Indrek Kiisler: Ineptitude of green parties is striking

Indrek Kiisler.
Indrek Kiisler. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Indrek Kiisler takes a look at non-parliamentary parties and how they are doing in Vikerraadio's daily comment. What opportunities could the new coalition hold for them and whether they could be realized.

Estonia has two non-parliamentary political movements worth mentioning: Eesti 200 and green parties.

The former moving up in the polls this fall and winter is hardly extraordinary – as the saying goes, silence is golden. It is nice to remain on the sidelines and look on as MPs scramble for power on Toompea Hill. A part of people's dissatisfaction with Riigikogu politics sent them to the fold of Eesti 200 temporarily, while a number of these protest votes will now return to Reform. At least for now.

Local government council elections will become the first true touchstone for Eesti 200. They will show whether the party is capable of putting together convincing lists of candidates and demonstrate it is a force to be reckoned with if elected leading up to Riigikogu elections in 2023. Or whether we will see a repeat of what happened to Res Publica in Tallinn or election coalitions full of newcomers in past local elections.

However, it is far more interesting to look at how representatives of the green worldview are doing because the latter undoubtedly has a solid and growing support base. All the prerequisites for involving up to a fifth of voters are there, while results are nowhere to be seen. Neither the Estonian Greens nor the Party for the Future have any popularity to speak of. While Estonia is full of topics they could capitalize on.

The Conservative People's Party (EKRE) was very good at introducing irrational topics such as the marriage referendum, Islamic threat and banning abortions into public debate. We debated these matters that are of no significance whatsoever to most people in Estonia in the Riigikogu, the press and at birthday parties. They fired up EKRE supporters, while their effect was greater still on the party's liberal opponents.

Next to these topics that luckily did not graduate from the level of mental exercises, the greens need to represent the real world. Try to organize a village meeting on the topic of banning abortions. You will be lucky to get even a few attendees beyond religious or political enthusiasts. However, a meeting on clearcutting will draw half the village. It excites and directly concerns people. RMK (State Forest Management Center) sounds considerably worse than KGB for a lot of people in 2021.

We dare not discuss major business projects anymore and the government banned surveys (!) for a pulp mill because public outrage was loud enough to frighten experienced ministers.

People are starting to care more about their living environment that is also the number one topic in terms of our survival. Great change is on the horizon, with more radical predictions heralding the collapse of consumerism.

And yet, support for green parties is hovering around the 2-3 percent mark in Estonia. I do not believe explanations according to which Estonia is still a developing country the residents of which are only concerned for their daily bread and subsistence. A new and progressive generation has grown up that completely shares its Western peers' concern for climate and environmental change.

Why then are the greens so utterly unpopular?

Green parties definitely have a management problem where their leaders do not appear serious, organizational capacity is weak and maintaining focus difficult. Unlike EKRE, green parties have failed to own a single topic.

For example, opposition to logging is growing quickly in Estonia. All the while, the political preference of people who oppose the industry belongs to parties that refuse to contain the problem. NGO Eesti Metsa Abiks has clearly been more active than green parties.

The strength of green activists lies in spontaneous initiatives and actions, while it is also a kind of weakness. Voters will lump furious tree huggers in with scientists offering green solutions, while engineers, basic income proponents and anti-vaccers all claim to be the true greens.

The green orchestra is made up of random musicians, playing random instruments and constantly switching seats. There are no rehearsals, no conductor and no idea who should make up the audience.

But perhaps working on the grass roots level is more effective? While shutting down a particular mine, factory or overpass is more effective in the form of furious protests, winning individual battles does not go far.

Political levers are needed to alter the nature of the system. The principles of environmental policy are being drawn up by other parties today. And there is nothing to suggest that green forces could consolidate their ranks and join decisionmakers any time soon.

Why does it even matter? It is necessary for the sake of social peace in Estonia. It seems to me that proponents of the green mindset tend to include more radical members than other social mainstreams. While we can criticize the heads of EKRE for more than a few things, they also took control of people far more radical than the Helme family (extremism has now been confined to the back rows of party meetings and it is to be hoped that is where it will remain).

If the green parties could do the same, it would render our future better negotiable, quieter and replace a street revolution with a green one than no one can escape. Until that happens, other parties will continue to make decisions regarding the future of Estonia.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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