President of Estonia

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 25 April 1995

It is an honour for me to address once again – but this time in my capacity as Estonian President – a forum which has played such a vital role in my country’s struggle for freedom. Although we became full members of the Council of Europe in May 1993, we regard our relations with the Council of Europe to have begun much earlier, in the year 1960 to be exact. In that year, the Council’s Consultative Assembly passed a resolution on the twentieth anniversary of Estonia’s occupation by the Red Army under the Hitler-Stalin agreement. The resolution noted the illegal annexation of the three Baltic states and recorded the fact that the de jure existence of our countries was never questioned, but was recognised by the democratic governments of the world.

That first resolution denouncing the occupation of Estonia was followed by another in 1963, another in 1983 and again in 1986. In short, the dedication of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly to democracy and sovereignty in the Baltic states did not start in recent years. It was not a child of so-called perestroika, but has been going on for decades.

That is not surprising as the Council of Europe is the oldest and most esteemed guardian of common European values. Estonia appreciates highly the role of the Parliamentary Assembly as a kind of conscience of our continent. From our historical experiences we know that democracy and the protection of human rights are not static qualities, but constitute a dynamic process. We must fight for those freedoms every day and everywhere, because when democracy is taken for granted or worse, is ignored, or, still worse, is staged in the best traditions of Potemkin and of the Soviet Intourist, democracy can become weakened to a point beyond return.

The Council of Europe has taken a leading role in ensuring that democracy maintains its necessary vitality. The conventions passed by this body, beginning with the Statute, have served as a kind of blueprint for Estonia since we reinstated our independence and began the painstaking process of rebuilding democracy out of the ashes of totalitarianism. There is no doubt that the Council of Europe is the primary organisation for protecting human rights and, following the Vienna Summit, the rights of national minorities in Europe.

The Foreign Minister of Estonia signed the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities on 2 February 1995. Estonia’s legislation and day-to-day policy on national minorities has gone further than the framework convention. Estonia has a long history of liberal policies vis-à-vis minorities, having adopted a law on cultural autonomy in 1925 – the first of its kind. Last month, we conducted our second post-communist elections, which were deemed free and fair by international observers. The people voted overwhelmingly for staying on the course of free-market reforms, but with what could be perhaps called a greater social involvement. It is vital to note that no extremist groups, either from those with a communist legacy or those from the right, got into parliament. I am not sure whether those descriptions are correct because I believe that the communists and the nazis represent a totalitarian way of thinking which is on neither the right nor the left, but is rather beyond humanity.

Estonia’s growing citizenry of Russian origin actively exercised the right to vote. In fact, the one Russian political party standing for the elections was one of only seven parties or lists to garner the minimum 5% needed to pass into parliament. There are also representatives of different minorities in other parliamentary groups.

This is an accomplishment which bespeaks of another great part of our democratic efforts, namely the construction of a fair and just nationality policy based on political participation for all who have demonstrated loyalty to the state. In Estonia, permanently residing foreigners participate in local elections. The cornerstone of this nationality policy is our liberal citizenship law.

Last month, United States Vice-President, Al Gore, visited Tallinn briefly. While there, before a crowd in our medieval town hall square, he paid tribute to the success of our nationality policy by saying “history teaches us that national independence can in some places stimulate national chauvinism. Yet Estonia’s fair implementation of its citizenship law and political participation of Estonian citizens of Russian origin show that Estonia is becoming a state rooted in law, tolerance and based on modern civic values. In this demonstration of tolerance, Estonia is a model for the rest of the world.”

The other integral aspect of democracy that we have pursued with vigour is that of transforming a command economy into a free market, thus creating conditions under which all the residents of Estonia have the opportunity to realise their economic potential. This policy has borne fruit. While four years ago more than 90% of our trade went east, today, two- thirds of our foreign trade is with European Union member states. We have utilised the few foreign loans we have taken for capital investments. The latest data include Estonia among the countries with low foreign debt. Our policy is trade, not aid. Foreign investment continues to double every six months and exports are up.

Our currency – the Estonian kroon – is pegged to the German mark and our foreign currency reserves have more than tripled since the kroon was introduced in 1992. We have a balanced state budget and actual growth in our GDP. Our low taxation and full repatriation of profits for foreigners doing business in Estonia make us increasingly attractive to investors. The privatisation process in Estonia is considered to be one of the most radical in central and eastern Europe. All of this has raised standards of living which, in turn, is convincing people that there is no alternative to the policy of radical reforms.

