Category Archives: estonia

EDITORIAL: Estonia Whips Russian Butt

EDITORIAL

Estonia Whips Russian Butt

Reader “Robert” directs us to a BBC web page which compares the performance of the nations in post-Soviet space on economics, health and democracy. It provides three charts which reveal shocking facts about the failure of Putin’s resource-rich Russia when compared with tiny Estonia, the leader of the group.

First comes economics, which reveals not one but three stunning insights about Russia:

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Russia admits to Cyber Attack on Estonia

The always brilliant Robert Coalson of Radio Free Europe reports:

In the spring of 2007, a cyberattack on Estonia blocked websites and paralyzed the country’s entire Internet infrastructure. At the peak of the crisis, bank cards and mobile-phone networks were temporarily frozen, setting off alarm bells in the tech-dependent country — and in NATO as well.

The cyberattacks came at a time when Estonia was embroiled in a dispute with Russia over the removal of a Soviet-era war memorial from the center of  Tallinn. Moscow denied any involvement in the attacks, but Estonian officials were convinced of Russia’s involvement in the plot.

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The Saga of Arnold Meri

Marko Mihkelson, the chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee in Estonia’s parliament, writing in the Moscow Times:

In recent days, the court proceedings in the small Estonian town of Kardla, where Arnold Meri stands trial for crimes against humanity, have gained much attention in the Russian press.

Unfortunately, this case reveals dramatically how biased and truth-fearing the media landscape of Russia is today. Naturally, no word is spoken or written about the fact that Meri is accused of carrying out deportations under Estonian legislation and international law.

The Russian media only proclaim that Meri was given the Hero of the Soviet Union award and that, in their view, the court case of the 88-year-old veteran is only a political trial orchestrated by the Estonian authorities. It is all supposed to serve the purpose of “rewriting” the outcomes of the World War II, we are told.

Following this logic, it might be assumed that all heroes of the Soviet Union enjoy a life-long immunity and can kill, rape or deport with impunity. It is sad if this is the contemporary Russian view of the rule of law.

There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity. It is not important who committed them and when. Eleven persons accused of crimes against humanity have been convicted in Estonia from 1995, eight of whom participated the deportation of civilians in the 1940s. Even the European Court of Human Rights in its decision of Jan. 17, 2006, supported the Estonian court practice of trying and prosecuting crimes against humanity.

Meri is accused of carrying out deportations of 251 people — mostly women and children — from the Estonian island of Hiiumaa on March 25, 1949. On that day, the Soviet occupation forces deported altogether 20,000 people from Estonia.

Unfortunately, that was not the only tragedy in the sufferings of the Estonian people in the 1940s. A similar episode occurred on June 14, 1941, when the People’s Commissariat for Interior Affairs of the Soviet Union organized the deportation of more than 10,000 residents of Estonia, among whom nearly 5,000 women and 2,500 children. More than 3,000 of them were sent directly to prison camps, where the majority were killed or died.

For most Russians, the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II, which is officially called the Great Patriotic War in Russia, has been elevated to the single most important historical event. No one today questions the importance of the Allies’ defeat of Nazism. What raises concerns, however, is that the victory over Nazi Germany is told in rigorous black-and-white terms. We know that history is a growing collection of narratives with countless nuances. No historical event occurs in a vacuum. This is true for the Great Patriotic War, and it is important to analyze all of events that preceded and followed the war.

I am convinced that many Russians are more knowledgeable and balanced than the ruling elite in analyzing and interpreting World War II and its aftermath.

Deep wounds in the memory of nations heal very slowly. The feelings of distrust and even hatred can be easily fomented and manipulated. It is very difficult to earn respect by trampling on the truth, and leaders who try to stifle the historical sense of entire nations with this peculiar weapon of history are doing a terrible disservice to their citizens, the consequences of which may be irreversible.

Ilya Ponomarev, a State Duma deputy from A Just Russia and is one of the founders of the Left Front movement, offered a counterpoint in the same issue:

For the past week, Russian television has been stoking the public’s passions over Estonia’s charges of war crimes against Arnold Meri. Judging from the coverage, you would think that serious domestic problems, such as increasing neo-Nazism or the lack of housing for veterans, have been resolved.

