Opinion

Opinion stories from and about Estonians.

President Kaljulaid: Song makes Estonians free

The Estonian president, Kersti Kaljulaid, opened the country’s cherished Song Celebration with a speech in which she emphasised that singing had historically brought Estonians joy and courage and made people feel free; Estonian World publishes Kaljulaid’s speech in full. Dear people of Estonia, Our first Song Festival took place 150 …

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Editorial: Estonia needs to tackle anti-Semitism before it’s too late

For the small Estonian Jewish community, times have been peaceful – but recent anti-Semitic acts are a reason for concern. Over the weekend of 22-23 June, several headstones at the 110-year old Rahumäe Jewish cemetery in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, were knocked over. On 23 June, swastikas were spray-painted on …

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Piret Kuusik: What does the 2019 European Parliament election in Estonia tell us?

Following March’s general elections, which produced an unexpected governing coalition, the Estonian society still reels between confusion, disappointment and disagreement. This article was originally published in the International Centre for Defence and Security’s blog. There is a desire to interpret the European Parliament election as a referendum on the government, which the low …

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Dmitri Fefilov: Don’t pull us into the game of national belonging again

Dmitri Fefilov, a journalist at the Estonian Russian-language business newspaper, Delovõje Vedomosti, says the life of Estonians and Russians in the country used to be a game of national belonging, and he doesn’t want to be pulled into it again. People play different games in this world. Through games, one …

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European heads of state: European citizens decide which path the EU shall follow

On Europe Day, 21 European heads of state made a joint call, encouraging everybody to vote in the European Parliament election, saying it’s the European citizens who decide which path the bloc will follow.

Europe is the best idea we have ever had

European integration has helped realise a centuries-old hope for peace in Europe after unbridled nationalism and other extreme ideologies led Europe to the barbarity of two world wars. To this day, we cannot and should not take peace and freedom, prosperity and well-being for granted. It is necessary that we all engage actively for the great idea of a peaceful and integrated Europe.

The 2019 election is of special importance: it is you, the European citizens who decide which path the European Union shall follow. We, the heads of state of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Finland therefore call on all European citizens who are entitled to vote to take part in the election to the European Parliament at the end of May 2019.

The peoples of Europe have united out of their own free will in the European Union, which is founded on the principles of liberty, equality, solidarity, democracy, justice and loyalty within and between its members. A union which is unprecedented in the history of Europe. In our European Union, the elected members of the European Parliament, along with the Council of the European Union, that is, the governments of all member states, decide which rules should apply in Europe and how Europe’s budget should be spent.

We are all Europeans

For many people in Europe, particularly among the young generation, their European citizenship has become second nature to them. It is not a contradiction for them to love their village, town, region or nation and to be committed Europeans.

Our Europe is able to meet challenges together

In these months, more than ever before, the European Union is facing profound challenges. For the first time since European integration began, people are talking about rolling back one or more integration steps, such as freedom of movement or abolishing joint institutions. For the first time, a member state intends to leave the union. At the same time, others call for more integration in the EU or the eurozone or for a multi-speed Europe.

Views on these matters differ among the citizens and governments of the member states, as well as between us heads of state. However, we all agree that European integration and unity is essential and that we want to continue Europe as a union. Only a strong community will be able to face up to the global challenges of our time. The effects of climate change, terrorism, economic globalisation and migration do not stop at national borders. We will only meet these challenges successfully and continue on the road to economic and social cohesion and development by working together as equal partners at the institutional level.

We want a strong and integrated Europe

We thus need a strong European Union, a union that has joint institutions, a union that constantly reviews its work with a critical eye and is able to reform itself, a union that is built on its citizens and on its member states as a vital base.

This Europe needs a vibrant political debate on the best path forward into the future starting from the Rome Declaration of 25 March 2017 as a basis. Europe is able to withstand a very wide range of opinions and ideas. But there definitely must not be a return to a Europe in which countries are no longer equal partners but opponents.

Our united Europe needs a strong vote by the peoples. This is why we call on you to exercise your right to vote. It is our common European future that is on the ballot.

