|Thursday, 23 November 2017|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 0, No. 0, 01-10-23
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 0, No. 0, 23 October 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ASSESSES RUSSIAN PRESENCE IN GEORGIA, ROLE IN CONFLICT MEDIATION...In a 22 October interview with the Georgian news agency Prime News pegged to the arrival the following day on a two-day official visit to Armenia of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Robert Kocharian characterized the Russian military base in Georgia's predominantly Armenian-populated southern district of Djavakheti as a guarantee of regional security and as the sole source of survival for much of the district's population, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. At the same time, Kocharian said the question of closing that base must be resolved by Moscow and Tbilisi alone. The Georgian government wants the base closed within two to three years, while Moscow is insisting on a longer time frame for doing so. Kocharian said Armenia is ready to contribute toward alleviating the extremely difficult socioeconomic situation in Djavakheti. Describing Russia's presence in the South Caucasus in general as "a stabilizing factor," Kocharian said the greater Moscow's input to trying to resolve the Karabakh conflict, the greater the chances of success in doing so. He said at the current stage the OSCE Minsk Group is the "most acceptable" format for mediation efforts as the effectiveness of recent meetings with his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev "is not high." He nonetheless conceded that his earlier meetings with Aliev "provided a good basis for comparing approaches and identifying points" on which their views converge, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 ...COMMENTS ON GEORGIAN-TURKISH COOPERATION, CHANCES FOR EU ACCESSIONKocharian also admitted that Yerevan is "not happy" about the increasingly intensive military cooperation between Georgia and Turkey, but added that at present, dimensions of that cooperation do not give cause for "serious concern." He said Armenia would be prepared to participate in a collective initiative to resolve the conflict situation in Abkhazia, but said it is "unlikely" that Armenia would send troops to serve in a multinational peacekeeping force there. Kocharian noted that both Georgia and Armenia have built a "constructive relationship" with the EU, but that the issue of Armenian accession to that body is one for the next generation of politicians to decide. Kocharian, who is 47, announced last month that he plans to seek a second presidential term in 2003. LF
 ARMENIAN PREMIER FLIES TO FRANCE FOR MEDICAL EXAMINATIONAndranik Markarian flew to Paris on 22 October to undergo heart tests, Interfax and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian, who is 50, underwent heart surgery in 1999. His duties are being discharged in his absence by Minister for Industrial Infrastructure David Zadoyan. In a lengthy interview with "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" on 18 October, Markarian rejected as "not serious" persistent rumors that he will soon resign or be dismissed. LF
 AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS DISCLOSE MORE DETAILS OF PLOT TO KILL PUTINA statement released on 22 October by Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry gives more details of the scheme to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin during his January 2001 visit to Baku, Turan and AP reported. The statement identified the main suspect, Kenan Rostam, as an Iraqi Kurd who was trained in Afghanistan and had contacts with "people who were at Osama bin Laden's training camps." He is said to have traveled in 1997 to Chechnya where he married a local woman, and to have entered Azerbaijan in February 2000 using a false Russian passport. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) reportedly intercepted a telephone call made on 15 November 2000 to Baku by Chechen field commander Arbi Baraev in which the plans to assassinate Putin were discussed. Rostam was arrested three days later, and explosives and radio-controlled devices were found in his apartment. FSB troops surrounded and killed Baraev in a special operation in Chechnya in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2001). LF
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR GREATER UNITYSpeaking to journalists in Baku on 22 October, Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar called on Azerbaijani opposition parties, which are split into two rival camps, to cooperate more closely and to consider nominating a single opposition candidate in the presidential elections due in 2003, Turan reported. Gambar was one of five influential opposition leaders who jointly agreed to boycott the October 1998 presidential ballot on the grounds that the election campaign was undemocratic (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 27, 2 September 1998). LF
