Justice chancellor: State drawing lines on everything would destroy society

Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise on
Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise on "Esimene stuudio". Source: ERR

Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise has expressed hope that the growing discussion around a national referendum on the definition of marriage would not cause quarrels for anyone in Estonia, adding that society's greatest regulator is society and its norms themselves.

Speaking on Wednesday, Madise told ETV's politics talk show "Esimene stuudio" what a public referendum question should look like in order for it to be in line with the constitution.

Madise said: "One unconstitutional variant was in the coalition agreement (page 30 - ed.) and that has been given up as of now. The Estonian Constitution only allows for an honest public survey. You can not offer the public fraudulent goods. You must present a clear and comprehensible question, which would not lead anyone astray and would not hide any messages behind it."

"You cannot put people in the position of wanting to vote for one thing, but that requiring them to vote for this, that and the other. That is one of the criteria for control. The others are constitutional restrictions on it not being connected to budgets, taxes, security, foreign agreements etc. And the third criterion says that whether the answer is 'yes' or 'no', the public's answer is always correct and binding, according to the constitution," the justice chancellor continued.

If Estonian citizens decided that the definition of marriage is a bind between a man and a woman, Madise said this could not be considered as certain proof that the Registered Partnership Act would be obsolete.

"And the Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed in its constitutional surveillance that the Registered Partnership Act applies in the exact form it is published in Riigi Teataja. It is followed, partnerships in Estonia are registered and it is recognized," the justice chancellor said.

Host Johannes Tralla asked Madise how worried she is about Estonia's society polarizing in spring, when the marriage referendum is scheduled.

"I do not think I will quarrel with anyone. And I hope nobody else is able to get into a conflict with me either. I think everyone has the option of taking a reasonable and pleasant position here. Plus one important nugget of truth is that your own happiness should not be tied to someone else being miserable," she said.

Tralla also brought up the topic of freedom of speech and where a line can be drawn between normal speech and hate speech.

Madise responded: "There are unwritten social norms in society. These manifest themselves in a way where some behavior is considered unfit and ugly - the person who expresses themselves in this manner will be set aside by society and criticized. And on a whole other level is a situation where the state has drawn lines, and forbidden expression in some form or fashion."

"Abuse of freedom of speech occurs where people do not commonly condemn a matter of speech but instead use it themselves, allowing it to expand," justice chancellor said.

Responding to a question about ministers being able to be hostile toward certain groups in society, Madise said friendliness has a peculiar definition.

The justice chancellor said: "A minister inevitably represents the state, especially when talking to foreign press. So everyone can assess for themselves what these statements could mean. For better or worse, we do not live in a country where courts would judge ministers' manner of speech and attitude toward national minorities, sexual minorities or others. That is exactly the position where society must feel where the line is drawn for itself.

"Sometimes the thought of the state drawing lines is enticing. Who and how one should dress, should speak, what phrases they should use etc., but this actually destroys freedom, destroys creativity and could end up destroying society. For example, press freedoms are extremely important. I feel that the ability of calm, dignified and calm interactions and the ability to calmly disagree can only be developed by people wanting to be better," Madise added.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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