Thu, Jul 03, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Baltic states emerge as role models for reform

AFP , TALLINN

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, part of the Soviet Union until 12 years ago and on course to join the EU and NATO, have emerged as role models for more straggling members of the former Soviet empire.

Rising from the ruins of a bankrupt economy and lack of democratic institutions after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Baltic states plunged headlong into reform.

This transformation experience, initially achieved largely through trial and error, is becoming more and more valued in the former Soviet bloc, as underlined by a sweep through the Baltic states by Mongolian President Natsagyn Bagabandy.

"The Baltic states have accumulated rich experience in carrying out political and economic reforms," Bagabandy said on Monday in Tallinn, the day before concluding a five-day tour of the Baltic states.

"We can see the tangible success of your economic reform, and your reputation internationally is growing year by year."

The Mongolian leader said his Asian country of 2.7 million, which was heavily under the influence of the Soviet Union, is "keenly interested in Estonia's experience in banking, finance and support for the private sector."

Estonian Member of Parliament Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the country's former foreign minister, said that the Baltic states had credibility in the eyes of other ex-Soviet bloc countries because of their shared experiences.

"Our experience is transferrable in a way that Germany's or UK's is not. We can say `been there, done that,' which adds a lot of credibility," he said.

The Baltic states, being front-runners of reform and boasting solid economic growth, are an increasingly popular destination for training events for political leaders and civil servants of the ex-Soviet Union, known today as the Commonwealth of Independent states (CIS).

Feedback has been positive, and the need for further training is building up, according to Eero Saue, head of the development cooperation division of the Estonian Foreign Ministry.

"After the Baltic states staged a project for the defense ministry of Georgia, soon after that, Armenia contacted us, asking for the same," Saue said.

"Such word-of-mouth recommendations prove that what we can offer is seen as relevant and applicable," Saue said.

The defense ministries of the Baltic states -- on course to join NATO next year -- signed a defense cooperation treaty with the Caucasian republic of Georgia earlier this month.

Under the treaty, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania pledged to advise Georgia, which borders Russia and its troubled republic of Chechnya, on bringing its military structures in line with NATO standards.

"This way, we can promote stability in an otherwise unstable region," Saue said.

"Our financial contributions in development cooperation are not big, but it's the skilled practitioners that are our strength," he said.

The Baltic states have targeted the Caucasus region as a key priority in development cooperation, but are also working towards the Central Asian republics and Mongolia.

Advice from former fellow republics in the Soviet bloc often goes down better than high-sounding theory from reputable international consultants, Baltic officials say.

The coming membership of the Baltic states in the EU and NATO is another feature that attracts the interest of the former Soviet countries.

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