Estonia’s hard-line interior minister wants to unilaterally revoke visa freedom to Ukrainians

The hard-line interior minister of Estonia, the chairman of the populist Estonian Conservative People’s Party, Mart Helme, wants to unilaterally revoke visa freedom to Ukrainians, citing an “immigration pressure from the East, especially Ukraine”.

The far-right politician told a website closely affiliated with his party that regarding Estonia, “considering our geographical location and historical heritage, we’re facing immigration pressure from the East, especially Ukraine. We have to seriously look into, and I’ve already asked our lawyers to get deeply in it – should we not unilaterally cancel visa freedom to Ukraine.”

According to Helme, the leaders of his party, already when Ukraine gained visa free travel from the European Union, predicted it would create problems and turn into a Trojan Horse. “A Trojan Horse also for Russia, because the people who’re coming here aren’t really Ukrainians, rather they’re Russians from Eastern Ukraine or Russified Ukrainians or just homos soveticus,” the minister, known for his borderline racist and discriminatory statements, added. The term “homo soveticus” means “Soviet man” in Latin and, according to Wikipedia, is “a sarcastic and critical reference to an average conformist person in the Soviet Union”.

Estonia can’t legally revoke the Ukrainians’ visa freedom

Ukraine gained visa free travel with the European Union in 2017. The Ukrainian citizens can travel in the EU without a visa for 90 days within a 180-day period.

Considering it’s an EU-wide visa waiver, Estonia can’t legally revoke the visa free travel of the Ukrainian citizens to Estonia or any other EU country.

The far-right minister admitted that to a reporter while appearing on an Estonian Public Broadcasting programme but added that “it’s an issue that’s on the table”.

The Estonian Prime Minister, Jüri Ratas, who’s actually in charge of the government, at least on paper, said of his minister’s comments that revoking visa free travel to Ukrainians isn’t on the table. “The visa free travel to Ukrainians has been a principal decision for us; supporting Ukraine has been a principal decision for us; and we can’t unilaterally revoke it,” Ratas said.

Estonian prime minister Jüri Ratas.

The news of Helme’s latest outburst also reached the Associated Press and the Washington Post.

“Even Putin hasn’t called Ukraine a Trojan Horse for Europe”

Marko Mihkelson, an Estonian MP (Reform) and the deputy chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a Facebook post that it’s another example of the government of Ratas is changing the foreign policy course of Estonia.

“Even Putin hasn’t called Ukraine a Trojan Horse for Europe. Now, a member of the Estonian government is doing it,” he said. “Estonia has always more to win than lose from the visa waiver programme. Ukraine isn’t a problem country in terms of illegal immigration. Lest we forget, Ukraine is also fighting for us to stop the Russian aggression.”

Estonia and Ukraine on the map of Europe.

The Estonian Conservative People’s Party, known by the acronym EKRE, is a radical, far-right and populist party that first entered the Estonian parliament in 2015, winning seven seats. In the 2019 election on 3 March, the party more than doubled its seats and currently has 19 MPs. The party was subsequently invited to form the current government with the populist Centre Party and the centre-right Isamaa.

The party’s leading figures have over the years stood out for their use of xenophobic, racist and homophobic rhetoric.

Cover: Mart Helme at the torch march, organised by his party on 24 February 2019 at the Tallinn Freedom Square (Facebook).