Hundreds protest the current Estonian government in Tallinn

A demonstration in support of freedom took place in the Estonian capital’s Deer’s Park on 14 September; over 400 people came together to remind the government of Jüri Ratas the values of liberty, justice and the rule of law.

“Yes to freedom, no to lies” grassroot initiative organised a demonstration on 14 September in Tallinn’s Deer’s Park to remind the government of Jüri Ratas (Centre Party) about the values that the Estonian people voted for 16 years ago by deciding to join the European Union. Over 400 people gathered at a peaceful demonstration, many holding the national tricolour flags.

Populist pattern a reason for concern

Speakers included a renowned actor Andrus Vaarik, poet Maarja Kangro, artist Peeter Laurits, filmmaker and author Stewart Johnson, Tallinn University professor Daniele Monticelli, Kõigi Eesti (#myestoniatoo) activist Karen Burns and many others. There were also music and poetry performances.

“Estonia is based on liberty, justice and the rule of law – European values that the current government doesn’t care about. The members of the government don’t hesitate to compare the European Union to Soviet Union by ridiculing all the suffering under the Soviet occupation,” the organisers said in a statement. “The government members intimidate public servants, make fun of people participating in the Singing Revolution, insult and harass doctors, scientists, environmentalists, foreign students and minorities,” they added.

The movement also cited other examples that raise concern: the minister of finance, Martin Helme (the Estonian Conservative People’s Party, known by the acronym EKRE), who attempted to sack the Estonian police chief, Elmar Vaher, by illegal means; and the minister of environment, Rene Kokk (EKRE), who doubts climate change.

“Yes to freedom, no to lies” protesters at Deer’s Park on 14 September 2019.

EKRE, a far-right and populist party that first entered the Estonian parliament in 2015, winning seven seats, more than doubled its seats in the 2019 election on 3 March and currently has 19 MPs. The party was subsequently invited to form the current government with the populist Centre Party and the conservative Isamaa.

Prime minister “gaslighting” people

“’Yes to freedom, no to lies’ doesn’t accept a government whose coalition partner [EKRE] seems too racist even to [the far-right French politician] Marine Le Pen, whose members intimidate a victim of domestic violence and whose prime minister’s main role is to apologise,” the movement that has been holding weekly demonstration every Thursday in front of the government office, the Stenbock House, since March 2019, said.

“We are very pleased that so many people came together,” Maris Hellrand, one of the organisers behind the protest movement, told Estonian World. “People, for whom Estonia that is based on freedom, justice and the rule of law is important, and who do not accept the ‘liquidation’ of democracy and the gaslighting by the prime minister.” Hellrand added that it was important to show together in public that normalisation of far-right brawling is unacceptable.

Gaslighting, originating from the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play, “Gaslight”, refers to a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilise the victim and delegitimise the victim’s belief.

Photos by Kei Martin.