Interview with Tunne Kelam: We need a new push in Estonia (2)

Linas Jegelevičius, Vilnius
10/19/2015 4:24 PM
Category: Features

Linas Jegelevičius interviewed a long-serving Estonian statesman Tunne Kelam, one of the leading advocates for restoration of independence in Estonia in the 1980s, and later serving as Vice Speaker of Parliament. Kelam (IRL) was elected to the European Parliament in 2004.

At 79, he is still spry and sly, but it is hard to get rid of the feeling that Tunne Kelam, the patriarch of independent Estonia, now a MEP, looks down upon modern Estonian politics, calling it “quite boring”, and snubs the neatly-combed army of much younger colleagues at the European Parliament, where the year-shy octogenarian serves his third consecutive tenure. “I wouldn't like to be starting from scratch there now,” Kelam says.

What gets you going in the hyped-up European Parliament? Can old guns still fire?

I don’t feel much difference compared to how I feel now and, say, a dozen years ago. I am perhaps like my Lithuanian colleague – I guess you know whom I am talking about – Vytautas Landsbergis (former Lithuanian MEP), who marked his 80th birthday a few years ago in the European Parliament. So, you see, I have a good role model to follow. Age does not mean anything, trust me. Just a plain number, but behind it is a huge experience. Nevertheless, to make good use of it at the matured stage in life, one has to be in a good shape.

What are the secrets for your longevity?

It’s all about exercising, right mental attitude and proper nutrition. I’ve been vegetarian for over 40 years now – no meat whatsoever in my ration. Spending a lot of time in fresh air is very important to me, too.

Most of the Estonian Cabinet is under 40 years of age, quite a contrast to the middle-aged ministers of the Lithuanian Government. Why Estonians, unlike the neighbors, entrust young generation with power?

I don’t think it is about trust or mistrust in any generation – young or old. For me, it’s about trust in your leaders – note, elected by all in a democratic way. Before, we’d have middle-aged political leaders in Estonia, but they somehow got exhausted in power. Still, I believe it is a sheer coincidence that in Estonia’s ruling coalition we have comparatively young leaders.

By the way, the new leader of my party, Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, Margus Tsahkna, who is also Minister of Social Protection in the Cabinet, is also under 40. When he was introduced to Germany’s Angela Merkel at the European People's Party (EPP) congress and confessed to her that he is the youngest among the Coalition parties’ leaders, Merkel started laughing sincerely.

You have been mingling in the European Parliament since 2004. Haven’t you got bored there yet? What keeps you there?

I think I would have gotten terribly bored by now if I had stayed in the Estonian Parliament. The politics had been quite more exciting and unpredictable back in the early 1990s, when I first came to Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) in 1992. The time was marked with considerable political fights and intensity of the legislation.

I am very proud now of having been the first Estonian leader to represent the country in the European Council. But thereafter the politics became more tedious.

To answer your question, back in 2004, I was not very fond of running for a seat in the European Parliament. Getting to know everything there and grasp how the Parliament works has taken quite some time. I would not want to go all over it again. I sometimes feel for the guys who are just starting the work [in the European Parliament] from scratch. But with two full tenures and nearly two years from the current one under my belt, I can tell this: I am enjoying the work. The more time you spend there, the more influential you get. And when it comes to a small state like Estonia, the more connections and friends around the world you have, the more you can do for the country you represent.

I remember the year of 2007, when riots erupted in the Estonian capital, after the authorities' plan to remove a memorial for Soviet soldiers in Tallinn, emerged. I reacted swiftly in the European Parliament to the events, getting many parliamentarians to rally in support of Estonia. We were able to pass a resolution on solidarity with Estonia and they joined me in a demonstration in support of my country. These people simply trusted me. It meant a lot to me.

I have no doubt you are being quizzed and showered with praises over Estonia’s e-endeavors. But are you hearing any misconceptions about your country in Brussels?