Mr President, the Council of Europe has been of considerable assistance to this endeavour. Estonia’s rapid integration into the structures of Europe has been aided by the co-operation and assistance programmes which the Council of Europe has set up for the benefit of central and eastern European countries. An outstanding example is the help which the Council of Europe has provided in the legal field. After Estonia restored herself as a constitutional democracy, the Parliament of Estonia adopted 430 laws and other legal acts – the most significant of which have been scrutinised by the experts of the Council of Europe. Estonia has firmly established itself as a state based on the rule of law. One of the central elements in our legislative process is the harmonisation of all legal acts with the demands of the European Convention on Human Rights and all its additional protocols. I am happy to inform you that the ratification is in its final stages.

Numerous assistance programmes are provided jointly by the Council of Europe and the European Union. We welcome the co-operation of those two bodies as an integral part of the development of Europe’s political architecture. I am pleased to say that Estonia will sign, without a transition period, its association agreement with the European Union in May this year.

The Council of Europe could do even more, specifically by increasing co-operation with other organisations, such as the OSCE, devoted to similar issues.

As a state with a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, Estonia wholeheartedly supports increased co-ordination among complementary bodies, not only as a way of avoiding duplication of effort, but because, as a small state, we have simply reached our financial – not moral – limits for participation in a growing number of international organisations. I would be happy if the OSCE and the Council of Europe began to exchange better and more timely information and if those organisations took into account more fully the work done by others. In fact, I believe that ignoring the efforts of others could inadvertently undermine the credibility of various bodies and posts, such as special commissioners, which have been created by those bodies.

At this time, the Council of Europe possesses limited means to help potential new members meet those standards relative to organisations such as the United Nations and the OSCE. For that reason, we should utilise more fully the principle of comparative advantage and co-operate with those organisations which are currently better placed to provide assistance to potential Council members. Such a strategy will lead us more effectively to our goals.

Another organisation that, in its own way, guards the principles to which Council of Europe states ascribe is Nato. As you know, the first two articles of the North Atlantic Treaty refer to the norms of international behaviour and values that democratic states have in common. During the cold war, Nato defended those values. At the same time, those states made up the free community of nations known as the west. We can think of Nato during this period as a kind of zone of shared western values.

This was, of course, no coincidence. It is an axiom of international politics that democratic states tend not to go to war with other democratic states. If Nato overlapped with a zone of shared western values during the cold war, then it should be in everyone’s interest to enlarge that zone and thus to enlarge the alliance. Thus, in discussions of shared European values, rather than asking why Nato should enlarge, we should be thinking about why it is imperative to western civilisation that is does.

Mr President, I now turn to an issue of primary concern to this body, namely the acceptance of new members into the Council of Europe. First, let me say that, on behalf of Estonia, I am deeply gratified that our southern neighbour, Latvia, is a member of this esteemed Organisation. We hope that Ukraine will also soon be seated in this Assembly. Estonia shares your view that Ukraine is unquestionably an integral part of Europe. By virtue of its geographical location, its historical legacy, the size of its population and the vitality of its political and cultural life, Ukraine is quintessentially a European state. This state has made great progress in the theory and practice of establishing democratic institutions, and those efforts deserve to be recognised by the Council of Europe.

We also hope that Moldova will soon be in our midst. In this regard, we call on Russia to honour the agreement to withdraw troops from Moldova, as it did last August with Estonia. We understand better than most what a hindrance to democracy occupying troops can be. We also understand the power of international opinion in encouraging the fulfilment of troop withdrawal obligations, and hence appeal to this body to provide Moldova with the same support that we were accorded.

In conclusion, Mr President, I turn to Russia’s candidacy for Council of Europe membership. I am gratified that last February, in light of the continuing undeclared war against Chechnya, this body passed a resolution suspending action of the Parliamentary Assembly’s role as the conscience of the continent, and I applaud your commitment to principles. As you rightly concluded two months ago, Russia’s membership cannot be considered until such time as Russia meets the standards which all potential states must achieve.

In this connection, we might recall a similar situation involving the former Yugoslavia. Despite George Kenney’s assessment in the New York Times magazine two days ago that the number of civilian deaths in Bosnia has been grossly exaggerated, most observers continue to believe more conventional estimates that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed there. When the bloodshed became overwhelming in that troubled part of the world, Yugoslavia’s activities in the United Nations and the then CSCE were suspended.

