Adam Garrie: The Vagueness of Charter 12

Last week, some very well known Estonian intellectuals and public figures issued a petition called Harta 12 (Charter 12). The petition came about in the light of recent allegedly murky dealings, where the governing Reform Party received large amounts of donations in cash. The authors of Charter 12 allege that those currently holding power in Estonia no longer feel the need to take heed of the public. Adam Garrie argues that Charter 12 is very vague in its statements and fails to fully comprehend the current democratic processes in the world.

From Magna Carta to Martin Luther to the English Chartists to Vaclav Havel and Charter 77, social and political events have often sprung from charters of one variety or another. There is always some element of righteousness mixed with quixotic idealism in such charters and Charter 12 is no exception to this rule. The idea of improving one’s government is generally a well-founded aim, but the statements in Charter 12 are so vague that they scarcely have any precise meaning, and the prescriptions to the supposed problems are simplistic and again highly vague.

Charter 12 reads rather like a high school level political diatribe from a misplaced idealist. The intention is obviously a noble one, but the form in which it is expressed and the ultimate conclusions misread and mis-assess a central feature of modern politics. Whether one wants to accept it or not, the age of purportedly democratic nation states, especially small and medium sized ones, is over. This age was of course a relatively short one in world history, lasting from 1945 to the early 2000’s in non-Communist Europe, and from the early 1990’s to roundabout 2008 in the Warsaw Pact and European states that became independent after the collapse of Soviet Union. Even three of the world’s largest and most powerful nations are far from democratic in any real sense. The US is an oligarchy masquerading as a Presidential Republic, China is likewise a neo-mercantile oligarchy masquerading in Maoist costumes, and Russia is essentially the property of one man, governed by his managers. Against this backdrop, Estonia’s political system for all its imperfections looks rather a safe place to be.

But Charter 12 is not a comparative piece; indeed it deals only with Estonian politics and does not even explicitly mention the European Union. The piece, when dissected to its core, is essentially a love letter to a vague concept of representative democracy with overtones that suggest a desire for a kind of ‘Basic People’s Congress’; the local administrative unites of Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya (“state of the masses”) in Libya.

The piece does not argue for the virtues of representative democracy, but rather presumptuously assumes its intended audience (ostensibly anyone who votes in Estonian elections) favours this particular system of governance. The truth is that representative democracy, as put into practice in half of Europe after the Second World War and virtually all of Europe (with several important exceptions) after the collapse of Soviet Union, is not a system which can easily cope with the economic strains, let alone the economic benefits of a fully globalised, digitised and culturally fluid world. Many Eurosceptics from Helsinki to London complain that the current eurozone crisis is a result of a deficiency in democracy. In reality it is the out-dated model of democratically controlled fiscal policy that is one of the core problems in the current crisis.

Because of inadequate preparations, a common monetary policy was introduced into the eurozone without taking into consideration the need for a common fiscal policy. Indeed it is the widely divergent fiscal policies of eurozone members which have allowed debt to spiral out of control, thus threatening the stability of not just southern Europe, but the world. Indeed it is the bickering currently on display in southern European parliaments which has delayed a potential and highly necessary re-constitution of the eurozone; a re-constitution that would necessarily require a more united if not fully common fiscal policy. This is just one pertinent example of how the process of representative democracy has retarded economic growth much to the detriment of men and women throughout the eurozone. In this sense the democracies of fiscally irresponsible eurozone states are holding the entire community ransom as they thrash out failed budget after failed budget.

With this in mind, wouldn’t it be better if those interested in improving Estonian governance focused on what government could do to further incentivise international commerce to come to Estonia, how to properly invest in digital infrastructure, cutting remaining regulations from the Soviet past and working with the European Union and others to promote Estonian culture to the wider world?

Indeed, the role of government in the modern world can be defined in the following way. Government in an ideal state must do only three things: 1. Promote economic growth 2. Expand and maintain public services 3. Invest in and promote art, sport and culture. Frequent elections and an overemphasis on populism rather than harnessing a country’s best intellectual, economic, educational, managerial and artistic talent are more often than not a stumbling block to prosperity. It is what’s happening now in the eurozone at this moment. Appeals to the gutter are never a good starting point for serious political maturity. In spite of a political system born in the 1990’s, Estonia’s governance is one of the most mature in Europe. Corruption exists, but it is a corruption that is generally manageable and does not get in the way of the ordinary work of government the way it does in many older democracies.
Charter 12 also talks about ‘listening to the people’. Thankfully, the Estonian public isn’t demanding the same things that large sections of the Greek public are doing. But if the public of Estonia or any country in the world were starting to call the leaders of modern Germany Nazis (as has happened in Greece – Editor), if they were calling for unilateral withdrawal from European Law, if they were calling for the forcible re-location of legal residents, I would certainly hope that those in government would not listen to the ‘people’.