I don’t really hear any misconceptions about Estonia, frankly. But the Baltic region, obviously, needs to be better known in the world. And, trust me, the European Parliament is the most efficient and ideal place for small countries like ours to introduce ourselves. Not only to 751 MEPs, but also to dozens of foreign delegations that visit the Parliament every day.

Do your counterparts in Brussels tend to see the Baltics as a single region or make any difference among the three countries?

I’d say that, for the most, the Baltics makes a special region, one of a special category. Some from farther tend to add Sweden or Finland to it, too.

Without a doubt, you are a revered statesman in Estonia and many turn ear to what you say. Is there anything you don’t like about the Estonians politics? What ought to be changed?

[Pause] I think we need to be more innovative and more united nationally. Unfortunately, too much energy is being wasted for political bickering among different political parties. Estonia was very good and effective introducing e-governance ten years ago, but now we need a new push.

I don’t see, for example, Estonia’s long-term national strategy. It’s lacking. The pursuit of a wealthier country cannot be a national goal. I really want to see the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Estonia becoming islands of stability, certain role models in that striving. Also, that we would be able to mediate in a difficult situation talking about our common values, history and the roots of the European Union.

I’m surprised you want Estonia to be more innovative. You are from the first country in the world offering e-citizenship! What other boundaries do you see Estonia eclipsing?

Well, there’s always room for improvement, not necessarily in things of e-realm. I’m talking about the quality of our education. The debate how it should look like is going on, but no results are seen yet. Perhaps not so much innovative as efficient we have to be with our administrative reform. Too many local governments of different size create a big obstacle for progress. Because of the Estonian parties’ different takes on the issue, the delay has been inexcusably for too long now. To be precise, over 10 years now.

By the way, do you use e-mail, Facebook and Twitter?

I don’t use Twitter of the three.

What are the biggest dangers you believe the European Union is facing?

The biggest dangers are lack of unity, lack of strategy and a very vague understanding of what European identity is. You could answer about it perhaps two hundred years ago, but not today. For me, the answer lies on the continuation of basic common values we share. Unfortunately, many people today are talking just about human rights as European values. But there’s much more beyond them. Like the value of solidarity, for example. But the problem of identity is essential.

Is there anything wrong with expanding human rights to some other groups of the society, like homosexuals, for example? Aren’t you proud that Estonia is the first republic of the former Soviet Union to legalize same-sex partnerships?

You cannot expect me to support same-sex partnerships. For me, it is an artificial problem. I am the traditionalist who believes that family is a union between woman and man with the goal to have and raise children, provide them home, education and many more. I am not though against same-sex couples living together, but I don’t think it makes sense to equal them to the hetero couples. However, there are many more serious problems than that.

Do you believe David Cameron-led UK will exit the European Union?

I don’t believe that UK will leave the European Union. I’ve listened to the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and he assured us all that the negotiations are in the process. Characteristically to him, he admitted he is not a very good ballroom dancer, but can keep up the tango rhythm with Cameron and that a special sort of agreement between the United Kingdom and European Union can be reached.

The issue of refugee crisis has gripped the European powers and Brussels, too. Do you imagine a migrant family resettling next to your house in Estonia?

I can imagine this, of course. But the Baltic states were dealing with different kinds of refugees just 25 years ago… The problem here is the size of our populations. How long will all the mess last? And where will we end up? There are no clear answers, unfortunately. All what is going on shows weakness of the European border security policies. The European Union would often abstain from solving the growing crisis in Syria. Because of the abstention, we are now in a position of good Samaritans, taking care of the hapless army of people. We are dealing now with the aftermath, but we haven’t yet addressed the roots of the crisis.

If you were the EU foreign policy chief, what would you do?

We need to have a long-term engagement in the Middle East. We need to establish the no-fly zones there, secure areas and make sure that the people, who had to move locally, stay within the country in secured regions and do not have to set out for Europe-bound journeys. The flow of refugees started when they realized that they, because of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime and Islamic State, do not have any perspectives at home any more. Much has been neglected by the US and European Union there.

