ERR News brings you an overview of the top events affecting Estonia in 2015.
March 1 general election
When the election dust had settled, the government remained nearly the same. The Reform Party, in charge since 2005 and in government since 1999, beat the Center Party by three seats, going on to form a government with SDE and IRL, two parties which it has been in coalition with since 2007, although not at the same time with both. What gave the opposition and neutrals hope was the emergence of smaller parties willing and more importantly, able to, challenge the status quo. The Free Party, set up in 2014, and EKRE, both made the cut to increase the number of parties in Parliament from four to six.
Debate over asylum seekers
As refugees began to arrive in Europe from war-torn Syria and Iraq a number of Estonian politicians hit the panic button. In the summer, protests against EU quotas and asylum seekers in general, were held, the government was criticized for giving in and accepting refugees. More moderate politicians called for calm. The Vao asylum seeker's accommodation center in east Estonia was attacked, although no one was hurt. The result of the migrant problem in Europe? So far no asylum seekers from the EU redistribution program have arrived in Estonia and those who have found their way here, have mostly left for Finland or Sweden.
Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) official Eston Kohver was apprehended from Estonian soil in September 2014 by Russian authorities, and charged with espionage and illegally crossing the border. It was a topic which was priority in Estonian-Russian relations until the fall of 2015, eclipsing the border treaty process. Kohver's trial in Russia came to a conclusion at the end of August this year, when he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Estonia, of course, protested loudly. In October, as predicted by many experts, Kohver was exchanged for Aleksei Dressen, who was serving a prison sentence in Estonia for spying for Russia, on a bridge uniting the two nations.
Savisaar's up and down year
Shortly after the March 1 general election Savisaar fell ill, before he could make up his mind about joining Parliament (he won a record 25,000 votes) or continuing as mayor of Tallinn. It was touch and go for Savisaar for a few weeks, suffering from an acute infection. Eventually he pulled through, like he has with other mayor health problems, although a leg was amputated this time. Savisaar did not take long to return to front-line politics, despite calls from within and outside of his party for him to retire. Savisaar's greatest triumph came at the end of November when he came top in perhaps his greatest party internal challenge by beating Kadri Simson to continue as Center Party chairman. The vote was close, 541 to 486, and friction inside the party has remained ever since.
Change of direction for SDE, IRL
Neither the Social Democrats (SDE) nor IRL were happy with the March 1 election results, losing four and nine seats respectively. SDE had hoped to build on success at the 2013 local elections (12.5 percent of the vote, 5 points more than in 2009) while IRL had hoped to at least halt its fall. The chairmen of both parties paid the ultimate price. Sven Mikser of SDE was replaced in the summer by Jevgeni Ossinovski, who immediately began to stir up trouble for the government, opening up the coalition agreement and criticizing the Reform Party, talks with Savisaar did not help. Eventually a new agreement was signed, with Ossinovski changing out SDE ministers for his own team. IRL chose a less confrontational path and elected Margus Tsahkna to lead the party. Tsahkna was seen by many in IRL as the bridge between two main camps in the party.
Estonian Air bankruptcy
The national carrier, once a symbol of Estonian independence and love for modern technology, folded in November after years in the red. The final nail was a European Commission decision that state aid given to the company, amounting to nearly 100 million euros, was illegally handed to Estonian Air and would have to be paid back. The company was officially declared bankrupt at the end of December, at 24 years and a few weeks old, although the last flights took off in November. The government had a plan B in its pocket – Nordic Aviation Group, which took over a number of Estonian Air routes.
Break-through year in sports
The 2014 Olympic games were a huge disappointment, although little was expected only four Estonian athletes made the top 30 at the Sochi games. Results in 2015 have given cause for optimism as the Rio 2016 Olympic games approaches. A number of young Estonian athletes made their mark in 2015, such as Mart Seim, 25, a previously unknown name in Estonia, won a silver at the world championships in weightlifting. Epp Mäe, 23, won a bronze in wrestling. Anett Kontaveit, 20, displaced Kaia Kanepi as the nation's top tennis player and is on course to break into the top 50 in the world. Kelly Sildaru, still only 13, but a house-hold name in Estonia for years, showed in December that she is still on course to challenge for top titles when she is finally old enough, by beating a number of world top athletes at a freeski slopestyle competition in the United States. The national basketball team played at its first major tournament since 2001, and claimed its first win at a major tournament since 1993, beating Ukraine 78:71. Estonia nearly upset Latvia, losing from a 15-point lead, and was 30 seconds away from beating Lithuania.
The Estonian movie industry had much to celebrate in 2015, first with the success of “Tangerines,” (“Mandariinid” in Estonian) which won a host of international awards and was nominated for the Golden Globes in the best foreign film category, the first such honor for an Estonian film. The Estonian-Georgian film also made the top five at the 87th Academy Awards. “The Fencer,” a Finnish-German-Estonian co-production is currently flying high, also receiving a nomination for a Golden Globe and making the top nine cut for the 2016 Academy Awards.
Much of 2014 and the pre-election debate focused on defense, after the military conflict between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, and the annexation of Crime by Russia caused much alarm in Estonia. Yet 2015 ended with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves saying that Russia will not attack the Baltic nations. Ilves has been on the forefront on drumming up support for Estonia as fears of Russia repeating its Ukraine plans in the Baltics were high. The government kept defense spending at 2 percent of GDP, which means a healthy increase for 2016. Many local and NATO exercises took place in and around Estonia in 2015, including “Siil,” the largest ever Estonian military maneuvers with 13,000 soldiers, reservists, conscripts, Defense League members and allied troops taking part.
Editor: J.M. Laats