ERR News' 2021 end-of-year review

2021 brought both a new President, Alar Karis, and a new Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, both here at a November press conference in the wake of the massing of Russian military units on that country's border with Ukraine.
2021 brought both a new President, Alar Karis, and a new Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, both here at a November press conference in the wake of the massing of Russian military units on that country's border with Ukraine. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

2021 has reached an end, so perhaps it is time for reflection on a year in Estonia which has seen changes in national and local government, not to mention a new head of state. The highs of sporting success in the olympics, in tennis, swimming and athletics, all vied for our attention, as did the highs, but not in a good way, of soaring energy prices near year-end, and spikes in coronavirus rates in spring and autumn.

ERR News has put together this review of the year, with all the major, and some of the minor, events, as they happened.

January - the collapse of the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition and Jüri Ratas' resignation as prime minister

After the first batch of Covid vaccines to arrive in Estonia came just before the new year, a second consignment of nearly 10,000 Pfizer/Biontech doses soon followed.

The delivery came at a time when Estonia's Covid rate was almost 10 times higher than its northern neighbor's, Finland, while later in the month, the Riigikogu switched to remote sittings after half of Isamaa's 12 MPs were diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Isamaa was in opposition by that time, following the news which dominated the first month of the year – the collapse of the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition – and the resignation of Jüri Ratas as prime minister.

The news followed a call from then-president Kersti Kaljulaid for the coalition to pull itself together, just over a week before news of an investigation into possible corruption case surrounding the Porto Franco real estate development in central Tallinn was revealed to involve several leading Center Party members.

Ratas made his announcement in the small hours of January 12, just hours after the Internal Security Service (ISS) investigation into Porto Franco hit the media, and submitted his resignation to President Kaljulaid later that day.

Jüri Ratas at Kadriorg, presenting his resignation to President Kersti Kaljulaid. Source: Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia.

The case saw the imprisonment of businessman Hillar Teder and then-finance ministry adviser Kersti Kracht. The former was released in early March, Kracht earlier on, in February.

At the heart of the scandal were charges of influence peddling, bribery and money laundering, while Center's Secretary General, Mihhail Korb, was one of the first scalps, resigning almost concurrently with the news becoming public. Tallinn city government was also the subject of investigation, though Center's mayor in the capital, Mihhail Kõlvart, was not charged with anything.

Back to Jüri Ratas, and the resignation of a sitting prime minister meant that the coalition automatically had to step down too, while one of the immediate effects of the resignation was the shelving of a planned bill to define marriage within the Estonian constitution.

The still-born bill, sponsored by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) while in office, had been the subject of much filibustering late on in the preceding year, and was finally put to rest by a Riigikogu vote the day after Ratas' resignation as prime minister.

While Ratas was therefore set to return to the Riigikogu, the question now arose as to who would replace him as head of government.

As she had done back in April 2019, unsuccessfully that time, the president invited Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas to step up to the plate, then formally nominated her to form a new government within the ensuing fortnight.

Incoming Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on her way to Kadriorg, also to meet with the president. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Kallas immediately ruled out a coalition involving EKRE, while Ratas conceded the outgoing administration's existence on the same day.

Ultimately, not only were EKRE left out in the cold in the coalition negotiations, but so too were Isamaa and the Social Democrats, as Reform and Center, with 59 seats between them at the 101-seat chamber, went on to form a bi-partite "super-coalition".

Former education minister Mailis Reps led the coalition talks on behalf of Center, despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that she was not going to be a part of the cabinet herself, while she and Kallas subsequently said the two parties were able to square their worldview differences, particularly with regard to taxation.

Notwithstanding the inevitable teething problems between the two parties who had once had the national government (Reform) and the Tallinn city government (Center) divided up between them, the agreement was duly ready within a week, and the new cabinet, not only headed by Estonia's first ever woman prime minister but also containing an unprecedentedly high proportion of women ministers, with nearly a 50-50 split, was unveiled a few days after that

The fact that Estonia was at the time the only country worldwide with both a woman head of state and a woman head of government simultaneously (Britain's Theresa May had resigned as prime minister in July 2019) also made waves in the international media – though hints that that state of affairs might only be quite short-lived emerged right away, several months before Kersti Kaljulaid's first term was due to end.

A demonstration in support of detained Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny took place in Tallinn's Vabaduse väljak.

In other news in January, Swiss national Thomas Häberli was announced the new national football team manager, while young racing driver Jüri Vips became a full Formula 2 driver, ahead of the next season.

For the average road driver too, there was news, after it was announced that the Estonian driving license was to become almost universally recognized, from May.

In Viljandi, a controversial statue to one of the town's most famous sons, singer Jaak Joala, was boxed-up, rather than removed. The installation hit controversy, partly over aesthetic questions but mostly due to opposition from Joala's widow over the use of his likeness.

The long-awaited opening of cut-price supermarket chain Lidl outlets in Estonia took one step closer to fruition.

