Baltic leaders address U.N. Millennium Summit

  • 2000-09-14
  • Jaclyn M. Sindrich
TALLINN - Though some argued that the U.N. Millennium Summit in New York was more about ceremony and Utopian-minded speeches than practicality, the gathering of the world leaders was a historic event nonetheless.

Baltic leaders, including Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, along with 147 other heads of nations, came home armed with a challenge by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to use their power to give billions of people a better life in the 21st century.

Laar used his time in the spotlight to focus on Estonia's achievements in the IT sector as a model for other countries to follow. He mentioned Estonia's Tiger Leap program, which gives every schoolchild free Internet access, and he called for the next vital step - investing in more environmentally-friendly technology. Laar talked about the country's success of opening its markets and government, as well as on the importance of contributing more money to the organization.

"Just as we in Estonia have come to understand that we must transmit some of the know-how we have gained to other U.N. members, we have also reached the position that we cannot live on discounted security," he said.

Laar announced that the Estonian government had decided to forego its 80 percent discount it had received so far and would begin to pay its U.N. dues in full.

Adamkus' speech on Sept. 7 underscored the need to respect human rights in the era of globalization and the importance of a "good neighbor" policy, using Lithuania's blossoming strategic partnership with Poland, despite the discord between the two in the past, as an example.

The Lithuanian president spoke of Central and Eastern Europe's "divorce legacies," how following the crumble of the single Soviet power and ideology, many in the region are still waiting for justice by way of compensation for their losses. "The United Nations could play a more important role in addressing the expectations of such people," he said.

The three Baltic leaders, though mainly optimistic in their addresses, did not miss the opportunity to criticize the U.N. Vike-Freiberga said the "plethora of U.N. bodies with differing mandates has become unwieldy, difficult to manage and confusing."

Addressing the body, she said that the organization needed to reassess its resource allocation policies to avoid the wastefulness that has dominated in the past. She also urged the U.N. to arm its military forces for "more muscular peace enforcement" rather than sending in "lightly armed troops who cannot intervene in serious armed conflict," pointing out the recent capture and release of 500 U.N. soldiers in Sierra Leone by rebel forces, and the failures of peacekeeping efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda.

Estonia's Laar reminded the other leaders of how, in 1972, the U.N. ignored the appeal of Estonia's freedom fighters, who were dragged off to Soviet prison camps with barely a peep from the world's supposed unquestioned "moral authority." "The U.N. of the new millennium must make a difference," Laar declared.

On the fringes of the largest-ever gathering of world leaders, some took full advantage of diplomatic opportunities. Laar and Portuguese leader Antonio Guterres signed a bilateral cooperation agreement. The two discussed their positive partnership during the Portuguese presidency of EU and stressed that the basis for Estonia's accession to the union should be for its achievements and preparedness, not geopolitical or other reasons, government spokesman Priit Poiklik reported.

Another key area of the agreement was that small countries in the Council of Europe should not be restricted in any way by the formation of factions within EU.

Laar also signed a cooperation agreement with the president of Macedonia, Boris Trajkovski, on IT cooperation between the two nations. The Estonian leader promised to donate all needed expertise, such as with helping Macedonia to launch its own Tiger Leap program, and to spread the partnership into the private sector to give the nation an economic boost.