Have you come across to supporters for Putin's actions in Syria in the European Parliament?

In fact, I have. Quite many of them, as a matter of fact. Every seventh member of the Parliament, both from the left and right, has turned out to be a sympathizer of what Putin is doing in Syria. So there is one hundred in total at least. On the whole, mister Putin is gambling dangerously. With the actions in Syria, he has turned away attention from Ukraine, and the Baltic states in a way, too. His long-term strategy is set to fail, but, at the meantime, he causes much confusion.

S. Tambur

The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}

Message forwarded to the editor

This Ip-address has limited access

See also

There are no comments yet. Be the first!

Reply to comment

+{{childComment.ReplyToName}}:
Reply to comment
Reply

Laadi juurde ({{take2}})
The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}
Add new comment
  • foto
    Gallery: Tartu students mark 97th anniversary of Estonian-language university
    01.12

    While the University of Tartu in its earliest form was established in 1632, Estonian did not become the official language of instruction until Dec. 1, 1919. Today, the anniversary of the Estonian-language university is celebrated annually with a number of traditional events, the most visible of which is a torchlight procession through town involving dozens of student organizations and hundreds of students and alumni.

  • foto
    Gallery: Tartu students mark 97th anniversary of Estonian-language university
    01.12

    While the University of Tartu in its earliest form was established in 1632, Estonian did not become the official language of instruction until Dec. 1, 1919. Today, the anniversary of the Estonian-language university is celebrated annually with a number of traditional events, the most visible of which is a torchlight procession through town involving dozens of student organizations and hundreds of students and alumni.

  • foto
    Supposed tourism farm turned country home: Ilves’ Ermamaa builds farm with EU support, never puts it to intended use
    21.10

    Former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ company received €190,392 in 2006 to turn the family’s country home of Ärma into a tourism farm. Then owned by his ex-wife, it negotiated new conditions in 2012: Even if the farm was never put to its intended use, the company would have to pay back just 10% of the grant.

  • foto
    Feature: Is Germany Estonia’s new benchmark?
    19.10

    With the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, Estonia will have to look for a new great partner in Europe. Some have indicated that it could be Germany — yet just at the time it could become more important to Estonia, Europe's economic powerhouse is facing events that may well lead to a much more Russia-friendly course, writes historian Jeroen Bult.

  • foto
    Experts: President Ilves put Estonia on the map
    10.10

    With president-elect Kersti Kaljulaid’s oath of office at 3:00 p.m. today Monday, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ remarkable decade as Estonia’s head of state will end. ETV’s “Aktuaalne Kaamera Nädal” weekly review asked social scientists and policy experts what would remain of Ilves’ presidency.

  • foto
    Interview with Junior Achievement mentor: On Estonia's student companies
    18.09

    In a written interview given to ERR News, veteran Junior Achievement student mentor Madis Vodja, a Tallinn native who was most recently mentor to Junior Achievement Estonia's 2016 winning student company Spoony, provided insight into what Junior Achievement is, what the program's mentors do, how Estonian student companies can compete for national and European titles as well as a bit of advice for aspiring student or small business-owners in Estonia.

  • foto
    Estonia's six Paralympians in Rio
    18.09

    The 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, which also mark the 15th Summer Paralympic Games and the first to be hosted in South America, are drawing to a close on Sunday night after over a week and a half of competition. Estonia was represented in Rio by a six-athlete team which headed to the Games with a number of titles and medals, including Paralympic gold, already under its collective belt.

  • foto
    Interview with Marina Kaljurand: On taxes, corruption, the justice system and refugee policy
    17.09

    Presidential hopeful Marina Kaljurand told ERR's online news portal in a written interview that she is a liberal in worldview, who supports lower taxes on employment and bigger investments in higher education, is in favor of the state borrowing only if absolutely necessary and with great caution, and does not consider Estonia's current refugee policy to be remotely shameful.