The populist claptrap in Charter 12 for all its liberal credentials sounds like a poorly written version of some of the populist rhetoric being thrown at the urban populations of Russia prior to the October Revolution. This is to say nothing of how the National Socialists cleverly used the representative democratic process to take over Germany in 1933.

In a way I’m giving the writers of Charter 12 too much credit for robustly advancing an ultra-populist ideal. The piece is written in a rather circular, highly ambiguous tone where clichés are thrown around more rapidly than punches at a hockey match. This vagueness is combined with a kind of veiled call for a kind of uprising, though the tone in which it is written thankfully prohibits this from being taken seriously. The only proposal which was not either vague or childish was the idea of citizen proposed initiatives. It must be said though that this process is often a cumbersome one and if such initiatives are binding on a government it can lead to populist chaos more quickly than almost any other legislative process.

Ultimately any Estonian government will rise and fall on the same basis as any government in any modern nation. If the economy grows, if public services are broadly efficient and if the culture remains vibrant, the government will succeed; if not, it will eventually fail. Even Putin’s popularity in spite of elections that are generally not democratic in any idealistic sense, rests on the fact that he has an economic record for growth and avoiding the pitfalls of the recessions that have plagued much of Europe, Japan and the United States over the last four years. There are plenty of political charters and manifestos circulating in Russia today, but in spite of concerns about freedom of information, the more important reason that such things are widely ignored by the Russian public, is because most of Putin’s pragmatic opponents can’t foresee anyone who could do a better job in terms of economic growth and management of public services for the time being. In Estonia, the country that has the most cyber-freedom of any in the world, Charter 12 will eventually fizzle out and nothing will change as a result of it. Hopefully it won’t distract people long enough to seriously affect the more important economic debate. I seriously doubt it will do.


The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover photo by Phillip Martin

20 thoughts on “Adam Garrie: The Vagueness of Charter 12”

  1. “Hopefully it won’t distract people long enough to seriously affect the more important economic debate.”

    There is NO debate in Estonia. That’s the point. There is essentially just one Party (the 2 formally separate ruling parties are in fact indistinguishable) in Estonia right now. And for that matter every aspect of the country is 100% governed by the members of that Party including state prosecutors office, intellgence and Supreme Court

  2. The two ruling parties merged because they had similar ideologies and proposals, it was a matter of electoral pragmatism not the conspiracy which you imply.

  3. I think all comparisons are adequate in a specific context. If you were a climatologist for example you could compare most of southern Europe with most of north Africa. An historian too for that matter

  4. what I am really implying here is that the two parties together are in fact a small group of people who only pretend to represent something bigger and democratic. They do not represent even 90% of the members of these parties. With A. Ansip and the so called Respublika boys the whole political system in Estonia has been changed into an undemocratic machine working for this group only. This machine requires only two things for its existence: omerta among the members of this group and money to be spent on media . They really do not need anything else. The last scandal and the subsequent dung ball emerged only because the lying was so obvious that every sane person in the country untersood it. And who lied? Minister of justice! What happened to him? Nothing at all. So typical for Estonia. Very typical for the actions of the abovementioned group is the total secrecy of their ‘business’. Nobody knews anything except them why they spend taxpayers money the way they do. It is not ‘pragmatism’, it’s more likely theft and corruption. Ant the kind of corruption that Western countries have never dreamt of in their home land. It is something like in Cabbages and Kings.
    And I still did not understand why comparing Estonia to China and Russia is more in place than comparing it to Finland

  5. No country is a pure democracy, no country is free of corruption. The best one can ask for is a kind of corruption that doesn’t interfere too much with the running of the economy and basic public services. Compared to many European countries Estonia is not doing too badly under this analysis under the current government. That’s all you can ask for in the modern world. And if we’re going to compare Estonia to Finland, it’s better to have what you call a ‘one party system’ than a country where the completely insane ‘True Finns’ party seem to be getting dangerously close to influencing governmental decision making.

  6. I am a little surprised. So a democratic system with many parties that includes “completeley insane’ one (which they are not, they are populists) is worse than one “pragmatic” ruler who controls everything? Which country you are from? Burma?

  7. You probably remember what was the difference between the fate of the 3 Baltic states ruled by ‘pragmatic’ leaders in 1940 and democratic Finland. ‘Pragmatic’ meant bending over when asked by a bigger ‘pragmatic’ state

  8. How you can call occupational collaborators ‘pragmatic’ is a bit odd to me. Populist parties are the back door to full authoritarianism. As I said I’d far rather have the stable, normal current Estonian party system than one where the True Finns could get anywhere near power. And yes they are insane.