Of course, it is always easier for the Kremlin and its media outlets to criticize other countries than itself. It is more expedient to fight against imaginary foes than taking on the real threats to society.

Russia’s leaders never tire of displaying hypocritical self-righteousness, crying out passionately about justice — particularly when these public stances bring in so many political dividends.

The more Russia bickers with the Baltic states, the more it resembles a fixed contest in which the results are settled beforehand. The ruling elites of both sides compete with one other at tossing out nasty accusations before their electorates in an attempt to divert attention away from the real problems of everyday life. This happened not long ago with the dispute over moving the Bronze Soldier monument from central Tallinn, and it is happening again now. It seems that those in power are happy, even if a decorated war hero must now stand trial — and this is a man who, in 1941, didn’t quit the field of battle against the Nazis, even after sustaining four battle wounds, and who is now unafraid to stand up for his fellow war veterans, despite suffering from a serious illness.

I do not want to address Meri’s specific actions in 1949 for which he now stands accused — the deportation of the Estonia civilians to Siberia. Let’s leave it to the lawyers to determine whether Meri organized the deportations or was just carrying out orders. There is a more important issue that has gotten lost in the Meri affair: Instead of focusing on one person for crimes against humanity, the authorities should initiate an international tribunal against the entire Communist regime for crimes against humanity. Although the wealthy and ruling elite in the former Soviet republics might find this initiative attractive, the overwhelming majority of the people, who live worse now than they did 20 years ago, would never support this idea. In the absence of a Nuremberg-like trial, however, any attempt to single out one person smacks of a politically motivated campaign to find a scapegoat.

In reality, of course, politicians and the media don’t care that much about Meri or his alleged crime of “genocide,” despite the passionate debates on television talk shows. They relish the opportunity to generate good public relations with voters, especially since the government has nothing to say regarding the real problems facing society. How many rating points has United Russia racked up by renaming streets in Pskov and Altai in honor of Arnold Meri? As is often the case, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

And for its part, Estonian leaders are manipulating the issue to marginalize opposition groups. They also are trying to provoke Russia to take retaliatory actions, which would then prompt the European Union to come to Estonia’s defense.

Both the Russian and Estonian sides should be ashamed of themselves for how they have cynically exploited the Meri affair for political gain.

The spindoctors on both sides who stand behind their respective PR campaigns should think more about the millions of Russian and Estonian lives that were lost during World War II and its aftermath. They should also think about their children, who will grow up one day and look back on what the Meri trial and cry, “Shame on you!”

The Education of a Russophile

The BBC reports:

I was irritated by his three-piece suit. I was irritated by his floppy bow tie. But if I am honest, what really irritated me about Toomas Ilves was the fact that he and I had started off in almost the same job and I had become “our own correspondent” while he had become a head of state. Do not get me wrong, I love what I do. But arriving at the pad he occupies as president of Estonia – a charming little salmon-and-cream-cheese-coloured mansion in a park built for Peter the Great – I could not help feeling a twinge of envy.

It was not the kind of home either of us could have imagined in the late 1980s when I was a talks writer in the Russian section of the BBC World Service, and he was something similar in the Estonian section of Radio Free Europe. And it was not the kind of house I ever got. So when I had nodded at – and been ignored by – the white-gloved ceremonial guards on my way in, I am afraid I was a little less courteous to him than he was to me.

Why, I asked, did he not speak Russian? It seemed a reasonable question because Russian is the language of more than a quarter of Estonia’s population. But for President Ilves it was not reasonable at all. Speaking Russian, he said firmly, would mean accepting 50 years of Soviet brutalisation because most Russian-speakers settled in Estonia only after it was occupied by the USSR towards the end of World War II. And when I pressed him, saying surely it would only mean being able to communicate with a large number of his fellow countrymen in their own language, he replied – as heads of state have every right to do: “This is a real dead end, I don’t want to discuss it.”

I moved on. And we had another cup of tea.

