Mihhail Kõlvart, chairman of the Center Party and mayor of Tallinn, said he is sorry several people have quit Center after he was elected. He added that Isamaa's example shows that a party can be in good shape even after a lot of members leave.
"I am very sorry several people have left the Center Party. People's political views and party affiliation are personal decisions, which we need to respect. My message after I was elected chairman was clear. All members are valuable and I'm willing to set aside personal conflicts and sharp statements to start from a clean slate. Unfortunately, some people shaped their position and made up their mind even before the congress took place," Kõlvart told ERR.
The chairman said that groups of people have left parties before, including Center and Isamaa. "It was not too long ago when a group of people strong enough to establish a new political party left Isamaa. Despite this, Isamaa is in good shape politically today. It is also Center's goal to improve its political form and move forward with its values," Kõlvart remarked.
ERR wrote around two weeks ago that some 40 people left Center after Kõlvart was elected. Those who have quit the party include MPs Jaanus Karilaid and Tõnis Mölder, as well as retired Maj. Gen. Neeme Väli. All three joined the conservative Isamaa party.
The Center Party has long been described as having competing wings, one gravitating toward catering to Russian-speaking and one to conservative Estonian voters. Kõlvart's election has been interpreted as a victory for the Russian-speaking side, which has caused several members of former chair Jüri Ratas' so-called Estonian camp to quit the party, including Karilaid and Väli.
Kõlvart: 'Ya Russkiy' stickers clearly a provocation
The mayor also commented on recent incidents where owners of vehicles with Estonian license plates have installed stickers reading, "Ya Russkiy" (I'm Russian) and "Sila v pravde" (Strength in the truth) on their rear windshields. Both slogans have been used in Russia to justify its war of aggression against Ukraine.
Kõlvart said that while demonstrating one's nationality should not be a problem, it becomes one when nationality is used to try and manufacture confrontation and provoke hatred.
"In this case, we can perceive an attempt to provoke and create political tension. It is sensible to avoid provocation at this time as we do not need additional social tensions. The police have said where they stand on these stickers, and I believe it is a good solution," Kõlvart commented.
Editor: Alekdander Krjukov, Marcus Turovski