Week in Pictures: May 18-24
On Monday, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves departed for a state visit to Germany, accompanied by a 40-strong delegation. Ilves met with the German President Joackim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as the President of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and the Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble. The visit also included a packed ceremonial and cultural program – most importantly, a concert of Arvo Pärt's music at the Berlin Concert Hall.
Following the performance by the world renowned Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and conductor Tõnu Kaljuste, President Gauck said the state visit by the Estonian delegation "is more than a state visit - it's a cultural event."
Meanwhile in Estonia, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas has not been enjoying such a warm welcome, as the latest poll results again show a widespread dissatisfaction with his actions. According to a poll commissioned by Eesti Päevaleht, the citizens rate his work as the head of the new coalition government with an average score of only 2.58 (on a scale from 1, very bad, to 5,very good), as the governing coalition continue to suffer from mounting criticism. Most of the disagreement from the voters and opinion leaders concerns the government's plan to raise excise taxes on fuel and VAT rise on accommodation services, which many fear would harm the tourism sector.
The latter is expected to suffer further hardships in the near future, as the Estonian-owned train company GoRail suspended all services between Estonia and Russia, citing decreasing number of passengers and mounting financial loss. The Tallinn-Moscow and Tallinn-St. Petersburg trains had been continuously running for 65 years. However, the company has said that it hopes to restore the service between the capitals before the end of the year.
The last train from Tallinn to Moscow was sent off with a small ceremony on Sunday evening. The last train from Moscow arrived at Tallinn Baltic station on Tuesday morning (video).
Sea travel, at the same time, is getting safer, as the participants of the international exercise Open Spirit are cleaning the Estonian waters of old munitions. In less than a week, over 800 sailors and divers from 15 countries had located and defused 55 sea mines and seven explosive devises. Additionally, they had uncovered seven hitherto uncharted ship and plane wrecks that require further investigation.
In 2009, NATO estimated more than half of the 150,000 sea mines, which were thrown into the Baltic Sea in the course of the two world wars to still lie latent in the bottom of the sea. Some older mines could be set off by contact, or by sensing the magnetic change caused by a passing ship or submarine.
On the entertainment front, last week was, of course, the Eurovision Song Contest week. Estonia made it through to the final on Tuesday evening with flying colors and in the Saturday night's final, Elina Born and Stig Rästa's dramatic duet fared equally well, finishing a respectable seventh.
"We actually ended up getting points from almost every country, which really made us happy. Even from countries we really wouldn't have expected them from," Born said after the show. Had only the public vote been taken into account - the current method for ranking entries is a 50/50 combination of both telephone vote and the votes of five jury members in each country - Estonia would have been fifth.