Estonia’s interior minister Mart Helme resigns

Estonia’s interior minister, the former leader of the far-right populist Estonian Conservative People’s Party, Mart Helme, announced on 9 November that he will resign as he’s “fed up” with the “libel and lies the Estonian media is producing”.

“Looking at the libel and lies the Estonian media is producing, I last night decided to resign. I’m fed up. I yesterday didn’t do anything that would endanger the Estonian security. I haven’t said anything that the American media – the free American media – hasn’t already said,” Helme told the press at a news conference.

Resigning to keep the governing coalition in power

He added that he’s resigning to keep the governing coalition in power and that the marriage referendum his party proposed – to ask the people whether Estonia should constitutionally legislate that marriage should be only between a man and a woman – can be held.

Mart Helme, together with his son, Martin Helme, the Estonian finance minister and the leader of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party – known by its acronym, EKRE – said on 8 November on Estonia’s TRE Radio said that the US president-elect, Joe Biden, was elected president by “the state”. “The logic of how the deep state operates is to smuggle in scumbags – corrupt scumbags who can be blackmailed. Joe Biden and Hunter Biden are corrupt characters,” he said.

“You won’t muzzle me, no one will muzzle me,” Helme noted on 9 November when announcing his resignation from the government. “The prime minister won’t muzzle me, the president or the media won’t muzzle me.”

He also accused the Estonian media of propaganda. “We have worked for you, brought issues to the listeners that are talked about in America. The news coming from the US are very troublesome.”

From left to right, Mart Helme, the deputy leader of EKRE and Estonia’s interior minister, prime minister Jüri Ratas and Urmas Reinsalu, Isamaa’s deputy leader and the foreign minister, at the government’s headquarters, Stenbock House, in May 2019. Photo by Stenbock House.

As a member of the Estonian parliament, Helme will return to his seat there.

Known for populist and divisive rhetoric

Mart Helme led EKRE from 2013 until summer 2020 and together with his son, Martin Helme, is credited for developing a non-parliamentary marginal party into a major player in the Estonian politics, with 19 seats in the current parliament.

The populist party first entered the Estonian parliament in 2015, winning seven seats. In the 2019 election, the party more than doubled its seats and is currently the third largest party in the parliament. The party was subsequently invited to form the current government with the populist-leaning Centre Party and the centre-right Isamaa – and Mart Helme became the interior minister on 29 April 2019, while his son became the finance minister.

Both Mart and Martin Helme have over the years stood out for their use of divisive rhetoric. While interior minister, Mart Helme has previously called the Finnish prime minister, Sanna Marin, a “cashier” who together with her “Red” coalition partners would “desperately try to liquidate” Finland. Just in October, he told in an interview with Deutsche Welle that he takes “a really unfriendly look” at gay people and it would be better if “gays run to Sweden”.

Had Mart Helme not resigned, the Estonian opposition parties in the parliament – the Reform Party and the Social Democrats – would have submitted a motion of no confidence against him. The opposition parties said after Mart Helme’s resignation that they will still submit a motion of no confidence against Martin Helme.

EKRE leaders’ words were also criticised by five former Estonian prime ministers and the former president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who together issued a statement on 9 November.

Cover: Mart Helme. Screenshot from a video released by the Stenbock House.

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