In widely condemned remarks made during a sitting hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a speech to the Riigikogu, MP Mart Helme (EKRE) claimed on Wednesday that HIV and other infectious diseases are going to "return" to Estonia, brought in by war refugees from Ukraine, many of whom may get involved in prostitution here.
"My son — one of my sons is a doctor," Helme said during a regularly scheduled Riigikogu sitting on Wednesday afternoon. "I talk to doctors. And the doctors are saying that the healthcare situation is terrible. HIV is going to return! Infectious diseases are being brought here from Ukraine that we have thought could never exist in Estonia anymore. No — they're going to make a comeback here because tens of thousands of people are coming and bringing them here.
"But they're in contact with us," he continued. "These women, young women — we don't know what they're going to start doing here. Maybe hundreds of thousands of women from among them are going to start getting involved in prostitution. Who is willing to bet their life that this won't happen?"
'Claims they are dirty and diseased, sound familiar?'
As the EKRE MP's comments began making the rounds on social media, they drew sharp criticism as well, from various fellow politicians as well as other members of society.
Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) shared an article about Helme's comments on Twitter, adding, "Anti-vaxxer Mart Helme has grown sincerely concerned overnight about the spread of infectious diseases and accuses refugees from Ukraine of prostitution in the same breath? Just disgusting..."
Reform MP Jürgen Ligi shared a transcript of Helme's comments on Facebook, in the comments of which family doctor Karmen Joller likewise highlighted the irony while also poking fun at the discrepancy in Helme's cited numbers.
"It's about time the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) starts promoting vaccination — as hundreds of thousands of the tens of thousands of refugees are going to be bringing us diseases, and vaccination will help protect us and our children from these diseases," Joller wrote.
"Infectious diseases are being brought here from Ukraine and women are going to start working as prostitutes (what else do they know how to do, right?)," Eva wrote in a tweet including a video clip of the comments in question. "A tactic learned from history: sow resentment over them, claiming that they are dirty and diseased. Sound familiar?"
Former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves retweeted Eva's comment, adding, "How a right-wing extremist fishes for Russian votes."
"I had even recently hoped that EKRE would finally pull itself together, but no, Mart Helme just proved that incitement to hatred and gaining power are all they want, even at the expense of the security of the Estonian state and of the suffering people of Ukraine. Gross old man, that beast is," tweeted Laila Kaasik, a member of the non-parliamentary Estonian Greens.
Kaupo Kalda, a famous Estonian photographer, also drew attention to the fact that Helme's comments came on the same day that a protest over women and children being raped by Russian troops in Ukraine took place in front of the Russian Embassy in Tallinn — a protest that has received international media attention, in addition to its broad dissemination on social media.
Retweeting a post including a link to ERR News' article and gallery of Wednesday's protest, Kalda wrote, "You know what Mart Helme announced in the Riigikogu today, right? That Ukrainian women might be coming here to work as prostitutes."
This was so far beyond any limit of humanity that he was prepared to hit the streets to protest the MP, Kalda tweeted, adding that Helme is "the same kind of garbage as [Russian President Vladimir] Putin — it's all the same shit."
HIV still in Estonia
Contrary to Helme's claim that HIV is "going to return" to the country, increasingly stable but relatively high numbers of new cases of HIV are diagnosed in Estonia each year.
According to the results of an epidemiological survey encompassing the years 2011-2020 compiled by the National Institute for Health Development (TAI) and the Health Board and published last year, Estonia ranked third in the EU for number of new HIV cases in 2019, behind just Malta and Latvia.
From 2017-2021, a total of 859 new cases of HIV were reported in Estonia, including 219 cases in 2017, 190 cases in 2018, 178 cases in 2019, 147 cases in 2020 and 125 cases in 2021, according to Health Board data (link in Estonian),
As of Wednesday, when Helme made his comments in the Riigikogu, Estonia had received a total of 30,255 war refugees from Ukraine, according to Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) figures reported on Thursday.
Editor: Aili Vahtla