Week in pictures: August 10-16
The week started with cross-border crime news, as it emerged that the first Estonian citizen will possibly be sent abroad on terrorism charges. Oleg Ossinovski, Estonia's richest man and a generous supporter of the Social Democrats, which is headed by his son Jevgeni, was dragged into corruption accusations involving the CEO of Latvian Railways. In a more positive news, Estonian economy shows signs of vibrancy, as the Tallinn stock market reported eight-year high and the number of the unemployed fell below the 20,000-mark for the first time since the economic downturn in 2008.
An Estonian citizen, named Vladimir, was arrested for fighting in the ranks of the Kremlin-backed separatists. He is likely to be extradited to Ukraine. On Monday, Harju County Court put the man on provisional custody, and if he is extradited to Ukraine, he will be the first Estonian citizen to be sent abroad on terrorism charges.
It was disclosed that the CEO of Latvian Railways, Uģis Magonis is under arrest in Latvia under corruption charges, which are linked to Skinest, owned by Estonia's richest person Oleg Ossinovski, who has also been one of the most generous sponsor of the Social Democrats, the party headed by his son Jevgeni Ossinovski. The case is connected to four used trains sold by Skinest Estonia to Latvia.
The “burqa debate” continued, following a proposal by Minister of Social Protection Margus Tsahkna, who suggested that Estonia should ban wearing the burqa in public. Head imam of the Estonian Muslim community, Ildar Muhamedšin, voiced his opposition in the strictest terms, saying that the ban would be a serious violation of Estonia's constitution and an example of discrimination based on religion. However, Timur Seifullen, the leader of Estonian Multicultural Association and an ethnic Tatar by background, said that banning burqa would be reasonable as there is no ground for Estonian residents covering their faces as the Quran does not instruct Muslim women to do so, nor does the local living environment provide any basis for this. Liberal MEP Urmas Paet said that burqa is a sign of female oppression, while Rait Maruste, a former judge at the European Court of Justice, emphasized the security aspect of permitting people to cover their faces, as it would make the identification process very difficult if someone commits a crime hiding under the burqa.
Visitors to Saaremaa and Muhumaa were left waiting in long queues to get back to the mainland after one of the ships servicing the route suffered a technical fault. Many had to wait for up to 5-6 hours, the delays of which have not been seen for years. Unfortunately, it wasn't a one off misfortune – the same troubles occurred again the following weekend. Operator Saaremaa Laevakompanii, which recently lost the tender to continue as the country's domestic ferry route operator in October 2016, this month replaced its large ferries Muhumaa and Saaremaa, which had serviced the route between Muhu island and the mainland for the past five years, with much older and smaller Hiiumaa and Ionas, meaning the company can now ferry across 35 cars per hour less than before.
The African swine fever continued to ravage Estonian farms. The total number of pigs put to death in Estonia since first cases of the incurable disease were diagnosed on July 21 got close to 15,000. The country struggles to get rid of hundreds of tons of carcasses and the death toll is expected to rise still.
Assessments on Russia's unpredictable behavior continued. The London-based European Leadership Network said in its study that Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia, while the outgoing US Army Chief of Staff, General Raymond Odierno, said that he is concerned that Russia underestimates the extent to which NATO partners would defend Estonia and Latvia, both NATO member states since 2004. This miscalculation on behalf of Russia could lead to a wider conflict.
Meanwhile, the former Estonian ambassador to Moscow Jüri Luik said that the trial of kidnapped Estonian security official Eston Kohver is just for show and he is likely to receive a long sentence. The Pskov court in Russia is expected to make a ruling on August 19, a day before Estonia celebrates 24 years since regaining independence from the Soviet Union.
In good news, Tallinn Stock Exchange's stock index OMX Tallinn passed 893 points last week, the first time since October 2007, when the global recession started to bite. The number of the unemployed has also fallen. The number of people without a job for at least 12 months fell below the 20,000-mark for the first time since the economic downturn.
On Friday and Saturday, Estonian opinion leaders gathered to Paide for the third Opinion Festival. While the first festival featured 50 discussions, the third festival presented more than 200 different discussions and the list of contributors included 200 organizations. The goal was to gather together different ideas and points of view and acquire new knowledge that would give momentum to the creation of new civil society organizations and contribute to the development of Estonia.