Opinion: President had better options open in making position clear

Toomas Sildam (left) and Anvar Samost.
Toomas Sildam (left) and Anvar Samost. Source: ERR

President Kersti Kaljulaid might have tried other, more effective, means of communicating her views on the current situation in politics and the media, senior ERR journalists Anvar Samost and Toomas Sildam said on Sunday, adding that events might herald fairly cool relations between Kadriorg and the Stenbock house in the coming future.

Speaking on Vikerraadio's Samost ja Sildam discussion show, the president could have picked a better means of communication than donning a sweatshirt, bearing a slogan, Samost argued.

At last week's swearing-in of the new coalition government at the Riigikogu, President Kaljulaid appeared wearing a sweatshirt bearing the words ''Sõna on vaba'' (''speech is free'', or, more literally, ''the word is free''), an oblique reference to attacks made on the media, including one on the public broadcaster by members of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), most notably incoming finance minister Martin Helme.

Helme had said in early April that journalists working at ERR who displayed ''bias'' ought to be removed from the air. While Helme did not name names at the time, journalist Ahto Lobjakas subsequently announced that he was stepping down from presenting weekly politics show Olukorrast riigis, in preference to having to self-censor. A few days before Lobjakas' announcement, daily Postimees journalist Vilja Kiisler quit the newspaper, citing a similar issue.

At the same ceremony, the president left the chamber altogether when it was the turn of appointed IT minister Marti Kuusik to sign his oath. Kuusik had faced accusations of domestic violence in the media in the days leading up to the signing-in. A Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) investigation was launched later that day, although Kuusik has not been found guilty of anything at the time of writing.

Kuusik subsequently resigned as minister; a replacement is likely this week. EKRE leader Mart Helme described the president's actions at the swearing-in as those of an ''emotionally upset woman,'' Thursday.

''In reality, the president has opportunities to give interviews, talk to journalists, and express herself verbally in a more precise and specific way than just one sentence on a piece of clothing, which everyone in society is now interpreting in whatever way they wish,'' Samost said.

''Is the situation really so far gone that the president has no alternative than to wear clothes with some pertinent writing on them?'' he asked.

Toomas Sildam noted that he, too, finds it hard to believe that freedom of expression is in such a parlous state that the president needs to get the message across in this way.

He also pointed out that she missed the opportunity to congratulate the new government (speaker of the house Henn Põlluaas (EKRE) reportedly invited the president to make such a salutation, but she declined-ed.).

"Here, I'm a little bit confused. After all, the president has appointed this coalition, has approved these ministers. She has put her signature to this decision," he said.

''I have no reproach to the president for appointing this government. I understand that she might not have wanted to shake hands with Marti Kuusik, since he is under suspicion, but she could have shaken hands with Prime Minster Ratas,'' Sildam continued.

''There are myriad ways the president could have acted. We now clearly have the situation where she is sitting calmly in Kadriorg, after taking her stance, meaning there are several light years separating her from the majority in the parliament, somewhere, and then, somewhere, the government of the republic. I cannot envisage how the future relations between president and government will pan out, but I think that they are likely to be relatively short and superficial,'' he said.

The original broadcast (in Estonian) is here.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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