In his response to a public letter by the Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) about government-funded culture weekly Sirp, which had run a piece critical of Estonian nationalism, Minister of Culture Indrek Saar (SDE) suggested the action demanded by EKRE would undermine democracy and freedom of speech.
The article EKRE objects to is an opinion piece by writer Mikk Pärnits. In it, Pärnits condemned efforts made by politicians as well as others to cultivate what is generally referred to as eestlus, an umbrella term recently popularized that loosely covers what different people understand to be part of Estonian culture in a broad variety of contexts.
Titled “Concise Overview of Estonia as an Apartheid State”, the article didn’t hold back, aiming for some of the most sensitive areas of Estonian self-conception, among other things calling for a Song Festival detached from its usual patriotic context.
In its open letter, EKRE condemned the fact that the state funded a publication that allowed criticism of Estonia and Estonians to this extent. In a later statement on Friday, the party’s chairman, Mart Helme, said that the attitude in the article undermined the “psychological defenses” of Estonia.
Members of EKRE’s parliamentary group asked Saar in the letter what his opinion was about Sirp advocating views “hostile towards the state”.
Saar answered that in its criticism, EKRE demanded nothing short of censorship, and an end to free speech. Responding to EKRE’s question, Saar suggested they do the same—“Make use of all of the rights of a democratic and free country, ranging from declarations of opposition to arranging meetings, to express your displeasure [of the article].”
“A poem was published in the magazine Looming in 1981, with the first letters of every line spelling out ‘Blue Black White’ when read from top to bottom. The author of the poem was expelled from university, and the magazine’s editor-in-chief was also punished. Would you really want to reinstate Soviet censorship and state control?”, Saar asked in his response.
The minister added that he personally didn’t agree with a whole number of opinions expressed by Pärnits, as the author’s tone indicated that he was out to provoke rather than to explain himself.
“A theater review was also recently published in an issue of Sirp where I judged the performance of an actor differently than the critics—they considered it an organic continuation of what had been before, while I thought it was a completely new level. While we differed in opinion, I protect the right of those authors to have a different opinion than I do. This is democracy,” Saar, who is originally himself an actor, said.
“I will explain the term of democracy by using your party as an example. At present, you are concerned about Estonian culture—only recently the chairman of your party said that the Estonian culture of the past 25 years was completely pointless, and that achievements have been modest to say the least. Your party has the right to both of these opinions, as we live in a democratic society,” the minister said.
Saar added that there were legal and moral lines that must not be crossed. “By legal lines I mean criminal acts, by moral lines I mean the lines that once crossed will mean the persecution of someone. A free country must be able to ensure an environment where nobody is persecuted,” he said.
Editor: Dario Cavegn