Rumen Radev

President of the Republic of Bulgaria

Miloš Zeman

President of the Czech Republic

Frank-Walter Steinmeier

President of the Federal Republic of Germany

Kersti Kaljulaid

President of the Republic of Estonia

Michael D. Higgins

President of Ireland

Prokopios Pavlopoulos

President of the Hellenic Republic

Emmanuel Macron

President of the French Republic

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović

President of the Republic of Croatia

Sergio Mattarella

President of the Italian Republic

Nicos Anastasiades

President of the Republic of Cyprus

Raimonds Vējonis

President of the Republic Latvia

Dalia Grybauskaitė

President of the Republic of Lithuania

János Áder

President of the Republic of Hungary

George Vella

President of the Republic of Malta

Alexander Van der Bellen

President of the Republic of Austria

Andrzej Duda

President of the Republic of Poland

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa

President of the Portuguese Republic

Klaus Iohannis

President of Romania

Borut Pahor

President of the Republic Slovenia

Andrej Kiska

President of the Slovak Republic

Sauli Niinistö

President of the Republic of Finland

I

The opinions in this article are those of the author. The “Europe Day” of the EU was introduced in 1985. The date commemorates the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950. The declaration proposed the pooling of French and West German coal and steel industries, leading to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, established in 1952. The cover image is illustrative. Read also: 15 years of Estonia’s EU membership – victories, challenges and future developments.

Marcus Kolga: The new far-right is sinking Estonia’s international reputation – who is responsible?

Marcus Kolga, an Estonian-Canadian filmmaker and journalist, writes that in the light of the far-right Estonian Conservative People’s Party’s inclusion into the governing coalition, the world is watching and wondering – what happened to Estonia?

Last week, newspapers around the world were filled with headlines that negatively reflected a growing stream of problematic statements and actions that have emerged in the wake of the recent morbid political marriage between Estonia’s populist Centre Party and the far-right Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE).

In stark contrast to the positive brand that Estonians, and the world, have become accustomed to since the early 2000s, the reflection we see in the international mirror today is far from flattering. The transformation has been swift and ugly. The international media that heralded Estonia’s tough anti-corruption policies, e-governance and cyber security leadership are now certain to ask, “what happened to Estonia?”

As is frequently the case when the Estonian government makes decisions that are negatively reported in the international media, the habit of ruling political party activists is to blame those who have publicly criticised them on the international stage.

Such was the case when the Centre Party seized power from Reform in 2016. I was asked to comment in the New York Times, where I mentioned that the Centre Party maintains an agreement with Putin’s United Russia party, and that because of that, Putin may have been pleased with the new Centre Party led coalition. Instead of taking responsibility for it, or tearing up the agreement, members of the coalition attacked the messenger, criticising me for raising a very well-known, public fact in the US media.

Governments are always under scrutiny

It is worth nothing that Edgar Savisaar’s (the former leader of the Centre Party – editor) agreement with United Russia was also brought up by the Canadian media when prime minister Jüri Ratas was in Ottawa June 2018. Standing red-faced and flustered beside Canada’s prime minister, there was no scapegoat nearby at whom to point the finger at on that lonely podium in Ottawa. It was a deeply embarrassing moment, one that was of the prime minister’s, and his party’s own short-sighted making.

What Jüri Ratas didn’t understand then nor does the present government, is that once, you’ve been asked to join the “club”, like NATO, in the EU, the OECD, etc, governments are always under scrutiny. Estonia is now a part of alliances and organisations whose members care about their memberships. That’s why it was so hard to join them in the first place.

Over the past weeks, multiple dark revelations and shockingly inappropriate statements by the Centre Party’s coalition partner, have been criticised by Estonians both at home and abroad for being racist, anti-Semitic and sexist. The world media has reacted, predictably, with negative, embarrassing headlines that have set Estonia’s otherwise good reputation on a steep downwards trajectory.