It is therefore all the more inexplicable why some states continue to push Russia’s speedy accession to the Council of Europe, given a situation in which more civilians had already been killed in Chechnya than in Bosnia before Yugoslavia became a pariah in the world community. That is an example of the double standards that the Council of Europe must not tolerate. Instead, the Council should continue its policy of doing all in its power to encourage democratic developments in Russia. I share the view of others in this Chamber that Russia should join the Council as a fully-fledged member, but only when it meets the requirement of being a democratic state that honours human rights.

Mr President, the next few months in Estonia will be a period of intensive preparation in order to fulfil the role of Chairman-in-Office of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. It is a great honour for Estonia. At the same time, we see it as a challenge. In the period remaining, we will continue to elaborate the ideas which we regard as the priorities of the Council of Europe for our period of chairmanship.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you, Mr President, for an address that was not only interesting but most moving.

Ladies and gentlemen, President Meri has stated his readiness to answer questions from members of the Assembly, for which I thank him.

A large number of members – a dozen or so – have put down their names to ask questions. I will ask them all to be as brief as possible, and if I may be so bold, I will also ask you, Mr President, to be as concise as possible in your answers so that all the members on the list have an opportunity to ask their questions, thus avoiding any hard feelings... against the President of the Assembly, of course, not against our guest, I assure you. (Laughter)

Each member on the list will therefore ask one question, possibly followed by a brief supplementary question, but please do keep them brief. I call Mr Eörsi for the first question.

Mr EÖRSI (Hungary)

Mr President, due to the efforts of your country, as we heard from you, Estonia seems to be the number one country among the Baltic states with regard to transition, and especially with regard to transition to a market economy. Do you believe that the so-called transition countries, such as Estonia, receive sufficient help from the western world in order to become successful with regard to the transformation of their economies? Freedom is essential, but it is very easy to become accustomed to it. Sooner or later, people would like to see achievements in their everyday lives. What may be the consequences if, as a result of a lack of sufficient assistance, transition takes too long and lacks the feeling that the system towards which we are moving is not really rewarding for the man in the street?

Mr Meri, President of Estonia

Thank you, dear colleague, for that most interesting question. I would like to answer it in the following way: in your country, transition began in the times of Kadar which means that you are entering the second decade of transition while Estonia has been more successful during the two and a half years since we adopted our new constitution through our referendum. The progress made in Estonia is the most rapid progress made in central and eastern Europe. I am quite ready to admit that any transition which does not last longer than a life span will be regarded as a failure. That is not the case with Estonia.

The Earl of DUNDEE (United Kingdom)

Apart from the task of building up good relations between Council of Europe states and their governments, does President Meri agree that it is also very important to – forge good relations in Europe between the regions? In view of the traditional cultural and trade links between cities and ports in the North Sea area, what plans, endeavours and initiatives does the President believe will work best to re-establish those links and to involve Estonia and the Baltic states? I ask that question in particular because, in the United Kingdom, I live in Scotland and close to the North Sea.

Mr Meri, President of Estonia

My dear colleague, if you visit Tallinn you will see the coat of arms of London on the house of the Black Heads. That means that, historically, Tallinn – also called Reval in old English documents – was a member of the Hanseatic League. There was a time when my capital town was the biggest town in the northern part of Europe, four centuries before Helsinki was created. We are fully aware of our unique geo-political position and even more of our submission to use our position.

I should perhaps say that I have written a book of some 500 pages about the cultural and other links of the maritime towns by the Baltic Sea. I will not go further into the details, but I am pleased to explain that one of the very first maps was drawn in a cathedral in southern England. It was a beautiful picture located just behind the altar and it depicted my town. We are perfectly aware that behind our eastern frontier there is not a state, but a continent. A continent is defined as a piece of land surrounded by sea, according to which, actually, Russia is only partly a continent. We have certain obligations to act as a collective port for the continent. That is as absolutely clear to me as it was to the merchant adventurers in the sixteenth century who, under Elizabeth, suddenly discovered Russia, to the amazement of the Russians.

The Earl of DUNDEE

I thank the President for his comments. In view of his great knowledge of the history of the Hanseatic League, I take it that he would be keen to be party to all endeavours, all over the North Sea area, to encourage people in other countries to share his view.

Mr Meri, President of Estonia

A few days ago a Finnish magazine called Suomen Kuvalehti published a very interesting article about the future of my capital town, Tallinn, and the capital town of Helsinki, linked together closely and forming something which should be regarded as a twin town only because we regard ourselves as the gateway or corridor between the west and the east.

