Silver Tambur and Sten Hankewitz

Silver Tambur is the cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Estonian World. Sten Hankewitz is the Deputy Editor of Estonian World.

Journalists force Estonia’s largest daily’s editor-in-chief to leave over censorship concerns

The journalists of the largest daily newspaper in Estonia, Postimees, forced its editor-in-chief, Peeter Helme, to leave his post, threatening to leave themselves unless Helme resigned; according to the journalists, Helme wasn’t suitable to work as the chief editor and was trying to impose censorship over the newspaper’s content. Nineteen …

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LIVE BLOG: Estonian World brings you Estonian European Parliament election results

Estonian World brings you the results of the Estonian European Parliament election of 2019 in a live blog, starting around 8:00 PM EEDT (6 PM UK time; 1 PM ET). The deputy editor-in-chief of Estonian World, Sten Hankewitz, will also be live-tweeting the results.

02:55
We’re wrapping up here for now – the live blog was updated and edited by Estonian World’s editors Silver Tambur and Sten Hankewitz, thank you for being with us. 

Here’s again the final result of the EP elections in Estonia. The following candidates were elected: Marina Kaljurand (the Social Democrats), Andrus Ansip (the Reform Party), Urmas Paet (the Reform Party), Yana Toom (the Centre Party), Jaak Madison (the Estonian Conservative People’s Party) and Sven Mikser (the Social Democrats). Once the UK leaves the EU, Estonia would get another seat in the European Parliament and that would go to Riho Terras (Isamaa).

The European Parliament building in Brussels (Wikipedia).

In the European Parliament, Kaljurand and Mikser would join the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Ansip, Paet and Toom would sit with Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and Terras with European People’s Party (EPP). It is not yet known what group Madison would join.

02:34 AM
50.5% of EU citizens eligible to vote took part in the European elections, the highest turnout in 20 years. This is the European Parliament building in Brussels where the MEPs are going to work.

01:40 AM
Among the parties, whose candidates were elected to the European Parliament, the liberal Reform Party was the most successful, receiving 26.2% of the vote. They were followed by the Social Democrats with 23.3%. The populist Centre Party, currently leading the Estonian government, lost much ground compared with the last EP elections and received 14.4% of the vote, instead of the 22.4% in 2014. The far-right EKRE got its very first MEP seat, gathering 12.7% of the vote – a considerable increase from just 4% in 2014. The conservative Isamaa, whose most popular candidate, Riho Terras, a former commander of the Estonian Defence Forces, must wait until the UK leaves the EU, to take up his seat, received 10.3% of the vote.

Riho Terras being interviewed by Joao Rei for Estonishing Evenings debate on Europe in April 2019.

01:09 AM
Raimond Kaljulaid, a former Centre Party politician, was the most popular independent candidate this time, receiving 20,643 votes. However, this was not enough to get elected. Kaljulaid was elected to the Estonian parliament as a Centre Party MP on 3 March, but quit the party in protest of its decision to form a coalition with the far-right Conservative People’s Party (EKRE).

12:24 AM
The Estonian results are in – and there are no major surprises as pre-election polls have proved to be accurate. The following candidates were elected: Marina Kaljurand (Social Democrats, 65,559 votes), Andrus Ansip (the Reform Party, 41,006 votes), Urmas Paet (the Reform Party, 30,010 votes), Yana Toom (the Centre Party, 27,003 votes), Jaak Madison (the Estonian Conservative People’s Party, 22,823 votes) and Sven Mikser (Social Democrats, 2,886 votes). Once the UK leaves the EU, Estonia would get another seat in the European Parliament and that would go to Riho Terras (Isamaa, 21,474 votes).

Marina Kaljurand.

Kaljurand was widely tipped to be the most popular candidate, but with the third most successful result of EP elections in Estonia (Indrek Tarand received 102,460 votes in 2009 and Toomas Hendrik Ilves was elected with 76,120 votes in 2004) since the country joined the EU, nevertheless surprised many.

11:48 PM
Evelin Ilves, who from 2006-2015 was the First Lady of Estonia, was the leading EP candidate for the Estonian Greens. The Greens have never won a seat in the European Parliament and have been out of the Estonian parliament, the Riigikogu, since 2011. The party has in recent years gained more attention again in Estonia – mainly thanks to a new generation of youthful leaders – but due to its inconsistency and lack of coherent programme, has failed to succeed in any elections.

Evelin Ilves and Marina Kaljurand at the Europe Day celebrations in Tallinn Freedom Square on 9 May.

11:10 PM
The leading candidate of the Reform Party is Andrus Ansip, a former Estonian prime minister and the current European commissioner for digital single market. Had the Reform Party managed to form the new government, after winning the general election on 3 March, Ansip would have almost certainly been nominated again to the commissioner post by the Estonian government (the commissioners are nominated by the national governments in the EU).

Andrus Ansip.

Since the Reform Party was excluded from the coalition, the new government is expected to nominate Kadri Simson, the chairwoman of the Centre Party fraction in the Estonian parliament, as Estonia’s new commissioner instead.

11:00 PM
Since 1979, the European Parliament has been directly elected every five years by European Union citizens. Unfortunately, voter turnout at EP elections has fallen consecutively at each election since that date and has been under 50% since 1999. Voter turnout in last EP election, in 2014, stood at 42.54% of all European Union voters.

10:38 PM
Indrek Tarand, currently an independent Estonian MEP, hopes to get elected to the EP for third time in a row. In 2009, he stood as an independent candidate and received an unprecedented 102,460 votes (25.81%) in Estonia, which placed him on a surprising second rank after the Centre Party (26.07%).

Indrek Tarand in 2013 (photo by Liis Treimann/Scanpix).

In 2014, Tarand stood again as an independent candidate and was with 43,369 votes (13.2%) reelected. However, his popularity has somewhat waned since and in 2019, he didn’t take a risk of standing as an independent candidate anymore and joined the Social Democrats list instead. Should the party gather enough votes for two mandates, he stands a chance of getting reelected.

10:36 PM
This is how the European Parliament’s session hall in Brussels looks like. The parliament is composed of 751 members (MEPs), who represent the second-largest democratic electorate in the world (after the parliament of India) and the largest trans-national democratic electorate in the world.

The hemicycle of the European Parliament in Brussels (photo by Ash Crow/Wikimedia).

10:24 PM

9:55 PM
The turnout was higher in every county but Ida-Virumaa. In the 2014 EP election, 30% of the electorate in Ida-Virumaa came out to vote, this time only 24.3% bothered. This could spell bad news for the Centre Party, as over 73% of the population in Ida-Viru county are Estonian Russians, the party’s traditional voting base. If Yana Toom, currently an MEP and the most popular candidate in the Centre Party’s list, loses her seat, it would almost certainly cause an infighting in the party.

Yana Toom (Yana Toom).

9:50 PM
Before the EP election, polls predicted that out of the six seats allocated to Estonia, the Social Democrats will get two, the Reform Party two, and the Centre Party and the far-right Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) a seat each.

9:26 PM
In the outgoing EP, Estonia was represented by Yana Toom (Centre Party/ALDE in EP), Urmas Paet (Reform Party/ALDE), Tunne Kelam (Isamaa/EPP), Ivari Padar (Social Democrats/Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats), Igor Gräzin (independent/ALDE) and Indrek Tarand (independent/Greens/ALE).

9:13 PM
Marina Kaljurand, a former diplomat and foreign minister, is widely predicted to be the most popular Estonian candidate at this EP election. Kaljurand represents the Social Democrats – the party that failed miserably at the Estonian general election on 3 March, winning just 10 seats, but could now achieve the best result in the EP election. If Kaljurand receives enough votes, it would help the Social Democrats win two seats out of Estonia’s six.

President Barack Obama meeting the then Estonian ambassador in the US, Marina Kaljurand, in the Oval Office, 9 September 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson).

9:07 PM
According to the preliminary results, the turnout in the European Election 2019 in Estonia was 37,3%. It’s only a tiny bit larger than in 2014 when 36,5% of the Estonian electorate cast their votes in the European Election. The turnout was highest in Tallinn (42,2%) and lowest in Ida-Viru county (24,3%).

9:05 PM
The polling stations in Estonia are now closed. We’re eagerly waiting for the first preliminary results of the European Election 2019 in Estonia.

8:55 PM
Estonia has six seats in the European Parliament. Had the United Kingdom left the EU by now, Estonia would have had seven seats.

7:40 PM
Estonia, like the other 27 member states of the European Union, is today voting in the European Parliament election. The country will elect six new MEPs (and a tentative seventh for when the UK will leave the bloc).

Embarrassment for Estonia as the new IT and foreign trade minister refuses to speak in English on foreign visits

Yet another fiasco has hit the new Estonian populist and far-right government as Kert Kingo, the new minister of foreign trade and information technology, insists speaking in Estonian on foreign trips, using an interpreter instead.

Kingo, appointed to the ministerial post by far-right Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), is scheduled to represent the Estonian government at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit 2019 in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, from 29-31 May.

However, Kingo told Estonian daily newspaper, Postimees, that she would interact with everyone in Estonian. “I interact with an interpreter. This is the rule for me that we speak in Estonian. I’ve decided that,” she said. “Many countries are communicating in their own language and this is in line with the views of our party to speak in Estonian.”

Wants to travel as little as possible

Kingo added that although she had never studied English in school, the use of an interpreter was not due to her poor language skills. “That’s my decision, I can’t say I’m exactly an English philologist, but it’s normal that every person speaks their own language,” she said.

Kingo also told the newspaper that she planned to travel as little as possible as a minister – despite being responsible for foreign trade. “I only plan to travel in extreme cases and, whenever possible, I will delegate foreign visits,” she said.

The new foreign trade minister said she was ready to speak English only “among small groups of people” and “on tourist trips abroad”. But she stressed that “at the communication level, if there is a bilateral conversation, the Estonian ministers should speak abroad in Estonian”.

However, Kingo said that in future, she plans to take English courses.

A salesman who sits by the phone waiting for the customer to call

The former prime minister of Estonia, Taavi Rõivas, said in a Facebook post that the task of the foreign trade minister is to travel around the world, help Estonian companies access foreign markets and get foreign investments to Estonia – to sell Estonia.

“This has to be done often not speaking just one foreign language, but many, and to inspire audiences with one’s speeches and lectures,” Rõivas said. “A right person in this role can only make Estonia bigger.”

He added that a foreign trade minister who sits at home with an interpreter reminds him of a joke about a salesman who “actively sits by the phone at home and waits for the customer to call”.

The former Estonian finance minister, Jürgen Ligi, added that abroad, a minister who doesn’t speak foreign languages doesn’t exist. “No one will take them seriously, they’re not invited and not listened to,” he noted. “Already in the nineties, a politician’s English marked the clear difference between the West and the East.”