Sadly, Juna, an asiatic lion hosted by Tallinn Zoo, passed away at the age of 17.

February - Covid vaccine stock continues to arrive, while Estonia-Russia diplomatic spat breaks out

Moscow responded in kind to the expulsion of one of its diplomats, one of several such incidents in 2022 involving the foreign missions of several European states and those of the Russian Federation. Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), who had made the decision while in office as foreign minister and prior to January's change in government, said the Russian diplomat had been: "Expelled for improper activities in the host country."

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell's Moscow visit, which took place just a few days after the expulsion of the Estonian diplomat, was widely condemned in Estonia as a "master class in pandering" by one Estonian MEP, and as cause for the halting of the NordStream 2 gas pipeline by another.

Several German, Polish and Swedish diplomats were expelled from Russia at precisely the same time Borrell's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was taking place.

The diplomats had reportedly taken part in a demonstration in support of jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, in January.

Meanwhile two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist wrestler Heiki Nabi tested positive for letrozole, a banned substance used to accelerate muscle growth and development, for the first time. Repeat tests confirmed the usage of letrozole and later led to a two-year competition ban.

The first coronavirus vaccine supplies arrived in Estonia at the end of 2020, and volumes picked up through the spring. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Coronavirus vaccine deliveries continued through February, with the first AstraZeneca doses arriving at the beginning of the month, and an upper age limit for use set at 70. Concerns over potential side effects of the British-Swedish firm's product led to its discontinuation of use in Estonia, later in the year.

While the requirement to self-quarantine on arrival in Estonia is lifted for individuals who can prove they are fully-vaccinated against Covid, enthusiasm for getting vaccinated is not universal, even among healthcare workers.

Coronavirus skepticism takes a dramatic turn after an individual who attacked Chief of Medicine for the North Estonia Medical Center (PERH) Peep Talving as he was leaving his workplace, later turned out to be an anti-masker. Talving's assailant, a 36-year-old man, was later apprehended and jailed for a month and a half. The individual had hurled a bottle, reportedly containing urine, at Talving.

Famous Estonian musician and actor Jaak Johanson died at the age of 61, after a period of illness.

Part of a family ensemble, Johanson had hosted Irish musicians visiting Estonia in during the singing revolution of the late 1980s, and made the return trip to Belfast to perform also.

Jaak Johanson (1959-2021). Source: ERR

Newly sworn-in prime minister Kaja Kallas made Finland the destination of her first official foreign visit in the role, meeting her Finnish counterpart Sanna Marin.

Kallas' government also made good on a pledge, first aired while the coalition negotiations were ongoing in January, to terminate a controversial agreement with a U.S. lawyer and former FBI head.

The finance minister in the previous administration, Martin Helme (EKRE), had hired the lawyer, Louis Freeh, at the time a partner in law firm Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, to represent Estonia in U.S. hearings relating to money laundering claims linked to the now-defunct Estonian branch of Danske Bank.

The deal was mainly controversial due to alleged links Freeh had in acting for known Russian oligarchs who had been accused of themselves engaging in money laundering activities.

The month drew to a close as it always does, with the annual independence day national holiday and celebration, the first since the pandemic began in Estonia, and necessarily a scaled-down event compared with most years.

While the traditional dawn flag raising ceremony in Tallinn, and the annual presidential speech – from the central Estonian town of Paide – took place, large crowds were discouraged from the former, and the traditional reception at the latter was also forgone.

NATO aircraft based at Ämari as part of the alliance's Baltic Air Policing mission also performed flyovers, not only of Paide, but over several other Estonian towns.

February 27 also marked the first anniversary of the discovery of the first Covid case to be recorded in Estonia.

On the last day of the month, 2019 WRC rally champ Ott Tänak won the Arctic Rally Finland. In the event, the race was the Estonian's sole victory in 2021. Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja finished fifth overall, though return for Hyundai in 2022 under the new hybrid WRC rules.

March - Covid rates soar, Estonian national arrested for spying on behalf of China

Noted marine scientist Tarmo Kõuts is arrested for spying on behalf of the People's Republic of China, and sentenced to three years' prison time.

ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reports that Kõuts, 57 at the time, had been engaged in espionage for several years, including in work with an unnamed woman accomplice, before being detained.

While the news of Kõuts sentencing reached the media on March 18, due to the sensitive nature of the case, this was some time after he had been initially detained (in September 2020) and then convicted (March 2 this year).

No state secrets were known to have been compromised as a result of Kõuts' activities.

Jüri Ratas is elected as new Riigikogu speaker, replacing Henn Põlluaas (EKRE), whose term had ended. While Põlluaas was eligible for a second term, he only received 20 votes in favor to Ratas' 63.

Hanno Pevkur (Reform) and Martin Helme (EKRE) are voted deputy Riigikogu speakers.

