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PESA founder: Conservative people cannot be united through rigid messages

Martin Ehala.
Martin Ehala. Source: ERR/Anneli Milistver

Founder of the PESA conservative think tank, head of Postimees' opinion desk Martin Ehala tells ERR in an interview that the think tank does not have a legal body yet and that members aim to create a softer conservative thought platform.

The recently founded PESA think tank sent the Riigikogu a letter signed by 59 public figures on Monday where it asks the parliament not to amend the concept of marriage. How did PESA get its start and is it an NGO or a foundation?

The think tank is completely informal at this time. We have not come to creating a public body for it. It is a circle of likeminded individuals which first met on April 28.

There is no funding as of yet?

No. It has absolutely no funding.

But there are plans?

We do plan to create a legal entity of some sort. We do not know when we'll get around to it as there are many other things to discuss right now. Whether we're talking about gender neutral marriage, hate speech legislation, family benefits or other matters. We are just so busy shaping messages, thinking about how to feel about these things, how to present it. We've done almost no paperwork.

I take it the think tank will eventually become a nonprofit or a foundation, such as SAPTK (Foundation for the Protection of Family and Tradition) or SALK (Liberal Citizen Foundation)?

Again, we would first have to sit down and decide what would be the best legal form. I have looked into the differences between an NGO and a foundation, while I have no clear preference yet.

What other plans do you have for the think tank? Will you expand or stage protests?

We have not thought as far ahead as a demonstration. Rather, it is really like a think tank. The people involved are brilliant writers, thinkers and at formulating an argument or two. The main thing is to look for and phrase arguments for promoting core values, which conservative or patriotic parties have not really managed before or after elections. They lack a solid, strong message to really draw in people. The potential is there, we just need creative people to send the message in an engaging way.

How would PESA differ from SAPTK?

As their name – Foundation for the Protection of Family and Tradition – suggests, their orientation is narrower. I believe we want to be heard on a wider range of topics. Looking at the conservatism-liberalism axis, I believe we are right-center, somewhere between EKRE and Isamaa. I feel that SAPTK is very fundamentally conservative, which is why I also believe its messages have a smaller audience in Estonia. Where we could really bring together more conservatively-minded people is a softer, less rigid and dogmatic middle ground.

Are you behind the idea for the think tank?

Yes, I was the one to write my friends and propose meeting and discussing these topics, messages etc.

It seems you're serious about this thing. Could it pose a conflict of interest in terms of your post as head of Postimees' opinion desk?

Even without a role conflict, Postimees has defined itself as a supporter of Estonian language and culture in its header. If this tonality is congenial, there is no major conflict as I've been writing opinion articles for three years myself as head of the opinion desk. Therefore, what I think and where I stand in terms of my worldview is no secret, while it has not stopped me from running the desk in a way to represent all kinds of opinions from one end of the spectrum to the other.

However, things getting busy at PESA could still see the two jobs get in one another's way. Therefore, I cannot really say how to solve that conflict and when. But it is possible a solution will be needed.

And when could the think tank get a legal body?

I cannot say at this time. We may not wait six months, while we'll not be deciding anything next week either.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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