Seppik – social liberal, not a bona fide one

Tuuli Koch
, reporter
Please note that the article is more than five years old and belongs to our archive. We do not update the content of the archives, so it may be necessary to consult newer sources.
Photo: Mihkel Maripuu / Postimees

Hereby, Ain Seppik, a Central Party member until last spring, stands in the ranks of Reform Party. According to the one-time interior minister, the motive mostly being his desire to have a say in the Estonian life – something he thinks cannot be done alone.

What brought you to Reform Party? A grudge against Edgar Savisaar? The fear of him? Or did you lose faith in ASBL Free Democrats?

I carry no grudge against Mr Savisaar nor do I fear him. There are not many alternatives available, to participate in politics. To do politics, one has to have a bigger bunch behind one’s back, and amongst the democrats we never discussed turning into a party. ASBLs do not do big politics. Civil society i.e. third sector is very important, but political parties also are a part of civil society. All the time, the disparaging voices are being heard telling us the «party time» is over. But what time will it be then, from now on? It is still going to be the time of the parties – should we continue on the path of democracy.  Looking at world history, it is interesting to note that even dictators have maintained their parties. For that very reason: it is hard to rule alone.

The Reform Party chief Andrus Ansip has, in earlier times, also been labelled a dictator, by you…

He definitely has the characteristics of a strong leader. Like Edgar Savisaar, as well. But none of them is a dictator in the ghastliest sense of the word. They do have traits of strong, authoritarian leaders. Thus, I will not find myself in an unknown environment.

Over the years, your statements regarding Reform Party make for quite a collection: they desire dictatorship; Ansip is a threat to sovereignty; comparisons of Ansip and Vladimir Putin; Andrus Ansip’s politics lead to extinguishing of Estonia’s population. What is this, politically?

In brinkmanship between opposition and coalition, the boldest colours are used. For us, only a fearsome figure is painted of Mr Putin. In reality, Mr Putin is a strong leader and has certainly been able to change Russia. As leaders, there are common traits in both Savisaar, Ansip and Jaak Aaviksoo, for instance.

And then: people do change. I also have changed. Even the Russia, spitting fire and brimstone at us in 2007, has now changed and is seeking contacts with Estonia. The patriarch was here, Mr Ansip talked to him in Russian, treated him to a lunch – these are signs of situations changing, vital state interests coming first. In Russia, the Church is obviously very influential and Mr Ansip did the right thing to meet with the patriarch. Among my Russian speaking acquaintances, this has been received very well. Little by little, the relations are getting better. Still, we should not develop exaggerated illusions.

Was that a coincidence with the patriarch coming over, and a newspaper publishing an interview with the Russian Railways boss Vladimir Jakunin?

The patriarch’s visit was no coincidence, the Päevaleht article neither. With the article, it was clearly stated the trip was financed by Russian Railways, a state company. Whoever pays, orders the music. The Jakunin article was pure Savisaar propaganda. Kirill’s visit was a sign that, at least on some level, Russia wants the relations to improve – no doubt a good sign for us.

Soon, Mr Ansip will back off from leading the Reform Party. What ought the party to do, thereafter?

Reform Party should remain a reforms engine. As the name indicates.

Remain? That has not been the case, for a long time now…

Perhaps it is for that very reason Mr Ansip has decided to resign. Fatigue sets in, routine. But Reform Party will definitely remain in Estonian politics. I have been asked why I have joined a party, plagued by scandals and troubles. But that is the very reason I joined – the policy that I support being in trouble, now. I think they still will serve a surprise, at next parliamentary elections.

I hope membership has not robbed you of a critical edge, that you will be able to admit that Reform Party has become haughty, that you have issues.

True. There are the problems. And, for a long while, I have been telling my friends in Reform Party of the need to communicate directly with the people. This is not so much a task of the ministers, rather the duty of the people at local posts, who often tend to forget why they were sent there. That work will not always be pleasant, this is a difficult job, sometimes you will be reviled. But you must swallow that, digest it, answer back. However, success will, sooner or later, intoxicate any party. Especially if you stay in power for a lengthy period of time.

