The top 10 headlines of 2014
ERR News brings you the year's biggest trends in the news.
Russia and Ukraine
ERR's top 10 news events for 2013 foreshadowed developments in Ukraine, but few predicted how bad things would get: by spring 2014, part of Europe was again at war. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s quite overt aggression came to define the year. For Estonians and others in the region, the annexation of Crimea at gunpoint in late winter scarily echoed the Soviet takeover of the Baltics in 1939-1940, while the new hybrid warfare tactics and increasingly competent Kremlin propaganda machine made Tallinn officials worry about the hearts and minds of Estonian Russians in the northeast. As appalling as the deaths on Maidan and in the Donbass region were, there was some progress as well: a push to modernize NATO started bearing fruit as allies pledged new deployments and the Wales summit resulted in the creation of a new rapid response structure. -K. Rikken
Obama’s visit to Estonia
The new security situation led to a one-day visit to Tallinn by US President Barack Obama in September to soothe rattled Baltic nerves. American troop training exercises, first in the form of the 173rd Airborne’s arrival in April, were a visible response to the conflict in Ukraine and NATO’s commitment to the security of their allies in the east. But the most visible sign of that commitment was the visit of Obama, who pledged added military training exercises in the country, and money to expand the infrastructure and mission of the Ämari air base. Although Obama wasn’t the first sitting American president to visit Estonia (that was George W. Bush in 2006), he was the first president to give a public address in the country and to take the NATO Article 5 pledge (that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all) in front of an Estonian audience. “We’ll be here for Estonia,” Obama said during his speech to a packed house at the Nordea Concert Hall. “We will be here for Latvia. We will be here for Lithuania. You lost your independence once before. With NATO, you will never lose it again.” -S. Abel
The kidnapping of Eston Kohver
US President Barack Obama’s visit seemed like it would have little competition for "story of the month" in Estonia, let alone story of the week. But just two days later, an official of the Internal Security Service, Eston Kohver, ended up in Russia in the hands of the FSB. Kohver’s name was about the only thing that the two countries could agree on initially. The Estonian goverment said that he was abducted near the Luhamaa border checkpoint, about a kilometer inside Estonia, while reportedly meeting with a source about cross-border smuggling. The government also said that Kohver was grabbed at gunpoint, and a smoke grenade and electronic jamming equipment was used to prevent backups units from stopping the abduction. Although a Russian delegation of border guards initially agreed with their Estonian counterparts that the incident had taken place on Estonian territory, the Russian government quickly backpedaled and charged him with a list of spying-related activities.
Perhaps Kohver, as some believe, was grabbed to strike back at the recent ISS successes celebrated in the media for their anti-Russian counterespionage efforts. Perhaps he was grabbed, as others suggest, to ruin Estonia’s post-Obama visit haze. Despite international comdemnation by many of Estonia’s allies, Kohver still sits in the notorious Lubyanka prison in Moscow, awaiting trial for espionage. -S. Abel
European Parliament elections
The Reform Party edged out the Center Party at the European Parliament elections in May, picking up the only realistically contested seat after each of the big parties and independent Indrek Tarand took their compulsory place. Spectators and polls had penciled in the Center Party for the sixth seat, but the Reform Party's increase of 9 percentage points and the Center Party's drop of 3.4 points compared to the last EP elections was significant enough to leave the Center Party without a second MEP spot, although of the two people they sent to Strasbourg and Brussels five years ago, neither returned as party member.
The Reform Party won two seats with 80,000 votes. The Center Party (73,000), IRL (46,000), the Social Democrats (45,000) and individual candidate Tarand (43,000) all won one seat. -J.M. Laats
Transport sector in nationalization drive
On January 1, 2014, the intercity rail passenger routes were taken over by the state-owned Elron, which began operating brand new trains. The ferry service between the mainland and the larger islands was also privatized as a long-running procurement for a ten-year contract starting in the fall of 2016 ended favorably for Port of Tallinn, state-owned, which now has put in the order for four new ferries to begin service in two years time.
