Toomas Sildam: Once again we have to apologize for Mart Helme's words ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

ERR senior political journalist Toomas Sildam.
ERR senior political journalist Toomas Sildam. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The new Finnish government is making Estonian interior minister Mart Helme's hair stand on end because, in his words, "a cashier has become prime minister," ERR's Toomas Sildam writes, adding that in actual fact it is Estonian diplomats' hairs currently standing on end as they have to clarify Helme's words, so clearly insulting to a friendly neighbor.

The performance of Helme on the small TRE Raadio show should not be overlooked even if it were merely an insight into Estonian society by the EKRE chair, Sildam writes, noting that in mid-October, finance minister Martin Helme, also of EKRE, explained to associates in London that his party controls the agenda in a classic way: Provoking, escalating, improvising.

This means that creating scandals has the purpose of broadening the boundaries of political debate, Sildam writes.

However, if the Estonian interior minister insults the Finnish government, this is no longer a question of EKRE supporters versus detractors. It now becomes a question of Estonian-Finnish relations, as their author of the comments is an Estonian government member whose words are traversing the borders of their country of origin.

This is what happened on Sunday. On TRE Raadio talk show Räägime asjast, interior minister Helme criticized and belittled the new Finnish leader, 34-year-old Social Democrat Sanna Marin.

This excerpt is from the 40-45 minute mark (Mart and Martin Helme are regular guests on the show; TRE Raadio is owned by EKRE MP Siim Pohlak-ed.): "Something as unreasonable as what is happening in Finland right now has probably not happened there for centuries," says the Minister of the Interior, adding that a saleswoman has become prime minister and some other street activists and uneducated people have also become members of the government.

The Estonian Minister of the Interior goes on to evoke the Finnish Civil War of 1918 and thought that we can now see the historical revenge of the Reds on the whites, that is, the Reds, who already wanted to liquidate the Finnish state, creating a sort of Euro-province, which may be called either Suomi or Finland , but which is in effect completely dragging away at the end of this so-called Fukuyama history of ideological philosophy ...

Eh? The Minister of the Interior could fear that the "tiny" Finnish prime minister could reach from Helsinki to Tallinn. Such an assumption is perhaps more a complicated over-thinking of simple things, more likely.

But now let's try one simple thought exercise. After all, we do not imagine the Finnish Minister of the Interior, Maria Ohisalo, the leader of the Green League (Vihreä liitto), , to wonder on a radio program how the owner of a car wash has become the Prime Minister of Estonia. 

That is, in 1999-2006, Jüri Ratas was affiliated with the private limited company Värviline, which operated three car washes.

It is also unthinkable that Minister of the Interior Ohisalo would wonder how a bus driver could become a member of the Estonian government. 

However, Mart Järvik, who was deprived of his post as Minister of Rural Affairs after losing the Prime Minister's confidence, worked as a bus driver at the Pärnu Bus and Taxi rank from 1979 to 1989.

No Finnish minister would ever say something like this about their Estonian colleagues on any radio program. It's just not the done thing. The word is free, but as writer Mihkel Mutt recently pointed out on the same opinion platform (i.e. ERR-ed.), it is extremely important in this world who speaks openly. "Where to say what and to whom?" was the title of his opinion story (link in Estonian).

Speaking of across-the-water sayings, do you remember when Finland's previous president, Tarja Halonen, some time after the April 2007 [bronze soldier night] riots, thought that Estonia would be post-traumatic towards Russia? There was a lot of resentment about that on this side of the gulf, and it lasted a long time.

A few days ago, Jüri Ratas presented a beautiful bouquet of white and blue flowers, the Finnish flag's colors, to the new Finnish Head of Government, Sanna Marin, during a Brussels European Council meeting. Sanna Marin was delighted because Estonia and Finland have really been close.

Oddly enough, Minister of the Interior Helme himself confirmed this a month ago, when he told Finnish journalists how, alongside NATO, Estonia needed a Plan B, which means military cooperation with Latvia and Lithuania. 

When asked if Finland should be a part of this mysterious plan, Mart Helme's answer was clear: "Finland is always there. Because when something concerns Estonia, it also concerns Finland."

Now, in insulting the Finnish government, he gave the impression that Estonia no longer needed the support, understanding and cooperation of Finland. This is absolutely not the case. Estonia needs all of that, and Finland needs the same. Nobody can have too many friends and allies.

What happens next? EKRE's vice president, Martin Helme, has explained that the party learned from the beginning - they "never apologize for anything, not for anything".

If so, Mart Helme will apologize for the Finnish words via others. Once again.

It is likely that the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are already writing discussion points that when it comes to responding to the Finns, and probably it will read:... Estonian-Finnish relations are close and run deep, Finland is an important and close partner to Estonia, Estonia hopes for a good and smooth cooperation etc. 

All these mandatory words, as always in such cases. In response, we might see an understanding nod and maybe even a comforting smile. But the distrust over what type of government you have in Estonia has already been set.

The original Toomas Sildam opinion piece (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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