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Thursday, April 8, 1999 Published at 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK


8 April 1999: A fresh start in Estonia

Julian Pettifer braves an Estonian blizzard to talk to local wardens about the dangers of logging

In this edition of Crossing Continents, Julian Pettifer reports from Estonia. A decade after the Soviet Union began to fall apart, the Baltic Republics are fast becoming fully-fledged market economies. Estonia has made the most progress, since leaving the USSR and becoming independent in 1991. It is now tipped to join the European Union sooner rather than later.


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But half a century of foreign occupation has left strained relations between Estonians and the thirty per cent of the population who are still ethnic Russians. Russian-speakers now complain of the obstacles to becoming full Estonian citizens. The government has imposed stiff citizenship tests, among them rigorous exams in the Estonian language, which bears no relation to Russian and is reputed to be one of the world's most difficult to learn.


[ image: Children from Russian-speaking families are being hosted by rural Estonian homes]
Children from Russian-speaking families are being hosted by rural Estonian homes
Now, though, comes a new initiative which is trying to encourage integration. Julian Pettifer visits a scheme which takes Russian children from deprived homes in the border town of Narva and places them for a year with better-off Estonian families in the countryside. The youngsters are given many opportunities, including becoming fluent in Estonian, but there are hard choices: will they want to go home afterwards? And how do their parents feel?


[ image: Estonia's brown bears may end up in enclosures like this]
Estonia's brown bears may end up in enclosures like this
Estonia has enjoyed an enviably smooth transition to the open market, and its economic growth figures are the envy of its neighbours. But here, as in so many other nations, economists and ecologists don't see eye to eye. As the economy opens up, there is heated debate about how far the forests which cover half the country should be exploited. They've been described as 'the soul of the nation', but are now being treated more as potential goldmines. Julian Pettifer talks to some forest wardens about the murky business of the logging trade, and its likely impact on Estonia's populations of brown bear and lynx.


Click to listen to the sound of Estonia's choirs
And we look at the country's tradition of choral singing. Not for nothing was end of Soviet rule here christened the 'Singing Revolution'. Estonia now has more choirs per head of population than any other country and it's a wildly popular activity in every age group. The choral tradition, which dates from primeval times, is as strong as ever in the 1990s - as a new generation of singers fills the air with Estonian sounds.


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