the first country whose monitoring procedure was closed by the Assembly. All this was possible only because Estonian authorities co-operated very well with the Assembly Rapporteurs. They were willing not only to listen to criticism, but also to act upon it.

Estonia has proved to be a valuable partner in our common endeavour to build a better and stable enlarged Europe, where democratic values, human rights and the rule of law are respected.

Our co-operation has been successful in many fields. Since its accession, Estonia has taken steps towards addressing such crucial issues as racism, intolerance and discrimination. Estonia has taken measures to improve the quality of Estonian-language teaching, and has adopted a long-term integration strategy with the goal of ensuring that members of all communities participate in a united society protecting linguistic and cultural diversity.

I understand that a political consensus is currently emerging to ease requirements for Estonian citizenship. I warmly welcome any such steps to facilitate the naturalisation of the large non-Estonian minority. Estonia should continue efforts to increase the rate of naturalisation and to facilitate the process. This is the best contribution to the Council of Europe concept of a One Europe and the positive response to the fears of new European dividing lines.

I would like also to welcome the recent positive developments regarding the statute of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

This anniversary celebration provides me with a pleasant opportunity to see many familiar faces, colleagues with whom I worked with in the Parliamentary Assembly. Let me pay tribute, in this context, to Kristina Ojuland. From the outset she was most actively involved in setting up the Estonian Permanent Representation in Strasbourg. Then she became a very prominent member of our Parliamentary Assembly taking considerable responsibilities as Rapporteur, as well as leader of the Liberal Group in the ongoing enlargement process of the Council of Europe. Needless to say that we were proud to welcome her back as Foreign Minister of her country.

I am also pleased to see Tunne Kelam, who like Kristina Ojuland acted as a President of the Estonian delegation and performed as a Rapporteur on a number of reports, including monitoring of Ukraine. Mr Ivar Tallo prepared prominent reports in the field of cybercrime; Mr Juhan Telgmaa presented several reports in the economic and social areas; and Mr Lauri Vahtre in the situation in Moldova. Others of you have carried out important functions in different connections of the Council of Europe.

Anniversaries also provide a good occasion to look to the future. European integration and unification is an ongoing process. Today Estonia strives to join other Euro Atlantic and European structures. Europe is on the move; co-operation, co-ordination and complementarity are indispensable. The Council of Europe fully supports the bid by Estonia to join the European Union and stands ready to contribute to fully accomplishing the supplementary compatibility and harmonisation exercise with the Union’s requirements. Estonia still has work to do. But it has already made considerable progress in implementing necessary far-reaching reforms, Council of Europe standards and principles being a considerable part of the so-called “acquis communautaire”.

Most of what the European Union expects of Estonia is exactly what the Council of Europe is promoting:

  • Strengthening of democracy and the rule of law;
  • Respect for human rights and protection of national minorities;
  • Progress in social reform and further consolidating of social cohesion;
  • A reliable legal system and a zero tolerance of corruption.

    In this evolving architecture, the proper definition of the Council of Europe’s place and role will be our most important challenge for the coming years. With 800 million Europeans, at present in our 45 member States, we are the Organisation of the One Europe. There is only one Europe and full complementarity use should be made of the European Union’s capacities and the Council of Europe’s instruments and institutions.

    The Council of Europe is ready to meet the challenge of a new political architecture for the common European home. The European Union and the Council of Europe are not mutually exclusive concepts. On the contrary, the Council of Europe needs a more active involvement of the Union in its work, because a failure to do so would lead to a new and dangerous division on our continent. The European Union has already adopted the Council of Europe’s flag and anthem – who shares our symbols should also share our commitments. In addition to the accession of the European Union to the European Convention of Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the Cultural Convention, I have thus proposed that the EU become an associate member of the Council of Europe Some may think that, once you are firmly in Brussels, Strasbourg will no longer be of any interest. I do not agree. You could just as well argue that, after buying a car, you no longer need shoes, or that after getting married, you no longer need friends.

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    The Council of Europe strives to be an Organisation not only of Governments and Parliaments but first and foremost of citizens. Joining the Council of Europe is, therefore not only the conclusion of an agreement between Estonia and the Organisation, but a commitment by Estonia and its people to achieve progress in democracy, justice and respect for human rights in an equal partnership with 44 other countries for peace and stability for 800 million Europeans.

    Estonia has shown that it took this European commitment seriously from the beginning. I am sure it will continue to do so in the future.

    NB: Many were quite taken aback and disappointed as well by Mr. Schwimmer's call to speed naturalisation in Estonia as well as the fact that the AFP chose to emphasize only this particular part of the speech and visit!

