Opinion: Estonia 200 leader means well, but could actions benefit EKRE?

Kristina Kallas has emerged from academia to head up a new political party, Estonia 200, which has a real shot at office. But is its many attractive ideas realistic, not least on the issue of (im)migration?
Kristina Kallas has emerged from academia to head up a new political party, Estonia 200, which has a real shot at office. But is its many attractive ideas realistic, not least on the issue of (im)migration? Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Kristina Kallas, chair of fledgling political party Estonia 200, which will be contesting its first ever general election a couple of months from now, raised some interesting points in a recent opinion piece where she set out Estonia 200's in opposition to the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).

She is right to note fear of those things which come from 'beyond the borders' is rife, for instance. Whilst I would probably draw these borders on a much more abstract scale than simply the lines demarcating the current sovereign state of Estonia, where she misses the mark is that such cookie cutter opinion pieces can make people choosing the dark roads she decries more likely, and not less.

Many of these pieces by Estonian politicians, political scientists (I believe Ms Kallas is both) tend to make use of quotes from noted thinkers, or sometimes to paraphrase their ideas, probably to lend a bit of gravitas to what follows, so who am I to break with that tradition?...

Viktor Frankl once recounted the story of ''Death in Teheran''. In it, a wealthy man confronts death in his, the man's, garden after his manservant flees his employer, saying he had to meet death that very night in the city of Teheran. The wealthy man asks why death scared off his manservant, whereupon death replies that he didn't, but simply asked the man why he was still here when death expected to meet the man that evening, in Teheran.

The point is, if I understand the tale correctly, that nothing is more effective in bringing about an undesirable outcome more than obsessively fretting about said outcome, to the extent that much balanged thought seems to go out of the window and even the essentials of what people mean in their statements gets bent out of shape on the anvil of presupposition.

Is it really an either/or situation?

Writing for online magazine Estonian World, Kristina Kallas took the oft-trod route of presenting an either-or situation facing Estonia today, essentially echoing what President Kersti Kaljulaid has already said. Either people jump ship in opposing the UN's Global Compact (though she does not mention this by name) and presumably the broader ''globalist'' approach to things, in so doing running the risk of throwing away all that has been gained in an independent Estonia, or they cut bait and properly get with the UN/EU/NATO program and all the securities this brings.

Either Estonia goes down the route of the much-maligned (and also fellow EU and NATO members) Poland and Hungary, or it throws its lot in with the supra-national elite, in this view.

Unsurprisingly, Ms Kallas directly addresses EKRE, the most vocal and unequivocal opponent to 'globalisation', but in so doing and by taking the binary choice presented above, she makes more likely the very outcome that she would seek to avoid.

To be fair, Ms Kallas is not trying to convert EKRE supporters over to her side, but rather making clear to all those (nearly a half of respondents according to some surveys) who say they would under no circumstances vote for EKRE of what the alternatives are.

Lennart Meri casts a very long shadow

However, penning ivory tower pieces about how irresponsible those who don't live in the real world effectively adds to the Frankenstein's monster that the, for want of a better phrase, far-right has constructed and termed, again for want of a better phrase, ''the left''.

Back when the migrant crisis first came to the fore at least so far as most Estonians were concerned, which means back in late summer/early autumn 2015, I heard a neighbour of mine vocally opine something about the EU's relocation plan and projects like it as not being ''the will of the people''. The problem is, it's not really clear what the will of the people really means, whether this can ever be in internal harmony on this and other issues and whether it does in fact really ''matter''.

There are certain ways of getting instant near unanimity, of course. Ms Kallas ''plays the Lennart Meri card'' in her piece, which would have that effct. Mr Meri was a former Estonian president who, by virtue of being dead, tends to get dragooned into a priori supporting a point, thus proving the speaker right and those he/she opposes oh so very wrong. Winston Churchill often plays a similar role in UK discourse on these and other questions.

However the migrant crisis and how it needs to be treated is a monumentally complicated issue which requires some much pretty big brains working on it, and therefore this bargain basement price war for the hearts and minds of the run of the mill Estonia can just lead to everyone getting an inferior product.

