Minister of Culture: Sports issues need more attention

Minister of Culture Piret Hartman (SDE).
Minister of Culture Piret Hartman (SDE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The new Minister of Culture Piret Hartman (SDE) said in an interview with ERR that she is concerned about the omission of sports issues from the coalition agreement. Hartman said that she will push for pay rises for both cultural workers and sports coaches. Hartman also confirmed that she is determined to stand in the upcoming national elections, possibly in Ida-Viru County.

Why did you decide to take up a ministerial post for such a short time and leave your position as undersecretary (for cultural diversity)? The elections to the Riigikogu are only eight months away.

I have been at the Ministry of Culture for seven years in total, and the issues that the Ministry has been dealing with have become very important to me. I've also been familiarizing myself with the challenges, getting to know partners and networking. And, of course, the reason why I decided to accept (the position) was to take these issues to an even higher level, to the government level. On a personal note, of course, the fact that my main focus today has been on the area of integration, which is also very closely linked to the crisis in Ukraine, (to ensure) that this competence and expertise, when we have to deal with 40,000 refugees who have come here, is also represented at government level at this difficult time.

But what can be done in eight months?

Yes, it is a rather short period, but if we look at it from a national point of view, it is a very important period. In my experience, every day can be used to improve things in the four areas that the Ministry of Culture is responsible for.

Personally, I see that we need to continue to work on the issue of salaries, so that cultural workers and sports coaches are valued, so that they are prepared and motivated to make good contributions in their areas. We also certainly need to address the overall increase in expenditure. The Ministry of Culture today has a very large administrative portfolio, including more than 50 institutions.

We are aiming to have the Library Act adopted within eight months. We have been dealing with this issue here for years, decades even. We now hope to put an end to it. One important initiative that I would certainly like to take forward relates to cultural heritage, or the preservation of our cultural assets.

The coalition agreement is primarily centered on crisis-related issues, and is probably one of the shortest ever. Is there anything concrete in the wording of the agreement that relates to culture?

It does provide a very general framework for the field of culture. On the one hand, there is the theme of a crisis-ridden culture, the question of salaries, and the issue of the vitality and value of (our) national culture, as well as issues related to the national library and libraries (in general). So, on the one hand, yes, it is a bit general, but on the other hand, it is also an opportunity to continue with the long-term objectives that we currently have.

What concerns you about this coalition agreement?

My biggest concern is that the area of sport, which is also the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture, is completely outside (of the agreement) and issues related to physical activity are still a very big challenge today. So, the aim is definitely to bring sport into the picture, even though that is not reflected in the coalition agreement right now.

Minister of Culture Piret Hartman (SDE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

What are the burning issues that need to be addressed when it comes to sport?

In relation to sports, up to now, attention has been focused in two directions. One regards professional sport, and the other is related to physical activity. We certainly want to continue with (both of) these. We should definitely continue to develop Team Estonia. This is a unit within the Estonian Olympic Committee (IOC), which aims to support professional athletes. It was established a few years ago and is now in operation, but the resources to support (today's) professional athletes as well as the next generation are still too limited. This is where we would like to find additional resources so that we can do this in line with the needs of the industry.

And the other aspect, relates to physical activity. Today, we see that more than 40% of people are exercising. This trend is very positive and it's growing. But a very large proportion of people, including children, do not exercise at all. Supporting children's (participation in) physical activity is certainly one of the key areas that should be addressed.

Will you be pushing for a pay raise for cultural workers in the next national budget?

I very much hope so. The coalition agreement very clearly spells this out. I will certainly do my part to make sure that we get that pay raise. But, of course, it all depends on the state budget negotiations in August and September. And, of course, it is also my aim to discuss a pay raise for (sports) coaches, because this very clearly has an impact on children's (participation in) physical activity.

What do you intend to do about easing the energy costs of cultural institutions? Is this also one of the things you are going to be working on, specifically in the context of the budget?

We, at the Ministry of Culture, have already put that on the table. We have also made (the relevant) calculations. I will definitely raise this issue during the negotiations on the state budget.

Do you see your role as Minister of Culture as being a bridge between the government and people in the cultural sphere or the cultural landscape?

I very much believe in cooperation. One person, even if he or she is the culture minister, certainly cannot take the lead for the entire culture. However, my role today is to be a very good partner to the leaders we have in the cultural sphere, and certainly as a mediator (between them and) the government. I have a great deal of trust and respect for the people who are working in these areas nowadays, which are linked to the Ministry of Culture. I very much hope to maintain the close contact that I have had so far. So, I hope to work with them and to stand up for these issues at government level as well.

What has become of the establishment of cultural heritage museums?

Our aim is to start designing them next year. The calculations have been done, (regarding) the design and construction capacities. But, of course, we also see that today construction costs are rising very rapidly. So, the aim is that we should start the designing next year, to get the ball rolling. Why and where they are needed has already been negotiated. The groundwork has been laid, now it's just a matter of taking concrete steps, and I can see it being possible to start designing (the museums) next year.

What will the action to support innovation in public libraries do?

We have been talking for years about libraries not only being places to keep books, but also as community centers. We have more than 800 libraries in Estonia today and, as we say ourselves, the library is the most direct route to the country. Our task is to think about how to increase this role, how to increase the digital capacity of libraries. There is also the issue of databases. We have several library databases today. How can we harmonize them? Why should there be three databases in Estonia? After all, there could be a single database, which enables books to move (to different libraries) according to where the readers want them to be.

Last year, the Riigikogu added Tallinn Film Wonderland (An Estonian film industry complex planned for the Kopli district of Tallinn) to the list of cultural buildings of national importance. Its construction was to have been initially funded by the City of Tallinn (The city was to be repaid at a later date using funds allocated as state support), however the rug seems to have been pulled from under the project, following the government's decision not to provide support from the European Reconstruction Fund to assist in the construction of Tallinn Hospital. This means the Film Wonderland issue is still to be resolved in order for the City of Tallinn's budget for next year to be finalized. How can the project go ahead?

The Riigikogu has made the decision about the order in which to fund these important cultural objects. Of course, here we can work on the basis of the mandate given by the Riigikogu. I know that there are active searches ongoing to find solutions which will ensure everything is in place for construction of the Film Wonderland to begin. As far as I am aware, there are currently three different options on the table. I hope that during the fall we will arrive at the right solution so that we can start construction.

What has become of the maintenance of St. John's Church in St. Petersburg? (St John's is an Estonian Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg) Due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, events can no longer take place there. However, it is still necessary to cover the building's maintenance and running costs. The previous culture minister (Tiit Terik, Center) also prevented Eesti Kontsert from terminating its contract with the church. How do you see this problem being addressed under the current circumstances?

At the moment, it is clear that it is very difficult to organize meaningful activities in St John's Church. For the time being, we have come to the conclusion that we can, and will, cover the (maintenance) costs there. While we are currently waiting for the general situation to be resolved, we cannot engage in substantive activities there. But as far as the administrative side is concerned, in order to cover the costs and to keep the building in Eesti Kontsert's hands, solutions have been found for the time being. I do not want to go into (further) detail at the moment.

Kaja Kallas' second government, the Reform/Isamaa/SDE coalition, took office on July 18, 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

In connection to your appointment as minister, are you planning to stay involved in politics for a longer period?

It is difficult to answer that question at the moment. My aim is to concentrate on these eight months and to be a valuable partner in these areas. What happens in the next eight months remains to be seen. Whether I will also be considered a worthy politician, only time will tell.

As you are now involved in high-level politics, have you also decided to stand for election to the Riigikogu?

Standing for election to the Riigikogu is something that the SDE definitely has to agree on as a party first, but personally, I can say that the place my heart aches for the most is Ida-Viru County. If it is at all possible, I would stand as a candidate in that region. I grew up there and go there very often. I am familiar with the issues and concerns of the people there.

But have you made the decision to stand?

Having spent time working both in the Riigikogu and for the party, I understand of course that it is the party which chooses ministers who are prepared to stand for election to the Riigikogu. So, in that sense, I respect both the party and their wishes regarding which ministers will stand. Yes. I have taken the decision to stand.

The previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic were pretty devastating for event organizers, theaters and musicians. What is your message to these people ahead of the fall, when the next wave of the virus will be upon us? How do you reassure them that they won't find themselves on another 'forced vacation' lasting several months?

When the coronavirus pandemic started, I was one of the people in the Ministry of Culture who was responsible for crisis management. I liaised with the Government Office and the Health Board, and I was also actively involved in putting together the guidelines to keep the (events) sector as open as possible.

My own feeling is that in these two or three years we have gained a great deal of experience as a sector, learned a lot, and also developed various measures in order to keep the sector open for as long as possible. The crisis is such that it is very difficult to make promises, but I certainly do promise to work hand in hand with the sector, to make use of the experience as well as the networks and contacts that we now have, so that we are able to do as much as possible to keep (the cultural sector) open. But, right now we certainly cannot predict every eventuality.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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