• 2002-01-24
Estonia has exchanged a young historian for a middle-aged financier. But at least the historian had no $10 million law suits behind him.

Estonia is one of those countries where a person who was once accused - in 1994 to be exact - of assisting in the theft of such a sum from the central bank can later become finance minister, and then prime minister. Governments chop and change as easily as politicians' allegiances, and allegations like these are quickly forgotten. Besides, Kallas was found "not guilty" in 2000.

The closer attention to social security issues the new government is promoting looks like an obvious ploy to hook the crowds. Give school kids free breakfasts, raise a grandmother's pension by the price of a compact disc, and waves of happiness will flood over the impoverished population.

More experienced observers say Laar's resignation was a smart move. The next general elections come in 14 months' time. Laar, quietly sitting in the Parliament, could write another history book. But he may also spend time preparing for the elections, criticizing the new government at every opportunity.

Every mistake Kallas and his new partners make - inevitable, since many of the proposed Center Party ministers have no proper experience - could bring Laar's next comeback one step closer.

When Laar leaped back into the prime ministerial seat after the last elections, he won the moniker "The Comeback Kid."

Defense raises much of the concern. What can 27-year-old Sven Mikser, the Center Party's candidate for the post of defense minister, possibly do for the development of national security? All he holds is a degree in English philology.

Laar's government had its faults with administrative reforms and faulty privatizations. It often ignored the hardships of ordinary people.

But it was positive and aimed for long-term success. And its reputation was miles away from the often shameless populism and ruthless methods of Edgar Savisaar's Center Party.

On the other hand, it could also be said that the Pro Patria Union propaganda machine did its best to create a dark image of Savisaar. Everybody has heard he is bad, but nobody can explain precisely why.

The new Cabinet will see some hard times trying to build a positive image for itself, keeping up Laar's fast pace towards EU and NATO membership and further liberalizing the economy. May free school breakfasts lend it a hand.