President of the Riigikogu, Center Party leader and former PM Jüri Ratas said that he does not agree with criticism recently leveled by former high-ranking public servant Meelis Oidsalu against an inner circle of officials awarding top posts in Estonia. He added that he worked closely with the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (EFIS) as PM and considers its reports to be professional.
"I do not subscribe to the deep state theory. From what I have seen as prime minister, top public servants are appointed by the executives selection committee, with some postings decided by the government. I denounce and refute any deep state logic behind it. The Estonian officialdom is professional and has become such through growth, including during recent crises that have rendered both officials and politicians stronger," Ratas told Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" current affairs program.
Ratas recalled that an attempt by EKRE politician Martin Helme to replace the head of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) "contrary to the principles of law and order" failed during the days of his government. "I was against it then," the Center leader said.
Ratas also does not share Oidsalu's criticism for EFIS, saying that he pursued successful cooperation with the foreign intelligence service as PM. "The prime minister has close contact with the agency, and I have always supported them and consider their information highly professional."
Tank removal the right call, Maarjamäe Memorial in need of renovation
The relocation of the Narva tank [monument] as a "weapon of destruction" was the right call in Ratas' mind, as well as completely legal, contrary to what many Narva city councilors thought. "This weapon of destruction was not suited for the location. The effort [Narva Mayor] Katri Raik and the city council initially tried to make was worth it. However, it failed and caused the government to seize the initiative."
Because some councilors, led by Mihhail Stalnuhhin, were against the tank's removal, Ratas said Center is split on the matter, adding that when the party's board discussed the issue, no member had a different idea than Ratas.
"We need to admit it is a very complicated issue in Narva. We see it differently here in Tallinn and must understand that there are people with different value sets. And they live right here in Estonia. Some are Estonian citizens. But we cannot just remove them."
As concerns the future of the Maarjamäe Memorial, Ratas said it cannot be left as is. In other words, should the memorial be kept, it will need repairs to make it safe for the public.
Six parties to make the parliament, Reform afraid of tax debate
Ratas also commented on the general domestic political situation and upcoming Riigikogu elections campaign. He suggested the ruling Reform Party is afraid of a tax debate.
"The coalition has very ambitious plans. There are some right and proper things, like hiking the basic exemption or covering a larger part of nursing home fees. But if the same coalition then says that we will not be talking about taxes, or that there will be no tax hikes, that kind of situation can be sustainable for six months to a year. It constitutes pulling the wool over people's eyes. We want to hash these things out before elections," Ratas promised.
He said that Center will be looking to match its current result of 25-26 mandates. "Looking at the latest ratings from today, the Riigikogu will likely have six parties, and those 25-26 mandates could be enough to win," Ratas suggested.
Talking about political newcomers, non-parliamentary Eesti 200 and the newly formed Parempoolsed (Right-wingers), Ratas noted that while support for Eesti 200 has been in decline, they can reverse the trend by sending more concrete and stronger messages.
"They talk a lot about a long plan, but who doesn't like talking about that. It is far more important what that plan entails. If they can intensify their messages, there are quite a few people who could see in them an alternative to other right-wing parties. I believe their rating can still change."
Ratas described the Parempoolsed as brand spanking new and with potential to take votes away from Reform. He recalled that support for the group was measured at 1.3 percent before the party was registered, adding that it is not as little as people are trying to suggest for a party that didn't even exist at the time.
"However, time is short. And I know very few of their people, outside a couple of their leaders. They will offer Reform some competition in terms of fiscal policy."
Ratas intent on dancing with the stars
Ratas was also asked about his decision to appear on the Estonian version of "Dancing with the Stars" ("Tantsud Tähtedega") that some have seen as a ploy for cheap popularity in the conditions of Center's falling rating and empty coffers. Ratas did not agree.
"It is one thing what journalists think, and quite another what the people think. I have the support of the latter. It (criticism – ed.) cannot bring me down. It is my way of supporting the Estonian Cancer Society (Vähiliit) so they could afford to carry out more screening."
Ratas said he does not take newspaper editorials that criticized his decision seriously.
"Newspaper editorials tend to overlap. One's editorial today will be another's tomorrow. I cannot take seriously editorials that have in the past suggested that the Center Party should be destroyed. I represent the Center Party, while I will be dancing for the cancer society. Yes, our [elections] campaign will be more modest, but rumors of the demise of Center are exaggerated. I see, especially after our congress in Tartu, that the party is strong and united, ready to prove itself at elections," Ratas offered.
Editor: Marcus Turovski