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Linnar Viik -- Estonia's Mr Internet

20 April 2004, 04:15 CET


Estonia's Internet guru Linnar Viik helped his country hook up to new technologies after independence from the Soviet Union to become in 13 years the most technology savvy country set to join the European Union.

"One reason why the Internet was used early on in Estonia, was the government's urge to have additional and independent windows to the international media and public," Viik, 39, a media personality, former government adviser and lecturer, told AFP.

"It seemed then that had someone attacked us or violated our human rights, then more than NATO tanks or McDonald's investment Estonian independence would be better guaranteed by transparency and presence in the international media."

Viik is an example of the sort of "new Europeans" in the 10 countries set to join the European Union on May 1.

Estonia, the most westwards-looking of the three Baltic states during the 1941-1991 Soviet occupation due to its close relationship with Finland, restored independence just as the Internet was becoming known worldwide.

Viik, born in Tallinn, himself went to Finland to finish his studies at Helsinki University of Technology in 1990, the year before independence, at a time the neighbour was itself starting to specialise in technology.

Estonia's proximity helped it catch up with the world's rapid technological developments, and with Viik's help, became a pioneer.

Estonia's border guard was one of the first in the world to exchange information via the Internet.

"The reason was simple -- cynically speaking we did not have any money to buy anything more expensive," he said.

With the help of Viik's "revolution of elitists" the Internet then spread like wildfire to all sectors of society in the small country of 1.4 million, with hundreds of open Internet points being set up mostly in the countryside.

Under his Tiger Leap project all Estonian schools got computers and went online. He was also adviser for the Look @ World foundation under which within two years 102,697 people took part in free Internet courses.

Then in 2000 Viik helped Estonia become the first country in the world to adopt a system of e-governance, changing its cabinet meetings to paperless sessions using a web-based document system, with ministers able to take part from anywhere.

Viik says that pragmatic Estonians see education and information technology as a guarantee of their childrens' future, after a difficult history of occupation and oppression.

"You cannot rely on your land, house or your mills. My grandfather had 14 and these were taken away," Viik said, remembering his grandfather's own words.

Now he is raising his own two children and has further hit the headlines for exchanging a high-ranking position at TELE 2 telecommunications company for paternity leave, staying at home with his child.

From time to time he enters the government building on the heights of Tallinn's medieval Old Town with a baby in his arms.

He says Estonia's membership signifies a reunion for him in more ways than one.

"Personally, the European Union signifies a reunion for me, as my wife is Swedish and now there is no question why I have Swedish citizens living with me and there are no questions when I go to Sweden," Viik said.

Within a month, Estonia will have joined two international organisations -- the EU and NATO -- proof that it has been successful on the "Highway of our Dreams" -- the title of Viik's former TV show.

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