Following the publication of an interview with Minister of the Interior and Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) chairman Mart Helme by daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) said that describing the Singing Revolution as "mass hysteria" is inappropriate. Helme, however, said that the interview gave the wrong impression.
In his interview with EPL, Helme explained why he did not participate in the events of the Singing Revolution in the late 1980s.
"It was a kind of mass hysteria," he said. "Everyone went. Everyone had lost their fear of the Soviet regime. I did not have that fear before either, and I did not go along with the mass psychosis."
"The Singing Revolution was a movement connecting the people of Estonia that led to the bloodless restoration of the independence of our country," Ratas wrote on social media early Wednesday afternoon. "The hundreds of thousands of people who participated in the night song festivals, the Baltic Way and other joint initiatives are rightly proud of standing for freedom and democracy both in our country as well as in Europe as a whole. I emphasize that the role of every person who contributed in any way to the restoration of the independence of our country is invaluable and worthy of respect."
The prime minister recalled that his own party, the Centre Party, was born out of the Popular Front of Estonia.
"As Centre Party chair and prime minister of the Republic of Estonia, I sincerely hope that we will always appreciate the actions of the people who stood for our independence, remember the courageous decisions of recent history, and harness the communal spirit of that time in building and preserving our country," Ratas wrote.
"In the interview published in today's Eesti Päevaleht, the interior minister regrettably did not remain balanced, and used the expression 'mass hysteria' when talking about the Singing Revolution," the head of government continued. "This is unfounded and is inappropriate. In the interview, the minister also talked about fake democracy which must be destroyed. According to out Constitution as well as in reality, the Republic of Estonia is a sovereign and independent democratic republic where the people hold the supreme power of the state. Instead of destruction, our country, people and democracy need to be protected and preserved.
According to Ratas, no minister should allow themselves to make such mistakes, even during the most difficult of interviews. "This consistent insulting of the feelings of the people of Estonia as well as the values that are important to us all must come to an end," he added.
Helme: I callled it a mass mood
In followup comments on Wednesday, Helme explained that he has always considered the Singing Revolution to be a symbol of Estonia's national fight for freedom and has never attempted to understate its importance.
"The interview published in Eesti Päevaleht and Delfi today may leave the wrong impression that I was calling the importance of the Singing Revolution into question," he said. "I admit, I allowed myself to be provoked by a hostile journalist, who with all their questions implied that not participating in the events of the Singing Revolution is essentially a crime."
According to the minister, he had no intention of entering big politics in the late 1980s; he was involved in agriculture at the time, he added.
"I attempted to explain to the journalist that I am not someone who goes along with mass movements easily," Helme explained. "Among other things, I explicitly said that I was not calling the events of the late 1980s mass hysteria, but rather a mass mood. This did not reach the headline or lead of the article, of course. I find it necessary to emphasize that under no circumstances do I want to diminish the importance of the Singing Revolution in Estonia's recent history."
The Singing Revolution is a symbol of Estonia's national struggle for freedom, with which many Estonians have a deep personal connection, the minister continued. "The Singing Revolution reinforces our national self-image, and we continue to draw inspiration from it to pursue our national goals," he said.
"The Singing Revolution was a fight for freedom, and this fight is topical today as well," Helme said. "I would be happy if a mass movement of the same size took place in Estonia today that would stand for the sovereignty of our people."
Editor: Aili Vahtla