Juhani Jaeger: No one needs a liberal Isamaa
The emergence of Isamaa's Parempoolsed (Right-wingers) movement has left voters puzzled. However, what is expected of the party is not the "third coming of the suits" but a consistent and constructive national-conservative course, Juhani Jaeger writes.
It is to be believed that Isamaa carries a kind of inexplicable spirit that more than a few political adventurers have sought to be a part of over the years. How else to explain the fact that out of all the parties that make up the Estonian political landscape, Isamaa has seen the most takeover attempts.
The party has emerged capable from these tests and borne the responsibility of office as well as played the role of the opposition, but more importantly, Isamaa has managed to remain true to itself.
30 years of national-conservative right-wing Isamaa
Isamaa laid the foundation of reforms that followed the restoration of independence, proceeding based on the ideal of national conservatism and the free market. Our westbound course is an inseparable part of that ideal. Western societies are characterized by economic freedoms (rightism), while the east is ruled by oligarchy and corruption.
Placing national conservatism in the context of the NATO military network and the EU as a union of sovereign nation states was and remains more than natural. All of it makes up the much described Estonian success story.
The rise of leftism and liberalism accompanies improved standard of living in societies where life has become "too good." Not that I like it, but there is no point denying it either. The effect of these currents poses a challenge to the conservative ideology. As is the case with all challenges, they either need to be accepted or escaped from – the choice is whether to stick with one's ideology or give it up.
The latter choice – moving away from ideals and from there one's identity – would constitute self-deception and the deception of voters. Unfortunately, Isamaa has seen such turns in the past. They have benefited no one.
Market pragmatism not Isamaa's path
Staying the course of free market economy and national conservatism is Isamaa's first priority. Its ideology has been fixed in a general assembly decision from 2018. It is an ideal phrased on the highest level – the general meeting of members.
However, let us for a moment pretend that ideals do not matter. The desire of the Parempoolsed to score extra points by making Isamaa liberal (we do not need to beat around the bush here – this agenda is evident indirectly in the movement's manifesto and rather more directly in statements made by several of its leading figures) is at the same time extremely logical and flagrantly illogical.
Liberalism makes sense from the point of view of the politician-salesman in that you need to supply what the "market" expects. "If a considerable part of the media yearns for Isamaa becoming liberal, liberalism is what we need to offer," the salesman reckons. Whereas it doesn't matter whether anyone would buy the goods, what matters is whether the supermarket chain is willing to advertise the goods free of charge and "move them closed to the cash register."
The illogical lies in the fact that the "market" for liberal "goods" has been saturated by the Reform Party, Social Democratic Party (SDE) and Estonia 200. Even if we look at right-wing economic policy and eliminate the Social Democrats, we're still left with Reform and Estonia 200 that is still looking for its niche between the former and SDE.
As said, this kind of political mathematics is not Isamaa's path. Instead, we need to believe in our ideals, live them and carry the identity of a conservative right-wing party which Isamaa has always been. Only then can we hope to restore the voter's trust in Isamaa.
The voter's expectation: polite national conservatives
For these reasons, changing Isamaa's political course is unacceptable both from the idealistic and pragmatic points of view. However, there is a third aspect.
Paradoxically enough, the emergence of the Parempoolsed comes at a time when the party's leadership is busy addressing its image and taking a frank look in the mirror. We are talking about various sociological surveys to map voter feedback. (There is nothing new about such surveys and they are practiced by all political parties, each sporting their own angle of approach.)
Polite and constructive national conservatism, in other words, good old patriotism, is what people expect from Isamaa. This is how the party is seen by its voters, the voters of other parties and those who lack a specific political preference.
This leads us to the most common criticism people have for Isamaa: vagueness and inconsistencies. In other words, the constituency is saying that while Isamaa is on the right path, it needs to be more concrete and consistent. Even if one does not respect ideals (worldview) and ignores pragmatism (political mathematics), changing the party's ideology would clash with the expectations and convictions of people who vote for us and those who could be persuaded to vote for us in the future.
On the feasibility of ideological policy
Of course, a person's sympathy for liberal views cannot be held against them, but turning Isamaa into Reform's little brother definitely isn't a smart idea. No one needs a liberal Isamaa. The same conclusion is drawn by political scientist Martin Mölder when he says that the key to Isamaa's success lies in moderate conservatism.
Popular folklore has dubbed the publication of the Parempoolsed's manifesto as "the third coming of the suits" that makes an obvious reference to a past attempt to thwart the ideals of the patriotic "sweaters" wing of the party as well as another attempted change of course before the creation of Estonia 200. This third coming once again calls for an Isamaa that wouldn't be Isamaa. The spirit of Isamaa is so attractive that attempts to change its contents are bound to continue also in the future.
Politics – both conservatism and liberalism – is good and noble only as long as it is pursued honestly and idealistically. Isamaa's ideals – nationalism, conservatism and rightism – remain topical and have taken the party through thick and thin.
Hence my practical recommendation to the Parempoolsed movement: concentrate on the first half of your manifesto – the economy – and push aside liberalism in your manifesto, rhetoric and in-house voting.
This way, you could really contribute to Isamaa's success and make it possible for yours truly and other established right-wing members of Isamaa to join the initiative. After all, all members of Isamaa are right-wingers.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski