Alvaro Peñas interviews Ruuben Kaalep, a poet and Estonian MP of EKRE (Conservative People’s Party of Estonia). EKRE is the third largest political party of Estonia and was a part of the government from April 2019 until January 2021.
The coalition government in which EKRE participated fell due to a corruption scandal by the Centre Party of Jüri Ratas. What happened?
The fall of the government happened right before scheduled fulfilment of two of the main goals in the coalition treaty negotiated by EKRE: a proposed referendum on the definition of marriage and a bill to create a legal mechanism for starting referenda by popular initiatives. Both of them would have been huge steps towards direct democracy as it was in Estonia during 1920s and 30s. However, those initiatives created huge backlash from the advocates of liberal democracy who are present in the mainstream parties, many government offices, and the media. The corruption scandal therefore came to the light with perfect timing to foil EKRE’s initiatives. The Centre Party has a long history of corruption cases, yet the magnitude of Porto Franco scandal is still surprising. However, there is a suspicion that the date of the disclosure of the scandal was chosen by the law enforcement agencies exactly to foil the planned vote on marriage referendum that was scheduled to take place the next day. According to a recent poll by Norstat, 35% of Estonian citizens believe this action was a deliberate intervention in politics by the law enforcement agencies.
Last month the Centre Party signed a new coalition with the Reform Party which brought Kaja Kallas to the post of the Prime Minister. The Centre Party resigned due to its corruption and is now returning to government. Why has no new election been called?
According to the Constitution of Estonia, extraordinary elections are only possible if the parliament fails to appoint a government, if the Prime Minister is impeached by the parliament, if the parliament fails to pass a state budget or if a parliament’s proposal is defeated in a referendum. None of this happened this time.
It is probable that some preliminary talks were going on between the Centre Party and the Reform Party already for some months. Together, they have 59 votes in the parliament which makes up a majority. Ironically, it created a situation in which the only party continuing in the government is the same party that caused the previous government to collapse due to being under criminal investigation.
EKRE is the third largest political force and the main opposition party. What do you expect from this new government?
We expect that it will be quite passive government without many ambitions or new initiatives. Their first test will be handling the Covid-19 situation and, in that, they will probably continue on the path set by the previous government. In continuing financial, economy and infrastructure projects set by the previous government, there will probably not be any big changes.
In other areas, the new government will be more loyal to the globalist agenda of the EU and liberal democracy. They have come out with an initiative to adopt hate speech laws, which is something that we see as a huge threat to the freedom of speech that is possibly designed exactly to be used against EKRE and our supporters. In foreign policy, they announced plans to go on with a new border treaty with Russia, which we see as weakness in their Russia policy.
During almost two years of the previous coalition government, what has been the role of EKRE? What has your party achieved for Estonia?
EKRE gave the previous government its face, a lot of its substance and stamina. It will probably go to history as the “EKRE government”. Unfortunately, as said before, many of EKRE’s main promises were not achieved in the duration of this government.
Yet, EKRE managed to achieve many things in the government. We began the process of regulating immigration of low-skilled workers and students. We strengthened national defence and restored border guard service as an autonomous structure. A lot of our policies were aimed at supporting agriculture and people living in countryside. We also lowered taxes, began a national project of building 4-lane highways connecting the whole country and electrifying Estonian railways.
What do you think of the current situation in Russia and Belarus?
There will be potentially huge changes in both countries in the coming years, influencing all of Europe and potentially global distribution of power. The geopolitical essence of those two countries is of course very different. Belarus is an emerging nation-state undergoing national awakening and some form of ethnogenesis. One of the main concerns of the protesters is that the country failed to affirm its national identity in the previous decades, being instead more or less a buffer zone dominated by Russia.
The protests in Russia, on the other hand, can signal another collapse of an empire that has remained essentially a rump state of the former Soviet Union. Russian identity is primarily imperial not ethnic, and therefore the process will be very different from a national awakening as seen in Belarus. However, it can also encourage many different nations living in the borders of Russia, including Finno-Ugrians, people of Caucasus and Turkic peoples, to affirm their ethnic identities more actively and stand for their right of self-determination. The scale of the protests in Russia is clearly something new for the last decades and all signs point to Kremlin regime considering it as a real threat to its survival.
Estonia should support national and popular movements in both countries, while watching the developments closely and identifying all potential threats to our security.
Is EKRE for NATO?
EKRE supports Estonia’s membership in NATO as a deterrent against possible Russian aggression. However, in the long run, we understand that our defence cannot lay only upon the assumption that the United States and Western European countries would come to our assistance in every imaginable scenario. Therefore, we emphasise the need to deepen our regional political and security ties, especially between the Baltic countries, Visegrad group and Ukraine.
Approximately a quarter of the Estonian population is of Russian ethnic origin. What is your party’s position on this matter?
Russians in Estonia are not one monolithic group. Around half of them have Estonian citizenship, while the other half does not. Larger part of them descends from immigrants during the Soviet occupation, while others have roots in Estonia going back more than a century. Some of them are very patriotic and loyal to Estonia, while many live in Russian sphere of information and see themselves as historical enemies of Estonia.
There have been proposals to automatically give citizenship to all Russians living in Estonia, which EKRE strongly opposes. In the current system, is easy to pass a test to gain citizenship for anyone who understands Estonian language, which is however an important requirement. We believe that stable long-term investment into studying and teaching Estonian language is the best way to bring those Russians out of their information bubble and integrate them into Estonian society.
Estonia shares a common vision with the other Baltic states and is closely linked to Finland. Do you think that this vision is understood by the leading countries of the EU, Germany and France, or by the emerging powers, such as Poland and Hungary?
The vision of the Baltic countries has much more in common with Poland, Hungary, and other Eastern European countries that share similar history and geopolitical interests. The essential paradigm, shared likewise by all these countries, is expressed in the Constitution of Estonia, which derives the sovereignty and power of the state from the mission to safeguard Estonian ethnicity, language and culture. This view of a nation-state is different from the Western view of a state mainly as a guarantee of individual rights, or a colonial and imperialistic view of the prevalence of civilisational progress beyond ethnic and cultural connection between a community and its soil.
This fundamental difference is shown by very different approaches to immigration, taken by Western and Eastern European countries. From the point of view of Baltic or Eastern European people, it is unthinkable how Western European leaders can adopt policies that would result in their countries’ native ethnic groups becoming a minority first in their cities and after a few decades, in all of their countries. There are in addition many other points of divergence in the nationalist and the globalist view, and those are poised to become only more obvious in the coming years, therefore also dividing two parts of Europe even more.