Mart Helme, Estonia’s current interior minister and one of the leaders of the governing populist Estonian Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), told in an interview with Deutsche Welle that his attitude towards gays is unfriendly and Estonian gays could be better off in Sweden.
The Russian version of Deutsche Welle – a German public international broadcaster – asked among other topics Helme about his party’s proposal to hold a referendum on the definition of marriage in Estonia in 2021 during the country’s municipal elections. EKRE wants to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman in the Estonian constitution and is therefore proposing a referendum – an extremely rare occasion in Estonia.
“Estonia cannot survive without morality”
“This [referendum] is important for the whole nation, because without marriage, without women and men having children, there is no future. This is so clear to everyone, and our answer is very simple. We are in favour of specifying in the legislation clearly and unambiguously: marriage is a union between a woman and a man, and that’s it,” Helme said.
He added that those who oppose the referendum – such as the Estonian opposition parties, the Reform Party and the Social Democrats, and various civil society groups – should denounce the country’s civil partnership law, if they wanted to avoid the referendum. Introduced in 2014, the law granted same-sex couples rights and responsibilities similar to a marriage between a heterosexual couple.
“If you don’t like that [the proposed referendum], then let’s denounce the cohabitation law. They are not ready to do this, which means our referendum is needed. We want the state to survive, but it cannot survive without children and without morality,” Helme said.
Let them run to Sweden
In response to DW journalist’s question, who asked, “What, will gays run in and flood the Estonian nation?”, Helme responded: “Let them run to Sweden. Everyone is there, everyone looks at them more politely”. He added that he takes “a really unfriendly look” at gays.
“This is not homophobia. I would say that those people who say that our referendum is not needed are heterophobes. They climb into the bed of heterosexuals. They climb [into our bed], not us climbing into their bed. If they can do their own gay propaganda, then we can do other propaganda,” Helme added.
The opposition calls Helme to resign
The Estonian prime minister, Jüri Ratas, the head of the populist Centre Party (that, on paper, is a liberal party and a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), in a social media post denounced Helme’s words on 16 October, underlining that Estonia is constitutionally a democratic country where everyone – regardless of their sexual background – is equal.
However, the prime minister denouncing EKRE leaders’ statements is nothing new – Ratas has repeatedly done so since the forming of the current coalition in April 2019. As life has shown in the past year and a half, Ratas’s words are merely aimed to calm down his party’s more liberal and progressive supporters, rather than calling for a change in the government.
Kaja Kallas, the chairwoman of the Reform Party, the largest opposition party, publicly called Ratas to sack Helme. In a social media post, Kallas said Helme was damaging Estonia’s reputation.
The Estonian Conservative People’s Party itself has not yet issued a statement or otherwise commented on the interview.
Cover: The Estonian interior minister and a deputy leader of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party, Mart Helme. Photo by Stenbock House.