We are in danger of ending up with an emergency situation that does not serve its purpose and will not only be ridiculed but also ignored by the people. That will create in the powers that be the temptation for repressions that will have more far-reaching consequences than hundreds of COVID-19 cases, politician Rein Lang writes.
Emergency situation. The government is expected to take resolute action and it is.
I understand many of the decisions of Estonia's current government because I was in those shoes during the previous major crisis. I also know the mechanisms of decision-making.
Even though the government should only proceed from rational arguments, that is not always the case. People will be people and every group will have its scoundrels. Taking advantage of trouble is a part of human nature whether we want it to be or not. Besides, in the conditions of democracy, public opinion generates both good and stupid decisions.
The simple question of why
"America first!" Donald Trump said when elected president. Luckily, Juhan Parts' pre-election emphasis on Estonia's national interests did not fall on equally fertile soil in 2015.
Today, economic nationalism is the slogan shouted into the microphones of most European publications. It constitutes a threat for rationally minded Estonians, an opportunity of a lifetime for political populists and cynics and solace for fools.
Despite Steve Bannon's efforts, Republicans were handed a defeat at midterm elections in USA. Joe Biden's candidacy is forcing Trump to take action. But action how? A flight ban? From Europe? Why?
Modern public administration should observe the principle that the power meddling in the free actions of the people and the organizations they've created needs to be purposeful, justified and proportional. We are also obligated to uphold this principle by EU law that is constitutionally superior to Estonian laws.
Whenever the state meddles in people's lives, it is obligated to explain why. Every regulation begs the question of how it should be implemented. Every regulation also creates new problems. These need to be anticipated and managed.
The Soviet Union's bureaucratic and absurdly overregulated economy collapsed thanks to widespread use of the "act first, think second" mentality. Today, we are at risk of ending up with a situation that does not serve its purpose and will be ridiculed and ignored by people in everyday life. This will create in the powers that be the temptation to resort to repressions that will have more far-reaching consequences than hundreds of people taking ill.
Communication is hardly the extent of the problem. More successful communication of stupidity and malice to the people does nothing to change their nature. A good vaccine for this dynamic duo is the simple question – WHY?
Democracy prescribes that anyone CAN ask the rulers that question. However, the press is OBLIGATED to ask it. Of course, that is if the press wants to be the public's watchdog and not just a PR firm for the powers that be.
Let us ask the questions
I and many other people have developed a number of questions. WHY? Allow me to ask but a few.
The race to obstruct the free movement of people inside the European Union held between politicians is nothing short of impressive. Assurances that it will not affect the movement of goods are empty at best.
The EU economy has not only been pulled over, the handbrake has also been applied for good measure. Work organization that has developed over long years, cross-border use of specialists and scientists has been delivered a serious blow. As has the intertwined economy of Harju County in Estonia and Uusimaa in Finland. What about the Tirol region made up of parts of Austria and Italy and considered to be one of the wealthiest regions in the world next to Silicon Valley?
The World Health Organization (WHO) is still of the mind that travel restrictions between countries are of little effect in combating the spread of the virus, while they are perfectly capable of creating unforeseen social and economic consequences. The latter have now arrived and are growing worse every day. WHY has this been done?
I would very much like to know the extent of the effectiveness of closing the Estonian-Latvian border in terms of combating the virus. A road used by a few Estonians to go shopping in Ruhja now has roadblocks and guards – but what are they guarding?
The virus situation is very similar in the two countries. Police resources are stretched thin. The only thing to take solace in is the fact the Poles have been even more harebrained – instead of allowing people to take their own cars home through Poland, they managed to organize international mass unrest on the border, complete with brawling and spittle flying here and there. What a way to combat the virus!
The tired-looking Estonian foreign minister comes before us on TV to describe how he is personally working to ensure Estonians are allowed to come home. Perhaps it could be delegated to officials and the minister's efforts aimed at convincing his European colleagues to act in accordance with common rules and common sense. So as to avoid creating wounds that will not be quickly healed.
The European Union has not only put its foot in it but has dived in headfirst. The distrust created by the migration crisis from several years ago is manifesting in a rather garish way. Distrust and selfishness. The Italians feel abandoned, while Estonian media outlets blaming Italian volleyball players of infecting the country isn't exactly helping.
The brass of a ruling party throws another insult at the Finnish government on TRE Radio, instead of attempting to keep the Estonian-Finnish economic and social environment from falling apart at all costs. The first thing that is required are open borders. A situation where a person in a contractual relationship can work in Tallinn and live in Rakvere but not in Helsinki will have unpredictable consequences.
The duke of Saaremaa wants "their" island isolated. The PM agrees, partially. WHY? The emergency situation reflecting the age-old misconception that it is somehow possible to have a thicker broth in one half of the cauldron?
Hundreds of companies have been hit. The government must help. There is no political opposition to this. The government unveiled the first concrete plans on Thursday. €2 billion. A lot of money. Including €250 million for rural areas. Why?
There is clearly demand in society for support to be made available, while I do not think the public wants to have no control over it. Hello, journalists?
Our constitution provides that Estonia is a parliamentary country, also in an emergency situation. Our freely elected parliament is responsible for making sure our assets and our freedoms are safe. More so in an emergency situation that gives the government additional powers. Why then is the Riigikogu taking cover from the virus by not working, while medics are expected to work harder? Why are the police closing their service bureaus that were luckily quickly opened again in somewhat dialed back form?
Why? Why? Why?
Let us ask these questions. Because it will help protect our way of life. The welfare state that our sensible decisions have given us. Freedom that is not to be taken for granted.
In the words of Lennart Meri, "Every agrimony leaf hides a little Stalin just waiting for their moment."
Rein Lang is a member of the [opposition] Reform Party. He has served as an MP and as justice minister, acting interior minister and cultural affairs minister in Andrus Ansip's governments in 2005-2013.
Editor: Marcus Turovski