EKRE has found a promising breeding ground for their conservative worldview with people in northeastern Estonia enjoying the directness of the party's leading politicians and Mart Helme, in particular, who some in the region liken to Edgar Savisaar, ETV's "AK.Nädal" reported on Sunday.
Local elections are looming and things seem different in Narva this year. Traditionally, the group who holds power in the city tends to keep it as schools, kindergartens and municipal companies are strong vote-generators.
But there seems to be a new contender in town to go with Center's stable dominance in the region. The local Russian voter is attracted by the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).
Party deputy chairman Mart Helme announced in March that EKRE is planning to run in the northeastern city of Narva in local government elections in October with a list of their own candidates and also cleared up a major question for the Russian voter - May 9, or Soviet victory in World War Two day.
"Our approach to May 9 is different. But we will not accept people based on how they feel about May 9. We will begin accepting people who support our program," Helme said.
EKRE's activities in Narva are run by rather unknown names with names such as Dmitri Gussev and Aleksandr Pahhomov at the forefront. But at the same time, the party has been able to achieve quite a lot in a few short months. EKRE has some 100 members in Narva, they have a political group in the city council, they issue their own newspaper and have also opened an office in the city center - in a crowded place as well.
"Peoples' views change and they realize that the national interest of Estonia is most important. We must not only listen to what the EU is telling us, but think of our own economy, our own state. Interest for EKRE is great among the young who see EKRE as a possibility, because EKRE does what it says - stand for what they believe in. And of course, we do not want Narva to turn into a jerkwater town," said Aleksandr Pahhomov, board member of EKRE's Narva department.
It is still too early to say what a local Russian voter thinks of EKRE. Looking at party rating surveys, the people of northeastern Estonia in April said that if elections were to happen the next day, 15 percent would pick Center, 13 percent EKRE and 11 percent Reform. 28 percent chose the "I don't know" response. That is what the battle in Narva is all about.
Former Center party member Larissa Olenina has made a name for herself in Narva by organizing May 9 celebrations in the city. She found like-minded people in the conservative party and joined EKRE's group in the city council.
"People want conservative views today. For example, I find their positions on family and what should come of Narva's power stations very clear and understandable. The same with Russian schools. Everyone is struggling with Russian schools and whether or not they should be transferred to Estonian, but EKRE is saying Russian schools need to be maintained and Estonian studies should be strengthened. It is important. I am a nationalist in the best way, I really am. I am for the Russian language, Russian schools and our Russian people," Olenina said.
The shortest way to the hearts of people in Narva, "AK.Nädal" reported, is a free local newspaper. There are many in the city and now EKRE issues one as well. Vzgljad - a glance or a view.
Everything is how it is supposed to be. Mart Helme is on the cover, power belongs to the people, the local government is criticized, state power is criticized, there are pictures of local celebrities and at the end, there is even a small gardening section and a crossword puzzle. 30,000 copies, in Russian, for each mailbox in Narva.
"Nature abhors a vacuum, so the empty space left by Center Party has been very skillfully filled by EKRE. And their popularity is set to increase, I think. EKRE is very specific, they have shown that they are active. And that is what Russian citizens enjoy. We can say it is populism, but it ignites new hope for people in Narva, because they touch on important topics. We do not have much to oppose to EKRE," said Center's Narva region board member Allen Allet.
The political situation in Narva has recently been through confusing times, but now with EKRE becoming a powerful player in the region, it adds yet another factor to the already colorful mix of characters. At the same time, EKRE's arrival could make the choice easy for locals who want to elect someone based on what they believe in themselves.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste