Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 60

Estonia’s new government, a coalition of three conservative and unambiguously pro-Western parties, was sworn in yesterday. The Pro Patria Union, the Reform Party, and the Moderates won eighteen seats, eighteen seats and seventeen seats, respectively, for a total of 53 out of 101 parliamentary seats in the recent election, with a common platform which is now the government’s program. It stresses free-market economics (in which respect the three parties are actually classical-liberal), promotion of Estonian national values, incentives to increase the nation’s birthrate, modernization of the education system, entry in the European Union by 2003, boosting defense spending, and an all-out effort to join NATO.

The three parties have negotiated a balanced distribution of ministries. Estonia’s foreign partners will find several familiar figures returning to top posts: Mart Laar (Pro-Patria) as prime minister, Juri Luik (Pro-Patria) as defense minister, Toomas Ilves (of the Moderates) as foreign minister, and Siim Kallas (of the Reform Party, formerly foreign minister and National Bank governor) as finance minister. In the parliament, Toomas Savi (of the Reform Party) retains the speaker’s chair.

Laar, born in 1960, is a trained historian who specialized in the subject of Estonian resistance to the Soviet occupation. He was one of the leaders of the independence movement in the late 1980s, and prime minister from 1992 to 1994. Laar was at that time only slightly older than some of his key ministers who were in their late 20s. Among them as defense minister was Luik, who has recently served as Estonia’s ambassador to NATO in Brussels. The 1992-94 Laar government is credited with launching–ahead of Lithuania and Latvia–the radical market reforms which made possible Estonia’s successful economic performance afterward. Kallas pursued similar policies later on during his tenure at the National Bank. Ilves was foreign minister in 1996-98 after having written on Estonian affairs for years as an analyst at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute in Munich, Germany. The three-party coalition intends to govern for the entire four-year term of the new legislature.

Yesterday was a fortuitous yet singularly appropriate date for swearing in the new government. The day marked the 50th annual commemoration of mass deportations of Estonians to Siberia (BNS, March 22-25; see the Monitor, March 8, 18).