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Estonia 2001: old face and a winning song

  • 2001-12-20
  • Kairi Kurm and Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Bad moonshine, Eurovision victory and a brand new president were what hit Estonia in 2001. Looking back at the year, The Baltic Times suggests its own version of the top five events for Estonia, together with their respective TBT headlines, and, below, how some Estonian celebs saw it.

1. "Ex-communist to lead Estonia to Europe": The latest presidential elections concluded in September, a bitter fiasco for the ruling Pro Patria Union/Reform Party/Moderates coalition, resulted in an astonishing political comeback for Arnold Ruutel, Estonia's last Soviet ruler and now a member of the People's Union party.

Publishing books and making snazzy Web sites didn't help the Reform Party's Toomas Savi, the Center Party's Peeter Kretizberg, Peeter Tulviste of the Pro Patria Union or Andres Tarand of the Moderates to fill Lennart Meri's big shoes. Ruutel just kept riding around Estonia, meeting local government leaders who later sent their representatives to the electoral college that finally gave him the votes he wanted.

Ruutel, 73, holds a degree in agriculture and speaks Estonian, Russian and a smattering of German. He's now reportedly taking a crash course in English. He was the second ex-communist leader to get a top post in the region this year, the first being Lithuania's Algirdas Brazauskas.

2. "Death toll from poisoned alcohol rises in Parnu": Deadly methanol spirit, which bootleggers took to be illegally distilled alcohol, became a fatal brew that killed 71 people and hospitalized 112 in the sleepy southwestern seaside town of Parnu at the beginning of September.

The liquid was stolen from a local company that used it in the production of biodiesel. A total of 12,000 liters of illegal alcohol and 3,500 liters of methanol have been confiscated since the tragedy erupted. Police are holding seven people on suspicion of manslaughter.

3. "OSCE opts to leave Estonia": Doris Hertrampf, head of the OSCE mission to Estonia, recommended in December that the organization's permanent council consider its job there done.

One of the main reasons to quit the mission was the amendments to the law on elections, which abolished language requirements for candidates taking part in both local and national elections. It's now possible for someone who doesn't speak Estonian to be elected. But Estonian is still the official language of the Parliament, so Russian-only speakers will find it tough to understand anything.

Local governments so far have no statute on their working language.

The Cabinet naturally welcomed the news. Russia, Estonia's mighty eastern neighbor, expressed its displeasure, grumbling that issues related to national minorities still need OSCE assistance.

4. "Estonians conquer Eurovision": With the lands of the Singing Revolution competing, victory sooner or later was inevitable. Estonia's song "Everybody," performed by the duo Tanel Padar and Dave Benton, won the 46th Eurovision Song Contest held on May 12 in Copenhagen, Denmark, bringing the first ever Eurovision victory to the Baltic states.

Now Estonia, as the winning country, is making preparations to host the next contest in May 2002. A preliminary budget for organizing the event has been put at $6.3 million, half of which will come from taxpayers across Europe.

5. "Estonia gets advice on how to brand itself": The Eurovision victory has accelerated work on Estonia's national brand, a project meant to make Estonia more recognizable in the world. Next year's song contest is the ideal chance to introduce the country to a million-strong Europe-wide TV audience, so the implementation of the brand project initiated this summer is planned to start next May.

Interbrand Ltd., an experienced brand development and advertising agency based in Britain, will consult the Estonian project team, which has 8 million kroons ($470,000) out of the national budget for this year.

To keep the project going, millions more kroons will have to be spent over the next few years. It's the first project of its kind in the Baltics.