 AZERBAIJAN TO OPEN EMBASSY IN ISRAEL NEXT YEARMeeting on 22 October with new Israeli Ambassador Eitan Naeh, Azerbaijan's President Aliev noted the convergence between their two countries' views on combating terrorism, and assured him that Azerbaijan would welcome Israeli investments, ITAR-TASS reported. Azerbaijan's foreign minister, Vilayat Quliev, said the same day that while Azerbaijan has not up till now opened an embassy in Tel Aviv because of financial constraints, it will do so next year. That announcement is likely to result in yet another postponement of Aliev's state visit to Iran originally scheduled for September 1999. LF
 ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT ACCUSES GEORGIA OF RECRUITING 'INTERNATIONAL TERRORISTS'In a 16 October appeal to the Turkish Grand National Assembly made available to "RFE/RL Newsline" on 22 October, the parliament of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia claimed that the 3 October incursion into Abkhaz territory by a group of 500 men initially identified as Chechen fighters and Georgian guerrillas was the result of collusion between the Georgian special services and "an international band of terrorists." The statement also blames that band for the shooting down on 8 October of a helicopter belonging to the UN Observer Mission in Georgia. The statement appeals to Turkish legislators to condemn Georgian involvement with international terrorism and to demand that Georgia comply with UN-mediated documents pledging to desist from any further military action against Abkhazia. Interfax on 22 October quoted Georgian President Shevardnadze as claiming that the fighting in Abkhazia was triggered by "the movement of an unauthorized band" that was trying to reach the North Caucasus from Georgian territory. LF
 POPULATION FLEES SCENE OF RECENT ABKHAZ FIGHTINGWomen and children are leaving the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of Abkhazia's Kodori gorge, fearing air attacks and mines dropped on mountain pastures, Caucasus Press reported on 23 October. The previous day, the headquarters of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia rejected as untrue a Georgian Defense Ministry report that a Russian peacekeeper had been blown up by such a mine, Interfax reported. On 17 October, the Georgian government representative to Kodori complained that vital supplies needed to ensure the local population's survival during the winter months -- including 310 tons of wheat flour, 35 tons of sugar, 35 tons of salt, 35 tons of vegetable oil, 10 tons of washing powder, and 60 tons fuel and kerosene -- have still not been sent from Tbilisi. Roads to the region are impassable after 15 November, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 DEFEATED CANDIDATE AGAIN SAYS GEORGIAN BY-ELECTION OUTCOME FALSIFIED...Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, who according to official returns polled only some 9 percent of the vote in the 21 October by-election in the Tbilisi district of Vake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001), claimed on 22 October that between 10,000-12,000 forged ballots were cast in favor of former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili, who was proclaimed the victor with 64 percent of the votes, Caucasus Press reported. Sarishvili-Chanturia again called for the resignation of Tbilisi Mayor Vano Zodelava, whom she accused manipulating the voting process. Zodelava rejected her accusations as "senseless." LF
 ...WHILE VICTOR CHALLENGES GEORGIAN PRESIDENTSaakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 22 October that President Shevardnadze and the current Georgian government from which he resigned last month do not reflect the will of the Georgian people, and that a new national movement that will be above party politics will work to bring about a peaceful change of leadership, Caucasus Press reported. He accused Shevardnadze of having warned members of the former majority Union of Citizens of Georgia not to vote for Saakashvili. Also on 22 October, parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania said that Saakashvili's return to parliament will provide a new incentive to those "fighting for reform," Caucasus Press reported. LF
 ANOTHER ANTHRAX SCARE REPORTED IN KAZAKHSTANA woman has been hospitalized in Almaty after receiving a letter containing a suspicious white powder, Interfax reported on 22 October. It is the second such suspicious letter intercepted within the past week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). The powder contained in the first letter has proven to be harmless. Postal workers in Kazakhstan have been ordered to wear gloves and masks while sorting mail, Kazakhpochta's chief executive told journalists on 22 October. LF
 KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT SUGGESTS THAT UZBEK TOO COULD BE DESIGNATED AN OFFICIAL LANGUAGEThe Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's bicameral parliament) began debating on 22 October the amendments to the constitution passed by the upper chamber three days earlier formally designating Russian as an official language, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). Some deputies proposed that Russian be designated not merely an official language but the second state language, while others proposed that Uzbek too should be granted the status of an official language. Uzbeks account for some 14 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population and Russians 13 percent. LF
 KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT OVERRULES PARLIAMENT ON TAX RATEThe Kyrgyz government has submitted to parliament a new draft law raising the tax rate to 20 percent, parliamentary committee head Akylbek Djaparov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 22 October. In June, parliament passed a law, signed in July by President Askar Akaev, lowering the tax rate from 30 to 10 percent as of 1 January 2002. The IMF subsequently adduced that cut as grounds for withholding a planned $35 million loan tranche (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July and 21 September 2001). LF
 TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TURKMENISTANIsmail Cem, accompanied by Turkish Ambassador to Turkmenistan Sehmet Gursoz and Turkish Foreign Ministry coordinator for Afghanistan Aydemir Kermap, held talks in Ashgabat on 22 October with President Saparmurat Niyazov on the situation in Afghanistan and the transportation of humanitarian aid to that country's population, Interfax reported. Niyazov discussed the issue of aid for Afghanistan in a separate meeting the same day with UN Deputy Secretary-General Kenzo Oshima. LF
 OSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE CAUTIONS UZBEKISTAN ON HUMAN RIGHTSVisiting Tashkent on 22 October, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana warned that while the international community appreciates Uzbekistan's support for and involvement in the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign, and is prepared to grant Uzbekistan increased economic aid, it is not prepared to ignore what he termed "the human dimension," meaning the Uzbek leadership's suppression of political plurality and freedom of worship, AP reported. Geoana told journalists after his talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov that improving human rights is in Uzbekistan's best long-term interests. LF
 UZBEKISTAN SAYS IT WILL NOT OPEN BORDER BRIDGE WITH AFGHANISTANFor security reasons, Uzbekistan will not open the bridge over the Amu- Darya River at Termez that marks its frontier with Afghanistan, but does not object to airlifting humanitarian aid to Afghanistan or ferrying it over the river, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov told journalists on 22 October after meeting with Geoana, Reuters reported. The bridge has been closed since the Taliban consolidated their control of most of Afghanistan in 1997. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 HAGUE PROSECUTOR SLAMS YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT FOR NOT COOPERATING...A "visibly irritated" Carla Del Ponte told reporters in Belgrade on 22 October that the Yugoslav authorities are not cooperating with the war crimes tribunal and refuse to face the truth about Serbia's recent past, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). She said: "I want to express my serious concern and deep dissatisfaction with the level of cooperation of Yugoslavia with my office. On a whole range of issues, I can report no serious progress. I had hoped that I would finally have access to all necessary evidence, but I was waiting in vain. Denying access to this information...only fosters suspicion that people in power are not interested to disclose and face the truth." She stressed that "it is clear that cooperation is blocked by the federal level for political reasons which are not relevant to the tribunal." Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica regards the court as an anti-Serbian instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Belgrade has yet to pass a long-promised law on cooperation with The Hague. PM
 ...ACKNOWLEDGES SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER'S HELPDel Ponte told reporters in Belgrade on 22 October that the Serbian government's extradition of former President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague earlier this year was not enough. She nonetheless added that "to be fair, I must say that Mr. [Zoran] Djindjic, the [Serbian] prime minister, and his government are trying to foster some aspects of cooperation." Serbian officials nonetheless did not appear with her before the media, as had been scheduled, "The New York Times" reported. Serbian police chief Dusan Mihajlovic said, however, that former Admiral Miodrag Jokic, whom the tribunal has indicted for his role in the 1991 shelling of Dubrovnik, may soon turn himself in (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). Jokic is a member of Mihajlovic's New Democracy Party. PM
