Jürgen Ligi: offence as political commodity

Jürgen Ligi
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Photo: Liis Treimann

Freshly resigned finance minister Jürgen Ligi (Reform Party) admits he opted for a careless way to address carefulness, for which he also apologised. Regrettably, the reaction is more revealing regarding attitudes in the education minister – instead of objective and historic facts, playing on national offence and rejection as also on omissions of former governments.

In February, we had our first argument with Jevgeni Ossinovski in a TV show. He claimed Estonia’s natural increase is low because the government isn’t allocating money. For me, such simplification is unthinkable due to academic background and personal experience dating back to tough times, wherefore after the show I urged him on towards a debate more essential.

Haughtily or not, let the reader decide, I have taken it as a mission for Estonia to develop a culture of content-rich debate, and of not just spending but of more precise spending. For the attempt, the young colleague, in a big Facebook post, named me an «inadequate teenage brat with Napoleon complex not mature enough to be a minister». That was not a text by a grown-up man spiritually rooted, experienced in life and work so no-one was offended, and public outrage resulted not.

After out next TV show, Jevgeni Ossinovski organised a sales campaign, in every way displaying his offence, accusing me in national put-down, and attacking a man instead of debate. In a short comment to a Facebook friend, I had suggested that as an immigrant’s son from a pink party he [Mr Ossinosvki – edit] ought to be especially careful regarding sensitive subjects. Of these phrases between friends, in no wise laying open the essence of the topic, some single words were sent into circulation while maximum upset was urged around these.

On my part, this was surely a careless way to speak about carefulness, for which I did publicly apologise. But in all of that I was saying nothing about nationality; meanwhile, it was more of a reflection on the education minister’s attitudes where, instead of objective and historic facts he plays on national upset and rejection, and on omissions of former governments.

Not in the TV show, nor on Facebook nor in the newspapers does one find the complete picture which, taken together, has become offensive to me. Jevgeni Ossinovski’s disturbing claim that it is no longer fitting for us to refer to Soviet times in explaining our lagging behind in living standards so leading to emigration – according to economics this is foolishness; as a rule, the differences in nations’ wealth change a lot slower than how we have been catching up with the lands of our dreams and emigration. But the persistent stand that actions and knowledge had their beginning in the current education minister equals no respect to all former governments and those representing the economy. Even so, I assured in the TV show I was not casting away responsibility neither overexploiting history.

My words and my feelings were not limited to that connection. Regrettably, more than once have I perceived injections of rejection and humiliation in descendants of immigrants. In a situation where the region of top joblessness and wages is Estonian-speaking, he never hesitates to talk about Russians only, and about rejection as a cause.  

I’m not underestimating the emotional risks lurking in the souls of the nations, and have witnessed how in time these turn into a reverse view of the past somewhat. But in the given instance, it is not the nationality but largely the historic heritage: what work they arrived to do after the war was over, what became of these jobs in the open economy, what kind of families they were born into, and how that translates into language skills, education, employment choices, values, social networks etc.

All of that can also be dealt with in state programmes, without insulting anyone. Also, people could be more unifying in their public addresses in Ida-Viru [County – edit], talking less about personal offences and abstaining from protests, say, when bilingual street signs are to exchanged for official language ones.  

Also, the existence or nonexistence of life under foreign power should not be translated into nationality issue. The fact remains, soc dem leaders include may a good Estonian whose nice names coincide with those who once brought the Estonian state down – so that vulnerability to attacks is naturally to be considered, as most of them painfully and precisely know.

No doubt, also, in the desire of the soc dems themselves to distance themselves from the crimes of the communists. Still, exceptions exist. Jaak Allik, closest adviser and partner to education minister in Ida-Viru, has both claimed that «never has a foreign power attacked Estonia» and called my thoughts certifiable.

Why «immigrant» would be insulting many won’t know, by the way: nor my party comrade Deniss Boroditš nor closest colleagues – a Russian, a wife to an immigrant, an immigrant’s son, etc. Pointedly, Sergei Metlev has worded these same feelings: a pity that politicians are constantly invoking the image of the humiliated Russian to catch votes – as related to the case at hand.

Reactions to what is happening are strikingly opposite, just to underline how wrong it is to distort and escalate the topic into an issue national. Even more divisive is acting like an apology were no argument, like I robbed someone of the right to have a say in the society, split people into ours and aliens, insulted a third of the people.

Offence actions, denial of the history and damaging Estonia’s image has not gone anywhere. I would also do that, if I were an enemy of Estonian state. I would use these same word distortions and twists of thoughts, to show us to be an angry Nazi nation. Not out of carelessness, but in the name of their political profit my critics have turned the issues of Soviet rule, migration and generations into exactly this, by applying uniform wording.  

And while in words I have complied with Jevgeni Ossinovski much more than my comment was due, believing in the sincerity of our conversations, in the news afterwards I have been confirmed in my feelings that the wordings included were pre-agreed and what had been talking to me was calloused unconcern. I’m worried therefore who is in charge of their party as neither Sven Mikser nor Eiki Nestor, the best, are not visible any longer.

The most beautiful feedback has been the avalanche of support and be-a-friend invitations, people approaching and assuring me I’m doing the right thing or that my ideas are totally understood. There have also been accusations for saying I was sorry. But the war is asymmetrical; with and by European rhetoric, content has been killed and the explainer humiliated with new out-of-context arguments.

Even Europeanness isn’t the synonym of perfection, let ,me point out: in finances and economy, recently is has begun to signify crisis, deepening inadequacy in demographics; in history, ideology and political correctness, however, the hypocrisy of crimes and symbols of Soviet power not being as honestly condemned as Nazi ones.

Not wanting Estonia to turn out like this, I intend to toil to that end.