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EU, NATO Improving Estonian-Russian Ties

(Washington, DC--February 2, 2001) Estonia's efforts to join the European Union and NATO have already helped that Baltic country to recreate a democratic society, and Estonia's eventual acceptance as a member of those two Western organizations will improve ties between Tallinn and Moscow.

That was the message that three Estonian parliamentarians presented to an RFE/RL briefing in Washington today: Tunne Kelam, who is vice president of the Estonian parliament, Mari-Ann Kelam, who is a Pro Patria Union deputy, and Sergei Ivanov, who is a deputy of the Estonian United People's Party.

They added that the pursuit of membership in both the European Union and NATO had prompted their country to make the reforms necessary to reestablish a democratic society and free market economy. Tunne Kelam in particular noted that membership in both would serve as a guarantee that Estonia would never again suffer an occupation like the one which began in 1940.

And they argued that once membership is achieved in these institutions, Russia will seek to work more closely with Estonia, despite Moscow's current objections about Estonia's joining the EU and NATO. Ivanov noted that he looked forward to the day when Estonia's ethnic Russians would be the first Russians in both institutions.

In other comments, Tunne Kelam praised America's moral commitment to its non-recognition policy serving as a "lifeline of hope." Mari-Ann Kelam noted that their delegation represented the face of the new Estonia: her husband Tunne was an independence activist in Estonia during the occupation, she is an Estonian American who worked in the United States to promote the recovery of Estonian independence but has since returned to her homeland, and Sergei Ivanov is an Estonian citizen who is also an ethnic Russian.

At the same time, the three pointed to several problems ahead: Tunne Kelam said that the Estonian leadership must work harder to convince the Estonian people that the sacrifices required for membership in these two institutions are worthwhile. Mari-Ann Kelam said that Estonians have to face up to the fact that building democracy is often more difficult and seldom as much fun as fighting for freedom. And Sergei Ivanov noted that the challenge of changing not only identities but also mentalities is far from over in his country.