  • foto
    Estonia’s information society development from a privacy and data protection perspective
    16.09

    Today Estonia has the most technologically advanced government system the world has seen. Even though the small Baltic state yields a population of only 1.3 million, it is known for its e-government system that has everyone applying to be an e-resident of Estonia, even the Japanese Prime Minister.

  • foto
    Original Estonian flag delivered to new permanent home at national museum
    15.09

    Previously only removed from storage for public display on rare special occasions, the original blue, black and white Estonian flag, consecrated on June 4, 1884 as the flag of the Estonian Students' Society (EÜS), was ceremonially delivered to the new Estonian National Museum (ERM) building on Thursday, where it will be put on permanent display as part of an exhibit on the founding and formation of the Estonian identity and state.

  • foto
    Pealtnägija: Common-sense approach to offering specialized medical treatment could save millions
    15.09

    ETV’s investigative magazine “Pealtnägija” reported on Wednesday that while there is a gaping hole in the Health Insurance Fund’s finances, millions could be saved by avoiding that specialist medical procedures are performed more often than necessary.

  • foto
    Reflections of an “Esto”: Estonia in 1975 and 2016
    03.09

    Anne Sarapik, the New York City-born daughter of two war-era Estonian refugees and mother of four Estonian-American children born during the final years of Estonia’s occupation by the USSR, visited her family’s homeland this summer after a long absence, discovering a vastly different Estonia than she remembered from her first visit in 1975.

  • foto
    Margus Laidre: The utopia of peace and the flowers of evil
    22.08

    Do you believe that if you close your eyes, evil ceases to exist? Although terrorism and war scar our world, many believe that we are nevertheless living in the most peaceful time we’ve known. Historian and diplomat Margus Laidre demonstrates in his essay that this may prove to be a dangerous illusion.

  • foto
    Eight former prime ministers talk about Estonia’s 25 years of regained independence
    20.08

    A quarter of a century has passed since Estonia regained its independence. On the occasion, ERR interviewed all of the country’s eight former prime ministers: Edgar Savisaar, Tiit Vähi, Mart Laar, Andres Tarand, Mart Siiman, Siim Kallas, Juhan Parts, and Andrus Ansip.

  • foto
    From hobby brewer to brewmaster in Estonia's flourishing craft beer scene
    24.07

    Not yet even out of his late 20s, up-and-coming Estonian brewer Peeter Kolk made the jump from brewing for fun and for friends to making a serious go of contributing to the country’s ever more popular craft beer scene with the establishment of his own Kolk Brewery in Uuemõisa, just outside of the western coastal town of Haapsalu in Lääne County, in early 2016.

  • foto
    An old publication's new tricks: How an Estonian-American newspaper is compiled from Tallinn
    23.07

    Over half a century before the arrival of the Internet and social media, it was an Estonian-language newspaper published in Manhattan, the Vaba Eesti Sõna, or "Free Estonian Word," founded in 1949, which kept the Estonian-American diaspora connected and up to date on news from both home and the Soviet-occupied homeland. Nearly 70 years later, the paper's official editorial office remains located on the third floor of the New York Estonian House, but in modern e-Estonia style, editor-in-chief Kärt Ulman has been putting the weekly paper together from her home in Tallinn for three years.

  • foto
    ‘That Dutchman’: Why Peter Kentie’s brand proposal for Estonia should be taken very seriously
    17.07

    What Estonia has in common with the Dutch city of Eindhoven, why Kentie was the right man to create its new brand, and what will happen if those in charge aren’t kept from bungling it: Here is the long story of “Just estonishing”.

  • foto
    What can Western governments do to counteract radicalization?
    16.07

    You can’t kill a thought with a bullet. You can only defeat it with a stronger thought. As attacks continue, and the unrelenting effort and billions invested in the global war on terrorism haven’t brought results, the question arises what individual governments can do to curb the emergence of radical Islamism.