Instead of taking responsibility for the growing international public relations nightmare, blame is being heaped on those who have publicly criticised the ongoing stream of poor decisions and statements. The responsibility for this emerging crisis falls again, on one person, prime minister Ratas, who has seemingly gambled with Estonia’s domestic political decorum and international reputation in order to remain in office.

Deeply offensive

There is no hiding the vulgarities and foul statements that taint this new coalition and no rug big enough under which to sweep and hide EKRE’s xenophobic outbursts and sexist statements.

The world is watching. They are scratching their heads and wonder what has happened to Estonia.

Estonians must accept the reality, that our western allies, upon who our national security is dependent, are not entirely comfortable with the fact that the senior partner in the ruling coalition refuses to tear up its agreement with the leader of the aggressive eastern neighbour from whom our allies are to protect us from.

It has not gone unnoticed internationally that the coalition’s minister of rural affairs, Mart Järvik, has suggested, along with new parliamentarian and avowed white supremacist Ruuben Kaalep, that internationally well-respected Estonian leaders, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Jüri Luik, and Siim Kallas are “secret Jews”.

Martin Helme’s (EKRE’s deputy leader and the new finance minister – editor) appeal for a “white Estonia,” and his slogan, “If they’re black, send them back” (Kui on must, näita ust) is deeply offensive in Western societies, even conservatives.

Politics of anger and fear

Bogeymen and scapegoats are a natural requirement for EKRE’s emotion-driven politics of anger and fear. It should come as no surprise, that when faced with failure – as they are on the international stage – the finger is being pointed at an external cause, something generally associated with Soviet and Russian behaviour. This is, after all, the secret of their success: it’s always someone else’s fault. Let’s be honest, EKRE would be without any support at all if there weren’t any blacks, Jews, refugees, gays, globalists, or the EU to blame for all of Estonia’s problems – even if they have to make them up.

On a mildly positive note, the prime minister, last Friday, told reporters that his priority was to settle down the overheating political environment, without naming any of them specifically.

However, the only way to truly reverse the damage to Estonia’s international reputation over the past weeks, may be to reconsider the coalition’s partners. If the prime minister is unwilling, or unable to do this, the responsibility would fall to Isamaa, whose own legacy is also directly threatened by this crisis. We can only assume that EKRE will maintain its destructive course. Who then, among the coalition partners, will do the right thing for Estonia?

I

The opinions in this article are those of the author. The article was first published in upnorth.eu. Cover: Ruuben Kaalep, EKRE’s MP, and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally party in France, performing the OK or ring gesture together in Tallinn, during Le Pen’s visit to Estonia (Facebook). Recently, the gesture has been associated with signalling support for white supremacist ideology.

Sten Hankewitz: When party politics dictates your values, you have none

When your political party’s decisions – however vile or stupid – dictate your values, you really have none; you’re only loyal to your party, not to any values, views or positions, the deputy editor-in-chief of Estonian World, Sten Hankewitz, writes.

There’s an interesting phenomenon going on in the political world – all over the globe. So many previously respectable politicians have abandoned their entire belief system because their party has suddenly changed, be it because of who they nominated for president or who they’ve joined in a coalition government.

When I’m looking back at the 2016 presidential election in the United States, then what surprises (and disgusts) me the most is the fact that nearly all the top Republicans who during the campaign adamantly opposed Donald Trump, suddenly, after the election, decided, “screw it, let’s be friends with the person who I, during the campaign, vehemently loathed”.

I remember the statements by Senators Lindsey Graham or Marco Rubio, for example. They strongly despised everything candidate Trump stood for. They publicly opposed him and did everything in their power to help keep the unthinkable from happening. But the unthinkable happened anyway. And now, Senator Graham is BFFs with president Trump, and Senator Rubio doesn’t fall back much. (Let it be known, I supported Marco Rubio for president as I genuinely liked him; my liking of him stopped immediately when he started supporting the president’s policies.)

So, what happened to these people? Did their entire value system change because the Republican voters decided to nominate a misogynist, a liar, a con artist, a racist and a clown for president? Or did that change happen when that said clown won the general election?

A party cannot dictate your values

It can’t be, right? When you have values, beliefs and positions – political, ethical or otherwise – they don’t change because of what your party does. A political party does stand for something and you belong to it when your value system agrees with most of it. But when the said political party abandons everything it stands for – how can you still keep being loyal to it?

And now we’re seeing it in Estonia, too. Politicians who were previously respectful, smart and had a certain set of values – whether you agree with these values or not – have suddenly become adamant supporters of a shitshow that negates every single one of the values they stood by previously.

The Estonian Centre Party, at least on paper, stood for centre-left politics. Yes, it has an active cooperation agreement with United Russia, the party of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. But let’s leave this aside for this argument. The Centre Party stood for socially and fiscally liberal values. It stood for the Russian-speaking minority of Estonia. It stood for low income earners. It stood for the retired. At least on paper, it acted like any centre-left political party in Europe.

The Isamaa (Fatherland) party stood for socially and fiscally conservative values. It stood for an open society, low taxes, strong defence and Estonia’s belonging to the European Union and NATO. It was the party whose predecessors were responsible for the Estonian success story after the Soviet occupation. It was the party who made the country’s acceptance to the EU, to NATO and to the global family of successful states possible. (Let it be known, I was a member of the party from 2006-2015; I left after it elected a leader whom I opposed.)

“It’s politics.” No, it’s not.

And now, both these parties thought it was the best idea to join forces with an openly fascist, racist, anti-EU, anti-human rights party, the Estonian Conservative People’s Party. A party that publicly offends everyone who actually has any values. A party whose leaders call the president “an emotionally heated woman”. A party who has and still is attacking journalists and the free press. A party who thinks that everyone whose skin colour doesn’t pass for white should not be allowed into Estonia and the ones who are already there should be shown the door. A party whose ideology (if it can be called that) has no place in the 2019 world, let alone a country in the European Union.

Okay. You may say, it’s politics. Parties sometimes must forge coalitions with forces they don’t necessarily like because, well, “it’s politics”.

But it’s not politics. It’s a conflict of values. If your values are completely opposed to the values of the institution you’re cooperating with, you shouldn’t have started that cooperation in the first place. The values both Isamaa and the Centre Party stood for before this coalition had no common ground with the values the Estonian Conservative People’s Party stands for.

The same thing I described earlier about the American politics – it’s now happening in Estonia. The politicians of both Isamaa and the Centre Party are actively defending the far-right – because they’re in coalition with them. Something that would’ve been unthinkable before. Moreover, the leader of the Centre Party, prime minister Jüri Ratas, ruled out a coalition with the far-right long before the election. And after the election, the far-right turned out to be his first choice for a partner.

Is blind loyalty more important than your own beliefs?

I see it on social media every day. People from both parties actively comment on the posts of people who oppose the inclusion of the far-right, they actively defend the Conservative People’s Party and more often than not, they find ways to offend – or at least try to offend – the people whose posts they’re commenting. They’re actively defending the far-right party’s statements against women, doctors, the media. They’re behaving as if this new normality was, indeed, normal.

They are smart people. They should know better. But they don’t. Or they refuse to. Or they think that blind loyalty to party politics and the decisions their party leaders have made is somehow more important than adhering to their own system of values and beliefs.

I’ve got news for you. If you’re still supporting your party and its leaders when they have forged a coalition with extremists who desire to decimate everything Estonia stands for and its reputation as a small country success story, then you don’t have any values. You’re blindly supporting party politics over any values, beliefs or positions. You’re blindly supporting your party’s decisions, however vile or stupid they might be, and you let these decisions dictate your values.

And that, sadly, only means you have no values.

I

Cover: Mart Helme (EKRE’s leader and the new interior minister), Jüri Ratas (prime minister and the leader of the Centre Party) and Urmas Reinsalu (the new foreign minister, Isamaa); courtesy of Stenbock House. The opinions in this article are those of the author. Estonian World is open for publishing all argumented op-eds. Please send your op-ed to info@estonianworld.com

Estonian grassroots movement Kõigi Eesti: freedoms might already be at risk

The Kõigi Eesti grassroots movement that was started in March out of concern about the recent developments in the Estonian politics, on Sunday issued a strong statement, influenced by the historical events and quoting a legendary writer, in the face of public threats and intimidation by the far-right Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) that was recently included in the country’s coalition government.

