The decision of the supervisory board of National Opera Estonia to try and protect director Aivar Mäe who was accused of sexual harassment this week rubbed the hosts of Raadio 2 talk show "Olukorrast riigis" the wrong way.
"The supervisory board's reaction was quite meek, at least at first – it was said Mäe is playful by nature and acts jovially sometimes and how it's normal. They later took a step back and said the matter would be looked into," Harry Tuul said.
He added new information suggests the employees' representative took the matter to the board but was allegedly sent back and told it is nothing that needs to be addressed. The concerns never reached the supervisory board.
"If a person is a pervert or acts like one, they cannot be in charge of an institution, let alone Estonia's most important theater. Descriptions published in Eesti Ekspress clearly suggest Aivar Mäe has behaved like a pervert. While this analysis should end here, we cannot do that because Mäe has not resigned and has instead allegedly hired a lawyer to sue Eesti Ekspress, as well as to try and understand why the Estonia supervisory board decided not to terminate Mäe's contract based on said descriptions and why they are keeping him on," co-host Andrus Karnau said.
Tuul said the management's behavior is a form of self-defense where people who have known each other for years consider this (harassment – ed.) as some sort of peculiarity.
"If they have failed to realize that the staff is worried – not worried, harassed and left feeling wretched as a result – it is something that needs to be addressed. It is clearly a management problem," Tuul said.
Karnau added Estonia supervisory board chair Arne Mikk has repeatedly demonstrated ignorance in terms of how journalism works, claiming the supervisory board has no reason to consider anonymous complaints. "The cases described by Eesti Ekspress are not anonymous. Ekspress knows who these people are, their identities are hidden for their own protection. These are confirmed sources. The information has been verified and saying we do not need to respond to anonymous complaints is either an attempt to lessen the problem or Arne Mikk being unfamiliar with what journalism is."
Tuul said while the supervisory board said the administration of justice is up to courts and the board cannot discuss anyone's guilt, this reflects a failure to understand it is not a matter of whether someone is guilty but of people's behavior and the values of the treater which should be reflected in the supervisory and management boards.
Karnau opined one of the reasons for the supervisory board's reaction was an inability to understand sexual harassment.
"Looking at the comments which followed the Eesti Ekspress article, the same arguments are repeated time and again – that the victims were to blame, that women have acted provocatively, that they lack a sense of humor, that sexual harassment does not matter to women, that it doesn't affect their mental or physical health or that they enjoy it when Aivar Mäe pinches their backside before a play or gropes new employees. It is characteristic of a society where sexual harassment is not seen, where it is considered not to exist and where it is simply considered a natural part of the communication between superiors and employees, men and women," Karnau found.
He also compared allegations against Mäe to the case of cross-country skier Andrus Veerpalu. "Aivar Mäe is a very influential person on the Estonian cultural scene. He has constructed concert halls, managed the Vanemuine Theater and is now in charge of National Opera Estonia – negative information about someone who has been a purely positive character up until that point is so incredible that we can understand if members of the supervisory board are reluctant to admit it. Let us recall how it took Estonian sports fans almost a decade to realize Veerpalu was not an honest athlete," he said.
Tuul also pointed out that many victims kept quiet for years for fear of losing their job at the national opera that is virtually the only institution where a person can pursue such a career in Estonia.
"On the other hand, it is a common practice in Estonia to brand people talking about problems as informers. We could clearly see such attempts – it was said the theater is our home and you don't talk about what goes on there with outsiders. People are told that they should not talk about problems," Tuul found.
Karnau brought in the case of Mother of the Year 2013 Malle Kobin who is accused of mistreating her foster children. "It was the same thing with that woman from Hiiumaa – teachers knew things were not right in that home, but it was said to be a domestic matter…"
He also highlighted the supervisory board's press conference where two of its female members were also present – Helle-Moonika Helme and Urve Tiidus. "I suggest people look at Urve Tiidus' expression when Arne Mikk is talking – it is indescribable how she pretends she cannot hear anything. She is conforming to the gender roles I mentioned. Because she is a woman and not the chairman of the supervisory board, she simply has to suffer what Mikk has to say. I point out Tiidus because she is a former journalist, former mayor of Kuressaare and former minister of culture, current Reform Party MP – the same Reform Party chairman of which Kaja Kallas has tried to make women's role in society the topic of the next elections," Karnau said.
Eesti Ekspress published an article on Monday in which around ten current and former Estonia employees say that Aivar Mäe has humiliated and harassed female colleagues, made inappropriate sexual comments and groped women working in the theater.
The hosts of "Olukorrast riigis" also discussed the Lithuanian president's decision to miss a meeting of Baltic presidents, the Conservative People's Party's (EKRE) looming chairman change, the president refusing to proclaim the Foreign Service Act and the fine handed to SEB in Estonia and Sweden.
Editor: Marcus Turovski