Laissez-faire man with an Estonian accent

The Baltic Times
Yury Sogis, TALLINN
March 13, 2008

Former Prime Minister Mart Laar was awarded the Jacques Turgot Institute Liberty Award in recognition of his stewardship of radical and successful economic reforms in Estonia during his two terms as prime minister The Jacques Turgot Institute commemorates statesmen who successfully put free market theories to practical use.

Laar received the award in recognition of the fact that his brillant reforms carried out in Estonia in then 1990″s and early 2000″s have brought prosperity to Estonia. His policy”s have become a model to countries struggling to change from rigid state-run economies to flexible, free market models with limited government intervention.

“I have been privileged to show the best of Estonian experience to other countries,” Mart Laar said.

He singled out Georgia, where he serves as the economic advisor to President Mikhail Saakashvili, for praise.

“Over the last several years, fast economic development of Georgia strongly supports our conviction that openness and decisive reforms bring success to nations even a long distance away from Estonia both geographically and culturally,” said Laar.

Laar is probably Estonia”s most famous statesman. He held the office during turbulent times for Estonia, in 1992-94 after the country gained its independnce, and then again in 1999-2002 after the collapse of Russia”s financial markets.

Before entering politics, he worked as a history teacher in Tallinn and was president of the Historians Council at the Estonia Heritage Foundation, as well as president of the Estonian Students” Society.

He is also an author one of his books is ” War in the Woods: Estonia”s Struggle for Survival, 1944-1956,” a collection of essays exploring the underground independence struggle in Estonia under the Soviet regime which is the definitive work on the forest brothers “metsavannad.”

After he became prime ministe for the first time on Oct. 21, 1992, Laar transformed himself from bespectacled young intellectual with a bookish disposition to a patrician figure.

One of the most controversial things he did was to sell in 1994 billions of ruble banknotes collected during the Estonian monetary reform of 1992 to cash-deprived Chechnya instead of delivering the cash to the Russian Federation.

He was removed from office by a vote of no-confidence in 1994, but he bounced back to head the government in 1999. This time his main policy goal was to pull the Estonian economy out of a slump and lead the country toward EU membership.

Under his leadership, Estonia became the first nation to introduce the flat tax, a feat that U.S. President George W. Bush acknowledged during his visit in November 2006.

Laar stepped down from office in 2002 after three years of tough yet timely economic reforms in Estonia that paved the way for this Baltic nation”s acceptance to the European Union on May 1, 2004.

In 2006, Laar received the Milton Friedman Prize from the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. to individuals who have made considerable contribution to advancing human liberties around the globe.

The Jacque Turgot Instuitute is named after the 18th Century French Minister of Finance and economist who laid the foundation of modern economics particulary in theories of production and distribution, of capital, entrepreneurship, savings and interest, as well as to the fundamentals of value, exchange and price.