 SERBIAN WORKERS TAKE TO THE STREETSThousands of workers demonstrated on the streets of Belgrade on 23 October to demand higher wages and protest a proposed new law that would give employers more rights, AP reported. The Association of Serbian Unions, which was long close to Milosevic, threatened to organize a general strike if its demands are not met. Under Milosevic, the communist-era economic system went unreformed while vast criminal economic structures flourished. Djindjic and his government have pledged themselves to end Serbia's poverty by introducing market reforms, uprooting the deeply entrenched criminal structures, repairing the damage from four lost wars, and seeking Western integration. They freely acknowledge that their task is daunting. PM
 SERBIAN PROSECUTOR CHARGES VOJVODINA LEADERThe state prosecutor's office in Novi Sad launched legal proceedings on 22 October against Nenad Canak, the speaker of the Vojvodina parliament, head of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, and an outspoken advocate of restoring the regional autonomy that Milosevic destroyed over a decade ago, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The charges stem from a recent incident in which Canak removed the sign for Radio-Television Serbia from state-run television's offices in Novi Sad. The prosecutor's office said, among other things, that Canak "damaged Serbia's image" by taking down the sign. Upon learning of the charges against him, Canak said that nothing damages Serbia's image more than the fact that an indicted war criminal -- Milan Milutinovic -- continues to serve as its president. PM
 RESULTS IN VOJVODINA AUTONOMY TALKS?Vojvodina political leader and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Jozef Kasza said in Novi Sad on 22 October that he is convinced that ongoing talks between the Serbian and Vojvodina leaderships are making progress "step by step," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Kasza added that he expects concrete results to be forthcoming within 10 days. PM
 MIXED SIGNALS FOR MACEDONIAN POLICE PATROLSEthnic Macedonian inhabitants of the villages visited by ethnically mixed police patrols on 22 October greeted the police, but local Albanians did not return the officers' smiles, Western news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). Albanians told journalists that it is too soon for police to return to the tense areas because the police are widely regarded as supportive of Macedonians and antagonistic toward Albanians. Albanian legislator Lokman Elezi told AP that the police should not come back before parliament enacts key reforms giving the Albanians more equality. Deputy Prime Minister Ilija Filipovski told Reuters, however, that he hopes that the return of the police will "accelerate the reform process in parliament" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 October 2001). After the police left Tearce, a bomb damaged two municipal buildings, which "The Washington Post" said "reflected Albanian unhappiness with the progress made by Slav leaders in changing the political system." No one was injured. PM
 EUROPEAN LOAN FOR CROATIAOfficials of Croatia and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have signed a $80 million loan to build a Rijeka-Zagreb highway, dpa reported from the Croatian capital on 22 October. The highway is slated for completion in 2004. PM
 BOSNIAN SERB HEALTH WORKERS STRIKESome 12,000 health workers went on strike in the Republika Srpska on 22 October to demand back pay, new contracts, and guarantees that they will have the resources they need to do their jobs, Reuters reported from Banja Luka. Union leaders say the strike will last until the demands are met. In the meantime, medical staff will handle emergency cases only. PM
 SLOVENIA BUYS INTO BOSNIAN VOLKSWAGEN PLANTThe Slovenian auto company Prevent has bought 42 percent of the shares of Volkswagen's plant in Sarajevo, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 22 October. The Slovenes paid $900,000 and pledged to invest a further $9 million. PM
 U.S. COMMANDERS STRESS NEED TO REMAIN IN BALKANSUnnamed U.S. military commanders in Europe want the Pentagon to keep its forces in Bosnia and Kosova despite pressures to deploy them elsewhere, the "International Herald Tribune" reported on 23 October (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 September 2001). The commanders fear that fighting will soon resume in Bosnia without the American presence. U.S. troops are also seen as essential to preserve a modicum of law and order in Kosova and maintain the confidence of local Albanians in the work of the international community there. The U.S. has 3,100 troops in Bosnia, or 17 percent of the total. It also has 5,400 troops in Kosova. Virtually all of the NATO casualties there have been borne by the French, British, and other Europeans. PM