The Kõigi Eesti (#kõigieesti #общаяэстония #myestoniatoo) movement that was started with a massive action in the social media in March and a popular concert in April by residents of Estonia from all walks of life and from various communities, published a statement on its 28,000-strong Facebook page on 5 May, in which it drew parallels from 1934 and encouraged people to keep a free Estonia safe.

The statement was issued amid reports that, for the first time since 1991, Estonia’s constitutional rights and freedoms were under heavy pressure and attacks by the far-right. Since EKRE’s inclusion in the coalition government – by the invitation of the populist-leaning Centre Party, and with the support of the conservative Isamaa – the party’s offensive rhetoric against specific Estonian people and large groups of the society has not only stopped – the rhetoric has intensified and become more aggressive.

The party’s leaders, several of its MPs and the fake news media outlet the party runs, have aggressively attacked Estonian doctors, journalists and officials; the country’s president, Kersti Kaljulaid; and foreign students.

On 5 May, the Kõigi Eesti movement issued a statement in which it emphasised that Estonian values originate from the Estonian people – and only the people can defend their personal freedom, not a prime minister, a new government or politicians.

Estonian World publishes the statement in full:

Maybe it feels easier to go with the flow, saying nothing. Maybe you’ve compromised your principles in the hope that you and your family will be all right. Maybe you’re hoping all of this is only temporary.

Maybe you feel people are overreacting. Things aren’t that bad. Life continues as normal. Nothing has happened. But as soon as you fail to defend your freedom, and shrug your shoulders, life changes.

It won’t be the same Estonia. Yes, of course, we’ll still be part of Europe, and the coalition treaty promises shared values. But it won’t seem like that though. It will feel different.

Our nation’s values have started to change quickly, and it’s been noticed abroad as well. Right here. Right now.

The crisis can’t be solved by a prime minister, a new government or politicians. Journalists, businesses, our allies abroad or anyone else, for that matter, can’t stop our values from being eroded. Only we can do it. We, who are afraid. We, who give up. We, who are too complacent to do something.

Estonian values originate from the Estonian people. If you give up, so does Estonia. Only you can defend your personal freedom. Indifference and giving up betray the country.

Everything might be OK for you now, but for someone else near you, things are already becoming more difficult. Their freedoms might already be at risk. They aren’t as free. And if you won’t help them, you won’t be free either. Do something!

Fear and complacency have a great power over us, but so does a kind word. Through protest, critical thinking, protecting someone else, offering a helping hand, you show you still have your heart, your soul, your words. Use them.

You, me, us. We’re not the first in Estonia to be in this situation. It’s happened before, and not so long ago.

In 1934, at the start of ‘The Era of Silence’, Estonian writer Friedebert Tuglas wrote:

“The same old tune: a crisis of democratic thinking, the masses longing for the authority…

A questionable democracy, there only for the show. Even more questionable are the democrats who support it only for show! Aren’t these so-called friends the first to flame the crisis of democracy? Aren’t they the ones whose words cause psychosis and the spread of panic, just to fall pray en-masse to the first adventurist?

Our brief modern history, the past 60-70 years, isn’t that just about us striving towards a more liberal society? Towards judicial, material and spiritual freedoms?

Isn’t everything we’ve achieved, achieved by working together, through universal democracy?

Through this, we’ve risen from nameless slaves to a force to be reckoned with in this country.

This is why our past speaks only about fighting against foreign powers, against leaders by the grace of God.

Now, when we’ve finally achieved the freedom to think and act democratically, we appear to want to fall back under the control of an authoritarian leader. We’ve forgotten the price we paid for our freedom. No-one seems to remember the lesson from history about how hard it is to win back something that’s been lost.”