The role of speaker – more properly President of the Riigikogu – is one of the most powerful and influential in the land, given its position in presiding over much of parliament's business, and the largely ceremonial nature of the role of President of the Republic.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tests positive for Covid and remains in quarantine while she recovers. Public administration minister Jaak Aab (Center) deputizes for her during that time.

The news comes in the wake of soaring Covid rates and a new round of restrictions, not to mention a situation in hospitals described as "critical", at least in the north of the country.

Kallas herself had said that the country was in effect in an emergency situation similar to the one declared almost a year to the day earlier, and later on was accused in some quarters of "cancelling summer" after an announcement that lock-down may continue beyond the spring.

In the meantime, the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), and also the Health Board (Terviseamet), had been given beefed-up powers in monitoring compliance with Covid restrictions, while the vaccination program presses on as weekly deliveries continue to number in the tens of thousands of doses.

President Kersti Kaljulaid gets vaccinated early on in the month, as do most government ministers, by the end of the month.

President Kersti Kaljulaid getting vaccinated against Covid. Source: Office of the President.

Seventy percent of teachers had been vaccinated at least once, as of the beginning of the month.

Britain's foreign secretary Dominic Raab visits Estonia, taking part in a press conference with his counterpart Eva-Maria Liimets (Center).

The pair talk about the U.K.'s commitment to working with the Nordic and Baltic States eight (NB8) and about climate, ahead of November's COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, as well as defense and security. Raab also meets with Kersti Kaljulaid while in town.

The visit is the first of two by a U.K. foreign secretary in 2021; Raab's successor Liz Truss visits Tallinn in November. Raab is now U.K. deputy prime minister.

The press conference video is here.

In defense news, French-made Leclerc main battle tanks in French Army service arrive in Paldiski, along with other equipment. Each tank weighs around the same as over 60 small family cars, but nonetheless they make their way to Tapa, home of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup, via public roads.

Two days earlier, Eight U.S. F-15 Eagle tactical fighter jets had arrived at Ämari, ahead of the Baltic Trident Exercise.

USAF F-15s and KC-135s at Ämari. Source: Sigrid Paula Pukk

In sports news, freestyle skier Henry Sildaru becomes junior world champion at the age of 14, recreating the feat of his older sister, Kelly.

In popular culture, singer Uku Suviste gets another crack at Eurovision success after missing out due to the canceled finals in 2020, by winning Eesti Laul a second time in consecutive years.

Swedish furniture giant Ikea announces a new store planned for Estonian next year. The outlet will be located in Rae, just outside the capital.

A court rules that car-hire, ride-hailing and courier app Bolt is responsible for accidental injury caused by a driver, rather than the driver themselves.

Former Tallinn city councilor and U.K. national Abdul Turay finds he will not be able to take up a council seat with the Center Party that he had been in line for, as a result of Brexit.

Turay, who first won a seat with the Social Democrats in 2013 before switching to Center, would have taken up the seat vacated by Kalev Kallo, but was unable to do so on the basis of a party bar on party membership to non-EU citizens. Turay had run for Nigel Farage's Brexit party in the 2019 general election in the U.K.

April - Vaccination continues, tensions with Russia rise

A phone call between Estonian and Russian foreign ministers took place for the first time in five years. The pair discussed regional issues, border ratification and Ukraine. Chairman of the foreign affairs committee Marko Mihkelson (Reform) said the call was a clear sign of progress in relations between the two countries.

Vaccines kept arriving in their thousands, but a slow down in the pace of vaccination also occurred in April. Mass vaccination centers were opened for the over 50s at the start of the month but only limited success was achieved. The AstraZeneca vaccine was also suspended for the under 60s. Anti-vax protesters started holding regular demonstrations in Tallinn. The auditor general criticized the vaccination process. Health professionals started to reach breaking point.

Coronavirus vaccinations taking place at Sõle Sports Center on April 3, 2021. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

As coronavirus restrictions were kept in place until the end of the month, the R rate fell below 1, meaning the coronavirus infection rate stopped rising.

The Internal Security Service (ISS) declared the threat posed by Chinese intelligence a daily reality in its annual yearbook. The pandemic did not reduce Russia's influence activity, the agency said. Minister of IT Andres Sutt (Reform) said Estonia's digital state is under a "near-constant" state of attack.

The Baltic foreign ministers visited Ukraine in solidarity due to Russia massing troops and weapons on its eastern border. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Estonia was willing to raise the issue at the UNSC. Additionally, the Baltic states reported a recent increase in information and cyber-attacks and expelled diplomats in support of the Czech Republic.

The Baltic foreign ministers at Vilnius Airport (April 15, 2021) before an official visit to Kyiv, Ukraine. Source: Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Estonia's property boom continued with realtors saying Tallinn was running out of apartments and prices were rising considerably. The Bank of Estonia said Estonia's recession following the pandemic had been smaller than in other countries. 

