Riina Solman: Maturity can help manufacture national togetherness

Riina Solman (Isamaa).
Riina Solman (Isamaa). Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Concerns over lack of national togetherness have recently surfaced in Estonia. The nation should stick together in a crisis. We cannot allow the coronavirus to cause us to fall out unto jeopardizing our entire statehood. It would help us be more united if we can avoid childish behavior and try to act like adults, Riina Solman writes.

To reach conciliation, we must first openly admit the situation and mistakes made. Mistakes that one cannot admit can no more be solved, not to mention reaching mutual understanding with critics. Building an even higher wall on the wrong foundation will only lead to a more painful and extensive collapse.

The elephant in the room that everyone sees but whose existence is denied by members of the government is the fact that even those with coronavirus certificates can be a threat to next of kin and colleagues.

Admitting this fact and requiring close contacts of infected persons to isolate even if they have a Covid certificate would send a clear signal that the government is honest and unafraid to admit its past mistake. It would avoid massive spread of the virus and help reduce intimidation and vilification of people who have not yet gotten vaccinated for various reasons.

To alleviate the concerns of people afraid of vaccination, a vaccine damages fund should be created. The former include people whose relatives have experienced serious side-effects or have contraindications.

Even though the government has suggested the matter is in the works, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) feels its creation will send the wrong message. The PM hides behind anonymous behavioral scientists in her justifications, even though the fund is just what the only well-known behavioral scientist to come forward, Andero Uusberg, recommends.

Hiding behind others' recommendations has unfortunately become Kallas' modus operandi. She does not wish to take responsibility for her words, while criticism often sends her pointing the finger elsewhere, whether at other members of the government, the opposition or scientists advising the state. All of it could be described as childish behavior.

The people are addressed as children and not adults. There are attempts to sweep vaccine side-effects under the rug instead of discussing them openly. Hiding problems comes off patronizing and as manufacturing distrust especially for fearful people who have had direct or indirect contact with vaccine side-effects. Constantly preaching to the nation only contributes to defiance.

It is difficult to pinpoint how and when this childish style became a staple of everyday government communication, while it has become widespread by now. It seems no one remembers what Voltaire has allegedly said about not agreeing with what someone else has to say but being prepared to fight to the death for their right to say it. Contrary to Voltaire, we can hear in Estonia calls to cancel and tread underfoot those who sport a different opinion.

The saddest example of such social childishness concerns what is happening to beloved songwriter and singer Tõnis Mägi (who attended an anti-vaccination protest rally in Freedom Square recently – ed.). The grand master to whom Estonian statehood and culture owes more than its fair share has been ridiculed and verbally abused on the level of leading politicians for courage to demonstrate a different understanding of life in Estonia.

I doubt Eesti Päevaleht journalist Herman Kelomees foresaw what his emotional article titled "Kas on aeg lüüa selg sirgu ja tühistada Tõnis Mägi?" ("Is it time to straighten our backs and cancel Tõnis Mägi?") would bring about. While Kelomees concludes at the end of his piece that Tõnis Mägi cannot be canceled, most people never read beyond the headline and only see the article's picture, at most getting to read the first paragraph, especially when it comes to paid articles.

Kelomees' article has been shared almost 4,000 times on social media. Many saw it as a call to cancel or boycott Mägi. This level of mass belittlement of a great Estonian is truly shocking.

The government should side with common sense and maturity in this matter. The government must clearly protect free speech and condemn calls to cancel people who sport different opinions. A government that also protects its critics can be regarded as statesmanlike. It would constitute a major step toward restoring social coherence and trust.

A split society can be delivered by honest communication, transparency, admitting mistakes and looking for solutions instead of accusations. A split society needs more debates, not fewer. As put by President Alar Karis in his inauguration speech: "No topic is taboo." All of these are signs of maturity.

Isamaa MPs have tried to conduct themselves as sensibly and maturely as possible in the current situation. We have kept a close eye on what scientists have to say, thought about how to help solve the crisis, expressed criticism of insensible or ineffective virus control measures and made proposals of how to solve them.

We are asking the ruling parties to also act as maturely as possible and treat people equally when laying down restrictions. Recent decisions have left the vaccinated with a false sense of security or even superiority at times. Unvaccinated people have been universally labeled flat-earthers and shown to be the only ones spreading the virus.

We share a common goal: to exit this crisis as quickly and painlessly as possible. But the responsibility for unity cannot be laid exclusively on the shoulders of the opposition. The latter needs government communication to be less childish for cooperation to work. Looking for solutions together as opposed to arrogance demonstrated from a position of power.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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