Let’s keep ourselves, and a free Estonia safe. Let’s keep our Estonia safe.

I

The cover image courtesy of Kõigi Eesti movement.

Estonia’s decision of the decade: joining the EU

Joining the largest economic and political union in the world – the European Union – was the best decision Estonia could make in 2004.*

When Estonia restored its independence in 1991, it had a choice – to keep strong economic bonds with former imperial power Russia, or look to the West – towards Europe. After a brief false start, the country decisively turned its focus towards strong European integration after the centre-right Pro Patria Union, led by Mart Laar, won the parliamentary elections and  former film maker and writer, turned politician, Lennart Meri became the president in the autumn of 1992. Membership of the European Union and NATO quickly became the main objective of Estonian foreign policy.

Shaking off the Russian cloud

The route of action Estonia chose, along with its southern neighbours Latvia and Lithuania, was clear – integration with Europe and NATO, as soon as possible. The clear sense of direction owed as much to security concerns, as it did to economic interests. The hope was that by aligning itself with Western institutions, Estonia could shake off the Russian cloud. Looking at the recent situation in Crimea, Ukraine, it couldn’t be any clearer that the route chosen was the right one.

Swift institutional progress was made and reforms introduced, sometimes hastily, by politicians and public servants. European values and principles among the public – a source of moral and political inspiration for the country at least since 13th century – started to take hold of Estonia again.

Yet, throughout 1990s there were many who doubted the probability of Estonia’s accession – both internally and externally. There were politicians on the international circuit who were ready to have a negative bet on Estonia’s chances of joining the EU, let alone NATO.

But the persistence paid off. Estonia formally applied for EU membership in 1995 and in 1998, Estonia became the first of the former Soviet republics to enter membership negotiations with the European Union. In 2002, it was formally invited to join at a summit in Copenhagen and the Estonian Parliament then announced that a referendum on membership of the EU would be held in mid September 2003.

Questions about sovereignty

By that time, however, the public mood was not completely supportive. Estonia had had a first taste of economic progress on its own merit and there were opponents who claimed that EU entry would slow the country’s economic growth. Equally, there were people who argued that Estonia should not go straight from one union, the Soviet Union, into the EU, fearing the loss of sovereignty so soon after regaining the independence – despite the fact that these are fundamentally different unions, in terms of ideology and economic model. Doubts were raised about whether a small country like Estonia would be given an opportunity to have any say in European Union matters.

The elderly President Arnold Rüütel, a Soviet-era pro-reform and pro-independence communist who had managed to become elected to the presidential office after Lennart Meri, was mobilised among others to campaign for the “Yes” vote and persuade the doubters. The governing Res Publica Party even used a campaign poster, calling for Estonians to vote “Yes” “for access to millions of sexier men”.

In the end, about two-thirds of votes cast were positive, and on 1 May 2004, Estonia, together with nine other countries, joined the largest economic and political union in the world – the European Union. A month before, it had joined the NATO.

The benefits

What have been the benefits? The initial benefits stemmed from the EU’s “four freedoms” – the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people.

Estonian entrepreneurs could benefit from the huge European internal market. People could embrace the new opportunities offered by open borders, both in terms of higher wages and broadening their professional horizons in other EU countries (albeit restrictions applied in most old EU members at first, for people seeking work – apart from the UK, Sweden, Ireland and Denmark). Professionals could easily gain new experience in London, Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Rome; or Stockholm and Helsinki. Students could study for higher education in respected European universities without paying the sky-high fees applied to non-EU residents.

Financial benefits for the country – according to the Estonian Ministry of Finance, by 2020, the EU will have supported Estonia with approximately 11 billion euros. At the same time, Estonia has contributed less than two billion euros back to the EU budget. According to The Economist, Estonia’s GDP per person has increased 30% since the accession, as of 2014.

International clout

Increasingly, the long-term significance for Estonia is the international clout that the country has achieved, thanks to being the member of the EU.

