Sat, Dec 20, 2003 - Page 8 News List

In Estonia, an example for Taiwan to draw on

By Mart Laanemets

The current political situation in Taiwan reminds me of Baltic countries 12 to 15 years ago.

At the end of the 1980s, after former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms, democratic movements grew throughout the vast Soviet empire. Baltic countries, including my homeland of Estonia, were among the first to see these movements develop.

The Communist Party in Estonia was quickly losing its authority. Most of its clever top officials started to change their colors. The Party for the National Independence of Estonia was formed in 1988 and declared that restoring the status of Estonia as a fully independent country was its ultimate goal. A Moscow-backed democratic movement, the People's Front, opposed it and called for the support of Gorbachev and a kind of autonomy within the Soviet Union.

In these critical years the pro-independence forces took the political initiative and gained the people's support. They initiated and successfully executed a campaign registering Estonian citizens, including overseas Estonians, to distinguish them from Russian migrants who had settled in Estonia in massive numbers over the decades of Soviet rule. In this way a new legislature was formed with the exclusive right to decide the status of the Estonian nation. In 1990, Estonia's citizens elected the Estonian Congress, an alternative to the pro-Soviet Supreme Council legislative body.

The rhetoric of the Peoples' Front criticized the "radical" nationalists and Estonians were warned "not to provoke Moscow." But with the success of the pro-independence forces, they, and even the Estonian branch of the Communist Party, came to support full independence for the country.

Despite heavy criticism from within and outside Estonia, pro-independence forces were always several steps ahead of current events. This, together with their courage and resolve, meant that Estonia was prepared for the decisive moment that arrived in August 1991, when the conservative wing of the Communist Party in Moscow staged a coup in an attempt to eliminate Gorbachev and take power. As we know, that plan failed, but it spelled the end for Gorbachev as well. The new leadership, with Boris Yeltsin at the helm, took power in Russia.

During those critical days, the Estonian Congress and Supreme Council achieved a consensus and declared Estonia an independent republic. Yeltsin's new government in Moscow, needing any support it could find, quickly recognized it, as it did for Latvia and Lithuania. Other countries elsewhere in the world followed, including China. One month later, the three Baltic countries were admitted into the UN.

Similar processes are now taking place in Taiwan. Despite all of the diplomatic rhetoric, anybody who reflects carefully on the matter must acknowledge that, in the longer term, Taiwan has no alternative but to bring about de jure independence, and that it is only a matter of time before the communist regime in China collapses.

So, in the light of the Baltic experience, it is clear that President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) program promoting referendums, a new constitution and government reform is clever and far-sighted and serves the needs of the Taiwanese people. The nation must prepare carefully for the future, now that independence is growing more likely.

On the other hand, based on the Baltic experience, we also acknowledge that this opportunity depends on the attitude of Beijing. There is no doubt that the world, including the US and the UN, will recognize Taiwan's independence only after Beijing has done so. And Beijing will do this only when it is profitable for its leadership to do so, as was the case for Moscow and the Baltic countries.

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