Road ahead difficult, Estonian warns

September 08, 1991|By John Rivera

A wave of euphoria is sweeping over the Baltic republic of Estonia in light of U.S. and Soviet recognition of its independence last week, but an Estonian government official warned in Baltimore yesterday that much hard work still remains in rebuilding the nation.

Uelo Nugis, speaker of the Supreme Council, the country's parliament, said that years of domination by the Soviet Union have left Estonia's economic infrastructure in shambles.

"The Estonian people and government are not allowing this euphoria to mislead them into believing the road ahead will be easy," Mr. Nugis said in an interview before attending an independence celebration by the Baltimore Estonian Society.

"They realize that the declaration of independence by the Soviet Union is a welcome act, but doesn't guarantee the country of Estonia its independence," he said.

"This has to be achieved through hard work, by restoring the economic and social infrastructure of an independent democratic country."

Estonia hopes that some help in restoring the infrastructure will come from the West, mainly in the form of technical assistance, according to Mr. Nugis. He said the Estonian government will probably not ask for direct monetary aid from the United States ** and is not looking for handouts.

"Estonia wants to overcome the difficulties it faces through normal trade and commerce, as other countries do," he said.

At the same time, however, Estonia will not reject any aid that is offered, especially in terms of technical assistance.

Estonia will now have to run its own ports, railroads and communications systems, and currently lacks the expertise it needs to refurbish and operate these vital lifelines, he said.

Mr. Nugis recounted the tense days during last month's coup in the Soviet Union, which failed after three days. After earlier violent Soviet assaults in Lithuania, the government formed a defense committee, comprised of Mr. Nugis, the prime minister and the chairman of the Supreme Council, in the event that similar events would occur in Estonia.

The prime minister was out of the country when the coup began, but the two other members of the defense committee functioned as negotiators with Soviet military officials in the country.

On the morning of the coup, the general commanding Soviet troops in the Baltic informed the defense committee that all meetings and gatherings were prohibited, and that a governing general for Estonia would be appointed. They were also told to expect the arrival of additional Soviet troops.

Mr. Nugis said the defense committee remained defiant.

"The answer given by the Estonian Defense Committee was negative, that none of his orders would be followed," Mr. Nugis said.

"The effect of the coup was the consolidation of all political forces in Estonia that supported independence," he added.

Looking toward the future, Mr. Nugis said that Estonia, with a culture which is in many ways Western, hopes to be for the West an economic and social gateway to what remains of the Soviet Union.

"The Baltics, and especially Estonia, have a very deep insight into the way business is done in the East and in Russia," said Mr. Nugis. "We probably understand the economic structure better than anybody else, maybe better than the Russians themselves. We could be very good advisers on how to do business in the East."

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