 EU OFFICIAL SAYS ROMANIA IS ON TRACKEneko Landaburu, the head of the EU's Enlargement Directorate, met in Bucharest on 22 October with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and said he "salutes the substantial progress" Romania has made toward meeting EU admission criteria, according to Romanian radio. Landaburu said Romania must still improve its macroeconomic policies, while paying particular attention to the inflation rate and improving the tax revenues. The country must also consolidate public administration reform, according to Landaburu. The meeting took place ahead of the European Commission's annual progress report on candidate countries. Landaburu also met with President Ion Iliescu and with Hildergard Puwak, the minister for European integration. MS
 ROMANIAN RULING PARTY BACKS LIFTING TUDOR'S IMMUNITYThe leadership of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) unanimously decided on 22 October to back the lifting of Senator Corneliu Vadim Tudor's parliamentary immunity, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The same day, Viorel Hrebenciuc, the PSD deputy chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, presented in that chamber the Justice Ministry's request for lifting the parliamentary immunity of Greater Romania Party Deputy Danut Saulea. Like Tudor, Saulea is accused of having disseminated false information on the alleged training in Romania of Hamas terrorists. MS
 HUNGARIAN LEADER IN ROMANIA SAYS RELATIONS WITH RULING PARTY AT A CROSSROADSHungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko said on 22 October that relations between his formation and the PSD are "at a crossroads," Mediafax reported. Marko spoke ahead of a planned meeting between the leaderships of the two parties. He said the PSD must decide between collaboration with the UDMR or "the final deterioration of relations." Marko said the anti-Hungarian rhetoric of the PSD has not ceased and as of late that rhetoric has been accompanied by "concrete measures," such as the search in Hungarian-language schools for textbooks printed in Hungary. He said that if these measures are not stopped, it will be impossible to continue the current collaboration agreement in the parliament. MS
 ROMANIAN DISSIDENT PEASANTISTS LAUNCH NEW PARTYThe dissenting wing in the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) on 20 October decided to set up the new Popular Christian Party, (PPC) Mediafax reported. Vasile Lupu, who along with Andrei Marga and Calin Constantin Chirita heads the wing, on 22 October said the decision "puts an end to the conflict with the Ciorbea wing in the PNTCD." Lupu said 27 PNTCD local branches support the new party and that several smaller political formations of the center-right might join the PPC. MS
 KING CAROL II TO BE REINTERRED IN ROMANIA?Culture Minister Razvan Theodorescu on 22 October said in the Senate that the earthly remains of King Carol II, who died in Portugal after having abdicated the throne in 1940, must be returned and "buried in the Orthodox Romanian earth." Theodorescu made the comments in response to a parliamentary interpellation by PSD Senator Adrian Paunescu last week. Theodorescu said Carol II "was a historic personality, who had his lights and his shadows." He added that Carol II, who was King Michael's father, was "the first Orthodox Hohenzollern." Last week, Paunescu demanded that the remains of King Carol II and of his second wife, Elena Lupescu, be reinterred in Romania. MS
 U.S. EMBASSY IN MOLDOVA REJECTS ALLEGATIONS OF HUMAN ORGANS TRAFFICKING.The U.S. Embassy in Chisinau has rejected allegations made last week on a local television program that adopted Moldovan children are used in the United States for the purpose of trafficking in human organs, Infotag reported. The embassy said it is "disturbed and offended" by the allegations and called them "ridiculous and baseless." A statement released by the embassy said the United States has fully cooperated with the Moldovan authorities since the decision was adopted earlier this year to suspend all international adoptions while Moldovan authorities conduct an investigation into possible irregularities in the adoption process. The embassy said the acts attributed to U.S. citizens in the allegations are punishable in the United States by long prison terms and "any credible evidence of such actions presented by the government of the Republic of Moldova will be immediately passed on to the appropriate authorities in the U.S. and prosecuted to the fullest extent provided for in the letter of the law." MS
