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Tallinn revisited

Winter came early to the capital of Estonia. We witnessed some snow and many people already wore warm clothes and gloves. Last winter was very severe and my friends hope this will not be repeated. Life was seriously disrupted and especially the poor were affected. Poverty is an issue in this modern looking new EU member state that has been hit hard by the economic and financial crisis. Tough austerity measures have been taken also to enable Estonia to adopt the Euro next year.

The social situation – and especially child poverty – is an important topic at the congress of the Estonian Social Democrats (ESD) where I was present. They expect to do well in next year’s national elections with proposal to reduce the gap between rich and poor. They, for example, want to get rid of the flat tax and introduce progressive taxation.

Last time I was in Tallinn – to attend the inauguration of former colleague Toomas Ilves as president of the country – the party was in high spirits. But the social democrats have gone through some difficult years with disappointing election results.

It is not often that such a situation leads to an open and not orchestrated contest for  the leadership which necessitated the extraordinary congress, held on the 16th of October. The president of the ESD, Juri Pihl, was openly challenged by a number of opponents and in a series of debates all over the country the members could compare the candidates.

The congress on Saturday voted for a new leader, Sven Mikser, who won with a comfortable majority.  He is young and energetic and is expected to do well in the upcoming campaign. I hope the party will unite behind him because Estonia needs a strong social democratic party and that Juri Pihl will be a good looser.

The ESD is relatively young -20 years – but the congress gave a strong show of internal party democracy. Open and transparent. Nothing reminded me of the fact that Estonia suffered under a communist dictatorship for many decades.

And it were social democrats from Estonia – amongst others – who made me much more aware of the fact that 1945 meant for the Baltic States the start of a repressive regime, while we in the West were free to go our own way.

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