Not rock bottom yet

Ligi pointed out that ministers with interpreters are a rarity and just an embarrassment around the table. “I can remember ministers from Bulgaria, Romania, one Latvian minister. Even a French minister was left behind when his English was poor.”

“In this sense it’s only good that Kingo doesn’t engage in foreign trade and prefers to stay at home. She shouldn’t engage with IT, either,” Ligi added.

Kristina Kallas, the leader of the Estonia 200 party that didn’t get enough votes to enter the parliament, also commented the minister’s stance. “The highest person to be responsible for the country’s foreign trade, who doesn’t speak languages, doesn’t want to travel, and goes to represent my country at a summit where supposedly ‘something that has to do with an open state’ is happening. I thought that the level of incompetency can’t drop further, but, again, I have to admit, that we’re not at rock bottom yet,” she said.

Problems and embarrassment

Kingo was elected to the new parliament as an EKRE MP on 3 March 2019. She was nominated as the new IT and foreign trade minister by her party on 13 May – to replace Marti Kuusik, also from EKRE, who had to resign after just a day in office, after facing allegations of domestic violence. Kingo took up the ministerial post on 16 May.

Problems and embarrassment – both at home and abroad – have plagued prime minister Jüri Ratas’s (Centre Party) government ever since he decided to form a coalition with the far-right EKRE and the conservative Isamaa party.

After years of being in the international news for successful reforms, digital government, startups and music culture, Estonia’s positive reputation took a hit when Mart and Martin Helme – EKRE’s leader and a deputy leader, respectively – both made alleged white power gestures at their swearing-in on 24 April. The incident was reported by BBC, New York Times, BuzzFeed and other global outlets.

Mart Helme, the new interior minister, later called the country’s first female president, Kersti Kaljulaid, an “emotionally heated woman” for walking out during the swearing-in of Marti Kuusik, who was accused of domestic violence. Mart and Martin Helme, the new finance minister, have both verbally attacked the independent media and journalists at the Estonian Public Broadcasting. EKRE also hosted the French nationalist populist politician, Marine Le Pen, in Estonia.

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Cover: Kert Kingo (Facebook).

Sir Arvi Parbo, an Estonian-Australian mining entrepreneur and a knight – obituary

Sir Arvi Parbo, one of Australia’s most well-known and recognised mining entrepreneurs, and probably the only knighted Estonian, died on 1 May at the age of 93 in Melbourne, Australia.

The Australian newspaper, Financial Review, calls Parbo “one of corporate Australia’s most significant figures”.

“Sir Arvi Parbo will be fondly remembered as the most influential 20th century figure of the Australian resources industry,” Steve Knott, the chief executive of Australian Resources and Energy Group AMMA, told the news.com.au website.

“Arvi’s well-regarded leadership and vision has made Australia a stronger and wealthier nation and helped improved the lives of thousands,” the Australian federal resources minister, Matt Canavan, added. “The resources industry will sadly miss the remarkable life and contribution of Sir Arvi Parbo.”

Australia was where he was most well-known, even though he was born in Tallinn, Estonia, on 10 February 1926. He escaped the Soviet occupation of his homeland in 1944 and ended up in a refugee camp in Germany.

After attending a mining academy in Germany from 1946-1948, he left the country for Australia in 1949. Before emigrating, he was choosing between Canada or Australia – Parbo chose the latter because it was the furthest from Europe.

Once in Australia, he went to study at the University of Adelaide, graduating in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

Probably the only Estonian knight

Parbo joined Western Mining Corporation (WMC) in 1956 and, over the next 12 years, held the positions of underground surveyor, underground manager, technical assistant to the managing director, and deputy general superintendent.

In 1968, he was appointed general manager and in 1970, became a director. He was appointed deputy managing director in 1971 and became managing director in the same year. In 1974, Parbo was appointed chairman and managing director of WMC.

Under Parbo’s leadership, WMC became the world’s fourth-largest miner of nickel in the late 1960s. In 1975, as a chairman of WMC, he backed the exploration of what would become Olympic Dam mine – now the largest mine in Australia and the fourth largest copper deposit and the largest known single deposit of uranium in the world.

In 1978, Parbo was appointed a Knight Bachelor for his service to industry. The dignity of Knight Bachelor is the basic and lowest rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised orders of chivalry; it is a part of the British honours system. Knights Bachelor are the most ancient sort of British knight (the rank existed during the 13th century reign of King Henry III), but Knights Bachelor rank below knights of chivalric orders.

By having been knighted by the monarch of Australia, Queen Elizabeth II, Parbo likely was the only Estonian knight.

Simultaneous chairman of the three largest Australian companies

In 1986, Parbo relinquished his managing director position at WMC and became the company’s executive chairman. In 1990, he retired as an executive but was appointed non-executive chairman and retired from this position in 1999.

Parbo was simultaneously chairman of the tree largest companies in Australia. He was chairman of Alcoa of Australia from 1978 to 1996, chairman of Munich Reinsurance Company of Australia from 1984 to 1998 and chairman of Zurich Australian Insurance group from 1985 to 1998.

In 1987, Parbo was appointed a director of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company (that in 2001 merged with Billiton plc to become one of the largest mining companies in the world) and was appointed chairman in 1989 until retirement in 1992. “Our industry has lost one of its greatest and Australia has lost a man who worked hard to better himself, the companies he worked for and the people who relied on them,” Andrew Mackenzie, the CEO of BHP, said in a statement. “He is credited with the discovery and backing of Olympic Dam, one of the highest quality ore bodies in the world. He is remembered for his integrity and humility.”

In June 1993, Parbo was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia and had his portrait painted by the artist, William Dargie. The work is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry to recognise Australian citizens and other people for achievement or meritorious service.

“Sir Arvi was, above all, the exemplary migrant who made good. By diligence, study and hard work he made his way through an illustrious mining career and finished at the top of Australia’s biggest company. Australia was indeed fortunate that the young Estonian chose to migrate here rather than Canada,” Financial Review said of Parbo.

Parbo died at his home in Melbourne. Parbo is survived by his wife Saima, who he met at a refugee camp in Germany. They have three children: Ellen, Peter and Martin, and six grandchildren.

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Cover: Sir Arvi Parbo,1992 by Brian Dunlop (by the permission of the Australia’s National Portrait Gallery).

Estonian liberal commentator Ahto Lobjakas resigns in the face of self-censorship demands

Ahto Lobjakas, the outspoken and sharp commentator at the Estonian Radio 2 – part of the Estonian Public Broadcasting – is forced to leave his post due to the demands of self-censorship by the broadcasting’s board; Lobjakas is known for holding the far-right Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) leaders, future ministers and MPs accountable for racism and anti-Semitism live on air.

One of the wittiest radio commentators and newspaper columnists in Estonia, Ahto Lobjakas, has been forced to leave his post as the co-host of the Radio 2’s weekly programme, “Olukorrast Riigis” (State of the Republic), aired every Sunday. The programme summarises and analyses the most important political and economic events, developments and affairs in Estonia, and occasionally, elsewhere. Lobjakas has co-hosted the influential programme since 2015.

A choice between self-censorship and departure

The news that Lobjakas had been fired from the job, started to circulate in the Estonian privately-owned news outlets, Delfi and Postimees, on Friday evening.

Radio 2’s editor-in-chief, Kristo Rajasaare, said in a comment given to Estonian Public Broadcasting’s (ERR) news portal that Lobjakas “was not fired”. However, on Saturday, Lobjakas said in a Facebook post that, indeed – he wasn’t fired, but was given a choice between self-censorship and departure.

“I wasn’t fired. I was given a choice between self-censorship and departure. I’ve been the presenter of ‘State of the Republic’ for more than four years. In the years when the Reform Party led the government (until autumn 2016 – editor), I was never pressured as a presenter, no matter how sharp my criticism was. I can say the same about the subsequent Centre Party government. Something changed after the election,” Lobjakas wrote, a reflection of the post-election situation in March and April, when the Centre Party started coalition talks with far-right EKRE party that had managed to increase its number of seats in the parliament from 7 to 19.

“There were signals that criticism of the coalition that was being created, was too sharp – and was trying to influence politics unacceptably. The choice of words was criticised, intelligent euphemisms and cornerstones were suggested. I was demanded to pay more attention to the coalition programme of the new government (formed by the Centre Party, EKRE and Isamaa – editor) and less on unworthy politicians and their ideas,” Lobjakas said. “The importance of ‘balance’ was emphasised. Logically, the latter only meant that besides EKRE, I would have to find either racists, anti-Semites or neo-Nazis also in other political parties – or, in their absence, not to touch the subject at all.”

Lobjakas had in many previous programmes criticised the inclusion of EKRE in the coalition government, based on the party leaders often offensive, racist, homophobic and xenophobic rhetoric. He had specifically also highlighted the fact that the coalition government’s MPs in the parliament include at least one anti-Semite, in EKRE’s Ruuben Kaalep. In one programme, on 14 April, Lobjakas used the word “scum” live on-air to describe the fact that the government is formed with the help of racists and anti-Semites. He immediately apologised on air, and after the ERR’s ombudsman, Tarmu Tammerk, intervened in the following days, apologised again in the following programme.

Depressingly familiar with post-Soviet and other semi-free societies

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Lobjakas was pessimistic about the state of the Estonian Public Broadcasting – and indirectly, about the situation free press in Estonia has found itself, after the inclusion of far-right EKRE party in the government.

“As a correspondent of the former Radio Free Europe / Freedom Radio, it all seemed depressingly familiar with post-Soviet and other semi-free societies. Critical voices are not tolerated in the state press. No one puts pressure directly out of bad will, but there is pressure – and its clear subtext is that the leadership [of ERR] is feeling nervous and defenceless against governmental power, and those below [journalists at ERR] are expected to co-operate and keep a low profile,” he said. “It is a simple but slippery slope in young democracies – beginning with self-censorship, it will end up with something other than a free society.”

Lobjakas seemed to be puzzled as what had gone wrong at ERR at large. He has not been the only ERR journalist under attack in the last month: On 28 March, EKRE’s vice chair, Martin Helme, sent a letter to ERR board, in which he asked whether the board was planning to “remove those journalists who have demonstrated their bias” from the airwaves.

Subsequently, Mart Luik, a member of the Isamaa party – EKRE’s conservative coalition partner in the new government – wrote an op-ed in the Estonian newspaper, Eesti Päevaleht, with a headline: “There is a hysteria against EKRE in the media. Helme has the right to demand an order from the journalists”. In an unprecedented move, Luik proceeded to list several Estonian journalists in the context, such as Johannes Tralla, Priit Kuusk, Marko Reikop, Anna Pihl (ERR) and Krister Paris (Eesti Päevaleht).