In other news, Estonia made international headlines when a road in the capital was closed to allow frogs to migrate.

President Kersti Kaljulaid went on a working visit to Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces.

Estonian heavyweight freestyle wrestler Epp Mäe defeated Russian wrestler Natalia Vorobieva to take European championship gold in Warsaw, Poland.

May - Mass vaccination opens, heat records broken

Mass vaccination was rolled out for the whole population, which saw the coverage rate shoot up. But the digital state was also plagued by problems as vaccination registration clogged the system. Officials tried to come up with inventive ways to encourage residents in Ida-Viru County to get vaccinated. By the end of the month, more than 40 percent of adults had been vaccinated.

The government extended support measures for businesses and workers hit by the pandemic. The unemployment rate continued to fall. Most restrictions were lifted in mid-May but protests against the rules still continued. The Health Board said a lockdown during the summer had been avoided. Cruise ships started to return.

Coronavirus restrictions started to lift and school children were allowed to return to the classroom in the middle of the month.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) said Estonia wanted to move forward with the 2014 border ratification process with Russia. Estonia was also removed from the Kremlin's list of "unfriendly" states.

A Russian flag. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

However, it was revealed Belarus had slapped an entry ban on the Riigikogu deputy speaker in retaliation for sanctions. The Belarusian embassy in Tallinn said that list of Estonians subject to the entry ban has not been made public. At the end of the month, Estonian politicians demanded action after the Belarusian government diverted a Vilnius-bound commercial plane to arrest an opposition journalist.

Discussion about the upcoming presidential election got underway with rumors Speaker of the Riigikogu Jüri Ratas (Center) would put himself forward as a candidate. Kersti Kaljulaid did not rule out running for another term.

The closure and merger of the Estonian Defense Forces orchestra due to budget cuts caused a stir.

The results of a sexual abuse survey commissioned by the Social Insurance Board indicate that one in six Estonians have been sexually abused in childhood by an adult.

In other news, several weather records were broken as the temperature soared to almost 30 degrees Celcius.

People on Pirita beach. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Estonia's Eurovision hopeful Uku Suviste failed to make it to the finals of the competition.

If a Hiiumaa lighthouse bears a resemblance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, then it is no coincidence. It was designed and constructed at Gustave Eiffel's workshop.

A survey showed Estonian drivers are more bothered by slow drivers than those that exceed the speed limit.

June - Estonia leaves Afghanistan, spat with Finland deepens, fur farming ban

In June, vaccinations continued but also started to decline and at the end of the month news portal Politico suggested Estonia would not meet EU targets.

More coronavirus restrictions were lifted as the infection rate continued to fall. Scheduled treatment resumed at hospitals across the country. The risk level fell to medium. Discussions about a third wave had already started before mid-summer.

Jüri Ratas said he had no intention of running for president. Kaja Kallas said there was not yet enough support for Kaljulaid to continue as president.

Estonian troops left Afghanistan at the end of their 18-year mission. Lt. Col. Vladislav Belov, commander of the EDF contingent in Afghanistan, said: "Lowering the flag is a sad moment, as it marks the end of something, but also means the beginning of a new chapter. In together, out together."

Estonian flag lowered in Kabul at ceremony marking the end of the EDF's participation with NATO there. Source: U.S. Army SGT Jeffery Harris

The Riigikogu voted to ban fur farming becoming the first Baltic state to do so. 56 MPs voted in favor and 19 MPs against.

Finland extended travel restrictions leading to a discussion about the strength of the relationship between the two countries often called "brother nations". Prime Minister Kaja Kallas voiced concerns over the strict restrictions on labor migration calling them "not proportionate". The Finnish ambassador denied the closure would harmed relations. The Estonian Ambassador to Finland called the situation wrong, unfair and tragic. The border reopened at the end of the month.

Despite the spat, Estonia and Finland planned to launch a joint air traffic control service together to reduce costs and CO2 emissions and increase air safety. Additionally, Estonia and Finland started to exchange real-time data, a world-first for the automatic exchange of information between national tax administrations.

Campaigners protesting against fur farming in Estonia outside the Riigikogu in Tallinn. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets and Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani, both invited to government by the Center Party at the start of 2021, officially joined the party.

Minister of Finance Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform) said the OECD intervening in tax policy harms competition, which is especially unfortunate for small countries like Estonia. The OECD was discussing the implementation of a common tax level member countries.

Estonia's bid to become an observer on the Arctic Council was unsuccessful after all members of the council failed to reach a unified decision.

Officials and equipment were sent to Lithuania to help control the country's eastern border after a recent increase in migrants trying to cross the EU's eastern border.

Heiki Nabi, silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2012 London Olympics and winner of several other medals at top-level competitions, was found guilty of violating anti-doping rules (see also February above) and handed a two-year competition ban.

Leeder-Sõrmkäpp orchids have been rediscovered after 120 years on the island of Saaremaa. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

In other news, a species of orchid was rediscovered on Saaremaa for the first time in over 100 years. The island is known to be home to more than 30 types of orchids.

