Estonian OSCE Observer Mired in Controversy   ({{commentsTotal}})

Retired colonel and OSCE observer Tõnis Asson, who was detained in Ukraine for a month and recently released, has caused controversy with his statement of his experience, with one minister attributing the Stockholm syndrome to him.  

Asson was detained by separatists in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine about a month ago and returned to Estonia on Saturday after he and his three OSCE colleagues were released.

He told journalists on Saturday that the media is too eager to brand people as separatists and said the people who detained him and his colleagues could be described as activists or resistance fighters. He also stressed that as observers, they are obligated to listen to all sides and called on looking at the substance of issues before branding.

In a post on his social media account, the Minister of Finance Jürgen Ligi said that Asson is suffering from Stockholm syndrome, and criticized him for showing excessive leniency towards his captors. Ligi added that Asson was a prisoner and no longer an objective observer in eastern Ukraine, and the fact that he was treated well does not mean a crime was not committed.

In response, an editorial in the daily Eesti Päevaleht on Monday echoed Asson’s view that the right and wrong side are not fixed concepts and tragic events can inspire sympathy for both sides. The editorial also stressed that the objective assessment of observers like Asson is needed after hostilities end.

Today, reserve captain Rene Toomse also spoke out in Asson’s defense in an opinion piece. According to him, objectivity is essential for a military official and the dilemma “terrorist or freedom fighter” is nothing novel. Effective strategy can only be composed after getting inside the head of the opposing side and understanding their motivations without getting emotional about it and Asson has acted as a military professional by giving his objective assessment, Toomse said. He also criticized Ligi for implying that Asson should only make statements that suit the current political line.

It isn't the first time this happened in Estonia - after their release in 2011, Estonian cyclists held hostage in Lebanon and Syria dismayed many by making statements about their captors that were seen as morally relativistic.

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