Meri's comments anger Canada

  • 2000-07-27
  • Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN - President Lennart Meri has stirred up controversy in his homeland during the past week. It started with his swift dismissal of Lt. Gen.Johannes Kert from the position of defense commander, a move that outraged members of Parliament in the process, and earlier this month with a speech in Canada at the ESTO Festival.

Meri, who was honorary patron of the Estonian international cultural event, gave a closing speech on July 10 to the festival participants in which he criticized Canada's attitude toward Estonians, including its rigid visa regime, which reportedly prevented many Estonians from being able to attend the festival. And many of those who did manage to get the visa were harassed by border guards, he said.

The president also suggested that Canada has not always been loyal to Estonia in its bid to join NATO, basing his comments on the fact that prior to the NATO summit in Washington in 1999 Canada supported enlargement only to Slovenia, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

The comment also served as a plea to Estonian expatriates in Canada, who "could be more active in promoting the goals of Estonian foreign policy," he said.

When news broke that the Canadian government sent a note to Estonia indicating it was not appreciative of the remarks, the story made headlines in Estonian press for days.

Meri's speech, which had been posted in English on the president's Web page was removed shortly thereafter.

The Estonian ambassador to Canada, Sven Jurgensson, also said Canadian authorities were not targeting Estonians, but that customs controls are strict across the board.

But there was no permanent harm done, officials say. Relations with Canada, they say, couldn't be better.

The president met with Canadian Ambassador Peter McKellar, a resident of Riga, in Meri's Kadriorg Palace on July 18 to discuss his recent visit to the North American country. Talks focused not on Meri's comments, but on business opportunities between the two countries. Suncor, an oil and mining company in Calgary, Alberta, is interested in possibly investing its technology and experience in Estonia's oil shale processing, according to a presidential press release.