Before, and for a few years after the 2004 accession, Estonia, among other new members of the EU, was still looked down upon by many in the old Europe. When in 2003 Estonia, along with Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, backed the US position on Iraq – rightly or wrongly, is another subject – French president Jacques Chirac took a bullying position and said: “These countries have been not very well behaved and rather reckless of the danger of aligning themselves too rapidly with the American position. It is not really responsible behaviour. It is not well brought-up behaviour. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet.” In other words, the newcomers were told to shut up.

Things started to change after the global financial crisis. As Europe plunged into crisis, Estonia managed to lift itself out of the trouble by exercising remarkable budget discipline and, as a result, qualifying for and joining the euro in 2011. Still a relatively new member state, Estonia became part of the eurozone “core” and was cited as a model of how fiscal credibility can work for the higher growth and rising employment. Estonians working in Brussels have reported that this fact itself helped Estonia to have unproportionally high influence, for a small country, at the discussion-board on the EU’s spending programmes (MFF) for 2014-20.

Coupled with its digital success and obeying both the rules of the eurozone and NATO, the country became –as expressed by The Economist’s then international editor Edward Lucas in his interview to Estonian World in 2012 – the quintessential European insider. The EU IT Agency and NATO Cyber Defence Centre became located in Tallinn. Delegations from various European countries started flocking into Estonia, to study its e-government and digital solutions. Mistaken were those who claimed that the country’s word would count for nothing in the EU.

Sharing know-how with Europe

Yet, this is just a beginning. There are many Estonian-invented digital solutions that could be used all over Europe, but the country could do more – first, to make everyone aware of them; and second, to export them.

For example, Estonia is already cooperating with Finland and Latvia in order to make digital signature technology available across borders. It has also started to cooperate with the UK on the development of digital public services. Indeed, one of Estonia’s European Union policy goals is the development of an efficient digital single market, where the EU citizens and businesses are able to use electronic services in any member state. None of it would have happened without Estonia’s membership of the EU.

So the benefits in relation to the EU are becoming mutual. As Estonia becomes wealthier, it will receive less financial support. It can also apply its knowledge on digital solutions across Europe.

And Estonia, for its part, is still learning when it comes to embracing Western European values of tolerance, openness and the social inclusion. 50 years under the Soviet occupation had its impact. Tens of thousands of young Estonians, who have lived in liberal Western European capitals since the EU accession, have started to import more cosmopolitan, open-minded thinking back home. Estonia could soon become the first of the former Moscow-ruled countries to introduce a law that allows same-sex couples to officially register their partnership (Estonian parliament passed the law in 2014, but the implementing acts have not been passed – editor). The largest wage gap between women and men in the EU, however, still needs ironing out.

Never alone

In some EU countries presently, such as Britain, far-right parties are trying to turn back time and the EU has become unpopular. Estonia has no such issues. The support for the EU among Estonian citizens has remained consistently high, staying between 70%-85% – one of the highest in the EU.

The problems facing the EU, such as population ageing, stiff competition from Asia, energy dependency on Russia or a refugee crisis have become common across the board, for both old and new members. But Estonia has now got an opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process. Its citizens can feel freer in the wider world.

Perhaps slightly ironically, it was the great British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who said in a speech in Amsterdam in 1948: “We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think as much of being a European as of belonging to their native land, and that without losing any of their love and loyalty of their birthplace.”

After a forced break, Estonia became properly part of Europe again over 50 years later, yet there’s already a clear sense of being European. Thanks to belonging to the EU and NATO, Estonians can finally feel they are “never alone”.

I

The opinions in this article are those of the author. * This article was originally published on 1 May 2014, to mark ten years since Estonia’s accession to the European Union. The article was lightly edited on 1 May 2019.

Editorial: Estonian World is not for turning

Estonian World finds itself in a new and unique position where, for the first time, the inclusion of a far-right party in the Estonian government demands an English-language “watchdog” media role from us.

For almost 28 years, Estonia moved forward. Successive governments introduced reforms, the country turned its face west and northwards, joined NATO and the EU. Estonia became one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world. In social policies, many mistakes were made, and many people suffered the consequences. Yet, Estonia’s democratic pillars have always been intact, which has made it a very stable country – the progress of which is easily trackable by several international rankings and comparisons over the years.

