Incitement should be equated to corruption in political culture as it is corruptive behavior at its core: robbing someone of their sense of security to convert it into rhetorical "credit" that buys Riigikogu mandates at elections, Meelis Oidsalu says in Vikerraadio's daily comment.
I recently wrote an overview of the 2022 Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) Annual Review in which process I also leafed through the publication's earlier iterations, trying to get a sense for the basis on which the yearbook looks at politicians and their actions. Members of the Center Party and [EKRE predecessor] the People's Union dominate in articles on pro-Kremlin sentiment and corruption.
It is interesting to look at both parties' (Center and EKRE – ed.) choices in the conditions of Russia's aggression [in Ukraine]. The former has made quite an effort to try and shake its formerly corrupt and Kremlin-friendly image in the runup to Riigikogu elections next year. It has even been suggested [party chairman] Jüri Ratas sacrificed his planned "coup" in the name of this goal. Even Center could no longer excuse Martin Repinski's conduct, even though Ratas could really have used his vote.
People's Union successor the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) continues swimming upstream, having demonstrated symbolic solidarity with extremist movements in the past. Such conduct has landed the party on the front pages of the world's leading newspapers. But EKRE politicians' seemingly chronic need for attention has found little coverage in ISS yearbooks, which fact is both justifiable and questionable.
Security agencies exercising mentality control over politicians is admittedly problematic in democracies as exampled in ISS articles on the activities of Mihhail Kõlvart and Yana Toom from 2012 the phrasing of which was later changed in court.
Presenting EKRE statements as a matter of national security would only fuel their factious narrative. The party held the internal affairs portfolio when part of the coalition and going after a ruling party would have been branded meddling in politics. The result would be even less trust in the government and undermining feelings of security in society. Therefore, silence on the part of the ISS could follow the entirely constructive aspiration of maintaining a sense of security.
Any attempt by the ISS to criticize an opposition party would immediately be branded yet another manifestation of the police state by EKRE. Therefore, the agency finds itself over a barrel when it comes to the national conservatives.
However, perhaps efforts should be made to remedy this situation, at least in part. Allow me to explain. Recent information operations by EKRE have demonstrated that foulmouthed pressure works and appeals to a considerable part of the population. High-ranking EKRE member Mart Helme's recent Riigikogu rant on sexually transmitted diseases goes beyond domestic politics despite being aimed at attracting voters and standing out on the rhetorical landscape. Every politician represents a certain agency when appearing in front of the parliament and, through it, lays a foundation for future political success.
Rhetoric is a political resource just as money is a financial one. The convertible nature of both is clearly demonstrated at elections. No one knows exactly or can reliably forecast to what extent elections advertising affects voters' choices. Nevertheless, parties continue to sink irrational sums in campaigns and are willing to err against the law in doing so (let us recall the Reform Party's cash in plastic bags scandal).
EKRE has purposefully engaged in turning the alleged risk of Ukraine refugees spreading STDs into a political leitmotif. This continues the trend of collecting political capital by demonizing various vulnerable target groups, including school and kindergarten teachers, sexual minorities and immigrants.
This rhetorical technique can be summed up as incitement. However, incitement should be treated on par with corruption in politics as it is corruptive behavior at its core: robbing someone of their sense of security to convert it into rhetorical "credit" that buys Riigikogu mandates at elections.
EKRE is a political party, while it also functions as a troll farm replicating certain narratives. If there is unwillingness to criticize party politics as such, security agencies should be able to point out certain activities of parties that cannot have anything to do with domestic or party politics, while clearly aiming to vilify certain national groups or other minorities. It is unconstitutional before one even starts to interpret the Constitution.
We are on the edge of our seats in former Center minister Mailis Reps' coffeemaker and childcare services embezzlement scandal, while someone doing away with a considerable part of society's sense of security from the Riigikogu rostrum doesn't even merit a mention. Incitement is corruption, and if we do not want to criminalize it, which I too believe would be dangerous, it should still be referred to as part of political corruption.
Editor: Marcus Turovski