Professor Irja Lutsar running for Eesti 200 in March 2023 general election

Irja Lutsar.
Irja Lutsar. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Professor of Microbiology and Virology at the University of Tartu Irja Lutsar has thrown her hat in with the Eesti 200 party and will run at next spring's general election.

Professor Lutsar, who rose to prominence during the Covid pandemic when she was head of the government's advisory body, told ER that she sees herself above all else as a representative of the concerns of people from more outlying areas of the country, in an interview given to ERR which follows in its entirety.

Is your candidacy to be taken as some kind of manifestation of discontent? You are not satisfied with what has been happening in Estonia?

You could probably interpret it that way; I've actually been a somewhat of a fixer of the world and its problems since kindergarten. I believe I can do something. During the Covid pandemic, I was witness not to only medical issues, but also other Estonian problems, which previously had not stood out so sharply in everyday life. There are many things we could do better.

For example? What is the main issue in Estonia?

Not everyone feels as though this is their Estonia. Let's look for instance at vaccinations in Tallinn, Tartu; things were not bad there at all. But the more you move towards the outlying areas, the lower the vaccination percentages became. 

Many elderly people from South Estonia, where I myself hail from, do not really feel that they belong to this country. That's what they've been telling me. I'm concerned about the border areas. I don't want life to disappear there.

If we concentrate on all the people who only live in Tallinn or Tartu, it will be very easy for our not-very-friendly neighbor to get a far reach into Estonia.

Which constituency are you going to run in?

We don't know exactly yet, but it will definitely be in South Estonia. As I said, I myself am from South Estonia (there are 12 electoral districts in Estonia during general election time, with four of these: Järva and Viljandi counties, Jõgeva and Tartu counties, Tartu City and Võru, Valga and Põlva counties -ed.).

And are you ready to go to the Riigikogu, if you get elected?

Yes, for sure. This decision did not come to me overnight. I have been thinking about it for a long time; who would continue to do this job and who will continue if I leave. Research work is not a nine-to-five (in Estonia, eight-to-five) thing. If my assistance is needed to explain or discuss some issue, I will probably find time for that, in addition to the work at the Riigikogu.

Why did you choose Eesti 200? Why didn't you join a more widely-supported political party? Within a more established political party, there are greater opportunities to get into power and actually do something?

I certainly considered first and foremost who my principles fit with best. I agree that not much can be done in opposition. But several of Eesti 200's thoughts suited me. 

Eesti 200 has always said that we must have a long-term plan, and the need for this became very apparent during the Covid period. We didn't have a long-range plan for crises that last for years.

Eesti 200 is about a personalized country. An individual does not have to search for themselves where this country is, but the country comes to them. The word "personal" is very pertinent to me, also professionally. I believe that personalized vaccination will probably come one day, taking into account which diseases pose the greatest risk to a particular person

I also observed that Eesti 200 is a party of youth. Of course, I can't compete with the energy of young people, but when you're young, you tend not to be aware of what problems befall people in their old age. Young people have energy and I have experience. If you put these together, you could have a really nice synergy.

Irja Lutsar was talking to ERR's Indrek Kiisler.

Eesti 200 was founded in 2018 and contested its first Riigikogu election in March 2019. While It is not currently represented in parliament, it won its first seats in last October's local elections.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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