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As Estonia entered its fourth year of independence, it had already built a strong record of achievements. In the midst of the August 1991 coup, Estonia's politicians had had the foresight to convene a constitutional assembly and seize the moment for political restructuring. The process of constitution making was completed in a relatively orderly manner, and the new basic law was successfully implemented. Lasting political parties had yet to develop, however. Half a decade after open parliamentary politics began with the Supreme Soviet elections of 1990, the factions in parliament continued to fragment and regroup. Part of Estonia's problem may have been its small size. Because the circle of politicians was not very large in a country of only about 1.5 million people, there was relatively little turnover, and old rivals and allies were constantly pitted against each other. The first era of independence had witnessed the same problem. Yet, Estonia's decision to stick to a parliamentary system of government in 1992 appeared to be a good one, even though it was the same system that had been the undoing of the country's first democracy in 1934. More safeguards had been built into the 1992 constitution against parliamentary domination of politics. Lennart Meri's tenure as Estonia's first postwar president appeared to mold the new office into a source of balance, despite grumblings from his Isamaa backers. A new court system was also put into place, with effective use being made of provisions for testing the constitutionality of laws.

Yet, politics did not reach the lives of all of Estonia's residents. Having been left out of the parliamentary elections in 1992 because of citizenship requirements, Estonia's large Russophone population was virtually absent from national politics. Russians dominated in the city councils of the heavily Russian towns of Narva and Sillamäe, in the northeastern part of the country, but their political presence rarely extended beyond the city limits. Even a last-ditch local referendum on territorial autonomy for the northeastern region, declared in July 1993 in response to the Law on Aliens crisis, largely failed because of numerous reports of voting irregularities. Most of these Russian leaders--who had long histories as communist party functionaries, who had tacitly supported the August 1991 coup, and who had held on to their political turf since then--finally were ousted in the local elections of October 1993. A new core of Russian leaders began to emerge in Tallinn, where two Russian-based parties did well at the polls and were poised to play an important role in the capital's city council. From that point, a responsive mainstream political society could begin to serve a Russian population that seems determined to remain in Estonia and willing to contribute to its future.

The progress of Estonia's economic reforms in the early 1990s, if only in comparison with Russia, was clearly a source of confidence among both Estonians and Russians in the future of the country. Estonia was the first of the Baltic states to jump out of the ruble zone and create its own currency, a move that was soon rewarded by low inflation, rising wages, and an apparent bottoming out of the country's economic decline. Nevertheless, a large section of the population continued to fear unemployment. Retraining for new skills needed on the open market (such as learning the Estonian language for many Russians) also was a pressing need. The growing gap between the newly rich and the newly poor could be seen in the comparison between new Western luxury automobiles racing around Tallinn's streets and pensioners counting their kroons at a store to buy a half-kilogram of meat. For better or worse, the transition to capitalism was reordering society.

Estonia was not alone on its long road to recovery nor in its return to the European community of nations. Yet, even among so many countries with a kindred past and a common desire for a better future, the hoped-for dawning of a new geopolitical age did not appear to have taken place by the mid-1990s. Estonia and the other Baltic states remained of strategic interest to the Kremlin, and the West appeared to have little intention of crossing Russia on its very doorstep. European, and especially Scandinavian, support for Estonia's defense forces was noticeable. But it would take a long time before a credible Estonian force could be assembled. Although the Russian troops had finally departed, full security for Estonia seemed to remain distant.

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The two most comprehensive works on Estonia are Rein Taagepera's Estonia: Return to Independence and Toivo V. Raun's Estonia and the Estonians . Both contain complete overviews of Estonian history, including the most recent struggle for independence. Tönu Parming's small book on the interwar years, The Collapse of Liberal Democracy and the Rise of Authoritarianism in Estonia , provides an extended analysis of that period. Ot dogovora o bazakh do anneksii: Dokumenty i materialy , a collection of documents edited by Jüri Ant et al. that pertain to the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact and to Estonia's annexation by the Soviet Union, dramatizes the fateful end of Estonia's first era of independence.

The World Bank's extensive survey of the Estonian economy is an excellent source of economic and social statistics up to 1991-92. For later statistics reflecting the introduction of the kroon, as well as social trends under the market economy, the Estonian State Statistics Board has issued a statistical yearbook regularly since 1991.

Other useful sources on Estonia can be found in several general works on the Baltic states. Anatol Lieven's The Baltic Revolution is an incisive look at the politics of independence from an outsider's point of view. Lieven includes discussion of Estonia's Russian minority and its future. Graham Smith's The Baltic States: The National Self-Determination of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania also treats Estonia extensively. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of January 1995

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Estonia Table of Contents