It is very important for popular politicians in Estonia to actively explain to their Russian-speaking voters that what Putin is doing in Ukraine is criminal and that the Ukrainian people are fighting a war of independence that is also helping keep Estonia peaceful and independent, Erik Gamzejev finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.
Almost every day, acquaintances of mine living elsewhere in Estonia ask me about the mood in Ida-Viru County. Regarding the war in Ukraine. I have mostly told them that it is good nothing along those lines is making headlines. But that does not mean we can be carefree.
We would be mistaken to believe that most of the 130,000 residents of Ida-Viru County agree on what Putin is doing in Ukraine. There is much fragmentation.
Ida-Viru County is home to a lot of people who feel fierce solidarity with the Ukrainian people and are trying to help as best they can, wishing for Putin's criminal regime to collapse as soon as possible. Their ranks are swelling with each passing day.
There are also people who like today's increasingly Stalinist Russia. Especially when they don't have to suffer the evil effects of such a regime themselves, living safely in Estonia. But from a distance, it is fun to watch everything unfold like an action movie where the starring dictator rules with an iron fist, bombs its neighbors, tries to conquer neighboring lands, enjoys a personality cult and represses dissenters. The cherry on top comes from a powerful propaganda apparatus that lets good and evil, truth and lies reflect in a funhouse mirror given enough time.
But a growing number of people are chiefly confused. Putin has, over the last few decades, become the emblem of a good Czar for them. While he has contributed nothing to their lives, people's innate desire to believe in fairy tales gets the job done. Especially when said believers have not done particularly well for themselves in Estonia.
Their competitive ability on the labor market is modest, they have not managed to learn Estonian and have little faith in Estonian politicians. But their TV screens have been painting a picture of the good life in Russia and the West hatching nefarious plans for years, creating a semblance of virtual certainty.
Now, their beloved Czar has robbed them of it in a span of just a few weeks through his utterly inexplicable actions. He is using bombs to level hospitals, kindergartens, residential buildings and indiscriminately killing people in cities inhabited mostly by Russian-speaking people. Using his own people as cannon fodder. Violently dispersing protests and jailing people demonstrating for peace. Russia is being pushed deeper into isolation, its economy collapsing to the tune of price hikes and goods disappearing from shelves.
Free speech is prohibited. For what? Who feels better for it? Efforts to justify the war through propaganda have become so absurdly farfetched to leave nauseous and force to quit even experienced masters of the genre.
Events are leaving those who used to believe in Putin increasingly tongue-tied. Many in Ida-Viru County say that they do not want to talk about the fratricidal war that Putin has unleashed at all. People have next of kin and acquaintances on both sides. Fights and resentment are easily created inside immediate and extended families.
A lot of people are currently in the middle of changing their attitudes, and while their disappointment is evident, it is difficult and painful to accept one's understanding of the world coming crashing down. It has become clear that Putin's Russia is not protecting anyone and is instead sowing death, destruction and chaos. Seeing cities reduced to rubble by Russian forces, thousands of innocent victims and millions of refugees, people's greatest desire is for nothing of the sort to happen here.
This shift in attitudes is also reflected in some Center Party politicians' behavior. A group of MPs, who have previously abstained from joining statements in support of victims of deportations and did not join the Riigikogu's initial show of support for Ukraine a few weeks ago, diligently pressed the green button at the recent such vote on Monday.
Efforts by Center's leaders are part of the motivation. However, it is likely these delegates are also in tune with the winds of change in their voters' heads.
It is very important for popular politicians in Estonia to actively explain to their Russian-speaking voters that what Putin is doing in Ukraine is criminal and that the Ukrainian people are fighting a war of independence that is also helping keep Estonia peaceful and independent.
That there is no reason to be suspicious of people who have escaped the war and arrived in Estonia and that helping them is simply the human thing to do. While we will need to give up a part of our recent comforts due to war unleashed in our near vicinity, it is nothing compared to what the people of Ukraine have been through. It is possible to remain neutral on whichever political matter, while attacking another country and violence need to be fundamentally and unequivocally condemned.
All Estonian politicians actively spreading these messages would go a long way toward strengthening our own society. It would also leave the masters of the Kremlin with no illusion of being welcomed with flowers as saviors and protectors, as they so mistakenly thought going into Ukraine.
Editor: Marcus Turovski