Temperature records were broken again as the mercury rose above 30 degrees.

Discussions also started about the upcoming local elections in October.

Storms hit north Estonia over midsummer.

July - Estonia bags Tokyo gold in women's epee 

Another Health Board cold storage facility malfunctioned to start July, but it was luckily a backup warehouse where no doses of vaccines were held at the time of the incident. 

As the migration situation on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border began to escalate, the Police and Border Guard Board sent 10 officers to help monitor the borders.

On July 7, Russia announced it would expel an Estonian diplomat based in St. Petersburg, charging him with inappropriate intelligence gathering. The grounds for his expulsion were "receiving classified materials". The foreign minister called any video evidence a "masterful production" and Estonia eventually expelled a Russian diplomat in response.

The first days of the alternative preliminary investigation into the MS Estonia wreck, which sank back in 1994, were successful and came back with discoveries, such as new cracks and deformations, but the biggest find was that diving work revealed that the vessel's vehicle ramp now lies in a fully-open position, whereas it had previously been reported to have been in a closed position.

Images from the Estonia Ferry investigation on July 15. Source: Madis Veltman/Postimees

A major heatwave hit Estonia, with the mercury exceeding 33 C and even 35 C in some places. The worst possible thing happened and the increased demand caused a small shortage of ice cream and cold drinks. Things did work out in the end, but July of 2021 was significantly warmer and drier than the average.

Another topic to create much discussion was the decision by rail operator Elron to implement a ticket system for bicycles, which meant passengers on Elron trains must purchase a separate ticket for their bicycles. A protest against Elron's decision was also held.

Fencing became something of a national sport during the month of June as Katrina Lehis bagged bronze and the women's epee team took home gold from the Tokyo Olympics. These were the only medals Estonia was able to achieve, but the quadruple sculls rowing team made it to the finals and finished sixth.

Rasmus Mägi was also part of Karsten Warholm's incredible world record 400 m hurdles performance, in which the Estonian finished seventh while setting a new national record. Estonia sent 34 athletes plus a horse to compete at the Olympics.

The Estonian national women's epee fencing team celebrating their Olympic triumph. From left: Katrina Lehis, Julia Beljajeva, Irina Embrich, Erika Kirpu. Source: Karli Saul

This year's installment of Rally Estonia wrapped up on the roads of southern Estonia with Finnish driver Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota) claiming his first career victory. Estonian star Ott Tänak's (Hyundai) streak of bad luck continued with tire failure on Friday knocking him out of the top 10. He was able to recoup some of the losses by winning the power stage on Sunday to collect five points in the standings.

In terms of the coronavirus, the nice month of June was followed by the Delta variant taking over the world and Estonia with any downward trends stopping. Risk levels began increasing and the vaccination process took much criticism, led by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. There were 2,458 cases diagnosed in the month of July, there were no deaths due to the coronavirus.

August - Alar Karis elected President of the Republic of Estonia

August was largely dictated by the presidential election, which no one seemingly wanted to take part in except for EKRE candidate Henn Põlluaas, then-president Kersti Kaljulaid and Academy of Sciences president Tarmo Soomere, who threw his hat in the ring, but Riigikogu speaker and Center chairman Jüri Ratas announced that Soomere would not be receiving the support necessary in the Riigikogu.

A new candidate was found soon - Estonian National Museum director, former auditor-general and even country musician Alar Karis, who failed to get elected in the first ballot, but became head of state after receiving 72 votes in the 101-seat Riigikogu in the second ballot.

Alar Karis at the second round of voting in the 2021 presidential election on August 31, 2021. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Health Board cold storage facility investigation eventually pointed out that the rise in temperature of the Health Board's cold store, which destroyed €3 million worth of medicines around Midsummer, was likely caused by faults with the design and construction of the building. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas called the whole incident an "unbelievable mess".

Estonia celebrated the 30th anniversary of country's restoration of independence, which came with formal flag ceremonies, concerts, the annual presidential reception and a visit from European Parliament president David-Maria Sassoli, who praised Estonia's path to freedom and democracy. The night was capped off by a night song festival.

President Kersti Kaljulaid at the "Free Estonia!" Night Song Festival at Tallinn Song Festival Grounds on August 20, 2021. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Estonia reacted to the Taliban invasion in Afghanistan by accepting up to 30 Afghan refugees and their immediate family members to enter the country if they had cooperated with Estonia before. The first refugees arrived on August 24 and ETV investigative journalism show "Pealtnägija" spoke to one of the Afghans who had to leave their home after the Taliban seized control of the country.

The coronavirus was back in full swing with more than 8,500 cases diagnosed in August. There were 16 deaths.