 BULGARIAN PREMIER HOLDS TALKS WITH EU LEADERS...Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski told European Commission President Romano Prodi on 22 October that accession to the EU is a very high priority for his cabinet, BTA reported. He said his government is aware of the fact that the task "is not easy," but added that he hopes Bulgaria's progress will be substantial and make ending negotiations in 2004 and joining the EU in 2006 possible. Prodi said the fact that Saxecoburggotski's first visit abroad was to Brussels indicates the value Bulgaria places on relations with the EU. He also said that after the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States, the EU enlargement process has turned into "an instrument to guarantee democracy, security, and stability in Europe." EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen told Saxecoburggotski that Bulgaria must continue to push for reforms of the judicial system and public administration, as well as of the economy. He said the next report of the European Commission, likely to be published on 13 November, will reflect both the progress made by Bulgaria and the reforms that are still necessary to meet EU standards. Saxecoburggotski also met with Belgian Premier Guy Verhofstadt, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, Reuters reported. MS
 ...AND NATO SECRETARY-GENERALSaxecoburggotski later met with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and told him that Bulgaria is willing to send troops to the Balkans in the event that U.S. troops are redeployed from the former Yugoslavia to Afghanistan, Reuters reported. He said Bulgaria will try to carry out military reforms by November 2002, when NATO is expected to make a decision on expansion at its Prague summit. Robertson said he "warmly" welcomes the offer, but added that this "is not an immediate prospect at the present moment." MS
 POLL SHOWS STOYANOV AHEADA public opinion poll conducted by the National Public Opinion Center shows that incumbent President Petar Stoyanov is supported by 49.9 percent of the electorate ahead of the 11 November presidential elections in Bulgaria, BTA reported. Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov is backed by 11.5 percent and former Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev is in third with 6.3 percent support. Meanwhile, the commission that checks the records of candidates on possible involvement with the communist security services announced that "no irrefutable evidence" of collaboration has been found on any of the six presidential candidates or their vice presidential running mates. MS
 BULGARIANS UNENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT U.S. OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTANAccording to a poll conducted by The National Opinion Poll Center, more Bulgarians oppose the U.S. action in Afghanistan (45.5 percent) than those who support it (40.5 percent), BTA reported. Bulgaria's quest to join NATO is supported by 64 percent, and EU accession by 82 percent of the respondents. MS
[C] END NOTE
 POPULATION DECLINE A BIG PROBLEM FOR LITTLE ESTONIABy Breffni O'Rourke
(This is the first in a series of articles relating to demographic trends in Central and Eastern Europe.)
Estonia is one of the success stories of transition. Since regaining independence from the Soviet Union, it has pursued a vigorous reform course, and has enjoyed strong economic growth. It has also become a favorite for first-wave entry into the European Union in the next few years.
But the country's progress is being threatened from an unexpected quarter: it has one of the world's lowest birth rates. As things stand now, so few Estonians are being born that the present population level cannot be maintained. In fact, some people worry that given another century, there won't be any Estonians left at all!
More immediately, the question arises of how the economy can continue expanding at a time when fewer workers are entering the marketplace. And how can the declining workforce support an ever-growing number of retirees?
"In the United States there are 3.4 workers for every retired person," said independent economist Heido Vitsur. "In Estonia there are 1.5 workers per one retired person. And if we [continue to] have a birthrate as low as we do now, there will [eventually] be less than one worker per retired person, and this impact will be damaging for the Estonian economy -- we cannot survive."
Vitsur, who is based in Tallinn, says Estonia's birthrate is 40 percent below the level needed to stabilize the population.
Why is this happening? Demographers point out that there are two broad conditions that can produce falling birth rates in the more developed world: an increase in poverty, and -- ironically -- an increase in prosperity. In other words, when people face a decline in living standards, they tend to have fewer children. Conversely, when living standards increase, they also have fewer children, preferring to establish themselves financially first, or to spend resources on things like automobiles and holidays.
In Estonia, both factors are probably relevant, in that divisions in income have widened under the market reforms -- some people have prospered, some have not.
