Friday, October 27, 2006

Déjà Vu

Mart Laar was Estonia’s prime minister in the immediate post-Soviet period, from 1992-1994 (he also held the premiership later on, from 1999 to 2002). A member of the right-of-centre Isamaaliit (Pro Patria Union), he wrote several books on Estonian and Russian history, and his perspective on the recent crisis between Georgia and Russia is tempered and informed not only by his personal experience, but also by his scholarship and knowledge. In TOL, Laar’s views on the crisis are quoted in an article which looks at the possible outcomes. Excerpt:
“The more time I spend in Georgia, the more I’m overcome by a feeling of deja vu,” Laar told Radio Free Europe in June. “A lot of what I see reminds me powerfully of the situation in Estonia round about 1993–1994,” he added.

When Estonia was faced with an aggressive campaign from Moscow in the early 1990s to prevent it from embracing the West, Laar and his colleagues in government apparently decided that the best defense was a good offense.

Estonia didn’t give an inch, even as Moscow egged on its Russian-speaking minority to stir up trouble. The country’s leaders vigorously asserted their sovereignty, continuously demanded that Russian troops leave, and firmly oriented their foreign and economic policy on Europe and the United States.

They also undertook bold economic reforms that raised living standards for the whole society – which took much of the steam out of the grievances Russian speakers initially had.

The approach, which appeared risky at the time, worked better than anybody dared expect. And now Georgia is trying to use the same playbook. Whether or not they can pull it off will help determine what the geopolitical map of the South Caucasus will look like for decades to come.
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