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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 September, 2003, 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK
Estonia expects EU yes vote

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC correspondent in Tallinn

Campaign poster in Tallinn
The yes campaign is well ahead
Estonia is going to the polls on Sunday to decide whether or not to join the European Union.

EU membership has been the goal of successive governments in the former Soviet republic but the referendum has sparked a lively debate.

In the capital Tallinn almost every lamppost and billboard is plastered with the slogan of the yes camp: Vote for Europe and a brighter future.

And there are other more tantalising promises.

Students and activists from the governing Res Publica party spent Saturday handing out posters to shoppers at a city supermarket.

One picturing a chisel-jawed European calls on Estonians to vote yes "for access to millions of sexier men".

Nikolai Stelmach, advisor to Res Ruplica, believes the yes vote is guaranteed.

"Life will be better in the EU - it is the biggest opportunity for our country in 10 years," he says.

"Independence was the first step the next big decision is to be an active part of Europe."

'Bigger and stronger'

A last-minute march through old town Tallinn at the weekend drew a crowd of hundreds.

Megaphone activists spoke of free travel, freedom to work and security.

The yes message is reaching many in Estonia loud and clear.

Wilma, a student in the crowd, believes Estonia is too small to survive alone.

"If we're independent and alone, I think someone like Russia could attack us," she says. "When we're together in the EU we'll be bigger and stronger."

Estonia has been focusing on Europe for over a decade now. The media is largely pro-EU and the yes lobby has huge political and financial support.

But not everyone shares the vision of Europe as the dreamland of opportunity.

Farm fears

The small farmers of Lihula, 130km west of Tallinn, are staunch no voters.

Scene in Tallinn, Estonian capital
Some Estonians have mixed feelings about EU membership
Tii and Teria Madison have worked this land all their lives.

Now they say EU quotes are forcing farmers to slash production.

Teria says her friends are facing disaster.

"They are killing their animals, throwing away their milk - they've got nowhere to sell it, " she says. "This is the collapse of rural life in Estonia."

And it's not only the farmers who are worried. The elderly are anxious too.

Most of the crowd at an anti-EU rally on Saturday were pensioners.

The elderly fear EU accession will bring price rises and poverty.

And others, hardest hit by Estonia's first transition from Communism, fear they are about to suffer again.

Independence

Some of the younger generation also have concerns.

Estonia is an economic success story with a highly competitive and liberal econmy.

Some fears the tariffs and taxes of Europe can only drag Estonia backwards.

But most of all, voters like Mari are distressed that after just 12 years of freedom, Estonia should jump from one union to the next.

Her dismay is heightened by fresh concerns over the new EU constition.

"If we go, then we lose our independence - and that's the most valuable thing we have.

"We're not a rich nation, we don't have much, but we have that. And it's too much just to give it away."

A final concert to promote the referendum brought banners from both sides into central Tallinn.

But the latest polls point to a victory now for the yes vote - the no team are quietly admitting defeat.

Many people still have considerable concerns, but the majority are clearly convinced by the message that staying out of the EU would do Estonia more harm than good.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Christen Thomson
"Anything other than a postive result would be a major surprise"



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