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President of the Republic to the newspaper Helsinkin Sanomat on November 19, 2001

Estonia's new President concerned about environmental problems

Arnold Rüütel grants interview to Helsingin Sanomat on eve of visit to Finland

Estonia's newly-elected President, Arnold Rüütel, 73, is to make his first official visit abroad to Finland. The two-day visit begins on Tuesday. President Rüütel sees this as something of a tradition; when Estonia's independence was restored in 1991, the President of Finland was the first foreign leader to pay a state visit.

"There is nothing in relations between Finland and Estonia that could be called a problem, but there are questions that we need to develop further", said Rüütel in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat.

He noted that issues involving the environment affect both countries.

"The industry of northeastern Estonia, and especially its district heating plants, pollute the air, and the pollution spreads to Finland as well. We will do our best to solve the problem, and much has been achieved through modern technology - thanks also to direct aid and financing from Finland."

President Rüütel also notes that Finns have established the largest number of businesses in Estonia, although Sweden are ahead of Finland in total investments.

Rüütel sees this as a positive development. "The Finns can show us by example that small companies also need development - not just big industries."

He also feels that Estonia has much to learn from Finland.

"In spite of its extensive and geographically diverse territory Finland has managed to develop its economy and social sector as a whole, in an even manner. We have not been as successful."

Rüütel has a high approval rating among Estonians: a recent poll shows that Estonians have the greatest confidence in Rüütel, the Estonian Frontier Guard, and the Church. The Parliament and the Government get the lowest points.

President Rüütel shrugs off the statement made by his predecessor Lennart Meri before the elections, which was seen as a veiled recommendation not to vote for Rüütel. He shrugs this off, saying that it is normal politics.

He also says that he is on good speaking terms with former President Meri.

Asked how he feels about those who refer to him as a "former communist", Rüütel notes that communism never existed in the Soviet Union - even though there was a party by that name.

"The concept of communism has never been close to my philosophy or my views of society."

He says that he would have nothing against it if Estonia's Parliament were to declare the Communist Party a criminal organisation. He points out that Stalinism was declared a crime already in 1988.

Looking at the history of the Socialist block, Rüütel says that the events in Poland were the beginning of the end of the Warsaw Pact, and that the events in the Baltic Republics were the beginning of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. "Of these countries, Estonia was the first to say what it had to say."

"Both the peoples and the leaders of these countries were involved. I was the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Estonia. Society had split in two, and I was completely on one side - on the side of the people and the new civic movements."

"The goal was to restore independence by degrees and through the parliamentary process. It was successful.

It was the hardest time in Rüütel's life. It all started in November 1988, when the Estonians made their first declaration of autonomy.

And what was the best time in Rüütel's life?

"Without a doubt, it was that same period, the restoration of Estonia's independence, and when we were accepted as full members of the United Nations."

In his memoirs, former Finnish President Mauno Koivisto criticises Rüütel, saying that he did not know how to give satisfactory answers. He also said that the Estonians had "ideas that were alien to reality".

"I have read Koivisto's writings. We often met, whenever I travelled to other countries by way of Helsinki, or back. We had serious discussions about many issues. It can be that we did not agree on everything - our independence for instance.

Estonia's new President concerned about environmental problems

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