We are perfectly aware that symbols like a gateway, a window or whatever have different political meanings. However, I would like us to see only one option before us and that is the democratic evolution of mankind. That means that we are interested in having broad international co-operation with regard to using the possibilities of the Baltic Sea which, in different times, has been called the Mediterranean of the north.

Mr MOCZULSKI (Poland) (translation)

Mr President, I would like to ask you a question I consider very important. In the post-war years thousands of Soviet officers, soldiers and policemen were posted to Estonia, where they set up a system of occupation. At present they make up a large Russian minority. Does this minority not constitute a threat to democracy and to the independence of Estonia?

Mr Meri, President of Estonia

Allow me to respond in English, Mr Moczulski. I do not think that it is a danger. Perhaps it was a danger psychologically five or seven years ago when Russians were transferred to Estonia to create a strategic Russian majority there. Before the second world war Estonia was an outspokenly homogeneous country. The Russians suddenly felt that they were losing their role as, let us say, landlords. There were some national tensions between the Estonian and Russian communities, between the Estonian identity and that of Russia – no, I would prefer to use another term – the Soviet identity, which is difficult to describe because it does not have any rules. When one meets a Russian who says that he comes from Kursk or Volga it means that one is meeting a European. The problem that we have to face is that, unfortunately, a great number of Russians are not Europeans but rather a special kind of people. In theoretical literature we call them homo sovieticus.

The democratic reality or, more simply, the very fact that the standard of living in Estonia suddenly rose rapidly to become so much higher than on the other side of the Estonian border provided us with better arguments than all the leading articles in the more than seventy daily newspapers that Estonia produces. Now we have another problem. We do not have enough Estonian kindergartens for the Russian families who would prefer to send their children to them. That means that they have suddenly realised that a democratic system, an open-market system in which human rights are guaranteed, gives them far better choices than in the world from which they have come.

I do not see the dangers that Mr Moczulski mentioned, but, of course, I am speaking about the bulk of the Russian population. For example, a special representative of Mr Zhirinovsky was recently expelled from Estonia because he argued that the Estonian Government should be overthrown by violent means. We cannot accept that.

Mr LAAKSO (Finland)

Unfortunately, I have to put my question in English although I know that Mr Meri speaks Finnish perfectly. In your country, Mr Meri, there are about 500 000 non-citizens. What will happen to those among them who have not applied for a residency and work permit? I understand that such a permit must be applied for by 15 July and that only about 115 000 non-citizens have applied up to now. There are traumatic proposals in the Estonian media on what to do with those who do not intend to apply. What is your personal opinion on how to solve this problem? As a Finn, I am a little worried that in July there will perhaps be a more aggravated situation than today in that region, which is close to Finland.

Mr Meri, President of Estonia

That is a serious problem but it has been taken into consideration. Under Estonian citizenship law we assumed that the theoretical approach of the Estonian state was that living in the state meant Estonian citizenship. That meant that citizenship was automatic but we were suddenly confronted by the fact that, in contrast to the world that we had lived in when we were occupied, we had not only Estonian citizens living in Estonia but a huge number of non-citizens who were brought by the Soviet authorities by sending the families to Siberia.

I would be dishonest if I said that this situation did not give rise to emotional reactions. There were emotional reactions among Estonians who had lost their children or parents and among Russians who suddenly became aware that they were living in houses and using furniture that did not belong to them. From the first steps we were convinced that we had to face this difficult and emotional question in a frank and honest way. We told the Russians that they must decide whether they would prefer to remain and become citizens of the federation or apply for Estonian citizenship.

As I have said, we have been successful because a considerable number of Russian citizens were not only actively involved in the last elections but were also able to form an active Russian political party. But that is only part of the answer. Mr Laakso is correct to say that a great number of ethnic Russians have not decided whether to apply for Estonian citizenship or Russian citizenship. We must understand that it is psychologically very difficult for someone who was born in the Soviet Union and has never thought that other nations have rights. That was unexpected for them and in a way they are now stranded.

They have not applied for Estonian citizenship and they are not Russian citizens. It is right to say that that poses some technical difficulties. For example, if they want to visit Finland they do not have the necessary passport. That is why we decided to provide those who need more time to make up their minds with a special document giving them the right to leave Estonia, travel abroad and then return to Estonia.