    Council of Europe calls for quicker naturalisation in Estonia

    TALLINN, May 20 (AFP) - Estonia should speed naturalisation as more than one in ten people are still stateless 12 years after Estonia broke away from the Soviet Union, Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer said Tuesday. "Estonia should continue efforts to increase the rate of naturalisation of the large non-Estonian minority," Schwimmer said in a speech in Tallinn.

    "This is the best contribution to the Council of Europe concept of a One Europe and a positive response to the fears of new European dividing lines." Approximately 170,000 persons of Estonia's 1.4 million population are stateless, most of them Russians who used to be Soviet citizens but have not become citizens of Estonia, Russia or any other country. During the fifty-year occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union, which ended in 1991, the Soviet authorities resettled thousands of Russians to Estonia.

    To date more than 120,000 Russians have become naturalised as citizens of Estonia, 90,000 have taken the citizenship of the Russian Federation and 170,000 -- mainly elderly people -- have not made up their mind, and carry special alien passports issued by Estonia. Schwimmer said as a member of the Council of Europe, Estonia has quickly moved from a country needing assistance to a country that can pass on its reform experience to others.

    "The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania continue to be considered by the Caucasian countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as a model for their democractic transition," Schwimmer said in a speech devoted to the 10th anniversary of Estonia's membership in the Council of Europe.

    The Council of Europe is a pan-European democracy watchdog, uniting 45 countries and headquartered in Strasbourg, France.

    Grand Opening of Museum of the Occupations in Estonia
    Estonia’s newest museum building will be officially opened and dedicated in central Tallinn on June 27, 2003. The doors will open to the general public on July 1.

    The Museum of the Occupations in Recent History focuses on the years from 1940 through 1991, covering the first Soviet occupation, the German occupation and the second Soviet occupation of Estonia. This half century of totalitarian power, repeated mass deportations and repressions brought great loss of life and property to the Estonian people. As a result, a small, thriving European member of the League of Nations lost a fifth of her population and had her political, economic and social infrastructure destroyed. The Museum will document, research and analyze this period of history, and also pay homage to the victims. The Museum aims to tell the story of a people who survived the cataclysms and catastrophes of those fifty years and who then went on to re-establish peacefully Estonia’s independence as a parliamentary democracy in 1991.

    Estonian architects Siiri Vallner and Indrek Peil won the architectural competition with their contemporary design featuring glass walls and open spaces. The cornerstone was laid on October 22, 2002. Construction and other costs are covered by the Fund through the generosity of the Kistler family – probably the largest single donation to date from an Estonian living abroad. Contributions have also come from other foundations, the Estonian Government and the Cultural Endowment of Estonia.

    Inspired by examples such as the Haus der Geschichte in Bonn, Dr. Olga Kistler-Ritso, herself a refugee from the Soviet occupation of her homeland, founded the Kistler-Ritso Fund in the United States in order to create a Museum of Occupations in Estonia. Members of the Board were Dr. Kistler-Ritso, Mark A. Romman, Sesh Velamoor, and the late Vello Karuks.

    The construction of the Museum in Tallinn has been directed by the Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation, also established in 1998. The Executive Committee of the Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation consists of former prisoners of conscience Heiki Ahonen, Lagle Parek and Arvo Pesti, longtime vice-president of the Riigikogu Tunne Kelam, and businessman Toomas Kutsar. Research activities of the Foundation are coordinated by Dr. Enn Tarvel. Former Estonian President Lennart Meri is the Patron of the Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation.

    The Museum of the Occupations in Recent History carries out research into societal processes and collects and displays a great variety of artifacts and documents that characterize and illustrate different facets of the occupation period. Among others, there are military memorabilia, Communist party propaganda, items crafted by prisoners in Soviet slave labor camps, eyewitness testimonies, and a wide array of reminders of everyday life under foreign totalitarian rule. The Museum is set up as a contemporary institution, utilizing modern technology and other opportunities to display its holdings and to carry out research. The Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation is a member of the International Council of Museums and was voted Foundation of the Year in Estonia in 2002.

    The web page is part of the Museum, and as such will constitute the interactive base for the Museum after June 27. More than 12,000 objects have already been collected for the Museum, many of which can be viewed on the web site. In addition, the Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation has organized several conferences, published pamphlets and books including The Organizational Structure of the Central Committee of the Estonian Communist Party, and produced seven documentary films.

    For further information, please contact Heiki Ahonen, Chairman of the Executive Committee, Kistler-Ritso Estonian Foundation at +37 251-83223.