Wednesday, December 1

Estonia marks 30 years of restored independence, but is its success due to keeping oligarchs at bay?

As Estonia celebrates the 30th anniversary of the restoration of its independence on Friday, Euronews looks at the elements that led to the success of the smaller Baltic state.

To begin with, the nation has earned an enviable reputation for its dominance of the digital realm and leads the region in many economic and social indicators, facing a common misconception that “slowness” is a national trait, which we will discuss later. . .

For Tonis Saarts, Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at the College of Governance, Law and Society (SOGOLAS) of the University of Tallinn, the greatest achievements of the country, in addition to the membership of the EU and NATO and the dominance of the e-kingdom , is to establish “resilience and good functioning liberal democratic institutions.”

When asked what Estonia did differently from the other two closest Baltic neighbors, Lithuania and Latvia, in implementing reforms over the past 30 years, Saarts stressed that Estonia managed to prevent the rise of the oligarchs.

“It subsequently had a tremendous and positive impact on the quality of governance, economic development and democracy. Privatization reforms played a key role here in that those reforms were more transparent and better institutionalized in Estonia than in Lithuania and Latvia, and thus left little room for the emergence of the national economic oligarchy, ”Saarts told Euronews.

The reforms were more radical

Indrek Puolokainen, CEO of Swaper, a Tallinn-based fintech company, says the “right decisions” after the restoration of independence in 1991 are behind the country’s success.

“Our government took the risks and made reforms quickly. Since Estonia does not have a lot of natural resources, we started to move quickly into the digital age and started a lot of digital projects. This has led to the creation of many software companies in Estonia, ”said Puolokainen.

Compared to Lithuania and Latvia, Estonia initiated reforms in the 1990s more radically, says Annely Akkermann, an Estonian MP for the ruling Liberal Reform Party.

“The ‘Clean Sweep’ program instigated by former Prime Minister Mart Laar and his government eliminated all the relics of the Soviet system,” the deputy continued.

Technology and digitization

Catlyn Kirna, professor of International Relations. Tallinn University’s Faculty of Governance, Law and Society (SOGOLAS) told that the country’s greatest achievement in the last 30 years has been “stability and, of course, technology.”

“Estonia, a very small country, has done wonders in the field of technology… We have built a strong e-Estonia and remain one of the most cybernetic countries in the world. Of course, it is a bit exaggerated, but the truth is still very impressive ”, emphasized Kirna.

At first, he says, Estonia took a much more “capitalist” route that “broke” society.

“It resulted not only in inequality but also in faster growth, especially compared to Lithuania, which took a very different route. However, in the end we end up in the same position, more or less. The only clear difference has been Estonia’s primary focus on technology and a greater focus on relations with Finland. Recently, Lithuania has been more at the forefront in foreign affairs in general, especially in dealing with Russia, ”Kirna told Euronews.

Otto Tabuns, director of the Baltic Security Foundation, said that, in addition to EU and NATO membership, the progressive digitization of public services, the welcoming business environment and simple taxes seem to him the most commendable achievements of the country in the last 30 years.

“They have enabled residents and visitors to shape their lives more easily in Estonia than in many other countries, also those close by,” he said.

Although the three Baltic countries have achieved significant reforms during their years of independence, it was Estonia that made the right political decisions faster and often more efficiently than the other two.

“On the one hand, it resulted in faster development and greater inequality as inherited subsidies were drastically reduced. This was most visible in the agricultural sector, especially in the periphery. On the other hand, this may have helped many Estonians to be more creative, innovative and risk-takers to succeed in emerging sectors of the economy. Many of the resulting successes have put Estonia on the world stage in the most dazzling light, ”Tabuns added.


Akkermann told Euronews that an initiative called “Tiigrihüpe” (the leap of the tiger) generated a lot of entrepreneurship in the country, and also fostered a large number of digital public services and awarded Estonia the NATO Cyber ​​Defense Center of Excellence. .

This particular national program was presented by former President Toomas Hendik Ilves in 1996 while he was Estonian Ambassador to the United States.

Join the eu

For Otto K. Schwarz, Estonian composer and founder and CEO of Eat Beat OU, a startup based on the mobile application of artificial intelligence health technology, membership in the EU is not so much an achievement as a mechanism to achieve goals. .

“Today Estonia is the richest country in the former USSR, as well as the first in terms of life expectancy. In terms of GDP per capita, our country overlooks other European countries such as Portugal and Greece. And in terms of quality of life, Estonia even surpasses the United States and the United Kingdom. In addition, Estonia is the first in Europe in terms of the development of the digital economy and according to the number of unicorns per capita, ”Schwarz told Euronews.

What also distinguishes Estonia from Lithuania and Latvia is that the former is the only Baltic country that has had a liberal government in power for almost 30 years.

“This allowed the creation of a democratic state with a free press, (free) courts and a real separation of powers from the government,” he said.

Land and maritime protection

Michele Milstein, CMO of Endangered Wildlife OÜ, a Tallinn-based Tech4Good Fintech company that specializes in valuing biodiversity, marvels at how Estonia protects its nature.

“All three Baltic states have extensive forests, but in terms of land, in Estonia, about 40% of the land is protected compared to around 17-18% in Lithuania and Latvia. However, when it comes to marine waters, Lithuania has the highest percentage, followed by Estonia. However, Estonia has the highest number of protected areas, 17,634. There is a continuing threat in Estonia, however, to the estimated 26,000 to 45,000 species due to reduced habitable areas and changing land use, ”Milstein told Euronews.

“Despite this, with over 100 years of nature conservation and recent detailed conservation and nature plans, coupled with Estonians’ love of nature, one can be positive for the future,” he added.

And what is it about Estonians being slow?

Like many of his compatriots, Saarts of the University of Tallinn has heard amiable anecdotes about the supposed slowness of the Estonians.

“I think they have more to do with a pragmatic peasant mentality linked to Protestantism. Very little has changed in the last 30 years, ”Saarts said.

Schwarz took the remarks about the supposed slowness of the Estonians seriously.

“Historically, Estonians were mostly farmers and farming requires patience. Nature teaches tranquility. But now times are changing, “he said.

“It is a misunderstanding that Estonians are slow. We think 9 times before we move. But if we move, we do it in a very rational way, “said Akkerman, the parliamentarian.

Finally, Tanel Tahepold, owner of the Tartu-based software solutions provider Actual Reports, offers a completely different view of speed for Estonians.

“We are definitely the fastest – we have Ott Tanak, who has become WRC World Champion, making him the first Estonian to take the title. And here is Juri Vips, a promising racing driver, currently in Formula 2, which has set its eyes on F1 and is already racing for the Red Bull Junior Team ”.

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