Chairman candidate: Eesti 200 should quit the coalition

Arko Okk.
Arko Okk. Source: Kirke Ert/ERR

Film director Arko Okk, running for Eesti 200 chairman, told Vikerraadio that he wants to spark debate inside the party more than he wants to lead, and that because the coalition agreement does not consider the party's goals, Eesti 200 should quit Estonia's Reform-led government.

You told Delfi in an interview yesterday that you have decided to run in order to inspire the party and that, unlike [opposing candidate] Margus Tsahkna, you do not have skill with empty words. What is troubling you the most?

Let's talk about film! I have a world premiere coming up tomorrow. There is a fantastic festival taking place [PÖFF]. And if you look at the films on display, they all have one thing in common. The filmmakers are not struggling to be liked. Whereas it is not the world or filmmakers that have gone crazy, it's the politicians.

So, you believe it is necessary to speak your mind when it comes to Estonia's culture policy instead of aspiring to be liked?


What do you think of Estonia's culture policy?

We are the smallest civilization in mainland Europe, which we must keep alive at all costs. Our language is the vessel of our culture. Everyone who likes spending time in Estonia realizes that it's our language and culture which make it so special. It is a value we need to preserve and which requires funding.

The trouble with this is that we have seen a lot of people enter politics saying the exact same thing only to quickly become exceedingly vague. Let us take if only [Eesti 200's outgoing chair] Lauri Hussar who has made [former PM] Jüri Ratas come off hawkish lately. In your view, how should one play politics without becoming vague?

One should listen to one's conscience. It may sound a little full of pathos, but I'm an ordinary person, a rank and file member of the party.

I was inspired by a series of articles by Igor Taro from five years ago. They were highly encouraging and innovative. This feeling of society stagnating and there being too much corruption. We need to listen to ourselves and express ourselves as clearly and simply as possible.

My goal is not to take over running the party, it's to encourage members to recall that the things we wrote down in the coalition agreement are not quite what we created this party for. Our actions do not match our words, and it is time, if there will be a new chairman, to take another look at what we have promised our voters.

We are a liberal party but let us stick to what we've promised. We are not so liberal as to promise one thing and then do something else. I would rather be a little more conservative in those terms.

Asked by Delfi how you feel about your chances of winning, you said, and I quote: "90-10 in my favor." I don't know how serious you were being, but that would mean you have 800 people backing you in the party. People knew you were running all day yesterday. How many fellow party members contacted you to offer support?

There were only a few. But let's be honest, the more people turn out to vote on Sunday, the greater the chance for new ideas to make the scene. Not all 900 members will turn up. Rather, there will be 50, 100 or 200 people voting.

But if 101 of them will vote to signal that we do not agree what is happening to us, that we did not promise tax hikes, while taxes are in fact being hiked – even if we considered it for specific purposes... Not to mention teachers /.../ We do not even have to discuss anything, people can simply vote or support change.

Talking about 90-10, I hope we still have a democratic party, whereas the word "democracy" was only entered into our program during our second year and following a proposal by yours truly. It had been overlooked. But if we have a democratic party, and we do, and if we have fair elections, if people listen to their conscious, why not?

I'm ready not just to talk to people and listen but to put my skills to good use. Because I can see all-encompassing involvement everywhere, complete with committees and the like. But this is too often just a formality, and while people get their turn to speak, the outcome never changes. And it goes beyond the sphere of culture.

If you said that you should revisit the promises made in spring or stand behind them, it seems to me that Eesti 200 would have three options under your chairmanship: to leave the coalition, convince the Reform Party to alter recent decisions, or form an alternative coalition. Which do you hold the most realistic and what kind of steps would you take?

All three are likely. I believe we should leave the coalition under the current circumstances. I would quit it if only because of what was done with the large family benefit (the benefit was cut – ed.), not to mention what teachers were promised.

I was part of four working groups for Eesti 200's first election, including culture and transport. I'm currently a member of four working groups, including national defense, and I know that the 3 percent (referring to Estonia's defense spending of 3 percent per GDP – ed.) decision landed there. But it was not approved. I was against it plain and simple. Kalev Soicescu introduced the topic in a very intelligent way, but it was left hanging in the air, it [the decision] came from the board. It was like a campaign drive to join the club and get it done. Teachers' wages, internal security salaries and culture funding – all of it comes down to that additional percentage point [of defense funding] or €150-260 million. That is where the money went.

The things I'm saying are where I stand. I'm a patriot of the party. I'm loyal to the party, while the time has come to make a choice. It is no longer a case of the board deciding everything or letting things happen as they might.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you did not run in the recent general election. I believe you got 23 votes the last time you did run four years ago. Your mandate has been weak to say the last, whereas you have no mandate at all presently. Do you consider it a problem when running for chairman?

I said right off the bat that I haven't tried to be popular, and we all know that appearing on the radio can deliver a considerable boost in that regard.

It has also been suggested that Margus Tsahkna has political experience on his side, you have none...

Why even pretend to have democracy in that case, spend money to have elected MPs and local governments? Might as well have professional politicians take care of things. We should or at least could step out of this comfort zone. We should calmly and without hysteria discuss the situation in the world we currently inhabit and what will come next. We've had one crisis after another, the ruble crisis, economic crisis, then the coronavirus. We will probably see the next major crisis six or seven years from now and should prepare.

We are talking about oil shale. Should we shut it all down and sit in the... Where will peace come from if we start producing ammunition? I don't think it's right. We need to talk about industry and science, while we should not be talking about military industry.

We can roll our eyes when talking about Russia, but Russia is also home to Finno-Ugric peoples, different peoples who make the decisions. It was Lennart Meri who said that the Estonian government does not equal Estonia, and the Russian administration also does not equal Russia.

You also told Delfi about where you stand regarding Russia, and that we should not forget about Russia. That it makes for a painful topic at the moment and how we should somehow turn to face Russia. Please explain how do you see this communication with Russia at this time or how should we face it while there is aggression in Ukraine?

What I meant was that we need to understand Russia.


It means that we are talking about a country where there has basically been a great mess, a bardak from day one. They have nuclear weapons and we need to maintain a balance.

How would that work? I believe we all understand that...

It could work like it has worked in Finland where the government and president have kept in touch to get a feel for the situation. We're talking about our neighbor.

Do I understand you correctly in that you would talk to Vladimir Putin, seek contact were you prime minister?

There are different levels.

I realize that, but if you had the option?

I would present Estonia's conditions as [Russia's] neighbor – things that have to do with our everyday life, Finno-Ugric peoples. We need to talk to people instead of becoming shut in. If there is a way to talk to people, we should do it. That is what makes the Russia topic so painful.

To close, I would recall how Peeter Ernits ran for EKRE chairman alongside Martin Helme this spring. You mentioned the word bardak, while I would introduce another in pokhazukha. Isn't it a case of pokhazukha where you are set up opposite Margus Tsahkna to put on a show of in-house democracy at Eesti 200?

Why should I go along with something like that? I started out by saying I'm not out to be liked. I have always made films that I have felt needed to be made. I'm rather far removed from the mainstream. It is my conscience that has led me here, and my conscience is clean. I'm offering the party a chance. How the party will decide to move forward will become clear this Sunday.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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