September - Health Board chief resigns

With the coronavirus spreading more and more, the drive to vaccinate people became a consistent talking point. As it became clear that Estonia was going to miss its target to achieve 70 percent coronavirus vaccination coverage among the adult population, there were calls for health minister Tanel Kiik to resign, but Kiik pushed back and said the more responsible thing would be for him to continue in office.

Pharmacies were included in the vaccination process and new restrictions led to a period of higher interest for vaccinations, but Estonia reached "high" risk level by the end of the month. Health Board director Üllar Lanno took responsibility for the cold storage failures and resigned.

Pension system manager Pensionikeskus started making payouts to persons who submitted an application to exit the second pension pillar in the first round. The highly controversial pension system reform saw a consumption boom with mall parking lots filled with cars for the first few weeks after payouts were started. 

In what was perhaps the most debated city planning move of the year, Tallinn city government decided to paint red bicycle lanes on its main streets. Tallinn said it is the best practice in the world, but critics noted that the lanes partially cover sidewalks and the paint itself is not good, as it deteriorates over time and can be slippery. 

Red cycle paths in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Postimees-funded MS Estonia survey concluded its work. A privately funded rival dive to the main investigation into the fate of the MS Estonia, which sank in 1994 with the loss of 852 lives, finished its work, with concrete findings sent in for analysis.

While it happened in most countries during the coronavirus, Estonia's housing prices rose by 16 percent year-on-year in September. In addition, it was noted that apartment prices in Tallinn are rising too fast for residents of the capital to keep up and that the IT sector's success had a huge effect in the real estate market. 

The government approved the state budget for 2022, which was set to increase investments in research and digital state developments. Defense costs will reach the highest ever level in Estonian history as the government will spend €104 million more on national defense and defense spending will reach a record level - €750 million, exceeding 2.3 percent of GDP. The opposition had some criticisms, however, and noted that the salary hikes were insufficient and there was a failure to alleviate the electricity price hike.

October - Local elections, energy prices continue to climb

SAPTK restrictions complaint overruled. The Tallinn Administrative Court ruled against upholding a complaint from the Foundation for the Protection of the Family and Tradition (SAPTK) relating to a government order restricting public outdoor meetings under coronavirus conditions.

The National Immunoprophylactic Expert Committee recommended giving people who have Covid antibodies a single vaccine shot.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications said it is looking to create a single center to jointly manage public sector IT and communications base services to cut costs and achieve a higher quality of services.

Estonia said it is hoping for an exception in terms of installment period or taxation threshold regarding the global minimum corporate income tax reform.

The council of the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) said in a political statement that the government must take action to contain the rising price of electricity.

Estonian ID-cards lost their validity as travel documents to and from the UK.

Refurbished Estonian Embassy in Helsinki was opened.

The European Commission endorsed Estonia's recovery fund at €969.3 million.

Prices of motor fuels reached an all-time high in Estonia.

Fuel prices in October. Autor/allikas: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Unions and employers agreed in October to raise the minimum wage to €654.

Estonia decided to start administering coronavirus vaccine booster shots to people belonging to risk groups.

Estonia signed a contract to procure the Proteus Advanced Systems' Blue Spear 5G coastal defense system. Neither party disclosed the volume of the contract either in units or price.

Electricity and gas prices continued to climb.

Covid vaccine booster doses were made available to healthcare, social and education workers.

Chemical company Chemi-Pharm was chosen as the Company of the Year.

President Alar Karis' inauguration ceremony was held, with the president promising to serve as a balancer, above all.

President Alar Karis. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

2021 local government council elections kicked off with advance voting. Almost 60,000 votes were cost on the first day, with over 115,000 by the third.

Public administration minister proposed giving local governments 10 percent of corporate income tax revenue.

President Alar Karis first meetings with Latvia and Finnish colleagues were canceled due to COVID-19.

The government approved support measures for low-income households amid soaring energy prices. Network operators' 50 percent subsidy decision followed soon after. It was decided to use proceeds from the EU greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme to compensate consumers.

The Conservative People's Party (EKRE) sought an annulment of the e-voting result, claiming "violations" were detected. The party later turned to court over an e-voting translation issue. In all, six formal complaints were lodged after elections. The advance polls saw a new e-voting record in Estonia as more than 270,000 people chose to vote online. The e-voting once again favored the Reform Party. Total voter turnout for the 2021 local government council elections (results) came to 54.7 percent (later revised), up from the previous local elections in 2017.

Vote counting in progress in Estonia. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Election results saw the Center Party lose its absolute majority in Tallinn.

The Enefit Green IPO was reported as a resounding success. Interest in Enefit shares crashed the Nasdaq website after the IPO.

Hiiu County reached a vaccination rate of 80 percent.

Dynamic duo of Estonian bears who had strayed into Latvia were captured in Vidzeme.

The non-parliamentary Estonian Greens lamented their poor 2021 local elections performance, with leaders saying changes at the top needed.

Center proposal to lower VAT on electricity took coalition partner the Reform Party by surprise. The opposition joined calls for a lower VAT rate for power.

