It’s Thursday eve, September 12th. Tallinn municipal TV is airing its routine Hour of Mayor. The presenters are backdropped against Solaris Centre 5th storey window, offering a breathtaking view on Theatre Square slowly wrapped in dusk.
As soon as Centre Party chairman has uttered his usual «here I am, again», the host Revo Raudjärv opens show by taking up anti-corruption posters by IRL mayor candidate Eerik-Niiles Kross.
«But how can I take a man like that seriously,» the mayor happens to be telling his audience as in the right-wing corner of the screen, behind the studio window, an apparition makes its appearance. In the blink of the eye, it is hovering over the mayoral shoulder: a sign, declaring that «Savisaar corruption robs your family €1,000 a year. Let’s stop that».
The helicopter move turned into an unforgettable event of this year’s election campaign, by furore only equalled, perhaps, by city government’s hoisting of a giant foamed plastic doll over Ülemiste Crossing opening ceremony costing tens of thousands of euros.
For Mr Kross, the «helicopter attack» cost a few hundred euros. The idea had been born a mere couple of days before, in his elections headquarters. This they knew: on the night in question, Mr Savisaar would be performing at the Solaris studio. Meanwhile, the Kross campaign team happened to be mightily frustrated by the way city govt had dealt with their posters.
«We set two car trailers in front of the city government, carrying anti-corruption posters. These were removed, citing parking and property maintenance rules,» relates Tiit Riisalo, the Kross Elections HQ chief. «That was frustrating.»
Thereafter, they proceeded to hook the posters unto a bike used by Mr Kross to go take the IRL election lists to the city government. «Even there, confrontation with MuPo (municipal police) occurred. Doing us a giant favour, as if, we were allowed to park the bike in front of the building while the lists were being delivered,» continued the campaign head.
«Now, we turned defiant – halted on the ground, we will try air force!»
Promptly, wisdom was sought from unmanned aircraft enthusiasts. In nearby bush, testing the quadcopter proved a success – the drone proved its load-bearing capacity to suffice for lifting up the visual aid detested by powers-that-be. At the critical time juncture, an experienced drone-pilot took his position on Theatre Square. Up the poster went, towed by the aircraft.
In a cafe nearby, the team responsible stooped over a laptop, the screen showing two parallel pictures: Tallinn TV studio and stream from drone’s onboard camera. «To the right, a bit. To the left, a bit,» the copter operator was instructed. The most cost-effective guerrilla operation of the entire campaign, probably, was underway.
It went viral, especially after videoclip was uploaded by IRL. As background music, the excited giggles of the mischievous merrymakers may be heard.
«We hit such luck,» Eerik-Niiles Kross admits, in hindsight. «There was a host of things that may have gone wrong. With a wind stronger, the manoeuvre would have been an impossibility. We didn’t even know which was the exact window.»
«All we knew was that was the Hour of Mayor time, and that Mr Savisaar was going live for our tax money,» says he. «Everything came into play – like Centre Party propaganda for city money, as best embodied by Tallinn TV as such.»
Pure coincidence, that Mr Kross and his campaign were talked about at the very instant the drone performed its task. To thank Mr Kross for advertising their beloved hobby, copter fans awarded the candidate, at IRL election party on October 20th, with a little drone of his own.
Other ideas of this sort were also generated, at Kross HQ. As recalled by an adviser, Siim Tuisk, one thing they did not do: it was discussed that while Mr Savisaar was singing his laser show backed Schlager Kaunis maa (Oh Beautiful Land), supermen or teddy bears might be dropped unto Freedom Square, appearing to deliver Tallinn from its present leadership. Or leaflets: Do Vote!
«That’d turned into farce,» assesses Mr Tuisk. «Fun, in a way... but that would no longer have been us just picking at them; rather, we would have been putting up a spectacle, town government style. Meanwhile, the kite we had flying over the Ülemiste Crossing, cost next to nothing, getting quite mighty coverage.»
Eerik-Niiles Kross recalls that, in his Election HQ, it was painstakingly brainstormed where lay the border not to be crossed while campaigning.
«We never attacked anybody personally,» he exemplifies. «We never talked of personal problems of Mr Savisaar’s, just of the corruption of city government led by him. We did not take posters to the streets, when the ban was on. In my opinion, it was illegal for MuPo to remove our posters from before city government, not that we put these there.»
