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Baltics Reach For Independence


INDEPENDENCE is on everyone's lips in Estonia. Even those high up in the government and the Communist Party are speaking out on the subject. Indrek Toome, Estonian prime minister and member of the Communist Party's Central Committee, said at a press conference Wednesday that he takes ``a good and positive attitude'' toward independence.

``It is possible to be independent within the Soviet Union. We have to be politically and economically realistic,'' he said.

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As Mr. Toome was making his comments, more than 2 million people linked hands across the three Baltic republics - Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - in a dramatic protest marking the 50th anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet pact that wiped out their independence. And in Moscow riot police broke up small demonstrations by people sympathetic to the Baltics' cause.

The Estonian prime minister was not, however, without harsh words for Moscow. At the press conference shared with the Estonian Popular Front, Toome complained of the way Moscow has responded to the situation in Estonia. ``Much clearly tendentious material has been published in the central press, depicting the Balts as very dubious people and as nationalists. There can be nothing more stupid than accusing a people in one or another matter.''

Edgar Savisaar, director of Estonia's State Planning Agency and a Popular Front member, summarized the tensions with the Soviet central government: ``The question of Moscow's attitude is to know whether or not they consider our attitude. The question is, will it be possible to continue our perestroika [restructuring] within the Soviet Union?''

The Popular Front has the backing of a majority of Estonians. Marju Lauristen, one of the more well known leaders of the Popular Front, says the group acts as a window of public opinion. ``The declarations of the Popular Front this year have become even closer to the ideal that our population has carried in their hearts for 50 years.''

Estonia's official Communist Party no longer fears words of independence. But as a small state bordered by super power, independence always rests on a delicate balance of foreign interests.

The Estonian government stakes its push for independence on the republic's economic development aided by the program of economic independence (known as Ime) which will take effect beginning Jan. 1, 1990.

``When we gain a better economic situation,'' says Toome, ``all our other aims will follow.''

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But, he adds, economy and politics are two sides of the same coin. ``To develop our economy, we must have all the means in our hands. Political independence must be much wider than it is today.'

``Local elections are to be held on Dec. 10 of this year although still officially under a one-party system, the Estonian political spectrum is much wider. Hesitant to call themselves political parties, various ``movements'' plan to run candidates. Apart from the Popular Front there are the environmentalist ``Greens,'' the Estonian National Independent Party, the National Heritage Society, the Democratic Union, the Social-Democrats and other smaller groups.

Judging by the results of the all-union elections last March, the Popular Front is favored to come out ahead. If this is indeed the case, the Popular Front plans to hold a referendum on whether or not to declare Estonia independent.

``We have to work quickly to provide a good example of what perestroika can be,'' says Popular Front official Paul Lepp. ``Gorbachev has many enemies and few results to show of reform.''

Alik and Janna are a young couple of Russian origin living in Tallinn. Alik was born here and says he speaks ``more or less'' Estonian. What would they do of Estonia broke away from Soviet Union? ``We would of course stay,'' says Alik as he looks encouragingly at his wife, a new arrival here, ``she is now learning Estonian.''

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