Bitter row

But Estonia’s relations with Russia have reached something of a dead end since a bitter row last year over the moving of a monument. For Russians, the bronze statue of a Soviet soldier was a symbol of sacrifice, commemorating Estonia’s liberation from Nazi Germany. For Estonians it was a symbol of slavery, reminding them of the Soviet domination that followed. Last April, when the Estonian government ordered it to be moved from a central square in the capital Tallinn to a military cemetery, protests by local Russians degenerated into riots. Russia accused Estonia of blasphemy and threatened “serious measures” in response.

What followed was a partial Russian trade blockade of Estonia and – far more chilling – an extraordinary cyber-attack. Millions of malicious messages were sent to Estonian websites and almost succeeded in disabling the country’s entire computer network. The messages were in Russian and mostly accused Estonians of being fascists. There is no proof the Kremlin was behind them or behind the riots.

But President Ilves believes Moscow loses no opportunity to meddle in the affairs of his tiny country. Indeed as a former radio journalist, he was keen to quote me a weighty think-tank report that suggests the Kremlin is trying to divide and rule the whole of Europe. As a former talks writer from a more Russophile background, I was more inclined to give the Kremlin the benefit of the doubt.

Russian perspective

But my views changed a bit when I got to the Kremlin itself.

I found myself soon afterwards in a grand office behind its intimidating red-brick walls, looking out over the psychedelic onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral and taking tea with President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko. He was so disgusted by the moving of the bronze soldier statue that he could not bring himself to say anything else at all about Estonia. But he would talk about relations with another neighbour, Georgia.

‘Punishment’

Georgia has also accused Russia of meddling. And it has also found itself the victim of swingeing trade sanctions. Why, I asked, were they necessary? “Georgia,” Mr Prikhodko growled back, “can’t always be like a little boy that takes a fork or a hammer and tries to whack its neighbour. Even a small child knows that if you spill tea or mess up your bed, you might be punished.”

Small child? Punishment?

I was quite taken aback, in such a lofty setting, to hear those sentiments expressed so crudely. And I was bound to assume that Estonia is also regarded as a small child that needs punishing. If that is Russia’s attitude, President Ilves’ desire to turn his back on it seems altogether easier to understand. Of course, I know he has always looked west when I have been looking east. From Radio Free Europe he went to Washington – as Estonian ambassador – while I had gone from the World Service to the BBC News bureau in Moscow. Whether or not that is the secret of his success, I do not know. But turning westwards certainly has not done Toomas Ilves, or his country, any harm.

And I think now I can get over him having such a nice little palace.

The Sunday Prayer: Estonia Counts Her Blessings

Estonia Counts her Blessings on the
90th Anniversary of Independence

by Jüri Estam

(exclusive to La Russophobe)

Small as she is, my home country of Estonia reminds me of those extremely premature babies who beat the odds and survive. While there are other cultures that have been tenacious enough to not disappear despite centuries of foreign domination, with the Welsh being one example, few have hung on by the skin of their teeth for as long as the Estonians. After the Estonian tribes had been vanquished by the Danes and the German Brothers of the Sword in the early 13th century, submission became the rule for hundreds of years, as Estonia was conquered in succession by one European power after another. Performing manual labor on plantations owned by German and Swedish barons, common Estonians eked out a living from one generation to the next.

War and pestilence threatened Estonians with extinction on several occasions. After the Livonian war at the end of the 16th century, their numbers had been reduced to a mere 85,000. An old traveler’s account describes Estonia and Latvia after the passage of the troops of Peter the Great – a landscape strangely devoid of human habitation, where no cock crowed, and no dog barked.
It was not until the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution that prospects of better times arrived for the common people of Europe. As time passed, more and more peoples strove to create nations of their own.

Those who Have Known Slavery Savor Freedom Most

Given the choice, all living creatures prefer freedom to fetters. For purposes of illustration, the British military made a major miscalculation in Dublin in 1916, when they executed all seven signatories of the Irish declaration of independence. To this day, the General Post Office in Dublin where the proclamation was made public and the rising began holds a special place in the hearts of the Irish. The Easter Proclamation itself has the status of a revered national icon. The American public regards Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where 56 persons signed the US Declaration of Independence in 1776, as a shrine.

