Opinion: Mary Kross case product of election-season virtue signalling mania

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Stroomirand beach as it appears in summer.
Stroomirand beach as it appears in summer. Source: mupo

A recent case of the wife of a politician providing false evidence is by no means an isolated incident. The police handle dozens of similar cases every year. Instead, the story is an example of the casual abuse of the media by people who have been able to throw their weight around without any repercussions, ERR News editor Andrew Whyte writes.

For those that hadn't heard the story, the individual, Mary Kross, was out and about last November, walking her dog at the Stroomirand beach in North Tallinn – sometimes called "Stromka" by locals. The location is hardly the most exclusive in Tallinn; there's a well-appointed beach which gets busy in summer, yes, but it's comparatively near to industrial areas.

However, it's still a beach and people do indeed walk their dogs there. Enter two men, Estonian nationalists hanging around in a largely Russian-speaking district, hearing Kross speaking on her phone in English, proceeded to throw rocks, she said, injuring both her and the dog, and ordering her to return home, wherever they thought "home" was. At least one of the men, according to some reports, had been wearing a t-shirt (in Estonia in November) emblazoned with the EKRE logo.

A police investigation followed, which yielded no real evidence that the incident had ever taken place at Stroomirand at the time claimed. Now Kross faces a charge of providing false evidence to the police; she had already hired a lawyer back when the controversy first broke.

This piece isn't about Kross – a noted filmmaker and activist – herself. Indeed, the police recently said that they receive about 100 incidents of misreported crimes every year, about a third of these leading to a conviction. In other words, even if the current charge against Jordan-Kross turns out to be justified, she'll simply be one of a crowd.

Some of the instances the police noted were pretty harmless and even farcical – we're talking on the level of cheating spouses misplacing their phones at the home of a paramour (or the latter even stealing them) and not wanting to come clean about what really happened, or children losing an expensive item and telling the police it was taken from them by someone bigger, rather than facing parental ire.

The phenomenon is hardly peculiar to Estonia either – everyone's at it. The recent Jussie Smollett case (which came about two months after Stroomirand-gate, though Smollett himself had previously been involved in providing misleading information to the Los Angeles Police Department) ended in a plea bargain. No biggie.

In Estonia, we've had a whole range of incidents, reports, anecdotes and social movements to keep us on our toes, particularly since EKRE came into office barely two months ago. Some of these no doubt happened, some of them are politically motivated and aimed at breaking up the current coalition, some just sort of have a momentum of their own.

I have heard of an Estonian woman, for instance, who has stated that her Scottish husband had been subject to the same sort of treatment that Kross said she had. I'm sorry, but I don't buy that. Assuming this person is white, and I'm guessing he does not go round in full highland regalia at all times, he's not going to raise the hackles of Estonians. Scotland is a country, perhaps the country, together with their cousins on the adjacent island of Ireland, which Estonians have an affinity and wistful affection for, no exceptions. I should know – I'm only half Scottish, but either way, when people realize I'm not a local if I, say, stop someone in the street and ask for the time, their demeanour often completely transforms, and they become much more friendly.

The Kõigi Eesti movement, I suspect a tool of the Reform Party to some extent – party leader Kaja Kallas was present at a concert organized by the movement in April – supposedly raised the issue of prejudice in Estonian society but did so in such a non-committal, vague way that it's perhaps unsurprising it seems to have run out of puff.

A Kõigi Eesti source refutes the link, however, noting that its organizers' board should be non-partisan and that one founding member, Indrek Kasela, had reportedly left Reform due to his involvement with the movement. It also aims to organize future initiatives, the movement says.

What it definitely comprised involved a simple battle for the flag – a reminder that, "hey, we're here too", and that the blue, black and white was not to be made an EKRE trademark. As if more nationalist rallies were needed. "Foreigners", as we're known here, were present, yes, at Kõigi Eesti events, but only in small numbers and kept in jars under close observation, allowed to trot out a couple of platitudes ("Estonia is a beautiful country" etc.), but were not the main event.

The far-right has not been idle either, and there are several expatriates active on "social" media extolling the virtues of the white paradise that is Estonia in direct contrast to the crime-ridden, leftist-run hellholes they say they've left behind in America, Britain etc.

That people love to be the center of attention, is the bottom line, which, twinned with a love of discord, has created an atmosphere here and everywhere else where emotion trumps a cool inspection of the evidence at hand.

ERR, the public broadcaster, came under some attack soon after EKRE came into office too. While our shoulders are broad enough to handle it, some who had no direct connection with the media and didn't really understand what was going on still jumped on the bandwagon of trying to make the "crisis" all about them, with the usual social media badges and slogans. They were of no help, and may even have hindered things.

Again, that's the world we live in and one of the leitmotifs of our times. There is racism in Estonian society – I've witnessed it, many others have too. Which makes all the greater the need to act responsibly on the part of all parties. That this won't actually happen is inevitable as, again, they're all at it.

The cloak and dagger of politics, security, international relations, intelligence and so on would, if we ever had a clear picture of it, relegate the Stroomirand incident to the baby pool.

Politics is dirty, that may be a cliché, but like all good clichés it is broadly true. Richard Nixon's legacy is of someone who could not be trusted; that was simply because he was no good at lying. The Kennedys had the opposition bugged right, left and center. Lyndon Johnson may even have had people killed, to protect his own career and standing.

In this environment, even the most heavily engraved of battle lines can be traversed – as was the case with the Israeli Mossad security agency, who recruited Otto Skorzeny, a highly decorated Waffen-SS commander, after the war.

More quotidian law enforcement agencies can likewise throw the ethics book out of the window when they need to. In the United Kingdom, the misuse or abuse of the investigative and legal processes led to many famous cases including the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six terrorism convictions, based on perversions of the course of justice, the bungling of the Stephen Lawrence race murder case and, stretching way back, the hanging for murder of the educationally subnormal Derek Bentley.

The clear categorization into two groups – the upstanding and law-abiding, versus leftist bomb-throwers, thus also starts to disintegrate.

The worst Kross could be guilty of is carpetbagging, and of being a part of the elite here – neither of these are crimes. That mating of the old-style business and the newer start-up sector together with the political establishment which the Reform Party epitomizes. Even the Stroomirand tale becoming public was thanks to one of the startup whizzkids, Karoli Hindriks, who first noted it on her social media and later touted a "what is Estonia coming to" op piece to the English-language media. And the lawyer Jordan-Kross hired is the same who got Edgar Savisaar off the hook in his on-off corruption case that ran through 2017-2018.

This wider phenomenon can point to one lesson to the media: to clean up its side of the street rather than chasing clicks in sensational reporting. Somehow I doubt the lesson will be learned, but at the very least they'll come to realize that public tolerance in Estonia for continually being derided as racists, unsophisticated bigots and so on is not limitless. Either way, when there's discord in Estonia and in Europe, there can probably only be one major power and external beneficiary waiting in the wings...


ERR News always welcomes opinion pieces on all and any topical issues. Email submissions to news@err.ee.

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Editor: Dario Cavegn

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