New Covid certificate rules made it impossible for unvaccinated Minister of Culture Anneli Ott (Center) to attend events.

Indrek Saar said he will not be running for chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDE) again after disappointing local elections result.

Tartu University Hospital suspended scheduled treatments to concentrate on Covid patients.

Over 200 entries were submitted for the Eesti Laul song contest to pick Estonia's next Eurovision entry.

University of Tartu coronavirus prevalence wastewater study found virus concentration at record high.

Katri Raik Election Coalition and Eesti 200 agreed to launch talks for a coalition in Narva.

A protest meeting against coronavirus restrictions was held in the Freedom Square in Tallinn. Soon after, new coronavirus restrictions entered into force, followed by yet another round that saw venues ordered to close by 11 p.m. Several members of EKRE quit the party after it voiced support for protesters and joined voices urging people to defy the authorities.

Anti-vaccination protesters gathered on Freedom Square in Tallinn on October 23, 2021. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Riigikogu voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of Mailis Reps.

Tartu coalition agreement was hammered out and signed. Reform Party and EKRE formed a coalition in Jõhvi. The Center Party and SDE launched coalition talks in Tallinn. Reform and Center entered into an alliance in Viljandi.

The Estonian National Library said it will close its reading rooms for five years for renovation.

November - Ott resignation, Ansip-Kallas rift, 'Okas' snap training exercise

New coronavirus restrictions took effect at the start of November. The COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Council soon recommended close contacts of vaccinated people isolate too. Family doctors voiced support for the policy of keeping schools open in the pandemic. Schools started regular testing of students for the coronavirus. Tallinn schools that were put on remote learning against government recommendations in November eventually returned to contact study.

Forming of coalitions continued, with a four-way alliance incoming in Viimsi and Madis Kallas continuing as Saaremaa mayor. The Center Party managed to hold on to power in Kohtla-Järve. An overview saw Reform ruling in 30 and Center in 28 local governments. Raul Kudre returned as mayor of Setomaa. Triin Varek was elected Rakvere mayor. A coalition agreement was signed for the city of Elva.

Tallinn announced a 65 percent district heating price advance.

PM Kaja Kallas met with U.S. President Joe Biden to discuss global challenges and defense cooperation.

Minister of Culture Anneli Ott resigned. Ott said she was unable in her role to enforce in the cultural sector policies drawn up by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform). Center leader Jüri Ratas said she understands Ott's decision and hinted at differences between coalition partners Reform and Center. The Center Party approved Tiit Terik as the candidate to replace Ott soon after and he was sworn in.

Anneli Ott making her statement to the media Tuesday morning, where she formally announced her resignation as culture minister Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Riigikogu supported changing the age of consent from 14 years to 16 in November.

The Health Board suspended the activities of the Sparta gym over failure to comply with coronavirus restrictions. Sparta ignored the precept and kept its doors open. The Ministry of Justice terminated its contract with the club soon after. The Health Board finally ordered to club to close its doors. Later in the month, the Health Board also ordered Tallinn's Mem Cafe to close doors over failing to comply with Covid restrictions. The action drew protests.

The government approved an €88-million electricity subsidy package for network operators.

Martin Künnap and Jana-Helen Juhaste pled guilty in the Center Party €50,000 illicit donation scandal.

The Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) dismissed 46 members of staff over refusal to vaccinate against the coronavirus. While the EDF vaccination program was upheld by the Supreme Court, the latter found that lower tier courts cannot simply dismiss challenges. The Supreme Court also found in November that the government's Covid restrictions should be less wide-ranging.

PM Kaja Kallas spoke out against a vaccine damages fund. The statement drew criticism from coalition partner Center. Minister of Health and Labor Talen Kiik (Center) rushed to quell rumors of a rift in the government. Two vaccine damages fund bills were sent to the parliament in November and the government soon reached consensus on the fund.

Estonia pledged support for Poland in Belarus migrant crisis, with the defense minister calling the situation in the region volatile. Fifth PPA unit left for Poland to help out in the migrant crisis. Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani said Estonia must be prepared for the migrant crisis spilling over. The Polish PM later said during a visit to Estonia that the EU is facing a new form of war. The EDF pledged 60 personnel to Poland.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at Stenbock House on November 21, 2021. Source: Raigo Pajula

The Center Party and the Social Democratic Party signed a coalition agreement in the capital Tallinn. Mihhail Kõlvart was confirmed as mayor and voted the most influential person in Estonia by Delfi and EPL.

German supermarket chain Lidl's recruitment campaign in Estonia drew thousands of applications.

Freight from Belarus to Estonia grew to record level.

Estonia and Russia restored political consultations after a break of two years.

The government set the Covid vaccination minimum age at 12 years and three months.

