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Last Updated: Monday, 5 September 2005, 08:05 GMT 09:05 UK
Costly love in modern Estonia
By Barbara Arvanitidis
Producer/Director, World Weddings: The Second Wife

Andrus and Siiri
Andrus and Siiri pin all their hopes on the competition

Andrus and Siiri are very much in love. They met four years ago and now live together in his parents' tiny two-bedroom flat.

They are desperate to get married but like many in the Baltic Republic of Estonia, they are short of money.

So when a local radio station launched a competition promising the winner the wedding of their dreams, they jumped at the chance.

The problem is the competition is fierce - over 100 couples across Estonia applied - just 12 were chosen to compete in two events for the prize worth more than twice the average Estonian salary.

The competition is judged by a panel of young Estonians, half of whom work for the radio station, Radio Uuno, and the other for a company that organises parties.

Their criteria are different but most agree that they want to find an "ideal" couple who are in love and who will stand the test of time.

But the two competitions spread over two different weekends don't necessarily bring out these ideals.

The first event takes place in a nightclub where contestants are asked to dress as their favourite Soviet cartoon.

It's retro night and the couples need to grab the judges' attention by dancing and showing that they are "in love".

The other event a week later is a fashion show where their talents are tested to the limit.

Modern Estonians

Like Andrus and Siiri, Mario and Marika are also competing.

Marika and Mario
Marika and Mario see a bright future in a European Estonia

They are the new face of modern Estonia. Ambitious and beautiful, Mario and Marika are internet high-flyers living in a flat they bought in an up-and-coming area in the capital Tallinn. Mario also drives a BMW.

Marika, who works as a human resources manager, sees a bright future for one of the newest members of the European Union: "I think Estonians have good prospects to find a job and make a career."

But the couple's perception of modern life is very different to that of Andrus and Siiri.

Andrus is a local police officer and Siiri works in a women's prison.

In spite of Estonia's huge growth in the past few years the country remains one of the poorest in the newly expanded EU.

Andrus and Siiri live on a combined salary of less than 500 ($919) a month and winning the competition is their only hope of getting married any time soon.

"How did I know I was in love?" asks Andrus.

"I think it was when I started thinking about her every day."

Siiri agrees: "It was about thinking about him and my heart was saying this is the right person."

Uncertainty

Estonia is a country still emerging from its past. In Tallinn there are a number of swanky shops, bars and internet cafes that would rival any in London.

But for those who live in the countryside like Siiri's parents, who are dairy farmers, not everything is better.

Siiri's stepfather says that during communist times life was harder, but at least you were guaranteed a regular paycheck with the same amount every month.

He says: "The ones who worked on an agricultural co-operative did their eight-hour shift and there was more free time. But now we do as much as we can. There is no end. There is more work."

Andrus and Siiri can't afford to marry unless they win the competition.

They pin all their hopes on the events but as the competition progresses, they increasingly become worried that their chances are diminishing.

Are the judges' criteria more about how much they truly love each other or whether their image is glossy enough?


World Weddings: Baltic Brides was broadcast in the UK on BBC Two at 2200 BST on Tuesday, 6 September, 2005.




SEE ALSO:
Timeline: Estonia
28 Jun 05 |  Country profiles
World Weddings 2004
07 May 04 |  This World
Read your coments: Baltic Brides
16 Aug 05 |  This World


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