Kristina Kallas: We did not anticipate people would take such offence

Estonia 200 chairwoman Kristina Kallas (left) appeared on ETV's Ringvaade on Tuesday evening. 8 January 2019.
Estonia 200 chairwoman Kristina Kallas (left) appeared on ETV's Ringvaade on Tuesday evening. 8 January 2019. Source: ERR

In an interview on ETV's "Ringvaade" on Tuesday evening, Estonia 200 chairwoman Kristina Kallas said that her party did not anticipate that their Monday ads, which divided the platforms at Tallinn's Hobujaama tram stop into sides for Estonians and Russians, would offend some people and thus impede on the delivery of their actual message.

First off you should be congratulated, as a number of advertising gurus have said that with this small effort, you have achieved the most attention possible over the last two days. Is this true?

Yes, that is true.

Many people, dozens and dozens of them, have written articles [on Tuesday] about this all has hurt them, and how not everything in general that you have done has been very nice. How would you respond to them?

It hurt when we said on these ads, "Here only Estonians," and "Here only Russians." And we actually highlighted a very serious problem in Estonian society. Our school system is set up exactly thus — "here only Estonians," and "here only Russians." We attend separate schools. That is what we wanted to say. That was the message. And that hurt, a lot.

This message was conveyed very quickly, with two sentences. Critics are saying that it could have been said with two sentences, but very simply and calmly.

We have actually been discussing this message for a very long time in Estonia. For 28 years we have talked about how, in reality, our Estonians and Russians live separately, attend separate schools, attend separate kindergartens. We have talked about this for 28 years. Social scientists have talked about it for a long time. I have personally been very involved in these studies. Based on these studies, I know exactly what picture emerges as a result. And no matter how many times we say it politely and calmly, ultimately the question remains whether anyone will actually do something. That was our goal — to actually put up these ads in order to visually demonstrate to Estonia's people that we actually have this issue in society today, and to keep it up for one day to ensure that as many people as possible actually start talking about it.

This issue has been dealt with for 20 years and more, some days more, some days less. It's not exactly at zero; you're exaggerating. Estonians and Russians don't actually exist so separately here in Estonia. There is actually a lot of integration.

Naturally there is integration, sure. But we have not resolved this problem at all. We haven't actually reached any sort of solutions with our school system; we still have separate school networks for Estonians and Russians. We have discussed this for 20 years. We have discussed this for 20 years. But that which we inherited from the Soviet era, which actually caused very serious issues during the Soviet era already — it still remains here. We aren't dealing with it.

The issue is understandable, but didn't you perhaps overdo it a bit with this ad campaign? [Pro Patria MP] Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits said that you may as well have punched a woman in the face and then announced the next day, "Look, she's in pain, and the issue of domestic violence is still relevant in society." In other words, a punch to the face and then we'll start fixing things?

Is it a punch in the face to put an ad on the street indicating a segregated society — Estonians stand to the right, Russians stand to the left? This hurts us, yes. It is painful for us. Nobody has been physically attacked, but it hurts us. If it hurts us, then we should admit to ourselves that this is our serious issue.

The lesson I learned from this was also that on one hand, everyone admits that we actually have a problem, because nobody has refuted this issue being brought up. Actually everyone admits that we have a problem in that regard. But the two steps that follow? We don't want to deal with this issue, and actually we don't want to even talk about this issue.

And other parties — look at who has attacked us. Who is heavily attacking us? Our competition is attacking us.

All parties are competition. Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (Pro Patria) has gone a step further and said that with this campaign, the issue for you is actually the nation state, and the long-term plan that you talk about will mean the end of the Estonian nation state and thereafter the end of the Estonian people as a nation's people, i.e. there will no longer be Estonians and Russians, but rather just people in Estonia. Something like that?

Of course Estonians and Russians will remain. It is up for an individual themselves to define their ethnic identity; they decide for themselves who they are. If Estonians want to remain Estonians, they need to have the opportunity to remain Estonians. If Russians want to remain Russians in Estonia, they need to be left the opportunity to remain Russians.

Is that the end of the nation state in terms of your long-term plan?

This is not the end of the nation state. The end of the nation state can also come about if we don't address this isolation issue. The end of our nation could come about then. We all actually understand that this is also a serious security concern for Estonia. And this was actually also highlighted by criticism it sparked, as Russia was immediately suspected of division.

On the other hand, Russia is going to start taking advantage of those ads, which will now exist forever in all different channels, in all those photos. They are not interested in the other half that appeared [on Tuesday]. Rather, we will remain victims of this propaganda forever which states that this is what things are like in Estonia now — Estonians here and Russians there.

Russia is long since in possession of all the trump cards. For 28 years, thanks to the fact that this problem has gone unresolved. Russia has always been taking advantage of this. And if we now tell ourselves that we can't discuss this issue in Estonia because Russia will take advantage of it, then we will never resolve this issue.

When you now consider everything that you have been told today about all of this, when you read in silence all of the comments that came up yesterday, do you sincerely believe that some people may have taken offence to it, or did people actually see through it and understand that it would be followed by some kind of next step, but now would be a good chance to get up on one's soapbox and say something and make a bigger issue out of something that actually wasn't that big of an issue at all?

Let's leave aside our competition, who have now included this issue in their election campaign. If we look at Estonian society more broadly, then the feedback that I have received is that some people were offended — they were very seriously offended, and I actually apologised to those people. We apologised for not anticipating that people would take such offence to this, that the message as we intended may not even reach them in this form.

But we have also received a lot of positive feedback, where people have said, "It was so right for you to do that, finally someone has actually honestly said something to us and started talking about it." My sincere wish and hope — and I am actually confident in this — is that in the upcoming Riigikogu election debates, not a single debate will go by without this issue being discussed.

We discussed the content, now let's talk about the form a bit. When Estonia 200 came about, you said yourself in an interview that you don't know any political games and were coming into politics as a citizen, and wanting to change things for the better. If this wasn't a political game to some extent, or playing with those same rules, which has been done before, then what was it?

Let's consider this — if these ads had been put up by some kind of art group, an art group that actually also has a social nerve, that had wanted to send this exact same message to the Estonian people. Artists that also sense this social issue. They have a tool for doing this visually, and they had done so. Would this have been political technology?

Is what you just did populism? Does this fall under that?

Populism how? In the sense that we highlighted a very serious problem in Estonian society? That isn't populism. That was our way of shaking up Estonian society in order to start talking about this issue. And, most importantly — not that we aren't talking abut this issue, because this issue has actually been discussed quite a lot — but drawing attention to this issue to ensure that we start focusing at political debates on how we'll start working out solutions for this issue.

There's one thing you achieved for sure — you got a lot of attention and a soapbox on various media channels, so in that regard, well done. But one last thing — there is still one law that you allegedly broke — the Advertising Act. No ads may be published that do not clearly indicate what is being advertised or who is doing the advertising. Was this a conscious decision, or one made out of ignorance?

The City of Tallinn approved those ads. These ads were shown to them, and they approved those ads.

And so, with that, they were in accordance with the Advertising Act?

The allegations against us, not that the ad has to be identifiable, but in connection with us having [allegedly] incited hate. That was also an allegation.

No, the other half.

I am unable to comment on how this should be in the Advertising Act, and just how identifiable one has to be.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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