What makes you believe in their success in forthcoming elections?

I have had, to an extent, insights into how their headquarters function. I see that money provided by the state is used for policy making. In Centre Party, especially in the past couple of years, I was disturbed by how the state support was being used to build Edgar’s office. And even that was not finished. The Reform Party apparatus works well. It is youthful, purposeful, with constant discussions going on, and money spent more prudently.

The apparatus surely works better now that Kristen Michal is back. You did step back from the government of Siim Kallas, as interior minister, as soon as your questionable decisions surfaced, as a judge in Soviet times. You did that swiftly, in a praiseworthy way. Mr Michal, as minister of justice, lay long on the frying pan…

With scandals, this is the rule of thumb: solve ‘em swiftly. As was done with the Reform Party e-elections. Kristen, regrettably, being hit –undeservedly. The Prosecutor’s Office kept digging around until a regulation was passed to terminate the procedure – resembling a court decision. As a lawyer, I still think that a regulation like this ought not to be issued by prosecutors. Or, if it is issued, it must go to court.

Kristen is a great administrator. One with clarity of mind, very tolerant, one you can talk to. This being very important – people you can talk to, agree with. For what matters in politics is agreements. I think his time is yet to come. His hand is already being felt, keeping and directing the party. Kristen Michal definitely is a key politician of Reform Party. Rising to prime minister, one day.

During the time when Silver Meikar enlightened us of what was going on, you yourself were a key figure in Centre Party, surely coming into contact with issues of the same sort…

… no, no!

Well, maybe not in the same manner, but still you were taking care of the money matters.

Money has to be acquired, as one’s world view has to be supported.

In all honesty: nothing like that in Centre Party?

Why keep harping on Centre Party... The more so that it was found out it did not even happen in Reform Party.

How come? The regulation stated otherwise.

If a person is not guilty, then – as we all know – he is innocent We do have the presumption of innocence.

Already you talk the Reform Party talk!

No, I talk the lawyer talk.

What has been your business with Rain Rosimannus, over the years?

I count him my friend and he counts me one too, I think. Irrespective of party membership.

You said you joined Reform Party to avoid a turn to the left. What do you mean by that?

When they are promising new politics which is nothing new, actually. Sven Mikser also being and old Centre Party man, like me. And the soc dems have not said a word about what they intend to do! With the exception of progressive income tax.

Which you also propagated, while in Centre Party…

Yes, but the Centre Party progressive income tax was not the Hollande (French president François Hollande – edit) version, but one with just a couple of steps, not having a large impact and posing no danger to society.

The progressive income tax offered by soc dems, right now, is problematic, as it is one thing to talk about it before the crisis, and another thing to do that after crisis. The crisis did already damage out economy and economists; and to collect even more money, while the money has already been taken out of the country in the fear of leftwing politics, that is dangerous. I admit: I am not a bona fide liberal, but a social liberal. And Mr Ansip’s policy has already been moving towards the centre. Mr Ansip’s Reform Party is not what it was in Siim Kallas’ days.

What would Tallinn look like, without Savisaar?

Centre Party has done a lot of good, and a lot of bad. All power, becoming too long and absolute, starts to eat itself. And now that has happened: the paying of tithes, hiring party members, creating party media, own police, own ridiculous counterintelligence i.e. building a state within the state. Because of the city-state standoff, we have lost a lot. The Ansip-Savisaar standoff is an unique phenomenon in Estonian politics, impossible to overcome.

Are pre-elections agreements possible, in Tallinn?

Looking at soc dems versus the current IRL and coalition cooperation, I do not detect much love there. Surely there will be no coalitions before the elections. Should the elections be a success i.e. Centre Party fails to gain absolute majority, then cooperation might emerge. For how long? That is another matter. Still, the pressure by society for post-elections cooperation is huge. Still, Mr Savisaar is politically alive and well, ever ready to dance.