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Speaker uses parliamentary opening speech to warn of populism

Eiki Nestor speaking at Monday's opening of parliament.
Eiki Nestor speaking at Monday's opening of parliament. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Estonian parliament (Riigikogu) Speaker Eiki Nestor (SDE) used his opening speech on Monday to warn against manipulation by populists of uncertain times and fearful people.

"It is both crucial and comprehensible to us that any attempt to cause division and discord is not in our interests," Mr. Nestor said, welcoming the first day of the 13th Riigikogu's 8th session.

"'Estonia first' should also mean 'a unified Europe first', 'NATO ‒ a league of democratic states based on the rule of law ‒ first'," Mr. Nestor went on, alluding to nationalism espoused by groups like the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE).

Not naïve

Mr. Nestor denied naivité, saying that substituting allied states' own names in the above 'X-first' statement would bring the severity of the message home ''...not only among our companions in fate, Latvia and Lithuania, but in all our allies.''

''Nevertheless, voters in many countries nowadays have strong doubts, though less here thanks to Molotov and Ribbentrop,'' Mr. Nestor said, referring to the 1939 pact which preceded Estonia's occupation.

''Saying these people are simply foolish would itself be foolishness,'' he continued.

When people don't know what to think, they get scared

''The greatest challenge facing democratic countries is to give back a sense of security to those for whom the new reality has turned out too difficult," he continued.

"Undecided people are easy to scare. Populists are unfortunately playing off that,'' he went on.

"Freedom is in our joint interest regardless of one's political stance," Mr. Nestor opined.

"The most serious reading this summer was an opinion piece in a major daily published after the [Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin] summit in Helsinki. I forget its title, but essentially here the sense was, 'luckily it [the summit] passed and they did not discuss us,'' he went on.

Uncertain times

''I understand where the author of the piece is coming from, but it still disturbs me that this kind of thing needs publishing, even in the era of 'fake news'," Mr. Nestor continued.

He also argued that the success story of European cooperation based on joint values and the peaceful cohabitation of ethnic nationalities in Estonia is a threat to those used to pitting people against one another in pursuit of personal gain.

"Let's not give them that opportunity," he went on.

Mr. Nestor did concede that the apparent crumbling of rule-based international order has made many anxious.

Trust in security services

"By honouring fully the democratic decisions of other countries and nations, Estonia cannot fail to recall the Europe's tragic 20th century story ... By fully believing in and trusting our foreign security services, all power to them,'' he continued.

A former Estonian army officer and his father were arrested on Wednesday after allegedly passing classified information to Russian intelligence agencies for more than five years.

''I am glad that we at the Riigikogu seem to be mostly of one mind on this and I am convinced that this will continue after the 2019 elections in March,'' he said.

Mr. Nestor was also critical of the current reputation of many of the major parties in Estonian politics.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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