Tallinn's NO99 theatre will contribute the artistic part of this year's Independence Day reception at the Estonian National Museum in Tartu. 104 signatories have sent a public letter to President Kersti Kaljulaid objecting to the choice, as this means director Tiit Ojasoo, who in 2016 shoved and kicked a woman he worked with at the theatre, will be involved in Estonia's centennial Independence Day celebrations. The letter has triggered a fierce debate.
Of the total budget for President Kaljulaid's Independence Day reception on Feb. 24, some €300,000 will go to the NO99 theatre. Ojasoo, as one of the theatre's founders and by far its most successful director, will most likely be involved.
As Director of the Office of the President Tiit Riisalo confirmed, it was indeed the theatre's "creative footprint" that made them decide in NO99's favor. They have experience with large-scale productions, he added. The Estonian National Museum had no traditional hall as such, which is another challenge the cultural program of the evening needs to take into account.
The decision was met with sharp criticism. Involving Ojasoo, in the opinion of some, is sending the wrong sign. Ojasoo was in the media for weeks in summer 2016 when it became known that he had physically assaulted a female colleague in January the same year.
Though the authorities were able to close the case, as both parties agreed to a compromise procedure, Ojasoo had to offer a public apology and faced political pressure to resign as the theatre's creative director (NO99 is state-funded). Several members of the Riigikogu across different parties demanded he step down, which he also did.
That Ojasoo is now awarded a crucial role in the celebration of Estonia's 100th anniversary Independence Day has prompted 104 signatories to send a letter to President Kersti Kaljulaid complaining about the choice of NO99 for the evening's cultural program.
The president defended the choice on Tuesday, saying that Ojasoo accepted the consequences of his actions, had done what they required him to do, and that forgiveness in general is something that a society should be able to exercise. Her message, then, was though Ojasoo shouldn't be forgotten, but forgiven. The debate continues in the media as well as on social media.
Argument escalates, Ojasoo physically assaults colleague
The incident in question took place in January 2016. Ojasoo pushed a colleague hard enough for her to fall into a snowdrift. Once she was down, Ojasoo kicked her in the stomach and the thighs twice.
Though it became public only in June 2016, the theatre had been aware of what happened, as it had actually been caught by a security camera. The camera recorded how Ojasoo pushed the woman, and then showed him running away from the scene. NO99 later said that they hadn't approached anyone about it because they considered what happened to be a "private matter" between Ojasoo and the victim.
The police's investigation later confirmed that he had also kicked her in the stomach and thighs twice. The victim did go to the police, but her only statement made in public was anonymous. In it, she explained that her reason to report the incident had been that she wanted to "forgive and move on".
Both parties consider matter resolved
The matter was eventually resolved in April 2016 by compromise procedure. An agreement was reached that prescribed actions to be taken by Ojasoo over the following six months. Details of the agreement were never made public, with Ojasoo saying that this course of action was part of the agreement itself.
Following the publication of what had happened in the media, Ojasoo said that he had immediately talked to everyone involved and never tried to hide anything.
"Any kind of violence is clearly reprehensible," Ojasoo said at the time. "There is no justification, and I'm very sorry that this incident took place. I'm truly very sorry. And again, violence is never a solution in any way. No matter the situation, it mustn't end up there."
According to Ojasoo, a "misunderstanding between two people" led to the incident who were "in equal position at that time". "I made a mistake and I'm trying to make up for it," Ojasoo was quoted by daily Õhtuleht at the time. "This was the first time in my life this happened, and I hope that it will never happen again."
Editor: Dario Cavegn