Adapting to compromises – in favour of power, at the expense of the press

“Why things have gone like that in the ERR, I can’t say. At the same time, I have to say – when I read the longer texts of the chairmen of the ERR’s council and the board over the last few weeks, one can sense the desire to relieve tensions in the society and cure the divisions,” Lobjakas wrote. “It is great, but it has nothing to do with free press as a value – or an institution [ERR] – that these people were employed to protect. On the contrary, in today’s circumstances, such texts can only be read as an attempt to justify themselves and others in adapting to compromises – in favour of power, at the expense of the press.”

“I believe there is also an explanation for why the ERR does not seem to be bold in protecting its people,” Lobjakas added, a reference to several verbal attacks against him and other ERR journalists in the last month. “Radio 2 has always been on my side, but the ERR, as an institution represented by the board, has taken a neutral position on the attacks or has made concessions to the attackers. It is only a minor problem for me. However, this is very much a problem for the Estonian Public Broadcasting and all its journalists.”

Lobjakas added that he had already felt exhausted by following the increasingly aggressive day-to-day politics and had considered to leave the weekly programme – now, the circumstances made it impossible to decide otherwise. “Four years is a long time to make such a programme and I had a plan to leave in early June. But before I could say that, it was impossible for me to stay in the show,” he said, adding that he will co-host his last programme on 2 June.

The chairman of the Estonian Public Broadcasting, Erik Roose, was unavailable for comment at the time of writing this article. In a press statement, sent to the Estonian media, he said “it was Ahto Lobjakas’ own decision” to resign his post as co-host of the “State of the Republic” programme. Roose also said that “there is no threat to press freedom or journalistic independence” at ERR.

Demands to silence journalists cause uproar

Member of parliament Marko Mihkelson (Reform) wrote on Facebook that “something really weird is happening in Estonia”.

“Ahto Lobjakas is rather one of those thinkers with whose thoughts I have always had trouble to agree,” he said. “But I have always respected his right to think the opposite of me.” He also pointed out that the new coalition government isn’t yet in power, asking “has self-censorship really started before?”

The former president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, also expressed his anger on social media. “As a primary object of Ahto Lobjakas’ calumnies and vituperation for a decade, I have a special right to stand up for his right to say what he says. No justifications for limiting his right to speak will sway me. Nothing supposedly true now wasn’t true before. Live with it.”

He also said that when critics are muzzled, Estonia won’t be the Estonia for which the Estonian people fought for fifty years. “Independent, yes, but no longer free.”

Another member of parliament, Valdo Randpere (Reform) said in a social media post that he, too, doesn’t like most of Lobjakas’ stances. “But the question is, what is more important, our own personal sympathy for one or another person, or our attitude towards the freedom of speech,” he noted. “We’re on a damn dangerous road when we start accepting muzzling the thinkers who we don’t like.”

Even the members of the new coalition have spoken out. Urmas Reinsalu, the next foreign minister and a member of the new governing coalition (Isamaa) posted on Facebook that he respects Lobjakas’ right to express his opinions.

“His ideology doesn’t sit with me at all, but I like brave people, and no one can accuse him of being cowardly,” Reinsalu said, adding that there aren’t many people like that in today’s Estonia.

The incoming minister of culture, Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa), told the Delfi news portal that he will demand explanations from the ERR management about the Lobjakas case.

“This is definitely one of the first things that I will discuss with the ERR management when I meet them next week,” Lukas told the portal. “I will definitely ask about it and they will definitely tell me.” Lukas admitted that so far he didn’t know any more about the case than he had read on the media.

Just on 23 April, Vilja Kiisler, a journalist at Postimees, one of the largest newspapers in Estonia, decided to leave her post due to differences with the paper’s editor-in-chief over what she expressed in an opinion article, in which she criticised the far-right EKRE’s rhetoric and ideas.

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Cover: Ahto Lobjakas (photo by Arne Holm/Raadio 2).

LIVE BLOG: Estonian World brings you Estonian election results

Estonian World brings you the results of the Estonian parliamentary election of 2019 in a live blog, starting around 8:00 PM EET (6 PM UK time; 1 PM ET). The deputy editor-in-chief of Estonian World, Sten Hankewitz, will also be live-tweeting the results.

05:15 We’re wrapping up here for now – the live blog was updated and edited by Estonian World’s editors Silver Tambur and Sten Hankewitz, thank you for being with us. Here’s again the final result of the elections of the 14th Riigikogu: In the 101-seat Estonian parliament, the Reform Party will have 34 seats, Centre 26, EKRE 19, Isamaa 12 and the Social Democrats 10 seats.

In the following days, president Kersti Kaljulaid will ask Kaja Kallas, the leader of the Reform Party, to form the new coalition government. Kallas will then have to choose which party or parties to invite for coalition negotiations. Should she fail to form the majority coalition (that needs the support of at least 51 MPs), the president would turn to the leader of the second largest party, Centre Party, with the same request. That would mean that the current prime minister, Jüri Ratas, would have a second chance.

04:53 Among the high profile Social Democrat MPs who have lost their seats, is Eiki Nestor, until now the speaker of the Riigikogu. He had previously been elected to the parliament continuously since 1992, when Estonia held the first free election since regaining independence. But, according to Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia, Nestor himself requested to be placed to the end of the party list.

In general, not a happy night for the Estonian Social Democratic Party and in the face of dismal results, it’s difficult to see how the current leader, Jevgeni Ossinovski, could carry on leading the party.

04:49 The BBC said the eurosceptic EKRE saw its popularity surge, more than doubling its previous election results and garnering about 18% of the vote.

03:34 Estonia’s former president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, summed the election result up thus:

03:15 The Guardian said that “the opposition Reform party wins but far-right support doubles”, a reference to EKRE.

02:00 The international media has started to report on the Estonian election results. “Estonia’s Reform Party upset Prime Minister Juri Ratas’s ruling coalition in elections and dodged a challenge from populists who’d threatened to shake up the political landscape of another European Union state,” Bloomberg said.

01:15 These are the ten biggest vote magnets in the 2019 Estonian parliamentary election:

Kaja Kallas Reform 20,083
Mihhail Kõlvart Centre 17,075
Jüri Ratas Centre 9,710
Mart Helme EKRE 9,170
Siim Kallas Reform 8,734
Urmas Paet Reform 8,585
Henn Põlluaas EKRE 7,392
Raimond Kaljulaid Centre 7,334
Kristen Michal Reform 6,363
Yana Toom Centre 6,197

00:42 This is the final result. In the 101-seat Estonian parliament, the Reform Party will have 34 seats, Centre 26, EKRE 19, Isamaa 12 and the Social Democrats 10 seats. Estonia 200, a new party that was officially formed just four months ago, didn’t make it to the parliament, with 4.5% of the vote.

The Reform Party can certainly celebrate, after gaining four seats compared with the 2015 election. The other big winner is the far-right populist party, EKRE, that has gained 12 seats in the new parliament. Although Isamaa lost two seats compared with 2015 election, the result is better than many expected and better than the polls predicted.

The Centre Party’s result is a disappointment for the party, as it is below what the polls predicted. It is also a seat less than the party achieved under its former leader, Edgar Savisaar, in 2015 – although the party did better in popular vote. The Social Democrats have to deal with the biggest blow (if you don’t count the Free Party that lost all of its eight seats the party won in 2015), losing five seats compared with the 2015 election.

00:09 The Reform Party has won the elections of the 14th Riigikogu. Kaja Kallas, the party’s leader, is giving a speech at NO99 theatre in Tallinn, where the party is celebrating. Estonia could get its first female prime minister. The country currently also has a female president (Kersti Kaljulaid).

00:03 The biggest vote magnets have been Kaja Kallas (Reform) – 18,868; Mihhail Kõlvart, the chair of the Tallinn City Council (Centre) – 13,406; Mart Helme (EKRE) – 9,086.

23:47 This is the latest picture. It is safe to say now that the Reform Party has won the election. The Centre Party is second, followed by EKRE, Isamaa and the Social Democrats.

23:44 The current coalition is unlikely to carry on, simply because they would not have enough seats for majority anymore in the 101-seat parliament.

23:00 Kristen Michal from the Reform Party has said that the party’s first choice coalition partners would be Isamaa and the Social Democrats.

22:45 The biggest shock is the nightmare the polls predicted, but many hoped it would not realise – that the far-right and populist EKRE party gains many seats this time.

22:34 This is the picture now. Reform leads, followed by Centre and EKRE, the far-right, populist party.

22:31 The Free Party that won eight seats in 2015, will be left behind the Riigikogu door.

22:13 Before the election, many predicted that the Reform Party and the Centre Party would form the new coalition after the election. Currently, the government is led by the Centre Party, with its leader Jüri Ratas prime minister. In Estonia, the winning party usually has a first chance to form a new coalition government. If the Reform Party wins, Ratas is most likely to lose his job (unless Reform fails to form the new coalition government).

22:04 This is how the Riigikogu session hall looks like. By early Monday morning, we will know what political parties will fill it up – and the names of the new MPs.

21:50 Let’s hope the snowfall in early March is not a bad sign…

21:48 According to the preliminary data, 63,1% of the total number of voters voted in the Riigikogu elections. Voter turnout was the highest in Harju County (68,8%) and the lowest in Ida-Viru County (48,2). In the Riigikogu elections of 2015, voter turnout was 64.2%.

21:44 As it stands, the new party, Estonia 200, will not make it to the parliament. Currently, they have 4,9% of the counted votes, just below 5% threshold needed to be elected to Riigikogu.

21:37 Kaja Kallas, the leader of Reform Party, seems to be the biggest vote magnet, as it stands.

21:33 This is an earlier tweet by Stewart Johnson, an American expat and stand-up comedian who has lived in Estonia for over 20 years.

21:27 162 polling stations have reported, out of 451. The Reform Party is leading, followed by EKRE, the Centre Party, Isamaa, the Social Democrats and Estonia 200.

21:20 BBC is also reporting from Estonia. “Estonians have voted in a general election that pits the ruling Centre party against the liberal Reform party and a strong populist challenge,” BBC said.

21:13 If the Reform Party wins, Estonia could get its first female prime minister, as the party is led by Kaja Kallas. She was a member of the European Parliament from 2014-2018. Elected to lead her party in 2018, she gave up her seat and focused on the parliamentary election campaign in Estonia.

21:08 This was one of the few English-language pre-election debates, organised by Estonishing Evenings and supported by Estonian World (the debate starts at 57th minute).

21:04 The Estonian Public Broadcasting says turnout was 63.1% – unofficially as of yet. That would be even less than in 2015.

20:43 The Reform Party has won the most votes in online voting. But it’s too early to predict anything. Nevertheless, EKRE’s – a populist and xenophobic party – second position in the online voting comes as a shock to many.

