Perling: I no longer want to remain an onlooker to populist roaring

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Lavly Perling. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Former Prosecutor General Lavly Perling who identified herself as a supporter of Isamaa's Parempoolsed (Right-wingers) in-house opposition group on Wednesday tells ERR in an interview that she can no longer remain an onlooker to populist roaring and wants to contribute to the development of the Parempoolsed. Perling does not say whether she plans to join Isamaa or run in local government council elections.

You said in a press release that you aim to become a supporter of the Parempoolsed group. What is the future perspective of such a move?

I'm taking things one step at a time. I said today that I have become a supporting member to pass on my experience and ideas as a lawyer and top executive. It is courage to have a say in social matters and perhaps most of all the will to develop the kind of Estonia I would like my children and grandchildren and also my grandmother to inhabit. To put this know-how and skills at the disposal of the Parempoolsed and support them. However, it is too early to talk about the long run.

My motivation for now has been that I no longer want to remain an onlooker to what is happening and instead help reduce this kind of populist roaring in society, to use any support I might have for this purpose.

You also wrote that you will be referring to the Parempoolsed group as "us" in the future. Does this mean you will be actively involved in running it?

It does not at this time. What it means is that substance has always been more important than form for me and contributing and teamwork outweighed running something at all cost. I regard as the most important aspect adding my ideas to theirs, adding my experience to the pile, which is why I am willing to publicly voice support for them today. Because as I have always supported a transparent society, I still do and expect it also of myself to voice my allegiances honestly and transparently.

Is it likely you will join the Isamaa party in the future?

I would not speculate. What matters is that the Isamaa we have in the government today is not the same Isamaa represented in many people's minds. If the Parempoolsed have made it their mission to turn Isamaa back into a strong conservative force that cares about Estonia, I am currently supporting it from outside the party. But the future is the future and time will tell.

Considering the situation in Isamaa and the balance of powers therein, getting involved with the Parempoolsed group seems the riskier choice, swimming upstream. They are their own party's in-house opposition. It will not be easy as promoting their ideas among Isamaa members. Why cast your lot with the Parempoolsed? Why not the Estonia 200 party support for which seems to be going up?

First of all, I have never done anything simply because it is the easier path and instead follow roads I believe in. Secondly, what is politics about? It consists of ideology, decisions and people. I believe that the former is significant which is where Parempoolsed is a better fit for me. That is all there is to it.

Do you perceive them as being able to boost their influence inside Isamaa or separately?

Absolutely. I believe that work was being done before I became a supporter, is being done today and will continue in the future. I have no doubt they can change Isamaa in the best possible way. And play an instrumental role in maintaining Estonia as an open, smart and successful country.

We are always talking about politics. I believe that now is the time for professionals of whatever field to go into politics. The more professionals from different walks of life we have, the faster change will happen.

Do you plan to run in the local elections?

I will not be getting ahead of myself. I will be contributing through what I've got for now – ideas on how to take care of and promote life in Estonia. And then we will see what the future will bring.

What do you think of the current government's heading and actions?

I'm looking at it like tens of thousands of other Estonians and I'm sometimes tired of shouting and roaring followed by an apology, followed almost immediately by another bout of shouting and roaring. The transparency of certain decisions also raises questions sometimes, while they way these decisions are communicated leaves one at a loss.

I have always believed in the rule of law, always believed everyone is equal in the eyes of the law and that laws are there to enforce the social contract meant to ensure Estonia is a good place to live for everyone. We should be receptive to each other's opinions, listen to professionals and put them to good use when making decisions and most importantly – talk to our people frankly and clearly about the background of these decisions.

What is your opinion of Minister of Justice Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) asking the prosecutor general to look into the actions of Õhtuleht reporters in investigating the conduct of former Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps?

I have been far removed from the activities of the prosecution for ten months and would like for that to remain the case as I have closed that chapter in my life. I believe that our prosecution is still strong and independent and is not run using phone calls or SMS messages. Therefore, without knowing the context of messages or anything else for that matter, I would refrain from passing judgment. I believe the prosecution is independent and makes its own decisions because only an independent prosecution can protect all members of society from corruption and very serious crimes.

However, does a minister making such a request send a disproportionate signal to the prosecution and society in general? Is it a threat to press freedom?

I do not know the background there, which is why I'm not quick to judge the situation. It is not a question of whether the minister and the prosecutor general can speak over the phone or using short messages. Everyone can talk to everyone in Estonia. Now, the contents [of the exchange] or what someone might have expected from someone else I do not know. However, generally speaking, I'm still convinced the prosecution makes its own decisions and not based on SMS messages it receives.

From what I gather, the contents is whether taking photographs of Mailis Reps' children and official car could have constituted illegal surveillance?

Yes, I know only as much as the general public. The relevant question is whether there was any prior discussion, its tone and what lied at the heart of the justice minister's question. All are important questions in terms of the context of the minister's request.

How would you have reacted upon receiving such a message from the minister?

I dare say that no one gave me any orders via SMS messages when I served as prosecutor general. Therefore, I cannot comment. I think no one even thought of doing anything of the sort.

Is the rule of law safe in Estonia in your opinion?

It makes no sense to comment on too many things if one is not part of the system. Once you no longer know the background, decisions etc. But I still converse with different people inside and out the justice system. Some decisions inevitable leave one at a loss, whether we are talking about competitions to find high-ranking state officials being canceled or certain decisions to allocate funds. They leave one perplexed, while it is definitely not enough to provide a judgment of the health of the justice system. I hope and believe that we have built a robust justice system over the past 30 years, that Estonia needs one, that it works and clearly honors the principles of the rule of law.

And finally, allow me a question about the near future. What are your plans together with the Parempoolsed or how do you plan to realize your advice and know-how exactly?

I believe it can be done through specific ideas. Their manifesto that really spoke to me in the summer constitutes a general direction, while I believe we need to move on to concrete ideas that could work as solutions for Estonia. What is on people's mind, whether peripherization or technological solutions. That we should now take a turn for the specific and offer concrete proposals to promote development in Estonia.

Lavly Perling is an Estonian jurist and former prosecutor general. She went to work for the Prosecutor's Office in 1996 after graduating from the University of Tartu. Perling took over the Office of the Prosecutor General's charges department in 2007 and was nominated for the post of prosecutor general in September of 2014. Her second term did not materialize as a result of opposition from the Conservative People's Party (EKRE). Perling served as acting prosecutor general until February 2020. She is not presently nor has ever been a member of any political party.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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