Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) has rejected as absurd statements made by interior minister Mart Helme that LGBT+ people in Estonia might be better off leaving the country for Sweden, adding that the coalition is severely damaged by such outbursts.
Ratas characterized Helme's words, made in a Russian-language interview with German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) on Friday, as hollow threats whose basis for government policy are implausible, though said that the coalition's functional health are still seriously harmed by the words.
Ratas then pointed to a worldview difference between his party and that of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) on the matter, adding that nothing along the lines of what Helme had said found its way into last year's coalition agreement between Center, EKRE and Isamaa.
"[The government] is ... based on the coalition agreement EKRE, Isamaa and the Center Party have never agreed on such principles. Our values are very different. [Center's] are such that the Estonian people could live here, in Estonia, safe and well, and that human rights would be guaranteed, protected," Ratas said.
Ratas also said he condemned Helme's words regardless of any claims from the latter that he had been misinterpreted, in every sense of the word, in the DW interview.
"Let's say that this attitude, or even an oblique reference to it, is in no way worth justifying and I certainly condemn it," Ratas told ERR.
"[Mart Helme's] claim [now] is that he does not want anybody to leave Estonia … When I spoke to him, I asked him if he thought [people having to leave the country] was right; he said he was misinterpreted in that interview."
Speaking in the context of a proposed referendum on the definition of marriage EKRE wants to hold concurrently with the autumn 2021 local elections, Helme said that he looked at gay people in an "unfriendly manner", adding they might be better off living in Sweden, where they would be more appreciated.
Ratas rejected these words and the stance behind them: "My conclusion is the same as what I said in my comments yesterday. In no way do I consider it right that we could drive anyone out of Estonia. All who live here, regardless of their gender, age, nationality, sexual orientation or any other characteristics, are welcome to live in Estonia. I would say that all [Estonians] currently not living here are also welcome to return to Estonia."
"We stand for the rights of every human being to be protected, but also [that those rights] be guaranteed; and, of course, human rights are protected and guaranteed in Estonia."
"Expelling someone, well, that would be absurd," he added.
Ratas said he had spoken to his interior minister Saturday and that he, Ratas, saw it as a given that the interior minister's statements had no bearing on the policy of the government, since the latter's actions are based on the rule of law, both those issued by the Riiigikogu and the constitution.
The prime minister said that the coalition is to meet in the new week to discuss the issue further, reiterating a belief that there was no substance to Helme's words in terms of subsequent action and adding that it was, not for the first time, rhetoric from the interior minister and his party that was not implemented in any concrete, practical way.
The DW interview (in Russian) which sparked the controversy is here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte