Pablo Veyrat: The immigration panic and the Estonian media

The Tallinn-based Spanish journalist, Pablo Veyrat, analyses the possible reasons behind the recent survey which showed that one-fifth of the Estonian population considers immigration to be the biggest problem, despite the fact that the country hasn’t received a single asylum seeker from the proposed EU quota.

A survey taken last month has found 21% of Estonians considers immigration to be the biggest problem Estonia is facing at the moment. Unemployment was second, chosen by 12% of the respondents.

The question is the following: how did 21% of Estonians come to consider immigration their main national worry when the country is yet to receive a single asylum seeker from the assigned European Union quota? Or, in other words, why so many people are troubled about something they do not know from first hand? The answer must then lie in what has been said to them about the immigration crisis.

“The question is the following: how did 21% of Estonians come to consider immigration their main national worry when the country is yet to receive a single asylum seeker from the assigned European Union quota?”

This leads me to think, despite my limitations as an observer – remember my shamefully low command of the Estonian language – that the Estonian media has not been able to inform the public with enough accuracy on all the elements involved in the current refugee crisis. At the same time, this informative vacuum has been filled by the social media in the hands of those who have made fear of immigration their main tool for achieving political power. As a result, 21% of Estonians are afraid of something, but they are not sure of, since they do not have any experience with the object of their fear.

How and why has the media failed to counter fear with information? It can be said the role of the media in a democracy consists in providing reliable information. This information in turn enables people to make decisions regarding their future. If these decisions are made on the basis of accurate and truthful information, they will reflect the freedom of those who make them. If the information is biased, the decisions of the people will not be free, but reflect the bias and intentions of those who manipulated information in the first place.

“Informative vacuum has been filled by the social media in the hands of those who have made fear of immigration their main tool for achieving political power.”

The images and the news we have seen in the last months are, of course, disturbing. From the massive arrival of desperate people to the central states of Europe, to the inability of many countries to cope with the overwhelming flow of refugees. But it is precisely because of this urgency they demand from us, that we need to be able to consider the problem calmly and with all the facts on the table.

Spy-like photo of a black man taken by a "concerned" citizen in Tallinn. It was republished by some anti-immigrant groups in Facebook. It is not too clear why they do this though (Photo - Facebook)

The most dangerous aspect of the current situation is the way a sizable part of the public seems to be receiving maimed information  to the point of being actual propaganda (in a very similar way the Russian government has used information regarding Ukraine since the Maidan, by the way), which deprives people from their ability to think for themselves. If you are bombed with information about the refugee crisis framed in an urgent way telling you your country is being invaded by monster-like human beings, you simply do not stop to think whether it makes sense. You become somehow scared inside, maybe even subconsciously at first, or maybe even develop hatred towards those who look like the supposed invaders.

“We need to be able to consider the problem calmly and with all the facts on the table.”

This is a basic process of dehumanisation. What started as being a mass of civilians fleeing from an already five-year-long civil war that has taken the lives of 250,000 people and made 11 million people leave their homes, has now somehow become a matter of protecting Europe from the legions of the poor and displaced for many citizens. The far-right emerging from the deepest caves of the European political underground has seized the moment and thrown its obsessions into the informative space: race, Islam, terrorism, rape, crime, think of the children, the destruction of our identity, a war against “European civilization”…

Moreover, in this confused mass of fear messages, the far-right has also succeeded in connecting with the grievances of those parts of society that feel displaced from the success of the European project and cannot possibly share its values. In the case of Estonia, the rural areas away from the Tallinn-Tartu axis, and even the working class districts in their outskirts.

“In the absence of clarity, the far right has managed to play on the mainstream narrative of how Estonia gained its independence to present the possible arrival of (poor) people of a different culture as an existential threat to the nation.”

In the absence of clarity, the far right has managed to play on the mainstream narrative of how Estonia gained its independence to present the possible arrival of (poor) people of a different culture as an existential threat to the nation. On 24 February (far-right groups have planned a “torchlight march” in Tallinn on the Independence Day), we will have a chance to see if their strength in the street matches their might on Facebook and their different websites. But they have already succeeded in instilling a fear of the other in the hearts of 21% of this country.

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The opinions in this article are those of the author. The article was first published by Pablo Veyrat on his website. Read also: Pablo Veyrat: You, Estonians, are being lied to about raceSten Hankewitz: Grow up, Estonia and Adam Cullen: Estonians, speak up and take away their stick. Cover: an image from the Facebook page of “Blue Awakening” (“Sinine Äratus”) – the youth wing of far-right Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE). Credit: Facebook.

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About the author: Pablo Veyrat

Pablo Veyrat is a Spanish journalist, living in Estonia since 2011.