  9. By ‘pragmatic’ leaders in 1940 I naturally don’t mean any puppets put into power by Stalin after the countries were handed over to him. I mean the authoritarian ‘pragmatic’ single party presidents whose actions before 1940 were also praised just like Ansip’s right now. The irony that has always sickened me is that Ansip himself, this ‘liberal’ and ‘pragmatic’ man, used to be a natural born communist kvisling from the age of 22 until the collapse of the Soviet Union. And now we should trust him as pragmatic who truly cares about the country. He wasn’t even a bright communist. Just a mediocre authoritarian Soviet bureaucrat with neverending zeal to gain power. Had he lived in a nazi state he would have been a dumb nazi

  10. Barroso is himself a former Maoist. I dislike Maoism very much and do not care much for Barroso, but to imply that because of the this the European Commission is a Maoist government is ludicrousness. The case of Ansip is even more compelling. He did what he needed to do to survive political in the world he was born into. To say that because of his past he is somehow a closet-Soviet is therefore rather far fetched. Of course pragmatic politicians are not perfect but they are still more reliable than the wild tendencies of populist troublemakers/reactionaries, anti-modernists like the True Finns who are the biggest political threat to Finland since at least the 1950s

  11. So you think the Finns should abolish their democracy just because some ignorant people from the other side of Europe think what they think about one of their parties. I won’t say anything about True Finns because I know they are no threat. I know many people from Finland and True Finns are not and will not ever be any threat. People who say they are are either ignorant or the true threat themselves because they preach dictatorship and paternalism. True Finns are the standard populist party like Finland has always had one in the past. Nothing more, nothing less.

    And another comparison you draw is inadequate. Did Barroso practice Maoism in a Maoist state? Did he join the Maoist nomenclature knowing the same people had just 20 years before killed and deported 5% of your people. Was he a Maoist activist and leader of Maoist cell in every institution he happened to be in his adult life including the military unit where he had to serve the Maoist state. How old was Barroso when he last was a ‘Maoist’. Was he in his mid 35-es? He obviosly did not try to become a Maoist propaganda leader of the Maoist state just a year before the country regained its independence. Ansip did all this. Ansip was not a stupid student (he was stupid in his studies though) who between beerdrinking attended some communist meetings. I bet he never drank beer. We hated these slimy bastards in the university. We knew what they were and what they would be. They would sell you in a blink if that was useful for them. I see you have now idea what Soviet society was all about.

  12. Let’s start with your Barroso versus Ansip premise. If anything someone who joins a Communist party in a non-communist state can be held to greater account because there were other viable alternatives. In Soviet society if you wanted a life in politics there was only one option available. So unless Ansip wanted to lead a revolution he had little choice in the matter if he wanted to further his political ambitions at the time.

    As for the True Finns they are advocating not just a kind of soft Norwegian style Euro-scepticism but want Finland to pull away from the very concept of a peaceful and united Europe. Their agrarian anti-modernism is downright frightening for any Finn who wants to live in a modern, forward looking country. It is a compliment to Estonia that there is no populist gang of this nature anywhere near government. And whilst the free speech of an individual isn’t something I’d like to restrict, the organisation of dangerous parties is something I think must necessarily be restricted. True Finns are agrarian pseudo-fascists–every bit as dangerous as a re-constituted Stalinist Communist party.

  13. Far from wanting to lead a revolution there are witnesses who say that in 1988 when independce was in the air and there was a student rally in Tartu in memory of the Tartu Peace Treaty, Ansip, then a communist gauleiter in Tartu, was heard to advise soviet police confronting the students to use dogs on them. This testimony appeared in newspapers and Ansip never sued anybody for that. Another fact. The first thing Ansip did when he became the boss was prohibiting public access to any documents of the Soviet Estonian Communist Party, that is to his own past. For the first ten years of independence no one of the many politicans with communist past had done that but Ansip did it as the first thing – says a lot to me because secrecy has become the modus operandi for Estonian government ever since. They have created a state where the main information about state is essentially controlled by the same little group. In fact you probably know also only selected information about Estonia. I think for example that the financial reserves and overall balance of finances in Estonia is far worse than told, similar to Greece who also fooled EU with statististics.

