Urmet Kook: No, Madam prime minister

Urmet Kook
Urmet Kook Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Kaja Kallas and the Reform Party could be summed up in one simple sentence through the recent controversy, in Estonian referred to as "the eastern transport scandal," namely the sentence "too little, too late," ERR's head of portals Urmet Kook notes.

At the same time, with every interview the prime minister has given since the story first went public on August 23, including a recent interview with Delfi's Vilja Kiisler (link in Estonian), we have learned a thing or two about Kallas as a person, Kook continues.

Vilja Kiisler's video interviews are of a genre seen in Estonian journalism which tend to attract more attention than average (the Kallas interview was a part of the "Vilja küsib" broadcast, which Kiisler hosts – ed.). 

I will not comment further on what was said in the interview regarding the hopeless situation whereby Prime Minister Kaja Kallas still does not seem to comprehend why it is that others cannot comprehend her.

The claim that communication is to blame in everything can also be seen in this way.

The story that the initial comment provided to ERR on the matter at the Maarjamäe Memorial on August 23 had come unexpectedly, and hence the behavior which has been seen in the Estonian media as inappropriate, must also be taken into account.

Simply in terms of the progression of dry facts, I would note that ERR's Estonian-language news portal sent its initial questions to Arvo Hallik, the prime minister's husband, on Friday, August 18. 

The prime minister herself says she learned of these two days later, on August 20 (both a Sunday and a national holiday in Estonia – ed.). 

Questions were sent to the prime minister's email on Tuesday, August 22, but she opted not to respond that day, after which the initial story was published at noon on Wednesday, August 23 (and some hours later in English – ed.).

This was followed shortly afterwards by a Facebook post from the premier addressing the matter.

In short, given the above, how could the questions asked in front of the cameras on the afternoon of August 23 have come as a surprise?

But this is already yesterday's news. What really bothered me instead was that part in Kallas' Delfi interview where the prime minister jumped on the journalist (perhaps I should stress the term woman journalist (author's emphasis – ed.), given Kallas' later narrative) with the question on how Ekspress Grupp (which publishes the news portal Delfi and the daily Eesti Päevaleht, among other titles – ed.) itself is doing with reducing its purchase of paper, for its print publications, from Russia and Belarus; something stated in the group's annual report.

The prime minister used a similar tactic when appearing before the Riigikogu committee, where instead of answering the questions put to her, she started enquiring about funding of the construction of Mart Helme's manor (Suure-Lähtru mõis in Lääne County; Helme chairs the Riigikogu anti-corruption committee before which Kallas appeared on September 4 – ed.). The outcome was a comedy of errors in which the focus was taken away from the main topic. 

Fortunately, Vilja Kiisler at least did not go along with that.

Kallas' sting (regarding the Ekspress Grupp paper imports – ed.) was abhorrent in that she pounced on a personal level on a journalist who, as far as I am aware, 1) is not the husband of the owner of Ekspress Grupp; 2) is not the financial manager at Ekspress Group or its board chair; 3) has not personally granted Ekspress Grupp a loan of €370,000 (the sum reportedly loaned by the prime minister to her spouse, in two tranches – ed.), and 4) has not built up her status within the publication by, in her writing, calling for tougher sanctions on Russia and an end conducting all types of business connected with Russia.

Casting an ambiguous aspersion on the journalist was all the more reprehensible as Kallas then went right on to speak about a network of male politicians and male journalists, whom she says are jealous of her.

I don't know, I personally enjoy communicating with, for instance, Liina Kersna (Reform), Kadri Simson (Center) or Riina Sikkut (SDE) much more than I do with most male Estonian politicians.

But if you, Kaja Kallas, truly care about women journalists, please do not deploy suggestions like that in their direction which could undermine the credibility of these women journalists, about issues with which they have no personal involvement.

As for the purchase of paper from Russia and Belarus Ekspress Grupp's annual report for last year (link in Estonian) actually states: "The choice of paper [sources] was hard in 2022. Ekspress Grupp's printers have previously used paper purchased primarily from the Nordic countries or from Russia. After the escalation of Russian aggression in Ukraine, printing houses reduced their dependence on Russian supplies of paper, which in turn directly affected the availability of paper for Ekspress Grupp companies."

I also asked of them if and in what volume it is currently being purchased [from Russia], and Argo Virkebau, board chair at Delfi Media, responded: "Delfi Meedia buys the entire service from Printall. The last purchase of Russian paper was made on December 15, 2022. As of now we use Finnish-, Swedish- and German-origin paper."

This means the media group in question stopped buying cheap paper from Russia quite some time ago. As is the case with many other Estonian companies which have wrapped up their operations in Russia, and taken a hit as a result. 

Perhaps hinting at such things, then, is not factually correct, especially in the context of one company and its parent company continuing to do business in Russia a year and a half after the outbreak of the war (referring to Metaprint and Stark Logistics, the latter of which the prime minister's spouse has a 24.8 percent stake in – ed.).

Finally, Kaja Kallas repeatedly asked Vilja Kiisler what she, Kallas, should do. One simple suggestion here: The first thing I would recommend is not to utter the phrase "What you can ask me" in a manner which has come to sound a bit like a zen koan, or something.

No, Madam prime minister, you cannot dictate to journalists what they can and cannot ask you.

That said, a simple recommendation for Vilja Kiisler: You said that you had admired Kaja Kallas as Prime Minister and are now, as I understand, most disillusioned.

Kallas has certainly made major contributions to Estonia's foreign and security policy during the Ukrainian war. I say this wholly in sincerity. But a journalist should always maintain a healthy skepticism and not set up ultimate ideals. Then there is less of a chance of disappointment at a later date.

Editor's note: The headline (in the original "Ei, proua peaminister") is a play on the title of popular British political sitcom "Yes Minister" (Estonian: "Jah, härra minister") and its follow-up "Yes, Prime Minister." ("Jah, härra peaminister"). Both proved highly popular when shown on Estonian TV.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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