Meri chills Independence Day spirits

  • 2001-03-01
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - The 83rd anniversary of the Republic of Estonia was clouded on a freezing Feb. 23 by the questions over politicians' behavior and social problems that have been troubling Estonia recently. But in his last Independence Day speech as the country's president, Lennart Meri was not about to offer any solutions.

The Independence Day weather provided a true test of patriotism for the residents of Tallinn. Many remained at home sheltering from sharp winds and minus 15 degree temperatures.

The loyal and hardened went to see a military parade at Vabaduse valjak (Freedom Square) at 10 a.m., while at dawn representatives of the Estonian state and foreign embassies watched the raising of the Estonian flag in the Parliament courtyard.

There were less spectators at the parade than a year ago, but the mess canteen-style pea soup that is traditionally served to the crowd at the end of the parade was as popular as ever.

The number of soldiers who took part in the parade this time was 949, or approximately one-fifth of the entire Estonian army, according to the PR department of the Defense Forces.

President Lennart Meri again surprised his people with his Independence Day speech, but this time the surprise was a negative one. Most of the country's dailies stressed that Meri had missed some important topics in his speech.

"The speech had a certain lack of concrete solutions," ran the editorial in Eesti Paevaleht. Postimees, meanwhile, complained that Independence Day quickly degenerated into an all too familiar atmosphere - many in the audience felt like children in a classroom, the paper said.

The president mentioned the recent picture shooting scandal involving Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar and Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, in which Laar admitted that he and party colleagues had taken shots at a photograph of Savisaar on a firing range two years ago.

Meri said that in the German Parliament, for example, the ruling coalition and the opposition laugh together rather than constantly deride each other. The president said he watches the sessions of the Bundestag on satellite TV every other day.

"In our Parliament they just laugh at each other. This is a sign of a lack of political culture. As does putting up a picture of a member of the Parliament and shooting at it," Meri said.

"Heavens above! Guns instead of principles?" he exclaimed, adding that he didn't know whether Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar has yet accepted the apologies of Prime Minister Mart Laar.

Estonia has made rapid progress, but at the price of deepening social inequality, Meri said.

"We have had no other choice. But now it is time to take great care because we may, quite unintentionally, cross the line of social tolerance. Unemployment is considerable, pensions are small, and wealth that could be redistributed is still insignificant," Meri said.

The president said there was no open-minded discussion between the government and the people of Estonia as to why things are the way they are.

"The citizens want to know. The citizens want to think along with the government. This is a question of the trustworthiness of the state and also, of course, of equal opportunities," he said.

The president said a wealthy, happy Estonia cannot be built without a global vision of the world and Estonia's position in it in 20 years' time.

"Today, a new race has begun. A new redistribution of the world market and welfare has started. And, with the right education and research policy, Estonia has every chance in this race of realizing its own vision and ensuring that it assumes its rightful place among the developed nations."