Opinion Digest: Threats, farce, dangers and solutions ({{commentsTotal}})

The coalition government, with leaders (left to right) Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa), Mart Helme (EKRE) and Jüri Ratas (Centre), may have been signed in by Kersti Kaljulaid just a couple of weeks ago, but has already caused the spilling of much virtual ink
The coalition government, with leaders (left to right) Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa), Mart Helme (EKRE) and Jüri Ratas (Centre), may have been signed in by Kersti Kaljulaid just a couple of weeks ago, but has already caused the spilling of much virtual ink Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Opinion on the current, almost daily "coalition show" in Estonia has continued to stream in lately, with concerns on the country's reputation internationally, possible longer term solutions to the fracas, the underlying roots of a problem almost bound to surface one fine day, and more takes on the nature and status of free speech in journalism, all filtering through to the pages of some of the major publications in Estonia.

Thanks Jüri, thanks Government!

Writing in daily Postimees (all links in Estonian) Wednesday, Vahur Kersna believes that recent events involving the coalition has brought the fact that politics is not some far-flung or abstract happening, rather that making choices at the polls does make a difference, and has always had the potential to bring about catastrophic consequences.

"When did you recently read or hear of any positive news about the government's activities? You won't remember such a state of affairs – since it's never happened," Kersna writes.

He goes on to state that EKRE's participation in the coalition has been a wake up call for those who up until now have been engulfed in a fog of delusion, and that while most of what has transpired so far has been largely talk, he didn't see any reason why that would not translate into actions in the future.

He also noted that the Centre Party had incurred such a large amount of damage to its reputation in such a short space of time, that party co-founder and the figure that looms largest in its history, Edgar Savisaar, must be shedding some pretty bitter tears.

On the other hand, he drew some positives from the saga – arguing that taking both electorate and politicians out of their comfort zone might even be a part of a grand plan, on the part of Jüri Ratas, to sweep out the old and bring in the new, and that the phenomenon of it always being darkest just before dawn had plenty of precedents in Estonian history.

Yesterday I saw Estonia

Mihkel Mutt, also writing in Postimees Wednesday, noted how his world had been thoroughly turned upside down by the recent developments, with many associates he had previously thought rational and sensible turning out to be quite the opposite and, vice versa, those he used to think were "asocial nerds" turning out to have quite a grasp of goings on.

The honeymoon period following the restoration of Estonian independence had a masking effect on many political disagreements, Mutt says, and prolonged the unifying effect that the drive for freedom had done towards the end of the Soviet era – a wave which only recently started to ebb, and carried Estonia through its accession to the EU and beyond.

However, Mutt says, Estonia has, paradoxically become a "normal" European country, given the trend for populism and other developments which can be seen across the continent, though both the comparisons with Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia here are inappropriate, he feels.

There are even differences with Orbán's Hungary, given the monopoly the latter's party has there – something which EKRE neither have now, nor are likely to in future, though portraying opposition to them as heroic, as witnessed by the recent stepping down of two journalists from their roles in the private media and public broadcaster respectively, has its uses, he says.

So far as journalism goes, the situation is hardly one which could be encountered in repressive regimes such as that in Burma, and some of the outcry at the current political situation is little more than crocodile tears arising from jealousy, he says, adding there is a degree of coordination to how Estonia has ended up in the international media recently, for all the wrong reasons – whereas EKRE having to perform somewhat of a balancing act now being in office, traditional-style, having previously presented itself as some kind of non-traditional party.

End of elections

Meanwhile, Krister Kivi in investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress calls for a radical reform of both legislature and the way democracy is done in Estonia, making the current unicameral set-up a bicameral one, with an upper and lower chamber of 42 members each (there are 101 members in the Riigikogu as it stands) and major decisions like the appointment of the head of state, and governmental ministers, requiring majorities in both houses, as well as an absolute majority.

The Kivian vision would see one chamber, a "house of representatives", being split equally along gender lines, with 21 women and 21 men, and any adult citizen with a clean record would be drawn by lot, from the public, for one-year terms – maybe a slightly higher number, 63 he says, would be drawn, from which the 42 could be whittled down after picking out the bad apples – which would bring ordinary people into the process, shine a light on how democracy works, and help to curb corruption, he says.