When Estonia declared her independence 90 years ago, it was under risky conditions. Profoundly affected by the Russian Revolution, the Russian garrison in Estonia was plunged into chaos, and retreated to Mother Russia once German troops landed on the Estonian coast. Taking advantage of the temporary power vacuum that ensued, the Estonian Diet took a “now or never” decision. It was on the stairs of the Endla Theater in the coastal city of Parnu that Estonian independence was proclaimed on February 23, 1918.

Estonians had been kept from occupying positions of prominence and power in their own country for a long time. Georg Hellat, who drew up the construction plans for the theater, was the first significant architect of native Estonian background to make good. The Endla theater – a Jugendstil building designed by him – was dedicated in 1911. During the independence period between the two World Wars, it would serve in free Estonia as a hub of local culture for Parnu, a resort city of tree-lined streets and hotels and spas that is famous thanks largely to its beaches.

It was quite remarkable that Estonia, supported by British naval guns, succeeded in expelling both German and Soviet Russian armies during a war of independence that went on for over a year. In the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920 between The Russian Soviet Republic and the Republic of Estonia, the Kremlin relinquished all rights to the territory of Estonia for time eternal. Instead of remaining free forever, the three Baltic States – Estonia included – actually only experienced independence for twenty years.

When Western Europe was set free at the end of World War II, these three parliamentary democracies – they had been members of the League of Nations – had been “abducted” by the occupying Red Army and annexed to the USSR – a step never recognized by a great many Western democracies. No longer would Baltic teams compete at the Olympic Games under their own flags. Three members of the European community, hijacked by the USSR, simply went missing for half a century. Although Estonia and her two neighbors to the south – Latvia and Lithuania – are often referred to nowadays as former Soviet Republics, they were not in fact secessionist parts of Russia that broke away from Moscow in 1991, but ought to be seen instead as “submerged nations”, whose occupation finally came to an end as Boris Yeltsin took his seat in the Kremlin.

Nobody can Hear us

When I think of Estonia and her forcible incorporation into the USSR by the Soviet Union, I am often reminded of Kitty Genovese, the New York City woman who, in 1964, was stabbed to death near her home in the Kew Gardens section of Queens. The Genovese case became know for the psychological phenomenon called the “bystander effect”, in which violence is perpetrated on someone within hearing of neighbors, but the cries are not noticed. Estonian President Konstantin Pats was forcibly taken away in 1940 by the secret police of the Soviet Union, and was held incommunicado in insane asylums until his death in Tver, Russia in 1956. Pats is shown below, before and after his persecution.



The fate of the Endla Theater – the birthplace of Estonian independence – was not any prettier.

The Endla Theater in its Glory

The golden era of Estonian independence had also been the heyday of the Endla, where up to 600 persons at a time gathered to enjoy performances of plays and operas by Ibsen, Shakespeare, Strauss, Verdi and many others. When Hitler’s occupying army retreated and the Red Army reentered the country in 1944, staging a supposed “liberation” of Estonia, Parnu was caught between the fighting sides. 1944 was a bad year for Estonia in general. Bombs dropped by the Soviet Air Force totally gutted the baroque pearl that had been the city of Narva, and in the capital of Tallinn, 3,000 buildings were destroyed in one night, in a firestorm with heavy loss of lives that can only be described as a version of Dresden in miniature. In her memoirs, local resident Elsbet Parek described the situation in Parnu: “Down below, the Germans torched and destroyed, while the Russians bombed from above.”

Despite the combat and the flames that did considerable harm to Parnu in the fall of 1944, the walls of the Endla Theater remained standing, and there is no doubt that the building could have been salvaged, had there been the will to do so. Only the roof of the building had burned during the war, but the supporting structures were of sturdy masonry and still serviceable, as contemporaries have written. A close acquaintance of mine who grew up in Parnu after the war once recounted that when he was a child in the fifties, it was common for drunks to use the ruins of the Endla theater as a public bathroom. In September, 1951, the Parnu city government proposed that the theater be restored, but the Soviet authorities replied that there was no way that the style of the theater could be made to harmonize with the requirements posed by “contemporary (Stalinist) architectural expectations”.

The Endla in Ruins

After the war, the workers of the theater were relocated to another building. In an article that appeared in the Estonian SL Ohtuleht newspaper on May 4, 2006, Olaf Esna, the Director of the Parnu theater during the post-war years, states that the real issue for the Soviet authorities was that the “…veranda of the Endla Theater was the place that the Estonian Declaration of Independence had first been made public…” on February 23, 1918.