20:40 This is how one of the polling stations looked like. This was a polling station at the Solaris centre in Tallinn, just half an hour before the voting closed.

20:22 Here is a brief of what the different parties that are most likely to be elected to the 14th Riigikogu, stand for:

The Centre Party (won 27 seats in 2015 election) promises a “fair society” for all – a “society that looks after every citizen”.

The Reform Party (won 30 seats in 2015) promises a knowledge-intensive economy with healthier people, in a global setting where security is protected and liberal values upheld.

The Social Democrats (won 15 seats in 2015) say that “everyone matters”. The party values openness – “no one should be left behind and everyone has the right to be who they are”.

Isamaa (won 14 seats in 2015) stands for a nation that is free in its decisions, protected against external threats, and supportive of entrepreneurship. The party says it stands for ensuring the continuity of the population and the Estonian language.

The Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE, won 7 seats in 2015) is a populist and xenophobic party that is expected to make gains this time – the party hopes to win 20 seats.

Estonia 200 is a new party that is hoping to enter the parliament. The latest polls showed them just 4% support – a percentage point below the required 5% threshold. The party says it “provides a vision for the long term”.

20:20 Today, the elections of the 14th Riigikogu, Estonian parliament, were held. All 451 polling stations were open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. 39.3% of voters participated in the advance voting of the elections: 247,232 voted electronically, and 99,163 voted in voting districts.

 

Estonia has fifteen visa centres in China

Estonia’s visa centres in China help the Chinese citizens apply for a Schengen area visa.

In addition to the existing facilities in Beijing and Shanghai, people can apply for an Estonian visa at VFS Global visa application centres in Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Jinan, Kunming, Nanjing, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Xi´an and Wuhan.

According to the Estonian foreign ministry, the centres accept applications for short-term Schengen area visas. Normally, it takes around 15 days to complete the application process.

The Estonian ambassador in China, Marten Kokk, said that in recent years, there has been an increasing interest in China towards travelling to Estonia and the number of applications of the Schengen area visas has grown rapidly. “By opening new visa centres, we wish to make it easier for Chinese tourists and entrepreneurs to travel to Estonia,” he added.

Estonia-China relations intensifying

Since Estonia regained independence in 1991, its relations with China have developed at a rapid pace and are considered very good – no doubt aided by the fact that despite some domestic criticism, all Estonian governments have supported the “One China Policy”, considering Taiwan an inseparable part of China’s territory.

However, like many Western countries before, Estonia also suffered a short reset, following the Dalai Lama’s visit to the country in 2011. The spiritual leader of the Tibetan people had been in Estonia twice before – in 1991 and 2001 – but the country really felt China’s reaction following his last visit. In 2014, following three years of chillier relations, it even prompted an apology by the then-Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Paet, who expressed regret that the Estonian-Chinese relations had not been what they could and should have been, following the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso’s visit. The two countries have made amends since.

Regular contacts

Estonia’s internal market is small and is not much of an interest for Chinese companies, but the country’s favourable geographic position – just between East and the West – has a growing appeal. There is even a possibility in the air of Chinese-funded Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel. On the local government level, the city of Tallinn is in the regular contact with its partner city in China, Hangzhou – the two cities exchange experiences in city planning and transportation.

The cultural and educational relations between Estonia and China have also intensified. Many Estonian choirs have performed in China and Tallinn now holds an annual cultural programme during the Chinese New Year celebration. Increasingly, Chinese students find their way into Estonian universities.

As ever-growing numbers of Chinese have become overseas travelers as well as global investors, there was a pressing need to establish more convenient ways for obtaining Estonian visa. The new centres ought to help along.

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Cover: Hangzhou skyline (the image is illustrative.)

Pence and Estonian PM discuss deploying the Patriot anti-missile defence system

The vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, and the Estonian prime minister, Jüri Ratas, discussed the possibility of deploying the Patriot anti-missile defence system in Estonia.

Ratas, having met Pence, who was visiting the tiny Nordic NATO member from 30-31 July, told the main news programme of the Estonian public broadcasting that he discussed the deployment of the Patriot anti-missile system, but there were no talks about a potential date when the system would be deployed.

“We discussed it today,” Ratas said, replying to a reporter’s question about the defence system. “We didn’t discuss specifically when it would happen,” he added.

“The main messages from both sides were that both Estonia and the United States are active allies in NATO,” Ratas told the public broadcasting.

“We also discussed the [Russian] military exercise to take place at the Estonian border – Zapad – and how Estonia, the United States and NATO monitor it and exchange information,” Ratas added.

Increased cooperation in cyber security

The two leaders also discussed opportunities for increased cooperation in the digital field and cyber security. Pence praised Estonia as a model for innovation and the use of technology to develop solutions for global economic, security and social challenges, and he thanked the country for hosting the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn.

After meeting with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in Tallinn on 31 July, the US vice president again offered reassurances.

“Under President Donald Trump, the United States stands firmly behind our Article 5 pledge of mutual defence – an attack on one of us is an attack on us all,” Pence told reporters.

In Tallinn, he also met allied troops from France, the UK and the US that are stationed in Estonia.

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Cover: A Patriot missile fired (Wikimedia Commons.)

Estonia one of the digital elites of the world

According to the Digital Evolution Index 2017, Estonia is one of the digital elites of the world, characterised by high levels of digital development and a fast rate of digital evolution.

