In a recent opinion piece in Postimees, small business-owner and Reform Party member Vootele Päi responded to criticism sparked by Prime Minister Jüri Ratas' plans to attend a commemorative concert-service at the Estonian church in Saint Petersburg next month.
Päi found that the Kremlin's propaganda machine will continue working regardless of whether or not Estonia's prime minister visits Saint Petersburg or not, pointing out for example that NATO presence in Estonia, while Estonians appreciated the need for it, provided the machine with more fodder.
"Self-isolation and balking at dialogue and diplomacy in propaganda-driven fear is among other things one of the objectives the adversary seeks to achieve," he noted, finding also that in the midst of the U.K., Germany, the EU as a whole and even Estonia spending tens of millions of euros in attempts to seek support in the Russian cultural space and public, people have forgotten the simple charm of the human aspect.
Päi recalled that on one March night three years ago, he himself was running on the treadmill at a gym in Saint Petersburg that overlooked Kazan Cathedral when Putin, speaking on TV, declared a new geopolitical reality. Despite the following months not always remaining comfortable, he chose to remain and complete his studies, a decision which he felt did not make him a bad person.
Feeling the same about Ratas in the context of the prime minister's decision to participate in the upcoming concert-service at the Estonian St. John's Church in Saint Petersburg, Päi clarified, "Defense policy is made in sanctions, the Ministry of Defence, Brussels and Tapa; the place for cultural, educational and citizen diplomacy is at a concert and in church."
In spring of that year, in both Saint Petersburg and Moscow alike, Päi was met with warmth and openness and sensed that which Estonians want to believe that those in Russia think of them is a distorted truth.
Estonians figure significantly in the history of Saint Petersburg and, in turn, the city has its part in the history of Estonia, he said, listing among others the names of three Estonian signatories of the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty who had studied there. "History deserves respect, as do those 40,000 Estonians who demanded autonomy on the streets of the capital of the Tsarist Empire for our piece of land," he insisted, warning that it was just more fodder for the Kremlin if Estonia helped to cement themselves in Russians' collective consciousness as a petty small country who despises an entire people and cultural space for political reasons.
"The position of prime minister is multidisciplinary — defense policy where needed and cultural policy where needed," Päi concluded, adding that he would wait and see how Ratas handled local Russian media and planned his agenda for the visit.
This opinion piece originally appeared in daily Postimees on Friday, March 24.
Editor: Aili Vahtla