It goes without saying that Ms Kallas, as noted leading a political party which wants people to vote for it, is after votes. Nothing wrong with that per se; for a party and its leadership to be successful it needs to have votes, after all. However, again, going about things in this way is more likely to bring about the very thing feared, even if as a party leader she doesn't really have much of an alternative option.

Splitting EKRE's opposition?

Since EKRE voters are not likely to vote for Estonia 200, there is always a danger that Estonia 200 could weaken support for the parties which oppose EKRE, most importantly, the Social Democratic Party (SDE).

Estonia 200 may no doubt draw some support from disgruntled Reform and Pro Patria folk too, who respectively sat on the fence on the UN global compact (Reform) and actively opposed it, thus provoking a split (Pro Patria), but this doesn't exactly hinder EKRE either. In fact it could help them.

Whilst allowing for English not being Ms Kallas' first language, decrying the world becoming more ''English cultured'' in her piece is way off base in my view; the English language and ''English culture'' are two very different things. More important is the seeming contradiction in saying Estonia needs to be more open, then warning of the results (ie. this stranglehold of the English language and culture) that such an increased openness could bring.

She also conflates some sort of generalized islamic violence with the provocative or verbally threatening tactics of EKRE, which again doesn't quite ring true, simply because although some of the placards at the Toompea protests which saw one MEP, Indrek Tarand, assaulted and bundled away, were pretty shocking, what we have actually had in the case of some salafist, extreme groups claiming to represent Islam is people being beheaded, shot, burned alive etc. in reality. Which is miles ahead (or rather, behind) anything EKRE and their cohorts could imaginably get involved in.

Testing times

To return to my original theme, this is not an 'either-or' situation. Solutions can be found but they need to arise from the right people, the fewer trusted voices the better, not added to by everyone having their ten cents' worth and riling up the electorate. Pieces like this almost always mention the F-word ('fearmongering'). Ironically they then go on to run the risk of doing just that.

Another important step in the right direction would be to stop impliedly (Ms Kallas and others have not done this openly) saying that Estonia should do the right thing in going along with the UN/EU et al because if it doesn't, then those bodies might not give us stuff. Doing the right things means just that, and shouldn't be driven by threats of the resources channel being cut off.

Estonia needs a strong leader along the lines of Lennart Meri. The problem is, there is noone who is even remotely near to being worthy of mentioning in the same sentence, in the current political landscape, including Kristina Kallas and a political party which has not yet been tested and is not really saying anything particularly new on this score.

The current prime minister is more or less all we have when it comes to any kind of direction at all, even if he sometimes provides that in a rather laid-back, guy-like way. He needs more time at the helm and may just be able to, yes, in conjunction with supra-national bodies, navigate through the rocks. These gadfly parties are not likely to help. On the other hand if Estonia 200 were to find its way into office as a junior coalition party, which it could do, it and its leadership look likely to be more cooperative than hindering. Anything but EKRE, in short.

EKRE is a tightly-controlled, family-run business which brooks no opposition and is no friend to democracy; a colleague says he was once threatened by them on the phone and the lengths they will go in the survival instinct of protecting their interests probably haven't become fully clear yet.

I mentioned earlier that I would draw the borders beyond which the bad things come from, in the eyes of the EKRE rank and file, much wider than Estonia's own national border. This 'hard border' is of course no less than the former iron curtain. In aligning itself in this ''the west is decadent and hell bent on destroying Estonia with its gay mafia etc.'' camp, Estonia would of course show itself to be more similar than different from not only the dreaded Poland and Hungary, but also Russia itself. Certainly aeons away from the shangri la of nordichood. A recognition of this and a bit of an honest look in the collective mirror would do a lot towards addressing this.

Those who dismiss the frustrations which are finding their voice in movements like EKRE do so from a somewhat narrow, not 'elitist', so much as rather naïve, standpoint.

Whilst such an approach is in vogue, it's not been very helpful so far, and has been the soil which has allowed phenomena such as Brexit and the Trump presidency to flourish. A refusal to acknowledge that and to continue to ride roughshod over people's concerns, however unsavoury, could be itself the very silent surrender which she speaks of. At the same time, she and her party are probably playing the cards they are dealt as well as they can do pre-election. After the elections the real work begins.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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