The constitution of the country, passed on 28 June 1992, is clearly based on liberty, justice and the rule of law. Among other things, it says, “the rights, freedoms and duties of all persons and of everyone, as set out in the constitution, apply equally to citizens of Estonia and to citizens of foreign states and stateless persons in Estonia”.

The constitution also says, “no one may be discriminated against on the basis of nationality, race, colour, sex, language, origin, religion, political or other views, property or social status, or on other grounds”.

It also says, “everyone has the right to freely disseminate ideas, opinions, beliefs and other information by word, print, picture or other means” and “there is no censorship”.

Yet, with the inclusion of the far-right EKRE party in the government, all those fundamental values and freedoms have for the first time come under pressure – or even under attack.

The worries and concerns stem from the track record of EKRE leaders, father and son Mart and Martin Helme. The concerns are also based on the statements the EKRE MPs, Jaak Madison and Henn Põlluaas, have made in the past.

Here are just few examples.

Martin Helme, Estonia’s new finance minister, kicked the racism door open already back in 2013, when he proclaimed on Tallinn’s municipal television, “If you’re black, go back!”

Just last year, in May 2018, Mart Helme, Estonia’s new interior minister, publicly made racist remarks. “In Tallinn, the number of negroes has exploded (itself a blatant lie – editor),” Helme said at a public meeting. He then proceeded to tell a story he would bring out at other public meetings – how he was teaching black people as a university lecturer. “Listen, this is solid wood,” Helme said, while knocking on a pub table. “But if you knock against the negro head, it’s hollow!”

Jaak Madison justified the practices of the Nazi regime in a private blog post before the Riigikogu election in 2015. “In my eyes, fascism is an ideology that consists of quite a few positive and necessary nuances to preserve the nation state,” he said.

Henn Põlluaas, the new speaker of the Estonian parliament, has repeatedly vilified sexual minorities.

None of them has ever apologised as would be expected in a democratic and mature society.

The hatred and the lies that have been fuelled by EKRE’s leaders and some MPs and party members against foreigners and people with different skin colour has already had an impact. A prominent Estonian singer who originates from Brazil, told Estonian World her children have been abused at a kindergarten since EKRE’s rise into power. An Iranian specialist and his Estonian wife and children are preparing to leave the country because the racism on the street is proving just too much. These are just two quick examples of the nasty and racist undercurrent that may become much more forceful with EKRE in the government.

We remind our readers, people attacked are not “illegal immigrants” or “refugees” (Estonia has admitted just approximately 200 refugees since 2015 – and half of them have already left the country), but highly paid people (not that racism against anyone is justified), who love Estonia and contribute a lot to this country, either in taxes or cultural activities. Everyone loses out – including EKRE’s poor voters in rural areas – if those people leave Estonia because of hatred against them.

Last week, two Estonian journalists, Vilja Kiisler and Ahto Lobjakas, resigned in the face of self-censorship demands by their employers – from Postimees and ERR, respectively. Both were fierce critics of the EKRE party. The populist and aggressive party has already succeeded in the departure of some of the sharpest and wittiest journalists in Estonia. The concern is, this is just the beginning.

When three Estonians started Estonian World in London in 2012, we said that “we aim to publicise Estonia’s and Estonians’ successes and success stories in a positive, encouraging manner”. We still do – but if the fundamental values and freedoms of Estonia are threatened, as an independent media outlet with a global reach, we will not stand by. We will stick to the truth and report anything and everything that would undermine those freedoms and values.

With part of our team in Estonia, part of the team in the United States and the United Kingdom, there is no one who can demand “self-censorship” from us. Paraphrasing the former UK conservative prime minister, Lady Margaret Thatcher, we have this to say to those who are willing to forget their principles and values and suck up to the far-right EKRE and their nasty rhetoric in Estonia: “You turn [U-turn] if you want to. Estonian World is not for turning!”

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The cover image is illustrative.

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