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Ilves in ERR interview: Estonia does not need reboot, but better operating system

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves's end of the year interview with ETV's Indrek Treufeldt was a further refinement and elaboration on the head of state's main philosophies, such as social inclusiveness as a national survival strategy and the case for Estonian exceptionalism.

Ilves called Estonia a star pupil in terms of keeping its commitments to NATO and the EU - he used the German word musterknabe on this occasion. He also noted that Estonia's stellar track record was one of the reasons that US President Barack Obama chose Tallinn for his reassurance visit in September.

Asked why he thought Ukraine could not cement the gains of the Orange Revolution, Ilves similarly rephrased the question in an Estonian context: "The question is about why all those other [Eastern European] countries didn't do what Estonia did."

Size does matter, Ilves argued, in that Estonia has to be especially careful not to take liberties that larger countries could do. But in the end, he said, Estonia should be seen as more like a small US state, which no one considers any lesser in influence because of its size. The digital single market, Ilves said, was a national priority to make this a reality.

Perhaps the newest and most specific foreign policy trend covered in the interview was Germany - there has been a growing realization of a more frosty tone in Germany's dealings with Russia and Ilves now noted it: "If you look at Fräu Merkel's statements in the last 12 months, we see gradually greater frustration, a harder line [with Russia]."

European far-right movements were touched upon. One of Estonia's strengths, Ilves said, was the unity of its view of liberal democracy, unlike elsewhere in Europe.

"We can be proud of the fact that extremism has not found any foothold in Estonia and at least right now I don't see that it could have one."

This led to discussion between Treufeldt and Ilves on domestic politics and whether such movements could be bred by the problem of parties not dealing with issues that the people want addressed.

"I think that Estonia's success lies in the fact that we have been quite tolerant," Ilves said. "If we [aren't tolerant], we might truly discover that there are very few 'true' Estonians."

He also commented obliquely on a scandal, ending with the resignation of a minister, where another minister was criticized for being an "[Soviet-era] immigrant's son."

"We remember how awful it was how children were treated in the USSR because they were 'someone's kids' if that someone wasn't considered right in the eyes of the regime."

Toward the end of the interview, Ilves discussed the constitutional system and trust in government, a part which produced what ERR's journalists saw the main takeaway line: "Estonia doesn't need a reboot, but a better operating system" - presumably improved by patches and upgrades. The context had to do with the emergence of calls in recent years for alternative institutions and more direct democracy.

Editor: Edited by S. Tambur

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