Former chairman of the Social Democratic Party Jevgeni Ossinovski gave an interview to Müürileht (link in Estonian) where he admits that the simple working man is disappointed in social democracy. Ossinovski suggests social democrats should make climate their new focus.
"To simplify a little, we could say that the classic core of social democracy – that is not the urban intelligentsia and Telliskivi hipsters but simple working people – has become disenchanted with it. Social democrats have traditionally offered social transformation at the expense of the elite and in the interests of the majority: democratization of ownership, human rights, universal medical insurance, free education… Now that these things have been achieved, at least in Europe, social democrats have been fighting defensive battles trying to protect these important values rather than offering new and inspiring ideas. However, people who expect more attention from their country are not satisfied simply being told to imagine how much worse things could be! They want a stronger, more direct, even revolutionary force. And the social democrats have not given them that," Ossinovski finds.
He says that a lot of people support the populist right today simply to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the political system, while most do it in hopes that policy will start catering more to their interests.
"These are people who due to feeling they have been deprived of something – and not in the material sense but mainly regarding social status – are very critical of the powers that be. It is easy to blame the rulers, because it's a liberating sensation when you can rail against politicians because life is bad. EKRE has picked up those votes and it will be interesting to watch them try to hold on to them."
Ossinovski recalls how Res Publica peaked a year after it made the government, which is why it's too early to say how long EKRE can retain support.
"Another problem with this voter group is that it is largely made up of people who will never admit to needing help or a stronger safety net. I believe the populists were the first to realize it is primarily a question of status. The social democrats are used to a rational approach. For example, we looked at statistics where we saw poverty among families with many children and came up with a child benefits package. Child poverty was cut threefold, a major social problem was alleviated. The voter thanked us and took away a third of our votes!"
Ossinovski said he believes the social democrats should nevertheless not give up the role of defender of fundamental values of a liberal, democratic society, even though there are those in the party who feel that because protecting freedoms did not bring success at recent elections, it should be dropped. As far as new topics are concerned, Ossinovski suggests the social democrats should pay more attention to climate.
"It is yet another paradox in Estonia and the world that the populist right usually gets the votes of people who will be the most affected by climate change while being climate deniers themselves pretty much everywhere," Ossinovski says.
Editor: Marcus Turovski