    I won’t argue about Barroso any more because I remember I was stupid when I was 20.
    And True Finns’ fate is also certain without introducing any ‘pragmatic’ dictatorship. That is what makes Finland so great country – they believe in democracy

  14. You are clearly someone who would salt the earth and banish any political figure with any connections to the Communist past. This world essentially mean that in 2012 you could not have any political leaders over the age of 35 or those who did not life in exile. Why not focus on present economic policies rather than the pasts of people living in a very different kind of country and political system from the one young Estonians are growing up in today

    1. No, I am not at all clearly that someone. I respect a number of figures, some of them political, with communist past. Although there are not too many left at the top with that level of Moscow ass sucking as Ansip had. The premise of my attitude in this matter is knowing Ansip’s past too well to respect him – he is from my hometown, I was a student in Tartu back in 1988; also I know Estonian language too well to be able to say he is just a dim person, who starts speaking lame text whenever he has to improvise; I also know Estonian society too well to say that he is not working in the benefit to the country. Taxation is almost entirely laid on the shoulders of wage owners, at the same time inflation is one of the highest in Europe and wages one of the lowest. Young people leave country in great numbers. There are no families without members living abroad including my family. Quarter of my highscool mates are abroad. The country is running out of blood. And what our “pragmatist” does? He raises pensions, or pretends to raise them – hence his support. Let’s focus on economic policies. Our rich don’t pay taxes. Here it is for you. Most people just live like shit here no matter what the communist says to you through his controlled statistics. You wouldn’t live here with a wage anything near the our median wage (around £400). The strange or not so strange thing is, that you may not want to live here with your British wage either, because prices are in many cases higher than in UK.

      1. Do you not think that young people are leaving not because they are not happy with the wages, but because they want to explore and experience the wider world? If anything, there’s one problem with the mindset of many Estonians – and your thoughts characterise it very well. And that is that too many people put an emphasis on material values only, forgetting that there are other values in life. Estonia has never been wealthier than now – yet there are too much greediness; it’s never enough for them. The shops are everywhere, cars are new. Even the poorest dad of a large family finds money to buy an expensive tv. Yet, it’s not enough,
        someone needs to be blamed, somewhere must be more…And for the record, the average wage should be around £700 per month now.
        People in Malawi are some of the poorest people on earth – yet they have the widest smiles on their faces. It’s the mindset, my friend. Please see further from your own chin and compare the situation in Estonia to that of most other countries in the world – most, because Estonia is now among the top 40 wealthiest countries in the world and the quality of life
        is actually pretty good (can’t change the weather, ahem). What makes you think that the material life is much better in large cities of the world, in New York or London, for example? Unlike in most countries, the internet works everywhere in Estonia – if you’re not happy, improve your language skills and open an online business; you don’t need to leave the country to start an international business. Plenty of examples for that – Click and Grow, for example. The government has provided an environment for people to succeed, it’s not their business to feed you from a silver spoon. I’ve noticed that the ones complaining are mostly Estonian men…Most of Estonian women seem to get on with their lives very well. Have
        you ever thought that some people leave the country because they don’t like some of the negative, ever-complaining attitudes?

        1. First of all, average wage is a deception in a society like ours. Median wage is the truth. If 99 people earn £1 in a month and one £1 000 000, the average wage would be 10 000. So don’t talk about average wage in Estonia because it’s not appropriate if you like to get a truthful picture.
          Now, would you personally feel like thinking about ‘other values’ if you have the Western price level, 3 kids and a salary of 400 pounds a month? What would those values be, I wonder? There are Gucci and Mercedes’es somewhere even in the poorest countries but this, just like the average wage, doesn’t say much. As for “never been richer’ cliche – this can be said about almost any country in the world, except perhaps North-Korea. In Estonia this is even not true. People were clearly richer 5 years ago in any sense. If anything has made Estonians richer, its working in Finland. There is nothing that our government has done to make Estonians richer, it’s the Finnish, German, British, Irish and any other government in EU. And I can make another true argument – in the last 40 years there has never been as many hungry children in Estonia as today. Soviet Union at least fed his children. And what do you know about the poorest dads in Estonia? The poorest dads in Estonia live in woods in plastic tents in summer and down in the city plumbing system in winter.
          Malawi is another ‘adequate’ comparison in this thread. One ignoramus compares us to China, another to Malawi. And if people in Malawi smile eating bugs, then we should be satisfied with any crap? Why is there any complaining anywhere in the world then?
          As for your last chapter it is just stupid. You think I critisize here because I personally have no money? Other values, languages? I speak 4 foreign languages. How many do you? Estonian women just marry Americans, become happy housewives abroad and get on very well, so this is true. The salary of those who stay in Estonia however does not make them happy either, I assure you. You probably, like many Western ‘experts’ of Estonia have the most expertise in young Estonian women who like in any other country are mostly happy and beautiful. Anyway, even I did not complain about wealth in this thread at first. It was the lack of democracy and the blogger’s enthusiasm in mocking the first democratic movement in Estonia for years that made me angry

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