This is a question that each person must solve individually. We are not putting any pressure on people. I am sure that, if Mr Laakso is correct and the deadline is not met in July, the Estonian Parliament will take appropriate steps allowing people who have been unable to make their decision in time to make that decision. That is in the interests of Estonia and our stability.

Mr HUGHES (United Kingdom)

President Meri will be aware that human rights are basic, and should apply to all sections of the human race. Moreover, they are the cornerstone on which the Council of Europe was founded.

I do not wish to labour the point, but President Meri must be aware that questions and reports appearing in the international media seem to suggest that Estonia is tending to discriminate against people of Russian extraction. Let me ask again if he would like to comment on those reports, and perhaps refute the allegations made against his country.

Mr Meri, President of Estonia

I cannot take responsibility for the quality of the British press.


Mr Hughes, do you take responsibility for the quality of the British press?


Far be it from me, Mr President. Nevertheless, this seems to cover a pretty wide spectrum of media reporting. That is why I wanted to raise the matter with the President of Estonia.


I am sure that President Meri will compliment you, Mr Hughes. I give you the floor, Mr Meri.

Mr Meri, President of Estonia

Mr Hughes is already invited to visit Estonia as my guest, and to decide for himself what is true and what is not. I can only tell him that the report published in yesterday’s Financial Times, according to which I was waiting for the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr Kozyrev, on the doorstep, is utterly untrue. I was sitting next to a former Irish Prime Minister when Mr Kozyrev suddenly emerged, shook my hand and told me that he had never threatened to use military force against Estonia – that, indeed, he had never even mentioned Estonia.

It is a small detail, but I sometimes wonder whether journalists in Mr Hughes’ country have ever been to the place about which they write their reports and their beautiful headlines.

Mr SINKA (Latvia)

Before putting my question to President Meri, let me thank him profoundly for the warmth with which he welcomed Latvia’s full membership of this august body.

The President mentioned Mr Kozyrev. In view of Mr Kozyrev’s recent statement and the concern expressed by the Baltic Assembly meeting in Riga, how does he see the further development of co-operation between the three Baltic states?

Mr Meri, President of Estonia

We have a common history, which taught us a tragic lesson in 1939 and 1940 when, under the Hitler-Stalin agreement, the Baltic states were occupied by the Soviet Union. We hope that the profound changes that began in Russia owing to the economic collapse, which are still taking place, will result in a democratic Russia. It will be a long and painful process.

It is evident that the co-operation between the three Baltic states must be deepened. That will be the cornerstone for the development of more stability and democracy in the Baltic Sea region, and will also be beneficial for our eastern neighbour.

We shall always retain the close relations that we have historically had. Our example may be understood even better by our neighbours if three small countries achieve what they wish to achieve: a huge country may be able to achieve the same goals.

Let me stress again that Baltic co-operation must be deepened in every respect – economically, politically and in all the security fields.

Mr LANDSBERGIS (Lithuania)

Let me tell President Meri – a dear friend and combatant – that it is a great joy for my colleagues and me to see and hear him today.

We know about the achievements of the Estonian people, and the difficulties that remain. Among those difficulties is Russia’s territorial claim to Estonia, which is one of the most difficult legal and constitutional problems inherited by the country from the Soviet period.

To the loss of sovereign territory seized by the Soviet Union during the occupation are added the demands that are now being made. Estonia must resign from the principles of international law and from a piece of its own land, because the annexator is too big to allow any discussion. Furthermore, Estonia has been wrongly accused of making a territorial claim to Russia, although the legal position is quite the reverse. If Estonia agrees that the annexation should be considered legal, it will mean that the occupation was also legal.

Does President Meri see a solution to that problem, which may become even greater if the west demands the same as Russia, and declares itself in favour of Russia and against Estonian rights? Has that happened yet? I would like to hear the President’s views, and any information that he may have.

Mr Meri, President of Estonia

Yes. I understand that it is a complicated situation. I am convinced, however, that we can discuss the peace treaty that was signed on 2 February 1920 by the Republic of Estonia and the then Soviet Republic in two separate ways. The treaty is essential because, through it, Estonia became subject to international law. It is our birth certificate. We shall never abandon it.

The territories that were seized by Mr Stalin in 1944 and 1945 represented about 5% of the pre-war Estonian territory. They can be handled differently without losing the legal quality of the peace treaty. We would have preferred another solution. It is a reality, however, that the borders in post-war Europe have been changed considerably. Finland, for example, lost its best territory in southern Finland. I refer to the historic winter war. Poland lost a considerable part of its eastern territory. I shall not go further.

