Former Center Party leader, Riigikogu Vice President Jüri Ratas said that MEP Yana Toom's efforts to defend pro-Kremlin activists in court harms the reputations of the party and Estonia. Ratas believes Toom should not run for the European Parliament in Center's list.
Center Party deputy chair, MEP Yana Toom came under fire when it turned out she has helped pay the legal expenses, among others, of pro-Kremlin activists expelled from Estonia due to their actions. Among those Toom has helped is Immortal Regiment activist Zoja Paljamar whose residence permit the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS) revoked in June.
"It is damaging. Not just for the reputation of the Center Party but that of Estonia's foreign and domestic politics," Ratas told ERR.
"How long can an Estonian politician who is also a member of the European Parliament keep toying with this matter? The matter being the Estonian state. Irrespective of whether it is done using one's own money, representing and defending in an Estonian court someone who is really pro-Kremlin – I do not hold it to be right. There should be no place for such conduct at the top of Estonian politics," Ratas said.
The politician said that the board of the Center Party discussed the matter and it was seemingly resolved. "Everyone understood it is not acceptable for Center or for Estonia. But then we get another piece of writing from Yana Toom where she says she can do whatever she wants, that she'll do as she pleases despite criticism."
Ratas also recalled Toom's visits to Syria regarding which she also said she used her own money. "It is not a question of who paid for it. It is fundamental. I believe it is just not acceptable in Estonia's top politics and the European Parliament, considering the values of the day," Ratas remarked.
The former Center head wants the board to deliberate on the matter again and shape a clear position. Ratas also wants to hear from party leader Mihhail Kõlvart.
"The silence of party chairman Mihhail Kõlvart... A politician's silence can cut deeper than an icy wind," Ratas said.
He added that he believes it would not be right for Toom to run in the European Parliament elections in Center's list.
"The decision is up to the party's board and council, while it would not be right for Center to allow people who back persons sporting this cast of mind in a situation where the aggressor is bombing Ukraine and killing its people on a daily basis to run in the election."
Ratas added that he believes Toom's conduct would not see many people vote for her.
"I find it appropriate neither for Estonian- nor Russian-speaking people in Estonia," he said.
Yana Toom: Ratas has changed his position
Yana Toom told ERR that Ratas seems to have changed where he stands. "It is very old news. Ratas said in June of 2022, very sensibly, that Estonia has rule of law, that every person has the right to go to court and that we should wait for the court's decision."
"As concerns his position today, it is sad that I have to learn about it from the media. Jüri Ratas is a member of Center's board, and he has not raised the issue at any board meetings. I suppose it was time now," she added.
Toom could not say why Ratas is critical of her. "You will have to ask Jüri why a person changes their position 180 degrees. Zoja Paljamar's case has been known for a year and a half. It is an old story. And Jüri still found me worthy to be his number two on the parliamentary elections list after that fact. He also offered me frontrunner for the European Parliament election in June. Suddenly, everything has changed. What is the reason? That is not for me to comment on," Toom said.
ERR also asked Toom whether helping to defend Zoja Paljamar in court is in line with Estonian and European values?
"I believe that turning to court is in line with the values of any society that has rule of law. There is no question. What is more, Jüri Ratas agreed a year and even six months ago," Toom replied.
The MEP said she plans to run in the European Parliament elections in June of next year.
Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Marcus Turovski