The Final Torment of the Endla Theater

The Soviet occupation regime felt it couldn’t afford to allow this reminder of Estonian independence to remain. On March 6, 1961 at 2:30 pm in front of a crowd of people, demolition charges were set off. A dull thud was heard. The walls of the Endla quivered for a moment as if in doubt, but then collapsed to the ground. Several nearby windows were shattered, and for a while, the center of Parnu was enveloped in a cloud of smoke and dust. Later, a box-shaped Soviet style hotel was built on the same location. When I worked in Germany in the eighties, before Estonia regained her independence, one of my colleagues – a person from one of the Western European countries who knew that I am Estonian – brought a copy of a men’s girly magazine from his country to work, and showed me an article with photos that had been surreptitiously been taken in this very Parnu hotel and smuggled out of occupied Estonia. Intended as men’s guide to the underground bordellos of Estonia, the story featured a number of photos of prostitutes engaged in what it is that prostitutes do.

Every country in the world that has attained sovereignty in the face of adversity has its own saga in connection with the struggle for independence, but few have a tale to tell as rich with ironic symbolism as the story of the Endla Theater.

Estonia is Back Again

Lack of freedom and poor health are similar phenomena. Young people, with the exception of sick kids, generally don’t regard heath as a very important topic, much as pensions are a topic they tend to avoid. You only hear old folks saying that “you don’t appreciate being in good health until you develop ailments”. Freedom is a lot like that too. The American people, even in their wildest dreams, could probably never imagine Independence Hall in Philadelphia – jealously and proudly guarded by Park Police – in ruins, being used as a public toilet or a house of prostitution. The point being that occupation powers can do incredible harm to the well-being, dignity, and even the very physical appearance of the territories of cultures that have been vanquished.

Soon, ceremonies will take place in the city of Parnu on the Baltic Sea in Estonia at the place where the Endla Theater – the birthplace of Estonian independence – was blown up by a hostile power in 1961. 90 years ago on February 23, Estonians proclaimed to the world in Parnu their desire to be free. Although actual memories of the Endla Theater now live on only in the elderly, Estonians of all ages give thanks that the only soldiers they will see in Parnu on Independence Day, other than the ones accompanying invited dignitaries, are their own. The message to everyone in the world who enjoys freedom is that one really does need to remember to give thanks in a conscious manner for liberty – something that can all too easily be replaced by a life in the absence of freedom.

Take it from the Estonians, we know what we’re talking about.

Jüri Estam is a communications consultant who lives in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. He was a member of the Congress of Estonia, one of the predecessors to the current Parliament of Estonia. Prior to that, he covered human rights and other topics for the Estonian Language Service of Radio Free Europe while based in Munich and Scandinavia. Among other things, he has hosted a live prime time current affairs program on Estonian National Television, been the Managing Director of the largest chain of commercial radio stations in the country, and produced a dozen documentary films.

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Russian Smears Against Estonia

The always brilliant Edward Lucas exposes the egregious litany of smears being lobbed by barbaric Russia at little Estonia:

READ the Russian-language internet, and you will find Estonia portrayed as a hell-hole ruled by Nazi sympathisers who organise a grotesque form of apartheid hypocritically endorsed by the European Union. “Nazi” and “apartheid” are strong words that should be used sparingly and precisely out of their original context—and probably not at all. (A good rule in most discussions is that the first person to call the other a Nazi automatically loses the argument.)

So it may be worth listing a few of the more grotesque unfairnesses and inaccuracies of the charge. Apartheid was the legally enforced separation of the peoples of South Africa, based on race (or more accurately, skin colour). Mingling of the races, from intermarriage to mixed swimming, was forbidden. Pass laws meant that blacks could not live in white areas. Apartheid was backed up by a ruthless secret police that on occasion murdered people, and had no hesitation in enforcing house arrest and exile.

Nazi sympathisers idolise Hitler, think that Jews invented the Holocaust (or, sometimes, that they deserved what they got), and believe that National Socialism was a glorious ideology destroyed by Judaeo-Bolshevism.

