Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Martin Helme appeared in an English-language interview with Deutsche Welle's Conflict Zone broadcast, talking to veteran British journalist Tim Sebastian, at the Riigikogu on Wednesday. Mr Helme responded to questions on EKRE's stance on immigration and the EU, whether it was a racist party, its own fake news and trolling incidents, and more. EKRE, which won 19 seats at the 3 March general election, is in currently coalition negotiations with the Centre Party and Isamaa.
Mr Helme said that, far from being on the fringes of politics, the party was in the mainstream, and not only because of its improved electoral showing (up from seven seats before the election), but also because its views were in accord with a lot of ordinary Estonians.
''We're sovereignists,'' he said, with reference to the supra-national organisations like the EU and the UN. ''We are against any attempts to take away power from the nation states, he added, claiming that whilst the party may have been roundly condemned by the Riigikogu's Human Rights Group for his 2013 remarks that ''...if you're black, go back,'' regarding its immigration policy, some 80% of Estonians agreed with this statement, according to polls.
''Whether they [migrants] are from Nigeria or Ukraine doesn't make any difference to us, the matter is that they are not Estonians,'' he added.
''People are scared anyway,'' he said, in response to Tim Sebastian's question whether EKRE were fear-mongers.
''The media is extraordinarily hostile towards us,'' he said, also referring to Postimees, in which EKRE member and leader of its youth wing, Blue Awakening, Ruuben Kaalep, had published at least one opinion piece under a pseudonym, as a leftist publication.
On the issue of women, Mr Helme said that he personally has the utmost respect for them, noting that he was married with four daughters, and had two sisters.
A record 27 women were elected to the XIV Riigikogu, including the leader of the Reform Party, Kaja Kallas, which garnered the largest number of seats (34).
Mr Helme also said that EKRE had no official ties to the Soldiers of Odin, an anti-immigrant group founded in Finland in 2015, with affiliates in Estonia and elsewhere, which has included, at least in Finland, street patrols protecting against perceived attacks by immigrants.
No trust in governments
''This is a bogeyman for the left,'' he said in the context of then-prime minister Taavi Rõivas 2016 statement that such patrols do nothing to enhance public safety, or even damage it, noting that the group, as patriots, had been demonised for political capital, something that is part and parcel of politics, he said.
On the subject of recent Estonian governments, Mr Helme said that he and his party simply did not trust them, and that the government had often lied about figures on immigration and the like. That this was in-line with the current US POTUS' stance in his election campaign was no big surprise either: ''I like Donald Trump,'' he said.
The EU has also been the focus of a lot of EKRE opposition. Mr Helme said that the EU has its own self-referential polls, most notably the Eurobarometer, whose figures that 75% of Europeans are in favour of the Schengen free movement zone should be taken with a pinch of salt. He also echoed other recent statements likening the EU to the USSR [such as by British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, in October 2018-ed.], with the added twist that he said he could remember the USSR when it was fact.
''The EU is totalitarian, and people don't like it...for instance they wanted to send [Front National leader] Marine Le Pen to a lunatic asylum, because she was saying the wrong things in public; this is precisely what happened in the USSR,'' he said.
Trolling and fear-mongering?
''There is no evidence we were doing any massive amounts of trolling,'' he said, noting that Mr Kaalep's escapades were a form of experiment to demonstrate that Postimees would publish anything that ''...trashes the party''. As reported on ERR, Tim Sebastian noted that the broadcaster's ethics ombudsman Tarmu Tammerk stated in January that ''...if an attempt is made to influence public opinion under a pseudonym, this cannot be justified on the grounds of 'freedom of expression'. It is in fact public deception''.
With regard to figures from pollster Kantar Emor which stated that Estonians' principal fear is populism and extremism, with mass immigration a long way behind in third place (after economic worries), Mr Helme said that it was nonetheless a major concern, and that this did not only pertain to colour of skin. Whilst there had been an uptick in immigration from Nigeria, threefold in recent years, Mr Helme said, he added that EKRE was concerned about immigration from places much closer to home, and formerly a part of the same monolith.
''We have seen a massive influx of Ukrainians and Russians, both legally and illegally, around 20,000 per year, which is much more than the interior ministry says [in the hundreds-ed.], because we don't know the true figure''.
He also noted that Estonia, together with neighbouring Latvia, has the highest proportion of immigrants in Europe, around a third in Estonia's case [a legacy of Soviet era migration, much of the Russian minority in Estonia are Estonian citizens, as well as ''grey passport'' non-citizens, and citizens of the Russian Federation and other former Soviet states-ed.].
''Extrapolating from tax office data we have a number between 20 and 30,000 per year coming into the country...We don't want Estonians to be replace by foreigners... I don't want Estonians to be replaced by Swedes, for instance; I want Estonia to be Estonian,'' he added.
On the issue of racism and the question of darker skinned people in particular drawing EKRE's ire, in the light of Mr Helme's 2013 remarks, he said that the term had become somewhat meaningless both to overuse and to the fact that those in league with the UN, EU etc. who supported population replacement in Estonia were themselves the racists.
He also stated that the experience of countries like Finland, Sweden and the UK was a legitimate reason for fears surrounding mass immigration (the topic of Islam was not directly mentioned), even though the Riigikogu's Human Rights Group had stated that ''the call to treat dark-skinned people differently from others is unambiguously racist''.
''Even with the tiny numbers you pointed out (a little over 100 migrants who had come to Estonia under the EU's migrant program after the 2015-2016 crisis) we have two cases of Syrians in jail right now, who had set their wives on fire,'' he said.
As for the UN, Mr Helme said that the statement his father, party leader Mart, made in January that a plot was afoot internationally to turn the UN into a global government by 2030 was valid, and something which both he and Donald Trump stood against.
''Haven't you read the Marrakesh Treaty?'' he asked, referring to the UN Global Compact on Migration, which received its assent in Marrakesh, Morocco, in December and which was opposed by the leadership of several European countries, including Hungary and Austria, not to mention splitting the ruling coalition government in Estonia.
''The treaty basically says everything concerning immigration should be the prerogative of the UN. They don't make any secret of their desire to pool power with the UN,'' he continued.
EKRE itself a victim?
The remainder of the interview touched on the role of the judiciary in Estonia and EKRE's opposition to judges being political appointees rather than elected, and some confusion over the levels of US military spend in the region.
Mr Helme also noted that his own party had been victims, he said, not only in the media but via actual attacks, including death threats and poster defacements.
''Do you really think that we shouldn't report death threats? We actually have had to hire bodyguards for our top people at public events, because we're not sure the police can handle it,'' he added, in response to a question about statements he had made about the party having to take matters into its own hands if police protection was found wanting.
Such threats seem to have gone both ways, however; in January a comment mentioning EKRE and appearing under a social media video by Haapsalu Mayor Urmas Sukles, endorsing the Centre Party candidacy of Jaanus Karilaid, was also reported to the police by the Mr Sukles as constituting a death threat.
The full interview is here.
DW News is the English language channel from German international public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, launched in 2015. Tim Sebastian worked for many years for the BBC and has interviewed current and former US Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and others.
Editor: Andrew Whyte