Raul Rebane: Local, national and international

Raul Rebane.
Raul Rebane. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Politicians should carry a marshal's baton in their knapsack and strive for international competency. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Concentrating narrowly on the Estonian level was also visible during coalition talks, Raul Rebane finds in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

Many years ago, when trying to judge [retired Estonian discus thrower] Gerd Kanter's chances of making it to the top, I devised a simple analytical scheme. I asked whether Gerd was a local, national or international level talent? After a thorough analysis, I concluded that he had what it takes to make it internationally. And he did.

Everyone can ask themselves the same question. There is no point in deluding oneself. For example, when it comes to chess, I am a local player. I suppose I could do alright in Väike-Maarja, Pandivere and Simuna, while I would lose most games on the national level (playing in Tallinn and Tartu) and would have no chance on the world arena.

The scheme can be used to analyze many other fields. It is important to realize that people are needed on every level, that life is built like a pyramid. We can compare it to a song festival: Most sing in the choir, some are soloists, while only a few conduct world-class choirs abroad.

Competition works a little differently in politics. Determining career progress, the choice can be based on group affiliation, loyalty to the leader, activity or industry. Loyalty to the conductor is not enough to get ahead in music as one also needs to be able to sing. In politics, it often happens that the portfolio goes not to the person who is the best fit for Estonia but rather from their party's point of view. That is when people who do not speak foreign languages are put in charge of foreign trade or the field of agriculture entrusted to those whose passion is to work as a taxi driver.

It is not easy to make it to the top and most people never do. Those who do quickly learn that there is fierce competition and great responsibility. Every word counts. Racing driver Jüri Vips, who already was a man of international renown, made an unethical remark about a person belonging to a minority and caused himself a lot of problems for a very long time to come. One can still find jokes about a former Latvian president on YouTube from when they tried to explain politics to U.S. President Barack Obama in English.

Interestingly, politics has different requirements on different levels. One can utter ethical horrors a la that "blacks should be shown the door" on an Estonian radio show until the cows come home and nothing happens. There are even those who find it fantastic. On the other hand, it means one has no business in major league international politics. Uttering something like that at the Munich [security] conference would mark one for life. This means positioning oneself exclusively on the Estonian level right from the outset.

I believe it is a mistake. Most politicians should have a marshal's baton in their knapsack and strive for international competency. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Concentrating narrowly on the local level was also evident at the recent coalition negotiations.

It made me want to shout: "God damn it, there's a war going on, we are living in the greatest crisis since re-independence. Estonia's fate will be decided in Ukraine!" But what did we learn at coalition talks? The struggle seemed to be over who can procure the largest helicopter from which to throw cash around. Once the ink had dried, everyone took pride in having bested their partners by blackmailing the most funds for the party's plans.

Not looking at the big picture leads to populism. While benefits are important for a healthy society, we can vote at 16, receive family allowance until we turn 24 when many have kids of their own, and eat for free at school until we're 18.

Why is that? It seems that politicians feel confident haggling for and ordering benefits but entirely out of their depth internationally. This leads to communication that prioritizes local affairs and comes up with slogans such as "the real problems of the people" etc.

Problems are real and they're great, but does anyone truly hope to continue living as if nothing has happened during this crisis? Perhaps our primary concerns are tied to the fate of Ukraine? Perhaps giving Ukraine €200 million worth of shells is a more effective way to ensure our future than yet another benefits shower? It's worth discussing at least.

I wrote this piece as a warning, petrified of what the promises will be moving closer to the elections [in spring]. The trap of thinking small, reflected in the definition of "first-rate second-rate men," has definitely been set.

Perhaps we can come up with something grander and more strategic in the quest for votes this time. Major crises and war today constitute a time of thinking big.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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