Absolutely none of that applies to Estonia. Not only do the authorities not prohibit contact between Estonians and Russians, they encourage it. Russians and Estonians mix freely everywhere. Some of Estonia’s top politicians, including the president and the leader of one of the main political parties have Russian family ties.

Estonians look back on the Nazi occupation with loathing. Their country was caught between the hammer and the anvil in 1939, and whatever they did, only suffering and destruction awaited them.

What really annoys the Kremlin crowd is that Estonians (like many others in eastern Europe) regarded the arrival of the Red Army in 1944-45 not as a liberation, but as the exchange of one ghastly occupation for another. That flatly contradicts the Kremlin’s revived Stalinist version of history, which puts Soviet wartime heroism and sacrifice at centre-stage, while assiduously obscuring all the historical context. Given how the Soviet Union treated Estonia in 1939-41, it is hardly surprising that those who fought the occupiers when they returned are regarded as heroes. But they were not Nazis, nor are those who admire them now.

Secondly, Estonians (like Latvians and Lithuanians) do not accept that their pre-war statehood was ever extinguished. Russia may like to think that the Soviet Union magnanimously granted independence to the three “Soviet Baltic Republics” in 1991. But the Balts see it differently: they regained their independence. In that view they are confirmed, more or less enthusiastically, by most western countries, which never recognised the Soviet annexation of 1940, and in some cases continued to accredit Baltic diplomats in dusty and deserted embassies.

On that basis, the hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens who moved to the Baltic from the 1950s onwards were migrants settling illegally in occupied territories. Post-Soviet Lithuania granted them citizenship automatically. But Estonia and Latvia, where the demographic position was more precarious, insisted that they apply for citizenship if they wanted it, and pass a simple test in language and history.

This was not about ethnicity: Russians who lived in Estonia before the occupation (then around 10% of the population) and their descendants regained citizenship automatically. And it has worked rather well. Nearly 150,000 people have gained Estonian citizenship; only 8.5% remain stateless.

Fifteen years on, Estonia’s policy may be too tough, or just right, or even too lax. Compared to most European countries’ citizenship laws, it is quite generous. In any event, calling it “apartheid” is not only nonsensical, but stupidly insulting, to a country that has responded with intelligence and restraint to a devastating historical injury.

Neo-Soviet Russia at the Gates of Military Hell

With Russia now attacking Georgia and the two countries on the brink of imperial war, it’s worthwhile remembering how many other former Soviet slave states the Kremlin may have set its sights on. Estonia, for instance. The the West doesn’t unify to nip this aggression in the bud, it will only grow and expand just like Hitler’s did until they go one step too far and World War III breaks out. The Peninsula reports:

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet yesterday stepped up the Baltic country’s war of words with former overlord Russia, accusing President Vladimir Putin and other leaders of tolerating “fascism”. Paet was countering Moscow’s accusations that Tallinn is allowing extremists to flourish and honour the pro-Nazi camp in World War II, notably because of a decision to shift a Soviet-era war memorial from the centre of the Estonian capital. In an opinion piece published Monday in the Postimees daily, Paet said Moscow was making “crazy accusations” about “neo-fascism” in Estonia while ignoring that such extremist views were taking hold at home. “The ideology now in formation in Russia shares dangerous similarities with the phenomenon of which Russian politicians are so fond of accusing Estonia,” Paet wrote. Paet singled out rising harassment of Estonians, which has included a campaign against the country’s ambassador to Moscow, as well as the deportation of hundreds of Georgians – accused of residing illegally in Russia – following a diplomatic spat. “One can come across notices on Moscow pub doors, stating that Estonians and Georgians are not served,” Paet claimed. “What ideology was it which tolerated about 70 years ago notices on businesses that people of certain origin are not served?” he said, in an apparent reference to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Pushing the Nazi comparison further, Paet lashed out at Putin – a former KGB officer – for taking part in ceremonies to mark the foundation of the Soviet secret police in 1917. “Can you imagine the leaders of Germany celebrating with great pomp the anniversary of the formation of the Gestapo? This is unthinkable and it would not happen,” he said. Relations between Estonia and Russia have remained rocky since 1991, when Estonia regained its independence from the collapsing Soviet Union after a five-decade occupation.