Crisis reserve shouldn't be allowed to turn into a political ballgame

Minister of Defense Jüri Luik (Isamaa).
Minister of Defense Jüri Luik (Isamaa). Source: Aurelia Minev/ERR

Minister of Defense Jüri Luik (Isamaa), who finds himself at odds with Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE) regarding the planned police and border guard crisis reserve and the role of the Defense League, thanks Defense League members who contributed to solving the coronavirus emergency situation. Luik also says that the crisis reserve bill cannot be taken forward before it becomes clear why it is needed and in what form.

Dear members of the Defense League, I would like to thank you once more for the great work you did during the coronavirus crisis, securing the Estonian border and patrolling alongside the police in Saaremaa and many other places in Estonia. These efforts involved 1,447 Defense League members, with a single member of the Defense League or the women's voluntary defense organization spending on average 40 hours in the field. No Defense League structural unit had trouble finding people to perform tasks on the front lines of the crisis. All of it took place in cooperation and harmony with the police and border guard.

That is by no means all. Members of the Defense League were also involved with the Health Board's crisis headquarters, helped operate the 1247 crisis hotline, assisted various institutions with cyber- and information security, supported the work of hospitals and COVID-19 testing sites and could be called on to perform complicated logistical tasks in many local governments.

You helped the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), different ministries, Health Board, hospitals and local governments. Your work is greatly appreciated by both your country and its people. I hope you will not be disheartened by the words of Minister of the Interior Mart Helme who spoke ill of the Defense League's role in the crisis.

Defense League members did everything that was expected of them and more. By the way, it is very likely we will have to turn to the league's volunteers again this fall. And they will come out because they are Defense League members and true Estonian patriots, while it does not surprise me to learn they are aggrieved today. Everyone belonging to the Defense League, but especially those who were in the field during those dangerous days and nights, on the front lines of the crisis.

The Defense League is a unique organization, one of the symbols of Estonian independence. It was created before the start of the War of Independence, mainly to maintain order in the rear and even though important parts of the Estonian Defense Forces grew out of the league later on, maintaining domestic order against an armed adversary, in addition to front line battle tasks, is an important part of the Defense League's DNA. This is reflected in the modern Defense League Act that prescribes as one area of activity for the league assisting agencies in the interior ministry's administrative area. Cooperation exercises of the Police and Border Guard Board and the Defense League were commonplace before the coronavirus crisis, numbering around twenty annually.

Experience from the crisis showed that using the Defense League in an enforcement capacity (including the right to use arms) is not complicated as both the government and the president can authorize it very quickly. The Defense League maintains a high level of readiness and was ready to act at a moment's notice in the crisis. For me, one of the more important realizations to take away from the crisis is that the Defense League convincingly proved itself as the "Swiss army knife" of broad-based national defense, offering society much-needed support in various ways.

A plan to also create a volunteer crisis reserve for the Police and Border Guard Board has reached the stage of draft legislation, while it is not quite clear what for. The police did excellent work during the COVID-19 crisis, but because the complicated situation required additional human resources, the board turned to allies it has successfully worked with in the past. Estonia has a voluntary [defense] organization with its own command system, equipment, communications and logistics – the Defense League that is present everywhere in Estonia. While the government and the legislator can decide not to turn to the Defense League with certain maintenance of law and order tasks in the future, it needs to be done by acknowledging how well the league has performed and answering the question why!

The Ministry of Defense has asked these very questions in a letter explaining its decision to refuse to coordinate the bill. I would hate to see this debate concerning a very important topic – the police and border guard reserve – become a political ballgame where the interior minister seeks to lend credibility to his claims by unfairly playing down the Defense League. Let it be said in the interests of clarity that the crisis reserve topic has reached the stage of draft legislation and will definitely not be passed on the government level before it becomes clear: PPA crisis reserve – why and how?


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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