Culture minister retreats into Riigikogu

Rein Lang

PHOTO: Peeter Langovits / Postimees

With obvious hindsight on damage resulting from financing scandal, leading to months of attacks on minister Kristen Michal and the party as such, the squirrels seem to have learnt a lesson: no-one tried discouraging Minister of Culture, Rein Lang, from stepping down.

As early as yesterday noon, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip hinted the abdication would be a matter of hours, rather days or weeks. For Mr Lang, the reason for him to step down still remained a mystery, yesternoon; as, according to him, he had spoken «the truth and only the truth» regarding Sirp; still, by the evening, he announced at the ETV programme Kahekõne he would indeed resign from being minister.

«I could endlessly talk about all facts being in my favour; but I do not have trust and I will in no way be able to restore it. In a situation like this it makes no sense for me to sit in my office, as I would not get anything done anyway,» said he, adding that he would, having resigned, be working in the parliament.

In the TV programme, Mr Lang expressed hopes that the scandal would have a positive impact on Estonian culture, including the culture paper Sirp. «I think this could be considered the marketing feat of the year. Tomorrow, they’ll surely grab Sirp from the counters; and, to my knowledge, [Foundation] Kultuurileht intends to have an additional campaign to promote subscriptions thereof, for next year. Should readability of Sirp go up, that can only be good. I hope Sirp will become a very good newspaper,» said Mr Lang.

Meanwhile, said Mr Lang, the scandal had unearthed a key problem in Estonian society – communication and emotions overshadowing facts. «In my mind, this is indeed an existential problem. The fact that strategic communication is not working, neither on government and culture ministry level, and we are unable to make clear to people what is true and what isn’t; and, on the other hand, a journalist who dreams a dream is able to convince an entire society that somebody is a rascal and villain, this is a problem – this problem should be granted a sober look, reasonably, without emotions,» he added.

Even though President may nominate the new minister in near future, even today, the actual change will occur next week, as the Riigikogu will convene again and the new minister will be sworn in.

On Saturday, Reform Party will gather for its council, to talk daily politics and, more generally, to discuss the disappointment at elections. Even at the start of this week, the possible new minister was speculated about; mostly, the talk centred on Kaja Kallas as a fresh and positive personality with Riigikogu experience, yet never tasting being minister. Indeed, she was guessed as next culture minister right after general elections; as a reason for declining that she cited need for experience at Riigikogu.

Still, the final decision will be taken by PM Ansip with party leadership. Over Twitter, yesterday, Ms Kallas said she was very sorry if Korobeinik had to leave Riigikogu. Namely, in 2011, Mr Korobeinik made it into parliament as replacement for the very Mr Lang.

Via his Facebook page, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves addressed the Sirp scandal, admitting longstanding problems in the field of culture, yet denying danger to freedom of speech and culture in Estonia. «I do care about the good Estonian culture and its success,» said the president. «Regrettably, on the state side, the culture life is plagued by longstanding problems with communication and relations. Culture life, however, cannot be organised finance official style, by an Excel table. But, let’s be honest: freedom of speech and freedom of creation are in no way endangered in Estonia.»

Yesterday morning, opposition parties attempted a show of force on Mr Lang, with 40 MPs handing in declaration of no confidence. That flopped – for the minister to resign, 38 gave their votes, including Andres Herkel of IRL.

Ministerial resignations of the century

Mart Laar’s second government

2001 – economy minister Mihkel Pärnoja

2002 – the entire government, due to collapse of coalition

Siim Kallas’ government

2002 – culture minister Signe Kivi

2003 – interior minister Ain Seppik

Juhan Parts’ government

2003 – finance minister Tõnis Palts

2004 – minister of agriculture Tiit Tammsaar

2004 – economy minister Meelis Atonen

2004 – defence minister Margus Hanson

2005 – foreign minister Kristiina Ojuland

2005 – the entire government, after no confidence to minister of justice Ken-Marti Vaher

Andrus Ansip’s first government

2005 – defence minister Jaak Jõerüüt

2006 – environment minister Villu Reiljan

Andrus Ansip’s second government

2009 – social minister Maret Maripuu

Andrus Ansip’s third government

2012 – justice minister Kristen Michal

Comments

Andrus Ansip, Prime Minister, at government press conference:

When accused of lying, it is easy for Rein Lang to refute that. However, when the talk is about loss of trust, with these claims Rein Lang has quite a hard time. To refute these, it is somewhat hard. Rein Lang himself has said that, for many days, he has been thinking if it made any sense, in the given situation, to continue as minister or not. I assume he will take a decision.

But, in my opinion, focussing the conflict on Rein Lang is not totally honest and just. Surely, lots and lots of mistakes have been made. Considering the widespread dissatisfaction among creative community, no one can say all has been done correctly, and well, with nothing to find fault about. That, obviously, cannot be claimed. 

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Those that have taken the decision (elected somebody editor-in-chief or failed to do – edit) should, obviously, have also substantiated their decisions – why such and not otherwise. As it happened, the whole public was essentially without information – we didn’t even know what exactly happened and on which day. And, as the public, so the government – we were in the dark.

Probably, the deciders also lacked the courage to explain things to the public, and that I deeply regret. Had those who decided dared to explain their decisions, many an offence would have obviously been avoided.

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Who is to blame? Obviously, the blame falls of very many persons. In my eyes, the bulk of blame falls of the decision makers, who lacked the courage to explain their decisions. They left the public in the dark. The decision makers are Foundation Kultuurileht board members and council. But I am also talking about the Minister of Culture, who has not indeed been the chief decision maker in this issue, still aware of the decisions and backing it up financially.

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When taking a decision, knowing the resonance it would produce, they should have premeditated if they wanted to do it or not. But once having decided, they should have faced the nation and explained their decisions. Even so, we got no explanations, and thence all kinds of speculations of Putin-style strong hand, the trampling underfoot of certain persons. All that could have been avoided. Lots of unnecessary sufferings could have been avoided, had these people possessed boldness, as citizens, had they been open and behaved like decision makers are supposed to, in a democratic rule of law.

Right now, you mostly want to talk about Rein Lang. Quite thoroughly, I have tried to compare his statements and the accusations aimed at him, tried to find the spots where he would have explicitly have lied. I have not found such spots.

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