There is no doubt Edgar Savisaar has been the by far the most popular politician this century for Russian-language speaks living in Estonia. This has been confirmed over and over again by election results and all sorts of polls.
An Emor study in the fall showed that Savisaar would even win an ideal man competition in Estonia when judged by them. In the world category, he would only be beaten by a certain someone – Vladimir Putin. There is much emptiness after the two.
The recent congress showed that Edgar Savisaar's role as the head of the Center Party is no longer as certain as before. The ranks of his supporters are slowly, but consistently, melting. It is the right time to ask if, similar to Center Party internal processes, Savisaar's authority over Estonian Russians is decreasing – and more importantly – who will take over.
Because of the vast difference in the size of the language and culture spaces, in many fields, idols of Estonian Russians are to be found in the motherland. Take note, if we have dozens of various magazines published in Estonian, then in Russian there is only one womens' magazine. There is no point in publishing magazines in Russian in Estonia as the number of local famous musicians, actors, athletes, writers, businessmen and even politicians, who are front cover material, and who are important for local Russians, is minute. This fact also makes Russian-language television production complicated, even if finding these people and shining a light on them should be done.
Those politicians who, after a long distance, follow Savisaar in the Russian popularity rankings first stood out as officials connected to Tallinn city powers. Thousands of votes will be lost once the backing of Center Party's chairman has fallen flat and momentum has stopped. The examples of Olga Sõtnik and Deniss Boroditš back the trend, although Boroditš was lucky to, with great work, secure a Parliament place by the closest of margins, after switching to the squirrel party [Reform Party] and changing constituencies.
Considering all this, it is understandable that second and third best results for the Center Party from the last elections after Savisaar, Yana Toom and Mihhail Kõlvart, understanding their electorate, back him in party internal battles.
The situation is different in Ida Viru towns. Both Mihhail Stalnuhhin from Narva and Valeri Korb from Kohtla-Järve retained Parliament places, but waived a considerable amount of their votes to Yana Toom, who had been sent to Ida Viru County as a guest artist. This was a red flag for the careers of both men. This was also one reason why they, surprisingly, leaned towards Kadri Simson.
They have probably seen to it that superstar Toom would not remain in the position in Ida Viru towns for very long. Her stay in Brussels will make the task easier and the seldom explosive visits to Narva or Kohtla-Järve have failed to attract masses to the meetings.
Heads of Ida Viru towns will firmly hold onto power using their long worn-in systems of governing, but this does not mean they are hugely popular among the people. The personal vote count for mayors of Kohtla-Järve and Narva were modest at the last local elections. Success depends more on the masterful alienation of competitors than on personal authority and achievements.
The heads of local Ida Viru industries were until not too long ago the local leaders. Väino Viilup or Mati Jostov's influence was probably greater than that of local mayors. Even some quizzing champions would find it difficult to answer the question on who is currently the head of Estonia's largest mining company. In modern Estonia, CEOs of state companies no longer have to play the role of the all-powerful head, but these “captains of industry” should be more visible.
It is importance for the confidence of any society that the political leaders of various larger communities are situated in the same land, not behind the border. This is especially important at times of crisis, which sometimes happen even in the safest nations. That people would be more interested in what Estonian party leaders say, not some guy in the Kremlin.
The question is not that Savisaar, as the leader of Russians in Estonia, is irreplaceable, but what are Kadri Simson, Taavi Rõivas, Margus Tsahkna or Andres Herkel doing to promote and better acquaint themselves and the policies of their parties to this large group. Of all current top politician, Social Democrat leader Jevgeni Ossinovski has practiced this art of rope walking the most. It is not yet clear if attempts to take braver steps will make him more confident or end in him losing his balance and plummeting towards the safety net.
The ideal situation for the interest of the Estonian state would be a situation where no party or politician would dominate so strongly among Estonian Russians as the Center Party and Edgar Savisaar have done in the past 15 years, and support would be more equally divided, and based mostly on ideology. Then there would be more possibilities during the next coalition talks.
Erik Gamzejev is the editor in chief of Põhjarannik. The original piece aired on Vikerraadio in Estonian.
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Editor: J.M. Laats