Reform Party MEP Andrus Ansip offers strong criticism of PM Kaja Kallas, referring to her as a manor-born lady of leisure. The press joined in criticism for Kallas. Reform members pushed back against Ansip criticism. Support for Kallas as PM fell to its lowest level since the Eesti Päevaleht poll started. Reform continued to back Kallas.

Andrus Ansip and Kaja Kallas Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Ülle Madise was nominated for another seven-year term as Estonia's chancellor of justice.

Minister of Education Tõnis Mölder announced plan to resign. While Mölder initially gave personal, family-related matters as the reason, it was soon suggested in the media that Mölder had gambling issues.

The incoming environment minister Erki Savisaar accused European powers of waving around empty climate slogans.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone call to Lukashenko drew heavy flak from Estonian foreign policy experts. PM Kaja Kallas later said Estonia was aware of the call. Center leader Jüri Ratas said that Merkel should not be condemned over the call.

Transport Authority announced controversial decisions to cut costs by removing roadside toilers and trash cans. The move drew sharp criticism from PM Kaja Kallas whose Reform Party ordered all state agencies to cut costs.

The annual snap military training exercise "Okas" saw EDF reservists install a temporary razor wire barricade on a section of the eastern border, amid fears that migratory pressure on the Latvian and Lithuanian borders would play out in Estonia too, should a second route open via Pskov, Russia.

Exercise Okas 2021 in progress on the eastern border at Narva. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Kelly Sildaru won a world championship stage in Austria.

Romek Kosenkranius was re-elected mayor of Pärnu.

Legislation barring Huawei 5G tech passed in the Riigikogu.

Züleyxa Izmailova decided not to continue as Estonian Greens chair.

Government decides to merge Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and Navy vessels into a single fleet.

An ID-card crisis from from a decade ago came to light after documents were declassified.

Electricity prices started edging upwards again, with the recent record soon broken.

Former Education Minister Mailis Reps was officially charged with fraud and embezzlement.

COVID-19 scientific council recommended testing all arrivals from South Africa, with the foreign ministry advising against traveling to the region.

Counties ordered to cut 2 percent of bus route kilometers.

December - Electricity price record, Omicron arrival

Preliminary plans to lift coronavirus restrictions were revised in light of the pending arrival of the new Omicron strain, even as the coronavirus threat level was lowered from high to medium. The Omicron strain showed up in the University of Tartu wastewater study. The reproduction number R was reported as growing again mid-December. The Immunoprophylactic Expert Committee decided that booster shots could be administered 2-3 months after vaccination cycle. The coronavirus risk level jumped back to high toward the end of the month. The spread of Omicron exploded in Tartu County. The variant became predominant in Estonia.

China criticized Estonian MPs over their participation in a trip to Taiwan.

COVID-19 scientific committee greenlighted vaccinating children. The committee was handed the Friend of the Press award later in the month. Vaccination of children started in mid-Dec.

The new centralized state ICT hub started work.

Rising energy prices translated to price hike warnings elsewhere, including food and the prices of ferry tickets. The electricity price record was broken again on January 7, with the price per megawatt-hour hitting €1,000 for an hour. Gas prices also continued to soar. Renewed proposals to slash VAT on energy by the Center Party and the opposition were met with resistance from the Reform Party. Record price of electricity caused AS Estonian Cell to temporarily cease production. Network operator CEO referred to high prices as "unfortunate coincidence." The Auvere power plant was fired up again in hopes of staving off sharp price hikes moving forward. The gas transmission fee was axed until March.

An electricity pylon. Source: Siim Lõvi / ERR

Vaccination insurance payout ceiling was set at €100,000. Severe side-effects caused by Covid vaccines were reported in 238 cases.

Center MP Martin Repinski was found to be driving for Bolt during Riigikogu sittings.

The Ministry of Education and Research was found to be seeking €120,000 from former minister Mailis Reps. The Center Party pledged to cover Reps' legal costs.

The Riigikogu passed the 2022 state budget bill. Tallinn passed its 2022 budget later in the month.

It transpired that Estonia is expected to nearly double CO2 emissions cuts in some sectors.

A decision to procure multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) was included in national defense development plans. EDF Commander Lt. Gen. Martin Herem said that the armed forces could take delivery of the new systems in 2024. The MLRS systems will be procured in cooperation with Latvia and Lithuania. Estonia took delivery of modern naval mines from Finland.

U.S. Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) fired in Estonia. Source: Ardi Hallismaa

In related news, it turned out the U.S. defense budget holds €175 million in aid for the Baltics.

The government decided to issue three 5G frequency licenses.

It was decided to lift the 11 p.m. event curfew for New Year's celebrations on December 31 and January 1.

Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet described as unacceptable Russia's demands on NATO.

Government decision to disband current composition of COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Committee was met with criticism from members.

The population and housing census kicked off on December 28.

The year's end also marked the expiry date of Estonia's two-year non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

On to 2022...


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Marcus Turovski, Helen Wright, Andrew Whyte

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