SDE responds to Centre and Reform conferences with words and T-shirts

Leading SDE members close to party HQ on Friday.
Leading SDE members close to party HQ on Friday. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas' speech at the Centre Party's pre-election conference on Saturday neglected to cover the topic of integration, according to Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Jevgeni Ossinovski.

SDE leading members in fact offered their feedback to both Centre's pronouncements and those of the Reform Party, which also held its conference on Saturday.

"More important is what the chairman of the Centre Party didn't talk about," Mr Ossinovski said in response to the presentation, adding that instead of looking to the future, Mr Ratas focused on the Centre Party's issues with corruption and similar.

"He didn't address the topic of freedoms and democracy, and the topic of migration was missing altogether as well. As recently as at the beginning of 2017, Ratas said that in the next elections, the main topic for the Centre Party will be granting of citizenship to everyone who has lived in Estonia as least for 25 years. Now they tried first and foremost to mobilize their candidates to hand out chocolate in buses,'' Mr Ossinovski continued.

The issue of integration between the Estonian-speaking majority and the Russian-speaking minority, never far from the surface, was brought into sharp relief last week though neither by Centre or SDE, instead following a poster campaign by the newly formed Estonia 200 party, which highlighted the issue and was met with controversy.

"Jüri Ratas' speech was built up as a pep talk, to motivate candidates to campaign with their feet," added Sven Mikser (SDE), foreign minister.

Foreign minister adds his voice

"The aim was to relay the message that all is well with the party, the house of cards has been built and now you have to hold your breath and avoid touching it in order to not ruin it. Therefore he avoided all difficult topics and topics which could potentially give rise to conflict. Integration and matters of security were completely absent from the speech. The less substantive the discussion, the better for them. His take on it: Whether to move forward with the Centre Party or move back with the Reform Party ‒ it's a typical ploy [former Centre leader and Tallinn Mayor] Savisaar would use," Mr Mikser went on.

In addition to admitting Centre had been dogged by various corruption and financial issues, even expelling 14 members who had criminal records, Mr Ratas presented the March 2019 election as as a straight choice between progress with his party, or taking a retrograde step with the opposition Reform Party.

"Ratas attempted several times to build his speech around the party's pre-election slogan to stress that it is the goal of the Centre Party to right the injustice caused under the leadership of Reform," Mr Mikser continued.

"Interestingly, the list of those for whom the just state is attempted to be built omitted the keywords with which attempts are made to split our society: colour of skin, religion, sexual orientation. This for sure was not by chance, but demonstrates a wish to keep clear of complex, sensitive topics,'' he averred.

''A fair state for all'' was unveiled as Centre's election slogan towards the end of 2018.

T-shirts getting the message home

Meanwhile, SDE members sent T-Shirts to both Centre and Reform party leaders, on the occasion of their pre-election congresses.

The T-Shirts were emblazoned with liberty-related quotes from two famous figures, it is reported.

''Freedom is like that. It's like Air. When you have it, you don't notice it,'' (Boris Yeltsin) is a rough English translation of the T-shirt sent to Jüri Ratas. Kaja Kallas (Reform) on the other hand was due a T-shirt stating that ''Freedom is worth fighting for'', which SDE attributed to Agatha Christie.

''I think freedom of action is always worth fighting for,'' is a sentence uttered by Sarah King, a character in ''Appointment with Death'', Christie's 1938 Hercule Poirot bestseller.

''We don't appreciate what we have until it's gone. Freedom is like that. It's like air. When you have it, you don't notice it,'' is a well-reported quote from former Russian Federation president Boris Yeltsin.

Yeltsin is obviously a figure Estonians are well familiar with, having become first President of the Russian Federation weeks before Estonia's restoration of independence in August 1991. Agatha Christie was apparently a hugely popular writer during the Soviet era, despite being from a ''western'' nation.

Leading SDE figures including health minister Riina Sikkut, IT minister Rene Tammist and former presidential candidate Marina Kaljurand, as well as Mr Misker and Mr Ossinovski, also used saturday to analyse both Centre and Reform's presentations, it is reported.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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