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.