Toomas Sildam: Things are going to get hot

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Independence Day flag ceremony at the Narva Castle. Source: ERR / Sergei Stepanov

There will be a great battle for Narva this time around, journalist Toomas Sildam writes in his weekly comment, looking ahead to looming local government council elections.

Local elections this fall will no longer see the Center Party clean up in Narva, with a little left over for the Social Democrats. No. Ideological competitors the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) and Eesti 200 are also prepared to go to battle for the border city.

The latter will go after younger and more liberal voters, while EKRE hope to bring under their banner those who do not look favorably upon homosexuals, refugees and Ukrainian foreign labor.

One of EKRE leaders Mart Helme visited Narva this week and told journalists that the national conservatives plan to set up candidates in Narva and several other Ida-Viru County municipalities this fall for the first time.

EKRE is now in the middle of its second month in the [Riigikogu] opposition and can feel much more at ease trying to poach Center voters. Helme said how EKRE planned to address non-Estonians living in Ida-Viru County and win them over to broaden the party's supporter base last year when EKRE was still part of Jüri Ratas' government.

Helme also said that parts of EKRE's election program that cover plans to demand reparations for occupation from Russia and strip non-citizens of the right to participate in local elections are not relevant at this time.

Translation: EKRE is not a Russophobic party.

EKRE is also showing the current national government how easy it is to address Ida-Viru County people with clear messages. "I believe that we cannot afford to liquidate entire industrial sectors," Helme said, giving hope to miners and power sector workers. Everyone walks away knowing that he would not shut down the [oil shale] mines.

At the same time, the government that includes the Center Party is talking about the green turn and the soon to arrive end of oil shale energy. EKRE's response is optimistic and clear. "Our idea is to continue mining for the production of shale oil and achieving a new level for our chemical industry," Mart Helme said, once again instilling hope in the miners.

However, should it be recalled how Mart Helme said on his own talk show five years ago that EKRE do not have to go after the Russian vote because their voters are Estonian and they represent Estonians in Estonian politics. "The Russian nation is great, they have their own country and we are not that concerned for them," Helme said in March 2016.

A month later, he told Marko Reikop on ETV that the 100,000 Russian citizens living in Estonia "are a Soviet vestige for us [EKRE]."

When Estonian Defense Forces officer Deniss Metsavas got caught selling state secrets to Russia in September of 2018, then opposition leader Mart Helme asked PM Jüri Ratas in the Riigikogu: "Do you admit the fact that Russians pose an additional risk and this has nothing to do with human rights or the Constitution? Running more thorough checks [for Russians] is not discrimination…"

Ratas shot back. "You are undermining the Republic of Estonia," he said, adding that Russians having to undergo more thorough checks when running for public office compared to Estonians called Mart or Jüri would not be acceptable in a country based on the rule of law.

Five years later, heads of EKRE have greatly reevaluated matters. The main way for them to find more supporters is by appealing to the more conservative Russian voter. This means giving battles in Lasnamäe, Narva and the rest of Ida-Viru County. The combatants for the looming battle then are Center and Mayor Katri Raik's Social Democrats, EKRE and Eesti 200.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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