TALLINN, Estonia — The Baltic state of Estonia on Saturday became the first former Soviet republic to ditch the once-mighty ruble and introduce its own national currency.
The Estonian government hopes the historic move will give Estonians a stronger sense of freedom. Estonia won its independence nine months ago after 50 years of Soviet rule.
In a holiday atmosphere, Estonians gathered at hundreds of distribution points throughout the country to trade in their crumpled, torn rubles for brand-new kroons, now the country's only legal tender.
"They're so beautiful. I have to buy a new purse. I don't want to crease them," one young woman said as she examined the notes, which are light green, yellow, red and blue.
Asked about how her life would be changed, another woman, 38-year-old Rita Laansalu, said with a grin: "I'll start counting my money. . . . My wallet will be much thinner."
Rampant inflation had eroded the value of the ruble in recent months, forcing people to carry huge wads of notes to make everyday purchases.
Waiting in line to get the new notes, 82-year-old Mart Tamm said that he remembered kroons in circulation before the Soviet takeover.
"I grew up with the old kroon, and I'm glad I can live the rest of my life with the kroon again," he said.
Other former Soviet republics, including Ukraine and Lithuania, are also preparing to introduce their own currencies.
The kroon is being pegged to the German mark at a rate of eight kroons to one mark (66 cents), with a margin of fluctuation of 3%.
Some Estonians stayed away from the early lines at exchange offices, preferring to wait for the rush to die down. "I'm not going to line up for hours. I'll get them all right tomorrow or the day after," said Heli Muhlberg, 33.
Others had prepared for the day by using rubles to stock up on goods.
"I've bought up several cases of champagne with my rubles," said barmaid Tiina Viira. "I will sell them again for kroons."