The news this year has been heavy, so in keeping with the season, it’s time to take note of something brighter: Estonia.
Estonia, a Northern European country formerly occupied by the Soviet Union that regained its independence in 1991, has become a tech powerhouse in recent years. It is the home of Skype, its citizens have their own digital ID cards (which power its famous online voting system), it has a burgeoning startup scene, and it is the home of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence.
Estonian ID cards use open-source public key-private key encryption (upgraded in 2011 to 2048-bit), which allows government agencies to perform various secure functions online connected with a citizen’s identity. Functions include financial transactions, public transportation tickets, and student university admission records among other things.
While you should read the whole thing, it’s an article in Ars Technica, so of course it’s mostly focused on the cutting-edge-tech-civics at work here, but there’s a larger story: Estonia’s escape from the Soviet Union represented a real break with the Soviet past, and a leap into the innovative future that a free market offers. It’s a mindset that doesn’t just advance technology companies and innovations; it encourages new approaches to government, to business, to residency, to voting, to all of the acts of public life.
This is the future for which so many former Soviet Republics strive, even now: A world where the past is honored, but new frontiers are broken, where men voluntarily work together to make a better world for themselves and their neighbors. It’s a world that a reviving Russia hates, a world that the European Union’s older powers do not fully understand, and a world bordered by malice on one side and indifference on the other; but time and again, Estonia has shown that it’s a world worth having, and a world that can be had.
The test for 2015 and beyond is whether that world comes to be.
Image Copyright Wikimedia Commons