The other chamber would be an "advisory board" made up of fifty percent experts from the University of Tartu, the Academy of Science, and other academic ivory towers, and the other fifty percent would be ordinary citizens who would take a battery of exams aimed at providing balance, wisdom and agility, cutting out, forever, talk of elites ruling supreme, not to mention style-heavy, slick election posters.

The word is dead

Also in Eesti Ekspress Wednesday, Erik Moora highlights the importance of journalists, and everyone expressing a view on Estonia, not succumbing to personal attacks, threats, mockery and the like, when doing their job, in the interests of preserving free speech.

However, he says, these attempts to influence proceedings are not the main problem – which instead is the trend for words losing their original meanings, being replaced with a farcical and paranoid dialogue.

As evidence, he provides statements made by Jüri Ratas and his party, including that they would not cooperate with ERKE's values – something he is in fact doing, or would build a more cohesive society – just when society is becoming more fragmented along political and ethnic lines, or that there was no place in Estonia for mockery or confrontation – while at the same time having Mart Helme as effectively the governmental mouthpiece.

Other inconsistencies Moora points out include the claim that Estonian foreign policy would not change, at a time when territorial demands (in the form of statements equating the former Estonian town of Petseri long being in Russian territory (as Pechory), with the 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation, for instance) are being made, or the visit of Marine Le Pen, a strong critic of NATO, at the behest of coalition partner EKRE.

The return of meaningful language after the relegation of words to sad, gray, meaningless platitudes is what people crave most, Moora claims.

Right-wing populism the biggest threat to Europe

Independent MP, European Parliamentary candidate, and former Centre member Raimond Kaljulaid has noted that the strategy of working with populists in the interests of either finding some commonality, or even to blunt their edge, has failed.

Noting that the Le Pen visit and its timing was no coincidence, coming just before the EU elections, we are in an info war, a phenomenon reminscent of Centre MEP Yana Toom's visit with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Kaljulaid writes, in an opinion piece for ERR's online Estonian news, even if al-Assad may have little recollection of the meeting today

More significant than the Le Pen visit itself, was the media storm which followed it, Kaljulaid says, and is part of an EKRE tactic to keep things constantly on edge, with the hope of whipping up anti-elitist feeling and to do what he says populists always do – continually seek attention and make contradictory statements which can damage the functioning of the state.

Using the metaphor of a power-mad surgeon who amputates hands and feet of patients suffering from the flu, Kaljulaid argues there is a populist disease at large, which could take as long as a decade to be got out of the system, thanks to those who foolishly opted to work with populists.

Not rising to the bait of either threats or flattery, and keeping in mind what has been happening in Trump's America or Brexit Britain, would be a good start on the road to recovery, Kaljulaid opines.

Who is responsible for Estonia's tanking reptuation?

Finally, veteran Estonian-Canadian journalist Marcus Kolga took a look at the swift and ugly descent from an Estonia which was once an international beacon in e-governance, cyber-security and even anti-corruption, to a far less appealing picture today.

While those in office are responding by blaming those making the criticism in the international media, Kolga writes in an opinion piece for online magazine UpNorth – with the precedent of what Kolga said was an attack on him in 2016 after highlighting Centre's agreement with United Russia, Vladimir Putin's party, and an agreement still extant.

Kolga argues that the prime minister needs to grasp that when you're in the NATO/EU/OECD club, you're going to be under scrutiny internationally, particularly on developments which conflict with that – not just United Russia, a skeleton in the cupboard which was waved before Ratas again more recently, in Ottawa last summer, but also being in office with a party with a track record of individuals engaging in racist, anti-semitic or sexist words and deeds.

Ratas' gamble in doing a deal with EKRE, then, is backfiring horribly, Kolga says, and responding by pointing the figure at other groups, ethnicities, nationalities or organizations, past and present, is not going to cut it on the international stage, if Estonia's reputation is going to be in anything other than tatters.

Kolga tempers this line with an observation that Ratas has made verbal efforts to calm down the political climate, though fairly generically, and without naming names – concluding that the third spoke in the coalition wheel, Isamaa, might provide the key to doing the right thing.

Editor: Andrew Whyte



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