Uzbekistan RPCV Tom Bissell writes: Rolling Estonia
The paths available to nations coping with the grim and often sanguinary legacies of communism are few. There is the Russian way: Retain, defend, and celebrate the most singularly awful aspects of communist rule. There is the Uzbek way: Swap the name of the Uzbek communist party for the People's Democratic Party of Uzbekistan; carry on forthwith. There is the Vietnamese way: Preserve communism's ceremonial, revered-elders overlay; disown most of the economic advice. And there is the Chinese way: Change everything, admit nothing. In light of all this, it is sadly difficult to imagine a post-communist nation achieving governmental transparency, an uncorrupted economy, and lives for its citizens untouched by the tentacles of a busy secret police force.
"Estonians would kill me for saying this," Hillar Lauri, a Canadian-born ethnic Estonian who relocated to Tallinn in 1991, told me, "but it is essential to the Estonian psyche to say that we are not Russian. And this country is about proving that Estonia is not Russia. How do you prove it? By working harder, by reforming, by changing." Near-Shoring, Lauri's Tallinn-based company, does accounting for non-Estonian businesses operating in Estonia. His work, combined with his Canadian upbringing, gives him a panoramic view of both how far Estonia has come and how much further it needs to go. "Any area that is state-regulated," he went on, "is corrupt. Hospitals and health care are terribly unreformed areas. ... But it takes time. There are a thousand Soviet mindsets that linger."
"Estonia was an independent republic between the two world wars," Andrus Viirg, the director for Foreign Investments and Trade Promotion for Enterprise Estonia, explained to me. "This mentality has helped us because of the existing memory of a market economy and democracy. The cultural closeness to Finland also helped. We were able to watch Finnish TV. No territory under the Soviet Union had this opportunity. After regaining our independence, it was very easy for the government to proceed with Western ideas."
Author Tom Bissell served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan. Read more by Tom Bissell.