  • foto
    Interview: Pavlo Klimkin says Russia at war with both Ukraine and EU
    22.06

    What got Ukraine where it is today? Who is responsible for the mistakes of the past 25 years? What’s the oligarchs’ role in politics? ETV+ talked to Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin. Here is the full-length video interview in English.

  • foto
    Feature: The world's scariest dress rehearsal
    20.06

    On Sunday NATO member forces rehearsed for the final staged battle of the 2016 Sabre Strike exercise. The demonstration is to take place today in the Estonian Defence Forces' central training area close to Tapa in Lääne-Viru County. As artillery, anti-tank units, infantry, and air support unloaded their guns, Nicholas Marsh stood on "TV Hill" and watched in awe.

  • foto
    Trust your neighbor, pay less? The future of electricity production in Estonia
    18.06

    Historically, Estonia has exported electricity. The country’s policy to guarantee production capacity at 110% of its peak consumption as well as the remnants of its formerly state-run production system have made this possible. But the market and its conditions are changing.

  • foto
    Varnja: The people and potential on the shores of Lake Peipus
    12.06

    In a village of just 250 residents on the western, Estonian shore of the fifth-largest lake in Europe, known as Peipus ('Peipsi järv') in Estonian and Chudskoe in Russian, a mix of old blood and new — Russian-speakers and Estonians, Old Believers and newcomers — live and work side by side. Despite any differences, however, Varnja's residents have at least one thing in common: their belief in the village's potential.

  • foto
    Timmermans: EU needs to show it can deliver
    16.05

    First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans was a panelist at the 10th Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn that ended on Sunday. In an interview with ERR's Neeme Raud, he said that the EU needed to show that it was making progress, and to explain more, so people could see its value.

  • foto
    Young immigrants' dream to marry European girls harder and harder to realize
    10.05

    ”Marry a beautiful European girl. I'm planning to do that as well,” Mohammed, a 25-year-old asylum seeker, says to his closest friend as they are drinking tea in the restaurant of one of the hotels turned refugee reception centers in Athens.

  • foto
    May 9: Europe Day for some, Victory Day for others
    09.05

    While the European Union celebrates Europe Day on May 9, in Russia it is Victory Day. This collision of holidays affects Tallinn, where pro-Putin activists of the group Nochnoy Dozor have called for a march through the city center.

  • foto
    Estonia’s great private schools debate: to fund or not to fund
    05.04

    A recently submitted letter of appeal co-signed by 75 leading figures of Estonian academia, culture and society in support of the country’s private schools has sparked a fierce new round of debates regarding a stalled bill proposing an amendment to an unconstitutional law which would release local governments from being required to fund the operational costs of private schools.

  • foto
    Estonians host five-day cultural festival in the heart of Manhattan
    28.03

    The New York Estonian community recently hosted its annual Estonian Cultural Days in NYC (“Eesti Kultuuripäevad New Yorgis”), a multi-day affair with concerts, theater performances, lectures, and other events spanning five days from March 23-27 and featuring Estonians from both the local diaspora and abroad.

  • foto
    National Language Day celebrated by Estonian youth around the world
    14.03

    Despite differences in number of students, fluency, budget, distance, and other constraints, Estonian Schools as well as kindergartens, children’s hobby groups, and other youth organizations around the world have made a point to celebrate Estonia's national language, whether on National Language Day or all year round.

  • foto
    Small islands get €640,000 to develop priority services
    08.03

    Starting today, funds can be applied for that will support projects to improve services for the inhabitants of Estonia’s small islands. The program includes 13 islands and total funds amounting to €640,000.

  • foto
    Eri Klas' funeral service
    03.03

    Composer and musician Eri Klas' funeral service took place in Estonia Concert Hall on Wednesday. Anyone who wanted to attend was welcome.