Nothing illegal in forcing police chief out, says Helme

Minister of the Interior and EKRE chairman Mart Helme.
Minister of the Interior and EKRE chairman Mart Helme. Source: Aurelia Minev/ERR

Responding to criticism by several former interior ministers, incumbent Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE) said on Sunday that he sees nothing illegal in forcing Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Director General Elmar Vaher to leave, adding that parallels drawn by the ex-ministers with Germany of the 1930s and the Soviet Union as inadequate and propagandist.

"All of this has nothing in common with the rule of law, honesty and statesmanship," Helme said.

"There's nothing illegal in a superior proposing to a person subordinate to them that they leave of their own accord," he continued. "Nor is there anything illegal in a new leader wanting to form their own team. Nor is there anything illegal in the printout of a blank document bearing the names of persons who inevitably have to take part in making the decision."

The minister and chairman of the coalition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) added that when it comes to concern over Estonia's reputation and security, members of the political parties represented by some of the signatories of the letter calling for his resignation have been busy damaging it in recent months by forwarding to the international media and the head offices of partner parties information which knowingly depicts domestic Estonian policy in a false light and denigrates it.

"It is downright ridiculous to hear accusations of undermining Estonia's reputation from people who only recently brought to Estonia a little-known, utterly leftist U.S. senator who is desperately seeking fascism here and considers the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) no less than a global threat," he countered. "Of course I thank you for this great — albeit undeserved — recognition.

Helme argued that it has been characteristic of members of the opposition Reform Party and Social Democratic Party (SDE) in particular to speak ill of the leading politicians of Estonia's most important allies — the U.S. and the U.K. — and the sovereign decisions made by them, and their defamatory presentation to the Estonian public.

"This in a situation where our party has been strongly supporting both [U.S. President] Donald Trump and [U.K. Prime Minister] Boris Johnson, thereby making a clear and positive contribution to our security," he continued. "In these matters, the red line that you are talking about has long since been crossed by you, and the current government is faced with the inevitable task of righting the mistakes made by you."

Helme criticizes signatories in turn

The EKRE chairman also had reproaches regarding statesmanship for several of the signatories of the statement calling for his resignation.

Regarding former minister Margus Leivo, Helme recalled the 2004 removal from a Lihula cemetery of a monument to Estonians who fought alongside German forces in World War II.

"How was this related to statesmanship and the rule of law?" he asked. "Which state order's mentality did this action most closely resemble? I was expelled from the People's Union at the time for my criticism of Leivo's behavior."

Regarding Hanno Pevkur (Reform), Helme pointed out what he described as an "astronomical increase" in the cost of the construction of Estonia's eastern border and "toothless yellow cards" handed by him as minister to Vaher.

Responding to Ain Seppik (Reform), who was a member of the Centre Party while in office, Helme highlighted the latter's role in the conclusion of the agreement between Centre and Russia's United Russia party, which Reform is currently constantly trying to use as a means of criticizing Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre), as well as the role Seppik played in the Soviet Union's justice system.

According to Helme, Katri Raik (SDE), his immediate predecessor as interior minister, should ask herself why she raised the salaries of the directors general of several state agencies immediately prior to leaving office; why "hooligan action" by then-MEP Indrek Tarand during an EKRE rally on Toompea Hill was covered up during her tenure; how Raik's party mate Hannes Rumm managed to escape essentially unpunished after being caught driving under the influence; and why she incessantly traveled between Tallinn and Narva in her chauffeured ministerial vehicle during the 2019 pre-election campaign.

All of this has nothing in common with the rule of law, honesty and statesmanship," he added.

The incumbent minister also accused his predecessors of criminal inaction in drawing up population protection for crises and a war situation, allowing the dilapidation of Border Guard buildings and Rescue Board bases, and a deterioration in the condition and guarding of Estonia's border with Russia.

Predecessors: Do the right thing and resign

Seven former interior ministers sent a letter to Minister of the Interior Mart Helme over the weekend in which they demanded his resignation.

"We are appealing to you out of concern for our Estonian state," the letter read. "Your words and actions and those of your son and fellow minister, finance minister Martin Helme, over the last few days have been damaging to Estonia's image and security. You have crossed a red line in Estonia."

The statement was signed by ministers whose terms of office spanned much of Estonia's political history since the restoration of its independence in 1991: Hanno Pevkur (Reform), Kalle Laanet (Reform), Margus Leivo, Märt Rask (Reform), Olari Taal, and Katri Raik (SDE). Leivo, Rask and Taal are currently not members of any political party; Rask, meanwhile, was a member of the Reform Party while in office, and Seppik was a member of the Centre Party while serving as minister.

According to the statement, getting rid of officials in one's partisan interests has no place in Estonia, and the former ministers called on Helme to act in a statesmanlike manner and send a clear message that behavior like this is not the "new normal" in Estonia.

"We unequivocally condemn your and your close party companions' behavior," the open letter concluded. "Estonia deserves a statesman."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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