Estonia waits for fruits of freedom: Grim economic reality has overtaken hope, Adrian Bridge writes from Tallinn

KATRIN METSAMART was not quite sure why all the blue, black and white flags had come out in force in the streets of Tallinn. 'I think it is something to do with that putsch in Moscow last year,' she said, quickly returning to her coffee. 'But it doesn't mean anything to me anyway. As far as I am concerned, life has not got any better since then and many things are a lot worse.'

Given the number of anniversaries currently sweeping the Baltic states, Ms Metsamart could perhaps be forgiven for not knowing that last Thursday's display of flags here marked exactly one year of Estonian independence.

Yesterday, it was the turn of Riga, the Latvian capital, which broke its ties with Moscow just three days later. At the same time, representatives from all three Baltic states were observing an altogether more sombre occasion: the 53rd annivesary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 23 August 1939 which consigned them to Soviet domination.

Yesterday also marked exactly three years to the day since some 600,000 Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians called for their freedom by forming an astonishing human chain that stretched 360 miles from Tallinn on the Baltic Sea through to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, in the south.

'What high hopes we had,' said Maie Kaara, a veteran of the human chain and one of the hundreds of thousands of Estonians who then regularly gathered at vast rallies in Tallinn to sing - literally - for their political freedom. 'A lot of us thought independence would be the answer to all our problems,' she said. 'But of course it has not been so simple. And now many are bitter.'

Among those most embittered are the growing numbers of unemployed, forced out of their jobs as a result of a collapsing economic system, and pensioners, struggling to subsist on a meagre monthly allowance of 200 kroons ( pounds 8.50) and forced to turn to previously unheard-of soup kitchens and to watch helplessly as prices shoot up towards Western levels.

Inflation, which earlier this year reached 87 per cent in Estonia, is also the main grouse of the young and many of those still in work, tantalised by visions of Carlsberg beer and Panasonic hi-fi in the countless Western-style shops that have sprouted in Tallinn.

'I feel almost ill seeing all these things but not being able to buy them,' said Eva, a student. 'We have been turned into beggars in our own country. It is deeply humiliating and it is almost enough to make you think that maybe socialism was not so bad.'

But while discontent was undoubtedly strong, and even rising, very few seriously lament the passing of the old Soviet order or hanker after its return in any form. Indeed, when Estonians go to the polls next month in the first proper elections to be held in the Baltic states since they gained independence, many are expected to vote for an even faster pace of economic reform to replace the relatively softly-softly approach adopted to date.

'People are moaning like hell, but in the end they realise there is only one direction we can take,' said Tarmu Tammerk, editor of the leading English-language weekly, the Baltic Independent. 'There is a greater awareness now that the next two to three years will be very painful. But deep down, people think that the situation will ultimately improve.'

Although the election campaign has so far been conspicuous mainly by its absence, the main battle lines have already been drawn. On the one side, the Fatherland alliance, an amalgamation of right-of-centre parties, is calling for the speedy introduction of market reforms and a drastic realignment of the country's economy towards Western markets. On the other, the Popular Front, a loose coalition of centre parties emerging from the country's former protest movement, favours the retention of most state subsidies and an extensive social welfare network.

In addition, other groupings expected to gain representation in the Riigikogu (parliament) include the Moderates (who are calling for an immediate increase in pensions), the Estonian National Independence Party (whose demands include the return of former Estonian territories which are now part of Russia) and the bizarrely-named Safe Home Alliance made up primarily of 'reformed' Communists such as President Arnold Ruutel and accused of seeking to maintain the old system of privileges).

Preoccupied with the daily struggle for existence and seemingly disillusioned with politics, many Estonians are expected not to bother casting their votes on 20 September.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?