Opinion: On Estonia, the UN, allies and values

Toomas Sildam.
Toomas Sildam. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Less than a week from now, Estonia may end up at the center of world politics and start participating in decision-making that we previously had no business being involved in; it would be sad if our values compass pointed us away from Estonia's democratic allies, writes journalist Toomas Sildam.

Cross your fingers for Estonia on Friday. On June 7, the U.N. General Assembly will vote on whether Estonia or Romania will become a non-permanent member of the Security Council for two years [2020-2021].

The majority of the U.N. consists of small countries. A country like Estonia should be understandable to them. Estonia's campaign, led by President Kersti Kaljulad, has introduced us on every continent, and we have increased our visibility before many heads of state and government and foreign ministers. Perhaps some of them have remembered Estonia and Estonia's commitment to this U.N. campaign.

Romania's recent decision to follow the U.S.' lead and relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may cost them the support of Arab countries. Cynically speaking, this — also interpreted as a sign of concession on Romania's part — would be to Estonia's advantage.

How they will vote, and in turn perhaps influence susceptible permanent members with veto powers — the U.S., the U.K., China, Russia and France — is difficult to say. In the final days leading up to the vote, messages can be read as plainly as lips and gestures. It has been noted, for example, that the Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations has begun attending Estonian-organized events.

The truth is, nobody can predict the final results with much certainty. Many permanent representatives to the U.N. will be deciding at the last minute whether to vote for Estonia or Romania. All of them aren't even going to receive instructions from their capitals on the matter either, as it isn't considered important.

What if we win?

I'll set aside debate over whether and to what extent Estonia actually needs a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and how Estonia's foreign service could have been supported elsewhere with the money being spent on this.

Suppose we win, and Romania gets the silver medal. This means that Estonia will be thrust into the midst of world politics, and, without veto power, will have to participate in arguments, discussions and decisions that we previously had no business being involved in.

How will all of our national interests fit into world politics? But our values? And how much is this affected by Estonia's specific government? Difficult questions.

For example, ambassadors and representatives of international organizations working in Poland recently signed a public statement initiated by the U.K. expressing support for the protection of the rights of LGBT+ individuals, which is a sore subject for Poland's current government. A total of 53 signatures, ranging from the U.S. and Italy to New Zealand and South Africa. Three EU states did not sign it — Slovakia, Hungary, and... Estonia.

And with that, Estonia chose sides — who it was with, and who it was against.

There are certainly many people who believe it was the right thing to do to distance oneself from such a public statement, and that the Estonian ambassador not signing was the right move. This is a legitimate opinion, and we have the right to freedom of though and speech, and a change in government can mean a change in policy, but...

But would this have been plausible in Estonia's case two months ago, when the Centre-Social Democratic Party (SDE)-Isamaa government was in power and Social Democrat Sven Mikser was minister of foreign affairs? Hardly. But now that we have a more conservative "KEI" government, or Centre, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa coalition, two parties of which do not support the Registered Partnership Act, and Urmas Reinsalu of Isamaa is the minister of foreign affairs? Now the absence of Estonia's signature on that statement makes more sense.

Respect and dignity for all, stresses Estonian campaign

The description of Estonia's campaign for election to a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that Estonia believes that everyone has the right to respect and dignity. But when it comes to human rights issues, we do not extend our support, as was the case with the so-called Polish statement. I don't understand. Even U.S. President Donald Trump, which is very much supported by EKRE, tweeted against anti-LGBT+ discrimination, and called for solidarity with sexual minorities. Do Estonia's ruling parties completely disagree with one of our key allies?

In any case, this is a crucial reversal on Estonia's previous policy of supporting human rights, although Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) has promised that the current government will definitely continue on its existing foreign policy course, which has "ruled for the past 25-30 years," and would not change its "foreign policy positions."

We don't know if a possible change has been discussed by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu or the Government of the Republic. But would be sad if our values compass pointed us away from Estonia's democratic allies and if our internal partisan conflicts of values reached the global organization. That would mean we would have many, many values-based decisions to make over the next two years.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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