Estonia in 2003

mapstamps On October 6, 2003 my driver Öla met me at my hotel in Saint Petersburg, Russia and drove me, in a new Mercedes no less, thru Navra on the border (not shown in this map) and Kohtlajärve to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. On the way, we stopped at an interesting German manor house in Palmse. This was a 6 hour drive thru flat, low country. It was a delight to see a McDonalds right at the border. It was a good place to eat. It was jarring to see near the old Swedish-German Castle in Narva, a statue of Lenin, the only one I saw in the Baltics.

Estonia, called Eesti in the native language, has 1.4 million people, 65% Estonian and 35% non-Estonian, primarily Russian. In fact, about 10% of the population speaks only Russian and they are concentrated in the region around Narva. I learned to count to 10 in Estonian and demonstrated it to my guide, Gina. Her reaction was that I knew more Estonia than some Russians who had lived there 50 years! By the way, Russian has more in common with English than Estonian. Estonia has more land area than Luxembourg, Belgium or Denmark. It is about the same size as the Netherlands which has 10 times more people. Estonia is one of the most wired countries in the world and some have suggested changing the name to e-stonia!

What a joy to see Estonia free and prosperous again! Before WWII, Estonia had a standard of living higher than Finland, but Soviet troops forcibly occupied the country in 1940 and it did not regain its independence until 1991. One of the most amazing and profoundly libertarian events of the 20th century was the "Baltic Way" also called the "Baltic Chain" or "Hands across the Baltic". This was as important as the fall of the Berlin Wall. On August 23, 1989, the 50th anniversary of the infamous Molotov-von Ribbentrop treaty between Stalin and Hitler which paved the way for the partition of Poland and the forcible occupation of the Baltics, 2,000,000 people joined hands in an unbroken chain of almost 400 miles from the Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia thru downtown Riga, Latvia to the Old Town in Vilnius, Lithuania in a peaceful act of defiance to tell the Soviet Union to leave and that these countries demanded their independence. To put this number 2,000,00 in perspective, it would be the equivalent to 80,000,000 in the U.S. and was essentially a 90% turnout of all of the non-ethnic Russia adults in the Baltic countries. For example, both my driver Öla and my guide Gina took part in the Baltic chain. People in Moscow and around the world saw with their own eyes the depth of the desire to be free. The power of TV was harnessed in the cause of liberty. On the 10th anniversary of that historic act, the stamps, shown above, were issued to celebrate the "Baltic Chain" in all 3 countries.

In August 1991 when the communists bungled a coup d'etat in Moscow, all 3 Baltic countries, seized the opportunity and declared their immediate independence on August 20th. Little Iceland, recognizing the moral significance of freedom for the Baltics, acted within hours to recognize all 3 countries as independent becoming the first country to do so. The United States took over a week. In 2003 all 3 Baltic countries, to insure their freedom for the long haul have joined NATO and will become members of the European Union on May 1, 2004. Joining the EU will hurt their free market economies, but the Baltic people paid this price to guarantee their territorial integrity against future aggression.

Estonia had a long history of being ruled by other countries (Danes, Germans, Swedes, Russians) and became independent for the first time in 1918. It is a delightful country to visit with one of the best preserved medieval old towns in Europe. The country has a low security feeling as if you could leave your door unlocked at night. Tallinn is less than 60 miles from Helsinki across the Gulf of Finland and shares linguistic and cultural similarities. One travel book commented: There's a strong libertarian strain here: most Estonians believe you ought to be able to do your own thing, soar to new heights or dig your own grave, so long as you don't infringe on anyone else's space.

Ola at McDonalds My driver Öla in front of a 6 year-old McDonalds in Narva near the Russian border. Palmse Manor House German Manor house of Von Pahlen family involved in railroads and assassination of Czar Alexander I.
Changing Guard I'm the only person at the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace. No need for high security. Palace Garden This palace and garden were build by Russian Czar Peter the Great for his Estonia wife, Catherine.
Lower Old Town View of lower Old Town toward the Gulf of Finland. Lower Old Town View of lower Old Town toward downtown Tallinn.
Upper Old Town Upper Old Town on left with lower Old Town on right and downtown in foreground. EU Sign All Baltic states voted to join EU which advertised their support of highways to influence outcome.
Singing Revolution Location of the Singing Revolution where 250,000 defied Russian soldiers in 1988. Gina at Independence My guide Gina, in the Old Town, at the Independence Monument near where the Baltic Chain started.