Editorial: the manifold lessons of an insult scandal

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Photo: Urmas Nemvalts

By finance minister Jürgen Ligi stepping down due to a social media message, a new layer was added to Estonian political culture. The effect of the layer on long term values, time will tell. The decision shows statesmanship and was justified, while also driven by domestic-political situation as weighing on Mr Ligi personally, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas and Reform Party.

With things uttered, a government minister does bear responsibility before the party and the state. For a large part of the public, Mr Ligi’s Facebook statement crossed the permissible border. For the writer, interpretation attached to the «immigrant’s son» label stuck on education minister Jevgeni Ossinovski may have felt unjust, while still an error as underlined by Mr Ligi openly apologising.  

Even the ordinary people are warned: by social media statements, conclusions may be drawn possibly affecting their employment. A minister is a minister 24/7. While allowed perhaps to relax while talking to a friend in sauna, social media is public space for sure.

A written message is a written message – delete or no delete. Manuscripts, as we know, burn not. In written expressions, one needs to be precise and to the point, realising the audience may not grasp the irony and figures of speech by a most skilled wordsmith. Thus, an interpretation may diverge from original thought.

As revealed by a glance of the political table, the Reform Party had not much option but to recall the minister. Parliamentary elections are knocking at the door; by polls, they’re the top popular party. Obviously, conclusions have been drawn from Silvergate where justice minister Kristen Michal sat in his chair too long. Better let the man go and the government continue, rather than risk unleashing an unpredictable governmental crisis made worse by no confidence initiated by the opposition. The more so that a minister stepping down may send the public at large a strong message which will always be thankfully received by some – in the case at hand, by the national conservative segment, say.

Any decision will have an effect and counter-effect. A part of the added political-cultural layer being that forcing people to resign after insulting stuff said might from now on be easier. Meanwhile, social media allows a politician to relate more immediately with the people (his voters and others), introducing ideas, debating, and bringing arguments. Too bad if the 21st century tendency would backfire in the very e-Estonia. And, let’s not forget that political correctness may be negative just as well as positive. Negative if, trying to be correct, one will avoid important issues.