Retired Estonian Currency Celebrates 20th Birthday21 June 2012
The monetary reform committee chairman at the time, Enn Teimann, recalls that Estonians were so tired of the Soviet ruble that over 16 000 currency exchange employees worked for three days on a volunteer basis to distribute the new banknotes, which featured the likenesses of the nation's cultural figures.
"16 200 people worked the cash exchange points without cease from early morning to late at night. No one got paid for it. It was a very heartwarming picture," Teimann said on ETV.
Much as the Lithuanians had pushed the envelope where independence was concerned a few years before, the Estonians were on their own in pushing for introduction of the kroon. The International Monetary Fund and other sage Western organizations recommended waiting - perhaps the ruble would stabilize and allow economic growth to begin. But the Estonians were headstrong.
"It was in late January or early February when Siim Kallas came from a posting - I believe he had been negotiations for reclaiming interwar gold reserves from England - and said, there in the airplane: 'We have to have a hard currency. We have to make it so the rate is fixed, either to the gold standard or anything,'" said Teimann regarding Kallas, who would go on to be the first central bank governor and is now EU transport commissioner.
In the interim, shortages of cash had inspired all sorts of bright ideas. The city of Tartu tried to issue its own currency, which was to be printed on to the reverse sides of civil protection food vouchers. But the Bank of Estonia blocked this move. The scrip issue may eventually make it to the central bank's museum.
The initial idea was to carry out monetary reform in one day, but a test run was conducted and this timeframe proved illusory. The reform took place over three days - June 20-22, 1992. A total of just over 593 million kroons, pegged at eight to the German mark and later at 15.646 to the euro, entered circulation. Estonian residents could exchange up to 1 500 rubles at 10 to the kroon, and amounts exceeding that at a rate of 50 to the kroon. For comparison, the average wage in those days was the equivalent of 35 euros a month - a tiny fraction of what it is now.
As on August 20 of the previous year, when re-independence was declared, the public seemed united. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that the crime rate was down on the three days of the monetary exchange, ETV reported in a retrospective segment.
Estonian Public Broadcasting