Rail Baltic, which will also be state-owned, once complete, edged forward a little with Lithuania agreeing to set up a joint company to oversee construction. However, despite EU funding, Estonia could end up paying as much as 500 million euros for its part in the project. Estonian Air, the national carrier, posted worse-than-expected results this year, but could reverse the privatization trend, with Tallink owners ready to buy the troubled airline from the state. -J.M. Laats
Andrus Ansip's resignation in early March started a chain of events that spun the government into chaos and led to the forming of a new coalition, a mere year before the next general election. Reform's first choice for the PM position, Siim Kallas, practically fled the country after revelations of a 20-year-old guarantee letter for a vast sum, or what he called a smear campaign.
The party decided to alter its course completely and gave the position to 34-year-old Taavi Rõivas. The old coalition partner was also exchanged for a new one, the left-of-center Social Democrats taking up the six ministerial positions vacated by right wing IRL. -M. Oll
The gender-neutral Cohabitation Act fueled the debate and dominated domestic political news for much of the late summer and early autumn, when it was finally passed by the government in October. Yet, the bill still continues to divide opinions. The Foundation for the Protection of Family and Tradition, the most fervent campaigner against same-sex partnership, recently received the Aadu Luukas Mission Award. The controversial choice and public backlash caused one of the donors of the prize to withdraw its contribution.
Regardless, starting from 2016, though subject to the implementation of various practical acts, all cohabiting couples will have the right to register their relationship at a notary and enjoy the same kinds of financial benefits conferred by marriage. -M. Oll
Viljandi school shooting
Finland and Germany, countries with some shared cultural characteristics, have experienced several incidents of school gun violence, Estonia had mainly been noted for a smoldering and seemingly intractable bullying problem, especially in special education and lower socioeconomic segments. But in late October, a tragedy at an well-regarded school in the small south-central city of Viljandi propelled the country into a new era. The circumstances - an overachieving 15-year-old with no previous major disciplinary problems shot a German-language teacher at close range for no apparent reason, killing her instantly - were chilling and prompted national soul-searching. Although some of the same warning signs seen in other cases were in evidence here - teenage angst and access to firearms - there is yet to be a definitive answer on why it happened and how the financially strained educational system can best respond. -K. Rikken
A new era of political correctness
Estonia's often outspoken, but otherwise very well regarded Finance Minister Jürgen Ligi was forced to step down after he called Education Minister Jevgeni Ossinovski "rootless," in a reference to the latter's postwar Russian ethnic origins. The conflict started on the ETV's "Foorum" program, where the two had clashed over why emigration was such a problem for Estonia, with Ligi blaming the Soviet occupation and lack of head start in comparison to the West, while Ossinovski said that could not be considered an excuse anymore, 23 years after Estonia regained independence from the Soviet Union. Unfortunately for Ligi, he continued the “catfight” on social media, writing in his Facebook wall that Ossinovski's opinion reflected "rootlessness" and "ignorance". "He, an immigrant's son from a pink party, should be super-careful, but he doesn't even know how to look," wrote Ligi.
Ossinovski was not happy with this, and backed by his party, the Social Democrats, as well as most of the mainstream media, called for Ligi's resignation. Three days later, the man who as finance minister had successfully battled the European financial crisis and recession, indeed submitted his resignation letter. An attempt to introduce a more politically correct idiom in Estonia had been made. -S. Tambur
By becoming the first country in the world to offer e-residency, Estonia proved yet again that it still has an ability to make global headlines, even if the real benefits for Estonian citizens of this state startup are yet to be seen.
The e-residency project officially kicked off on December 1, when President Ilves handed over the first card to Edward Lucas, senior editor at the London-based Economist magazine and a longtime friend of Estonia. Interested applicants can obtain a digital ID that will let them use Estonia’s digital services online around the world - the aim is to make Estonia a more visible in the world and attract more businesses to the country. Although the benefits are not entirely clear to anyone, by the end of 2014, about 14,000 people had shown interest in becoming e-residents of Estonia, with the mainly from the United States, United Kingdom, Finland, Canada, and somewhat surprisingly, India. -S. Tambur