Aimar Ventsel: The coming of citizens against everything
Estonia has developed a community of professional protesters who are visible at almost all such gatherings. They protested when the Õismäe white willow was cut down back in the day and were in the caravan when taxes were driving to Latvia. An acquaintance of mine referred to them as "anti-everything," Aimar Ventsel writes.
Last December witnessed something that very seldom happens in Germany. A few dozen people were arrested, suspected of an attempted coup. Armed officers stormed buildings in different parts of Germany and arrested people. It all looked like an action movie; the door was kicked in and SWAT operatives wearing all black and helmets took the buildings by storm and dragged out the suspects. They were members of the Reichsbürger movement.
The Reichsbürgers is a very heterogenous movement that included neo-Nazis, monarchists, conservatives, revisionists (people who question official history), esoterics, antisemites etc. The one thing this mottled company had in common was questioning the legitimacy of the German state. Over time, parts of the movement became radicalized down to some groups allegedly arming themselves, plotting to murder Chancellor Olaf Scholz and overthrow the German government. But we're getting sidetracked... The movement still exists, even though most members are not militant enough to attempt a coup.
I was reminded of this when browsing reactions to the Võro Congress declaring the Võro people as indigenous. Leaving aside the legitimate concerns and self-organization of local residents regarding the expansion of the Nursiaplu Training Area, it is very interesting to try and make sense of who showed up to take their place in the human chain and cheer on the creation of a new indigenous people. Or did so in social networks. While there were all sorts, a few familiar faced did pop up.
It has been claimed that the human chain in Nursipalu was made up of people sporting a very specific range of views from all corners of Estonia. There is a screenshot making the rounds of a social media post where a well-known [in certain circles] antivaxxer and esoteric complains of how they drove all the way from Tallinn and went from farm to farm in an attempt to mobilize people, but no one came.
It is hardly a secret that Estonia seems to have developed a community of professional protesters who are present at almost all such events. They protested when the Õismäe white willow was cut down back in the day and were in the caravan when taxes were driving to Latvia, whereas I have lost count of how many times people have protested vaccination, clearcutting etc., or showed up in defense of free speech on Toompea Hill.
There are people who always attend such events or egg them on in social media. A diverse community made up of antivaxxers, esoterics, conspiracy theorists, snake oil promoters, opponents of Slavic colonialism and who knows what else. An acquaintance of mine referred to them as "anti-everything."
But there seems to be one thing they all have in common. They all question the legitimacy of the Estonian state in one way or another. For those that still remember, the first quarantine in 2020 saw the birth of a rather harebrained narrative according to which the Republic of Estonia is a corporation and "because I have no contract with that corporation, I'm not bound by its laws." In a word, it all reminds me of the Reichsbürger movement – people who are joined by not what they have in common, but by what they oppose.+
Interestingly, at least parts of this company search for pseudo-legitimate arguments, such as the "Republic of Estonia as a corporation" postulate, to try and explain their protest. Another curious aspect is that citizens who claim not to recognize the Estonian state in various ways still seem to take offence when said republic fails to take good enough care of them.
There is constant complaining of how services are not free, pensions and salaries are small and the government is being tight with its money. And so, people take part in any and all protests where the chance to stick it to the state or a representative institution presents itself.
Perhaps that is why I feel [PM] Kaja Kallas has become evil incarnate in the eyes of many fellow citizens. Navigate to whichever Facebook group of esoterics and conspiracy theorists and see how the prime minister is depicted in rather poorly made memes – as an Islamic terrorist here or a puppet bought and paid for by Washington, in true Soviet propaganda fashion, there.
This mottled crew even has its own government. The Nõmme Government, or an alternative Estonian government that also does not recognize the legitimacy of the existing state. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the Nõmme Government does not hold alternative elections, which is why it is difficult to say what kinds of alternative programs these citizens have come up with. But the sun is shining, the summer just beginning, and I'm sure we can look forward to more protest manifestations of various kinds.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski