Culture minister: I have no intention of stepping down

Minister of Culture Anneli Ott (Center).
Minister of Culture Anneli Ott (Center). Source: ERR

Minister of Culture Anneli Ott (Center) said the culture sector's recent criticism toward her is simply tension caused by the coronavirus crisis and that she considers such discussions important.

You have been able to digest the statement made yesterday, where in principle, your jurisdiction expressed no confidence in you by saying it is almost like you do not exist. How have things gotten so far?

I have read the statement and met with Margus Allikmaa (head of the Estonian Association of Performing Arts Institutions - ed) on Wednesday morning, we have discussed these topics. There are multiple reasons why such a letter was sent, but it is understandable that the culture sector has been hit hard by this crisis and there is anxiety on many levels.

I understand this as minister and I am glad we have all gotten to discuss these topics. We are all standing behind the culture sector together and I will do and have done so as a minister in the government.

These intermediate discussions are certainly important and this crisis affects us all.

The statement sent by the performing arts institution said institutions in the sector have not gotten a chance to discuss things with you and that you direct any questions to your advisers. There is a sense of you not participating in the process of decision-making. How would you comment on this?

I cannot say precisely. It did not come up in our conversation with [Margus] Allikmaa this morning. The truth is I have always been present at government cabinet sittings and I have maybe missed a few single meetings over the last ten months.

Coronavirus topics are interdisciplinary and they come up in every cabinet sitting, but if there has been travel or cultural events, where the minister has to participate, I have missed some. But these are single cases.

The meetings that I have agreed to have taken place and they take place on different formats. We have met in-house (in the culture ministry - ed), we have met online and we will also meet this Friday. We hold traditional meetings on Fridays, where we discuss different topics or restrictions regarding the sector and we also have meaningful discussions. These are consistent meetings, which do not always take place on Fridays, but come up as necessary and will continue to take place.

Are you saying the statement contained lies or slander?

The truth is that I have not missed government sittings nor cabinet sittings. Although I am on vacation currently, I took part in Tuesday's cabinet sitting as restrictions are an important topic at this moment and I presented problems and proposals affecting the culture sector.

Yes, it is not true that the minister is not participating.

What kind of proposals did you present to the government on Tuesday?

The discussions were long, I will not get into it all here, the government should approve these proposals. But each closure in the culture sector affects opportunities to earn income and we will have to proceed and map out the effects on entertainment venues, concert organizers and cinemas. If we need to go forward with compensation measures, we will make the proposals, it is only a matter of time.

Have these effects not been mapped out enough in the last two years? I have personally read summaries from theaters and museums. They have already been mapped, what more is there to do?

It may seem so from the outside-in, but there must be concrete data and justifications for each allocation. We cannot just use something put together two years ago and say that's that.

We must be precise for each decision and the effects of each decision are different and the ministry must conduct these analyses before we go to the government to apply for compensation because they are directly linked to the government's decision to implement these restrictions.

How are you planning to move forward after such a motion of no confidence? How will you make peace with your jurisdictions or are you thinking about handing the reins to someone else?

I will certainly not define this as a motion of no confidence, it was more like a notice about the sector needing more communication, but these positions are always bilateral. I have my own justifications for why the meetings have not been as common, we are in a crisis. I must admit that a minister's calendar gets filled up, but we have always looked for these meetings and will continue to do so.

The culture ministry's jurisdiction is very wide, there are more meetings than just performing arts institutions' managers. But I completely understand, we discussed these topics and I believe we will reach an understanding position.

I must say, I was a little shocked to see you present the "Culture 2030" development plan in front of the Riigikogu recently and you seemed to struggle reading the text. It seemed like you were not too familiar with it or did not even work on it. Why did you go in front of the Riigikogu without sufficient preparation?

Everyone can have opinions as they do, I cannot say. It is certainly to present such a document within 20 minutes, but it is also important to make a note of everything. There was some pressure and I do not have much experience presenting these long texts. It may have seemed that way.

The development plan was supposed to reach the Riigikogu in the spring, it has been worked on for months and I will leave everyone to their own opinions about how my performance looked in terms of acting or any other category.

So what now? You are also unvaccinated, please tell me how you plan to handle the culture sector? The sector has large gatherings and events, how can you continue to work without getting vaccinated?

There are certain obstacles when it comes to entertainment events, but these restrictions will not obstruct me from a minister's daily work. I will certainly get my job done and I have done so according to the government's decisions and directives and will continue to do so.

I have worked for multiple ministers, also as an adviser and each minister has had their own agenda, each of them is fighting for something. What is it that you want to give the culture sector during your term, what has it lacked before and what would your agenda be?

The situation now is certainly different from any in the past. We are in a large crisis for the second year, the culture sector, as well. The priority is the sustainability of the culture sector and that we still have culture organizers when we exit this crisis and could continue with the traditions we are used to. That is most important.

If we can break through this and can manage it, it is a great victory. It is very difficult for me as minister to deal with a certain agenda in the light of this crisis, but I certainly have my priorities.

These are regional politics, regionality, balance, which I also spoke about during my presentation of the development plan. For culture to be available, that theaters, concerts, performances and library services are covered with digital solutions, but also available in physical form. And not only in Harju County and Tallinn and where there are state institutions, but also near local municipality governments and culture organizers.

You do not feel like you have left something undone, have done something incorrectly, your jurisdiction just does not value your contributions?

I have not said it is unfair. I have said I understand the feedback and the complicated situation, I understand how culture organizers have had to reorganize themselves during the constantly evolving situation. They have had to make many different decisions, none of which have been simple.

This creates a lot of emotions, but it is all human, it is all difficult, difficult for us all. There is no blame here, it is completely understandable that these tensions arise and you must speak sincerely at times.

There have been talks of you stepping down. Do you not feel like you have to step down after such a motion of no confidence?

I have not received any motions of no confidence nor am I planning to step down.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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