What the papers say: Breaking up and getting together again

Estonian Newspapers (photo is illustrative). The uppermost paper, Eesti Päevaleht, does not actually appear in today's what the papers say.
Estonian Newspapers (photo is illustrative). The uppermost paper, Eesti Päevaleht, does not actually appear in today's what the papers say. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Fallout from the breakup of Tartu city government's ruling coalition earlier in the week, somewhat of the reverse process potentially happening between the Center Party and EKRE at the national level, and an update on how Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja have been getting on at Hyundai ahead of the new WRC season starting Thursday, vied for attention in Estonia's dailies, weeklies and portals on Wednesday, January 22. All links in Estonian unless otherwise noted.

The Reform-Center Tartu coalition "sausage"

The recent political storm in Tartu, which saw the breakup of the Reform-Center coalition in Estonia's second city on Monday evening, calls to mind the aphorism of Otto von Bismarck, in that it was like a sausage – better when you can't see how it is made (Bismarck was talking about the law-ed.), according to an editorial in daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL); indeed the outcome, which sees Center out of office as Reform go off to try to forge a deal with the Social Democrats, was the worst one possible for the party.

Tartu's Center Party leader Jaan Toots behaved almost like a mafia boss in his attempts to control the council chamber and isolation of deputy mayor Monica Rand, expelled from the party earlier in the month for supposedly damaging its image, but with no concrete demonstration of what Rand had done wrong – and this bodes ill for politics at a national level too, since Center is in office, the piece argues, noting that how a party organizes itself trumps any personal conflict.

The episode heightens a feeling that politics gets used for personal gain, with might is right prevailing, and undermining trust in democracy.

Center's credibility has taken a nose-dive too, the piece argues; how can its self-imploding (Reform has 20 seats on the Tartu chamber, Center 7-ed.) behavior, which even required the intervention of party leader and prime minister, Jüri Ratas, reflect well on the internal maturity of the party post-Savisaar, but one natural outcome is that it ended an anomalous situation where two parties generally at loggerheads, Reform – which is in opposition at the national level, and Center, were in an unholy alliance – making for a sausage which had no taste after blending it with the dough.

Polar opposites strengthen? Social affairs ministry and EKRE

Recent controversy over an equality campaign by the Ministry of Social Affairs seems to have had a unifying effect on the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and its supporters, ostensibly to the detriment of social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center). But is this really the case, an opinion piece in investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress inquires, or is it in fact skillful politicking on the part of both sides.

EKRE had seen fractures within its own support base and also with other bodies which would normally be most likely on the same side, the piece says, notably the Objektiiv portal run by Varro Vooglaid, who took a different view of the U.S. drone strikes, seeing them as a necessary action, from EKRE leader Mart Helme who called it poking one's nose into others business.

Earlier challenges to EKRE unity had included protests about perceived mismanagement of Estonia's forests by state forestry commission the RMK (which is under the environment ministry's aegis – the minister, Rene Kokk, is from EKRE) and criticisms of rhetoric directed towards Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin by Mart Helme.

The campaign's main message could be something of a straw man – as the piece argues the only people who themselves believe they are not human but instead an animal, Egyptian god etc. might be under minister Kiik's indirect care, via the mental hospital system, has not only had a unifying effect for EKRE and related persons, but could be Kiik playing his hand.

With the campaign, Kiik can pose as having his full liberal credentials intact, and yet strengthen Center's coalition partner, EKRE of course, at the same time, the article said.

Tänak: New season, new car, new driving style?

With the 2020 WRC championship about to kick off in Monte Carlo, reigning champion Ott Tänak not only has a new car, but also seems to be trying out a different style of driving, at least according to one observer of the pre-season test runs Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja have been doing with Hyundai.

"Tänak's line is very tight, he brakes late and doesn't let the car slide," Urmo Aava told online portal Delfi, comparing it with six-time world champion Sebastien Ogier, who effectively replaced Tänak at Toyota, who comes out of the slower bends with a wider line.

The style is reminiscent of former top Estonian rally star and Tänak mentor Markko Märtin, as well as veteran, multiple world champion Sebastien Loeb.

"The more powerful the car becomes, and the better the traction is when braking and accelerating in a straight line, the faster you need to get the car out of cornering energy and accelerate," Aava said.

Aava also felt that while the pressure on the Tänak and Järveoja has abated, since they were confirmed as world champions, they can still develop as drivers, alongside changing technology, noting that Tänak's new teammate and last year's runner-up, Belgian Thierry Neuville, may not have made things easy on himself by commenting that he thinks he has the edge on the Estonian.

Long-vacant Viljandi Manor to become hotel

Work on the renovation of ane of Estonia's manor houses ("Mõis" in Estonian), projected to cost around €3 million, began on Wednesday, according to regional daily Sakala, part of the Postimees Group, which will see the building, erected in the mid-19th century, become a hotel.

While many of Estonia's manor houses, once the preserve of the Baltic German gentry, are in rural locations, the two-storey (plus attic) Viljandi Mõis is in a built-up area in the South Estonian town of the same name, and has lain empty for years.

While extensive facade work will be needed, the paper said, the structural integrity of the building, which is under national protection a a heritage object, is sound, with one of the biggest challenges being converting a glass pavilion into a terrace; the hotel will boast 18 rooms plus conference rooms, lounges and similar.

Viljandi Mõis was owned by the von Ungern-Stenberg family from 1860 to 1934, when it passed into the hands of Estonia's first republic.

During the Soviet occupation, it was an NKVD (Soviet secret service and forerunner to the KGB-ed.) office, becoming an Estonian police office after restoration of independence, until 1998, when the police left; the building remained empty from then until it was acquired by Modify, a private investor.

Also in the news...

Daily Postimees analyzes an "unexpected" clash between the two largest media moguls in the land, Hans H. Luik, owner of Ekspress Meedia (Eesti Päevaleht, Eesti Ekspress, Maaleht, Delfi) and Margus Linnamäe, owner of Postimees Grupp (National and regional editions of Postimees, naturally, plus TV channel Kanal 2 and other concerns).

Estonian taxi hailing, food ordering and electric scooter (in the summer months) startup Bolt is entering new markets in Malta and Armenia, business daily Äripäev reports.

Daily Õhtuleht explains how, a week-and-a-half ahead of Brexit, while nothing bad is likely to happen to any regular Estonian citizen resident in the U.K., it is worth people ensuring they don't inadvertently become illegal residents. At press time U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Brexit withdrawal bill is at the House of Lords; one of the items being debated, and which the Lords may be able to block, is the requriement for EU citizens, including Estonians, to apply for residency rather than having it automatically conferred.

Volunteer-staffed anti-disinformation site Propastop (link in English) says the Russian embassy in Tallinn has published grossly inflated figures for the number of Estonian tourists who visited Crimea, annexed by the Russian federation from Ukraine in 2014, last year. The embassy says 3 percent of all tourists to visit the region in 2019 were from Estonia – which given the total figure quoted was a little under 7.5 million, would mean well over 200,000 Estonians went there last year, or nearly 1 in 6 people in the country.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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