The index, compiled by the Fletcher School at Tufts University, a graduate school of international affairs in Massachusetts, and Mastercard, is designed to provide an in-depth look at technology adoption and the state of digital trust around the world, tracking the progress countries have made in developing their digital economies and integrating connectivity into the lives of its peoples.

The index identifies Singapore, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, Estonia, Hong Kong, Japan and Israel as digital elites of the world. “With momentum and innovation on their side, these ‘stand out’ markets exemplify the sweet spot of advancement and future growth,” the Fletcher School said in a statement.

Combining the pace and state of digital advancement, the index puts markets into four distinct categories:

Stand Out

Singapore, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, Estonia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Israel demonstrate high levels of digital development while continuing to lead in innovation and new growth.

Stall Out

Many developed countries, such as in Western Europe, the Nordics, Australia and South Korea have a history of strong growth, but their momentum is slowing. Without further innovation, they are at risk of falling behind.

Break Out

Although still at relatively lower absolute levels of digital advancement, these countries demonstrate the fastest momentum, are poised for growth and are attractive to investors. China, Kenya, Russia, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Mexico exhibit this breakout potential.

Watch Out

Countries such as South Africa, Peru, Egypt, Greece and Pakistan face significant challenges, constrained both by low levels of digital advancement and a slow pace of growth.

According to their overall digital evolution scores, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and the United States make the top ten list of advanced digital economies, “but given the current pace of innovation and change, being an advanced digital economy today doesn’t guarantee that status tomorrow. How open and supportive they are to innovation help determine their future growth potential,” the research team said.

The Digital Evolution Index 2017 includes a study of the pace of digital evolution across 60 countries, across four key drivers of supply, demand, institutional environment and innovation.

Mastercard_DEI_Infographic_V12

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Cover: The Digital Evolution Index 2017 map.

The Estonian presidency of the council of the EU begins – what does it entail?

On Saturday, 1 July 2017, Estonia takes upon its shoulders the presidency of the council of the European Union – a rotating presidency every member of the EU holds for six months at a time. This means that for the next six months, Estonia will be responsible for defining the council’s positions while taking into account the interests of all member states and remaining neutral at the same time. But what are the country’s priorities and themes during the relatively short presidency? Estonian World explains.

What does the council of the EU do?

  • Together with the European Parliament, it is the EU’s co-legislator and negotiates and adopts EU laws – being an essential EU decision maker
  • It coordinates member states’ policies – economic and fiscal; education, culture youth and sport; and employment
  • It develops the EU’s common foreign and security policy – on the basis of guidelines set by the European Council
  • It concludes international agreements – providing a mandate to the European Commission to negotiate on behalf of the EU
  • It adopts the EU budget – together with the European Parliament

National ministers from each EU country meet at council meetings to adopt decisions which are binding for all member states. These meetings are chaired by the minister of the country holding the presidency responsible for the relevant sector, except the foreign and security policy, which is chaired by the High Representative, Federica Mogherini.

All topics submitted to council meetings are prepared by working parties comprised of representatives of all member states. The working parties are chaired by the officials of the country holding the presidency, who are responsible for clarifying the positions of member states and steering the discussion towards common decisions.

During the presidency, Estonia will be responsible for leading the work of nearly 200 working parties in both Brussels and Tallinn.

Estonia’s priorities

The majority of the themes to be dealt with by the current presidency originate from the preceding presidency – in Estonia’s case, from Malta’s. However, each country holding the presidency can highlight in their own presidency programme the themes which require more attention.

Estonia’s priorities during its six-month presidency are:

  • An open and innovative European economy – developing a business environment that supports knowledge-based growth and competitiveness
  • A safe and secure Europe – strengthening the fight against terrorism and crime, continuing the work on the migration crises and increasing defence expenditure
  • A digital Europe and the free movement of data – ensuring modern and secure e-communications to be available across Europe
  • An inclusive and sustainable Europe – supporting equal opportunities for high-quality education, employment and development of skills

Introducing Estonia to Europe

During the presidency, about 20 meetings at the ministerial level, visits and conferences as well as around 200 other presidency-related events are taking place in Estonia during the presidency. Most of these events are related to the political and daily work of the EU, but Estonia will also attract thousands of new visitors to the country – for example, foreign journalists.

In addition to drawing people to Estonia, the country will take the opportunity to introduce itself and its culture to Europe. For the presidency period, Estonia will arrange a series of events throughout Europe to show what the country is about and to give local talents a venue to introduce themselves to the rest of the continent.

How much is it going to cost?

The total budget available for the Estonian presidency of the council of the EU is €75 million. This amount covers all activities related to preparing for and implementing the presidency. The biggest part of the cost – €41.4 million – is personnel expenses, as the staff involved in the organisation and implementation of the presidency consists of 1,300 people.

Another big part of the budget is the 200 events, conferences and visits in Estonia to introduce the country to a diverse audience – €23.3 million.

The presidency will provide an opportunity to hold up to 200 events, conferences and visits in Estonia to introduce our country to a very influential and diverse audience.

The most important events to be held in Estonia are unofficial high-level ministerial meetings, but there will also be additional high-level meetings with a large number of participants, organised in the framework of parliamentary cooperation. One of the highlights will be a digital summit which is expected to take place in September and draw both the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

All in all, Estonia expects to host up to 30,000 additional visitors and approximately 1,000 foreign journalists during this period.

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Cover: One of the media images commissioned by the organising team of the Estonia’s presidency of the council of the European Union.

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