Mr Kross adds: «As the court decided we should hand the domain back to Mr Savisaar, we did that at once. When Mr Savisaar opened a kid’s playground, we decided not to haunt there, not desiring to involve children in a campaign. We never ever touched the [new Russian orthodox – edit] church in Lasnamäe, whatever we thought of it.»
«Surely, very many people thought we overdid it,» says the campaign adviser, non-party activist Siim Tuisk. «But for ourselves, we tried to keep a vital balance.»
What tested the limits, for many, probably was the Internet domain with name of Edgar Savisaar. The website discussed corruption at city government. According to Mr Kross, this was a collective idea that was birthed as somebody just happened to notice a domain like that was unoccupied. It was proposed they do something with it. «We never really uploaded any claims, really,» said Mr Kross. «All it contained were media articles. In the second phase of the campaign, we added the Spot Corruption! Initiative, at 1000eurot.eu, so that people might upload city government ad posters and whatever they noticed. But even there we claimed nothing; all it had was photos of things people had spotted.»
Nothing doing – Centre Party had to claim domain name edgarsavisaar.ee. According to Mr Kross, that will not be the end of the dispute. «That was a free domain, the registration of it was legal. Of course, we said that should Mr Savisaar want his name back, our pleasure. However, their claim states Mr Savisaar demands his name not be used on websites. Well... that would be an unbelievably broad protection of a name.»
Corruption as main campaign topic. Conveying the message by guerrilla method. These were Team Kross answers to the question: how on earth to we get into the picture, in Tallinn. At the start of summer, IRL support in Tallinn was weak. What mattered in town were kindergarten places and physical/social environment – but these messages looked doomed to flop.
«We are most bothered, when it comes to city government, how they steal and beat about the bush, and the mafia like power structure. And the corruption theme went off better that expected – thanks to the very reaction by city government,» the IRL mayor candidate assesses, in hindsight.
He admits that preaching good news is always harder. «Is there a method to amplify, let’s say, the kindergarten issue, as powerfully as the corruption thing?»
The Kross campaign plans also included a city construction and economy conference with a top speaker from abroad; still, it was later concluded that it would take too much energy and not be noticed enough, probably.
«It seemed to us that should we do such an expensive thing and then achieve a write-up on page 7 in Postimees and three minutes, after exhausting asking, in some commercial TV channel... maybe it won’t be worth the trouble,» substantiated Mr Kross.
The conference is coming, however. Next year, probably.
According to IRL secretary general and Kross HQ chief-of-staff Tiit Riisalo, the Estonia-wide campaign cost the party about €1m. The precise figure will appear after all calculations are done. He thought it prudent not to offer any figures, for now, for the Kross campaign.
Mayor Candidate Eerik-Niiles Kross Headquarters:
• Tiit Riisalo (45), IRL secretary general, deskmate of Mr Kross from Tallinn Secondary School No 21 – Kross HQ chief.
• Vesse Vesiaid (23), IRL faction adviser for Tallinn City Council – HQ member, kept eye on Centre Party activities.
• Ene Post (non-party) – events’ organiser, engine for Kross Cafe.
• Aigi Paas (non-party), IRL Riigikogu faction adviser during campaign – dealt with social media.
• Madis Kübar (33) – IRL Tallinn campaign district chiefs’ manager.
• Dmitri Šmidt (26) – administrator/organiser of Russian topics.
• Veiko Lukmann (35), IRL international secretary – responsible for the creative aspects of campaign; also involved in Margus Tsahkna campaign in Tartu.
• Gerrit Mäesalu (non-party), Riigikogu IRL faction adviser – press representative.
• Tõnis Hiiesalu (non-party), IRL’s IT-adviser – campaign IT-organiser, maker of video clips.
• Priit Värk (28), IRL rank and file – compiler/editor of IRL’s Tallinn programme.
• Teele Holmberg (31), Riigikogu IRL faction adviser – events and logistics organiser, rear-guard.
• Aivo Vaske (39), adviser – «quick math».
• Siim Tuisk (28, non-party), Internet community activist – Eerik-Niiles Kross’ personal adviser, involved in Internet Media and Nationbuilder software project. Also advising Tartu election coalition Vabakund.