The borders of Europe have been adopted and they are regarded as borders forever. They can, however, be changed at the conference table, but not otherwise. The fact that there were other borders before the second world war is not a sufficient argument for discussions at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, for example.

In broad terms, I have set out the principles that could be used to start real negotiations with the Russian Federation so that the border question is solved once and for ever. We cannot tolerate a situation in which a so-called border question will create more and more conflicts, which could in certain circumstances develop and become dangerous to stability in northern Europe.

Mr MUEHLEMANN (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, I can add to your reply by pointing out that it perhaps needs to be stressed here that there are still certain psychological tensions between the Russian Federation and yourselves. We only have to think of the border disputes and the question of the Russian minority. Can the Council of Europe – this is, after all, one of its tasks – contribute anything to help you reduce these tensions?

Mr Meri, President of Estonia (translation)

Yes, of course. I believe there is no real will on the Russian side to tackle these problems in an open and reasonable atmosphere. We are always prepared – and this is in our own interest – to solve them as quickly as possible. There is no lack of good will on the Estonian side. I should therefore be very pleased if the Council of Europe were to try to ensure that the discussions with the Russian Federation get under way as soon as possible. Thank you for your question, which was actually more than just a question.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Mr President, you even have the bravura to answer in several languages. We are most impressed!

Mr Meri, President of Estonia (translation)

It must be this blue chair – the blue of the Estonian flag!

Mr ZINGERIS (Lithuania)

Mr President, your speech impressed us. We were pleased to hear about your country’s success and its peaceful politics. My questions have already been answered and I have nothing now to ask you. Thank you very much.

Mr SOLE TURA (Spain)

First, Mr President, I thought of putting my question in Spanish, and more specifically in my mother language, Catalan. On reflection, I thought that that would be excessive.

As for the relationship with former members of the Soviet Union, and not only Russia, what is your view of the possible enlargement of Nato and, more specifically, the consequences of Estonia eventually joining it?

Mr Meri, President of Estonia

The day before yesterday Foreign Minister Kozyrev spoke in detail about the expansion of Nato. He was critical of such an expansion but I must stress that he used a new form of wording. He said that he was against a hasty expansion of Nato. That puts the matter in an entirely different light. We should explore what could be understood by Mr Kozyrev’s phrase “hasty expansion of Nato”.

If we are to improve relations with any neighbour, we must be honest and frank with that neighbour. We must be honest and frank with the Russian Federation and tell it that we have joined a partnership for peace and that we are not interested in staging manoeuvres on the Baltic Sea.

We have joined this international Organisation because we see in our partnership the first step to becoming a full member of Nato. I said during my short presentation why we are interested in joining Nato, which represents the common values that we share. It is not enough, however, in this harsh world to share common values. We have responsibility towards those values, and we would like to share the responsibility of protecting those values. We have been able to do that through the fifty difficult years of Soviet occupation. We must also do it during the next two or three decades when Russia will have a difficult period of adjusting to democratic and European ways of behaviour.

Mr GÜL (Turkey) (interpretation)

said that when Estonia was moving towards its independence Russia had sent the Red Army into the country to stop this. Indeed, one army commander, Dudayev, who had been sent into Estonia, had then been transferred to Chechnya; since then it had started its own move to independence. He asked how the Council of Europe could help them.

Mr Meri, President of Estonia

I have little to add to the decision taken by this august Council regarding the deplorable war against Chechnya. It is a small nation but a grand general is involved. Mr Dudayev spent some considerable time in our university town of Tartu as the commander-in-chief of a major Soviet base for strategic bombers. He took a great interest in the democratisation process in Estonia, and he was able to give the command that his airfield would not be used to deploy Soviet forces against Estonians. He helped us through the process of democratisation without any bloodshed and he will always have our deepest gratitude.

Perhaps it might interest the Council to know that recently a team of Estonian film makers returned from Chechnya, and I expect to see their interesting documentary which was filmed behind the front lines of both the forces of the Russian Federation and the forces of the Republic of Chechnya. I expect that that unique documentary will be ready in the first days of May.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

That brings us to the end of the questions.

Mr President, you answered the questions with great clarity and insight, which I must say, knowing you as we do, was only to be expected. This morning has been a special day for Estonia, the Council of Europe and our Parliamentary Assembly! I thank you with all my heart!