Vilja Kuzmin, a top specialist with the Estonian Social Affairs Ministry, says the childbearing rate of Estonian women has in any case traditionally been moderate -- in line with the "European model," as she puts it -- but since independence it has fallen further. For instance, in 1970 there were 15.85 live births per 1,000 citizens and a similar birthrate persisted until the end of the 1980s. Then, in the early 1990s, the birthrate began to plummet, reaching 8.70 by the end of the decade. Demographers believe that the rate has now stabilized at about nine. Estonian women now have 1.3 children on average.
"It has gone down because the first childbirth begins at a later age than before," Kuzmin said. "People first want to be economically secured, they look for a professional career, they study longer. So we see the first child later. Some years ago it was normal to see the first childbirth at the age [for the mother] of 18 or 19; now it's 25 to 26."
Demographer Juergen Fluethmann, a member of the Berlin-based German Demographic Society, said that rapid change in economic factors is a key influence. "Estonia, and all the other [Baltic] countries, have the highest economic growth rates among many European countries," Fluethmann said. "That means the economic development of these countries is racing forward, more quickly than elsewhere, and economic development has always an influence on population development. There is always a close link between economics and demographic developments. The more the social product grows, the higher the lifespan, and the more [women's] fertility declines. This is a connection to be seen practically everywhere in the world."
Fluethmann went on to say that the decline in the birthrate in the Baltics has been particularly sharp, and he relates this to the sudden political and economic changes in the region.
In the early 1990s in Eastern Germany, the birthrate also dropped alarmingly, reaching 5.1 in 1993. But then the fertility rate per woman recovered somewhat -- and now appears to have stabilized in united Germany at over nine. Fluethmann sees the same thing happening in the Baltics. "I believe that in the countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, we will see a consolidation [of the birthrate] taking place," Fluethmann said. "I believe strongly that in those places, like in Eastern Germany, we will see an increase [in the rate] in future, but at the same time, I doubt that it would reach previous levels."
So then, that still leaves fewer people to operate economies -- like Estonia's -- that may be expanding. Many observers, Fluethmann included, believe that continued automation could provide at least a partial solution. In the last generation, for example, millions of assembly line jobs were eliminated by the use of robots.
However, economist Vitsur sees robots and other machinery as offering no solution for Estonia "because Estonia is not so much an industrial country, but a country of services, and increasing our productivity in services [through automation] could not be so great as in industry."
Other possible solutions are government incentives for young families to have more children. Parliamentary deputy Mart Nutt of the Pro-Patria Union, a member of the governing coalition, noted that the present Estonian government is moving on the issue of incentives. "Our government already decided to increase [financial] benefits to families with more than two children, and I think this is a very positive and important step," he said.
But government financial incentives, however generous, cannot by themselves provide the answer. There remains immigration. That's a delicate theme in practically every European country, where social tensions can rise if the host community feels threatened by too great an influx of foreigners. Already about one-third of Estonia's population is ethnic Russian.
However, Vitsur sees immigration as the "only solution" and demographer Fluethmann also calls it inevitable. Deputy Nutt is also in favor of immigration, and he says that the falling birthrate generally in Europe -- including Russia -- means that most immigrants will probably come from the developing world. He acknowledges the risk of social tension, but says work must be done to prepare Estonians for the situation. "Estonia must be open for all possible immigrants, if they want to work here, if they want to integrate into Estonian society," Nutt said. "I cannot say that we can expect only to be open for one ethnic group, but not for other, different ones."
Kuzmin of the Social Security Ministry, however, says her ministry is not relying on immigration as a means of keeping the country's pension system afloat. She says the ministry is planning for a worst-case scenario of a worker-to-retiree ratio of 1 to 1.4 until the year 2040.
She said her country is working on an updated social security system, under which young people now arriving in the labor market will partly finance their own future pensions. Workers now also have the option of further coverage though voluntary insurance. In this way, she said, Estonia hopes to meet its social security obligations to the coming generation.
Breffni O'Rourke is an RFE/RL correspondent.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty