Recently a Google search of “Estonia 20 years” resulted in 29,000,000 (yes, twenty nine million according to Google) sources dealing with the country’s 20-year milepost of regained indepedence. If one were to dismiss the repetitions, which most of the sites probably were, then at least several hundred still focussed on Estonia’s (or the Baltic states’) 20-year anniversaries and the progress or lack thereof the republics enjoyed.
A random perusal of the sites, which range from the St. Petersburg Times (Russian-based) to the China Post (Taiwanese) and others worldwide, point to the “Singing Revolution” as a unique historical phenomenon. To many it was a cultural weapon which helped to sidestep confrontation and violence with Soviet authorities.
The Russian St. Petersburg Times was typical in its recollection of the events of August 1991 in Estonia. “The Singing Revolution got its moniker from a series of unique singing protests, rooted in Estonian folk traditions, that lasted for several years and are seen as having united the Estonian nation in finally overcoming Soviet rule….The Congress of Estonia and the Estonian Supreme Council officially restored the Republic of Estonia by a joint vote [sic] on August 20, 1991, a day after Soviet party hardliners had staged a coup in Moscow while Soviet armoured troop carriers were on their way to storm Tallinn`s strategic objects.” (The Congress and Council did not in fact hold a joint vote but agreed to restore, rather than declare independence, a crucial decision since it implies that Estonia was occupied, a fact that the Russian media practically never acknowledges.)
Combined with positive observations about Estonia’s blood-free path to a restored independence, numerous articles focus on the country’s ability to survive the world recession and emerge nearly debt-free. The facts are these: Estonia’s debt-to-GDP ratio is 6.6 percent, compared to Greece’s 143 percent. Europe’s healthiest economy, that of Germany owes more than 83 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. Estonia’s immediate neighbours, Latvia and Lithuania, have comparatively respectable levels of 44.7 and 38.2 percent.
Not only does Estonia have the lowest debt in the European Union, Estonia’s second-quarter growth, in comparison to the same period in 2010, was the EU’s highest at 8.4 percent, substantially ahead of the second ranked country, Lithuania, with 5.9 percent growth. The EU’s average was a low 1.7 percent.
Fitch’s credit-rating agency summed it up nicely in its recent report: “The Euro Area Crisis: Lessons from the Baltic States”, crediting the three countries with showing that “although it was painful to correct large macroeconomic imbalances and return to growth…it was not impossible.”
While many of the articles point to a typical Estonian stoicism in facing the belt tightening both in the government and private sector as not causing any public protests as witnessed in Greece and elsewhere, not all reports maintain a totally positive view of the current situations in the three Baltic states. Estonia’s 13.8, Latvia’s 17.2 and Lithuania’s 17.3 percent unemployment should be a concern for all three countries.
Related to this is emigration. In 2010, according to official statistics, 83,157 people left Lithuania. Estimates put Latvian emigration at approximately 30,000. During the same period 5294 emigrated from Estonia, a substantially smaller total, but still worrisome, since only 2810 immigrated into Estonia (again official numbers).
The articles in general concentrated mainly on progress and improvement since the Soviet burden was discarded. Urmas Paet, Estonia’s foreign mnister, when asked, doesn’t mention economic or social advances of the past 20 years. His answer is clear and immediate: “absence of fear”.
Outside observers extol both Estonia’s rebirth and 20 years of democratic development