Gallery: Hirve Park rally brings protest close to government's front door

A demonstration at Hirve Park in Tallinn Saturday called for the resignation of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) and his government.

The rally, organized by "Jah vabadusele, ei valedele" ("Yes to freedom, no to lies"), which holds regular protests outside the Stenbock House – seat of the Estonian government – on Thursdays, drew at least a couple of hundred attendees and ran from 1 p.m. to 2.30 p.m.

"Jah vabadusele, ei valedele" announced the event, which took place in the same park as one of the very first public demonstrations to openly protest the Soviet regime in Estonia, in 1987, on its own social media page in late August.

Hirve Park Protest, Saturday, 14. Sept 2019 Source: Helen Wright/ERR News

The organization states in English that it opposes the inclusion of far-right populists in the government, presumably meaning the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) though the party is not mentioned by name, as well as calling for the restoration of liberty, justice and the rule of law in Estonia, and the resignation of Jüri Ratas and his government.

Protestors at Saturday's event carried placards in Estonian, Russian and English, calling for the government to step down, apologizing for its having entered into office in the first place, and evoking the 1987 rally.

Talking to ERR News, organizer Maris Hellrand explained the rationale behind the protest.

"We've been organising protests outside the Stenbock House since March 18, and we really feel that people who are not happy with the government need to have a voice and a visual presence as well," Hellrand said.

"It's not enough to rant on Facebook or to 'like' comments on social media or online media. The physical presence in the city space as an expression of a protest is very powerful … for the people attending themselves, who get a great feeling of community and being together with like-minded people; this helps us all to get through this," she continued.

Hirve Park Protest, Saturday, 14. Sept 2019 Source: Helen Wright/ERR News

As to the outcome of the demonstration, Hellrand said she was under no illusions.

"We don't have the illusion that the government will listen and resign as a result of this, but at least as long as we are here they cannot completely ignore it, because that's what's been happening. Jüri Ratas is being shielded from criticism, but we need this criticism to penetrate to his ears and mind," Hellrand explained.

The demonstration was attended by the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) Indrek Saar, as well as fellow party member, MP and former health minister Riina Sikkut.

EKRE MP Peeter Ernits was also present, as were independent MP Raimond Kaljulaid, who quit the Centre Party on the issue of the deal with EKRE, Ewert Sundja, frontman from indie band Ewert and the Two Dragons, and entrepreneur Martin Villig.

The assembled crowd was addressed by several speakers, including poet Maarja Kangro and musician Ruslan Trochynskyi.

Hirve Park Protest, Saturday, 14. Sept 2019 Source: Helen Wright/ERR News

Regarding the turnout, organizer Maris Hellrand said she was delighted with it.

"We were very worried because the feeling has been that somehow over the last two weeks, when the no confidence vote (in Jüri Ratas' government - ed.), as expected, didn't succeed, the coalition is now more consolidated than it had been and the opposition have dug in and given up the fight. That could lead to society at large thinking 'ok, there's nothing to do and we just have to sit it out.' So we were expecting people to look after their own business and go off to the countryside and pick potatoes or whatever, so I'm very pleased [with the turnout]."

Hirve Park Protest, Saturday, 14. Sept 2019 Source: Helen Wright/ERR News

As to what happens next, Hellrand pointed to what she said was the grass-roots nature of "Jah vabadusele, ei valedele".

"We have to take stock – of course it's a matter of resources; we're not funded by any organization or any donations so it's all personal time and funds from we organizers. We need to look at the budget to see if we can do anything more, but people have been quite generous in donating, just ordinary people, and every couple of euros helps."

See the gallery above for more pictures of the event.

Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright

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