We, 31.05.2023
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Mart Helme: Culture living off Soviet fat

Tuuli Koch
, reporter
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Photo: Eero Vabamägi

Because a large part of Estonia's cultural elite does not live in Estonia or receive support from the state, it is necessary to set about building a new cultural foundation for future generations in Estonia, instead of counting on second-rate stars imported from China, recently reelected chairman of the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) Mart Helme finds in an interview.

You, and the Free Party, would probably be hard-pressed to find something equally pleasant as the current chaos in the Pro Patria Res Publica Union (IRL).

Things have been bad at IRL for a long time. The very existence of the Free Party serves as convincing proof of that. It was born as a result of a split in IRL. Politics is a very unstable phenomenon: one day your at the top, the next day you're nobody. IRL's problems are not current, while their situation is currently very poor.

Is there any hope for IRL?

There is, provided they can find a charismatic leader and renew their brand. They have a nationwide party structure, which is something the Free Party does not have. We have been busy building up our organization, meeting with people as it is work that will bear bountiful fruit one day.

You have your work cut out for you as the presidential election showed you lack strength in regions. You do not have faces.

We do have fewer well-known people than other parties, that is true. However, we are working on it. Whenever people said EKRE only has the Helmes before the previous Riigikogu elections, I always replied that others do not even have that.

While local elections are no doubt important, parties are looking to parliamentary ones in 2019. That which brought you to the Riigikogu might not be enough again.

Surely not. Our idea, looking at various processes in the world in Europe, is sovereignty – maintaining and bringing sovereignty back to Estonia.

We can see Brexit having contributed to processes of federalization. The European Union has 500 million people, while Estonia has 900,000 Estonians. If we join a union that is governed from Brussels with just a local administration monitoring compliance with regulations on location, the Estonian people have no chance of survival.

That is why we must go down the path of Hungary and Poland, which does not mean turning into North Korea. That is just another idiotic fable circulated about us. Neither Hungary nor Poland want to move away from Europe or stop cooperating with it; they just want to protect themselves from bureaucracy and corporate-controlled politicians.

Estonia is not completely sovereign?

Of course not! More than 80 percent of our legislation is from the European Union.

We wanted in, and there is no better option out there today.

Of course there is! Sovereignty is our choice. Estonian language, Estonian culture, the survival of the Estonian people. If these things do not matter to Estonians then our party truly isn't needed. Then the pro-russification Center Party, liberal-internationalist Reform Party, and indigenous IRL will suffice. Don't even get me started on the social democrats.

All parties are talking about the preservation of the Estonian language, people, and culture. However, only you said during your recent congress that Estonian culture is good for nothing.

What I said was that our cultural achievements are modest. The first reason for which is the fact we've lost our national foundation. Our artists are trying to do something very international; however, they're not particularly good at it. We just cannot rival America, the UK, Germany or France.

Do you truly believe our musicians, our composers – Tõnu Kaljuste, Arvo Pärt, the Järvi family – are not Estonian envoys to the world sporting a national foundation?

Kaljuste, Pärt, and the Järvis are all people standing on a Soviet footing. A large part of our culture has Soviet roots. Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tüür have spent most of their lives living abroad. They do not live in Estonia!

So what? They are furthering the Estonian agenda!

They are doing it out of patriotism, not because they are in Estonia, financed by Estonia. Our project-based financing system makes it impossible to lay a foundation for Estonian cultural achievements. Yes, we have Hando Runnel and Mats Traat, and Jaan Kross; however, it all stands on Soviet columns.

The question of financing is very important, as is the fact our talents are leaving. Especially in the field of music that is truly international. We train them, spend a lot of money at the music academy, and they leave because they're not happy with the way things are here.

We cannot lock our artists up?

We can't lock them up; however, we can consider whether national culture is important enough to have project-based financing complemented with a base component.

My criticism is constructive, not contemptuous. I want us to lay a foundation for Estonian culture to serve it once I'm gone. I want my grandchildren to be able to go to the Estonia concert hall to listen to Estonian interpreters, so it would have more than second-rate stars imported from China.

Musicians, doctors, builders – they move. It's normal.

Yes, they do. My son is a doctor in Finland. Why? Because Finnish tax law is so harebrained that a doctor working full-time has to give half of what they make away in taxes. This makes working full-time completely pointless. What makes sense is working part-time as you have to pay considerably less tax and are in the black both in terms of your income and amount of free time at the end of the day. That is why Estonian doctors sub in Finland. But Estonian doctors don't want to leave for good!

And we don't have the human resource to train various specialists here only so they could go work somewhere else. There are plenty of countries that pay people to study what they want in exchange for which the latter have to work for their country for five years. Then they can go where they want.

That is a Soviet vestige, people being sent God knows where after graduation.

True, it might not be a popular idea today; however, it is one possible option! We don't have to apply it to everyone. Wealthy parents who can afford to put their kids through university can do as they like. That said, we have a lot of less fortunate people who would agree to this. We need flexibility! A broader view, instead of just shrugging our shoulders and saying we cannot close the world.

We do not want to close the world either. What we want is to create a situation where we are not just footing the bill, but where we can get our investment back in services and work.

You've said EKRE will win the next Riigikogu election and form the government. Why should anyone want to marry your politics built on lies and pseudo-problems?

What are these lies?

Talking about mass immigration, that the Estonian people want to leave the European Union...

We don't want to leave the European Union. It is another misinterpretation. Deceitful and slanderous misinterpretations are chronically used in connection with us. Talking about mass immigration, it is reality for Europe.

It is not the reality in Estonia.

Yes, because we are the party and pressure group that has guarded the gate like Cerberus and kept an eye on the government, keeping it from making irresponsible decisions, agreeing to...

Which party has been in favor of mass immigration?

Had we not been there in the summer of 2015, when the subject matter surfaced, the Reform Party government would have echoed the European Commission and Germany: „Come one and all! Everyone is welcome!“

We've been treated to base accusations: nazis, racists, haters. Have we said anything of the sort about anyone else? And then they say we are the ones who are lying and tackling pseudo-problems. Is terrorism a pseudo-problem? It is not! The more immigrants we see here, Muslim immigrants, the greater the chance one day they will include someone from the Middle East wearing a bomb belt.

We are not dealing with pseudo-problems, we're dealing with everyone's survival. Including those who call us fascists, racists, homophobes.

You've spent years going on about homosexuality. Aren't you tired of it yourself?

No, we are not. We are seeing attempts to redefine the family and gender roles. If a minister says in front of the Riigikogu that a person's sex is a social construct, whom did the Lord want to punish by taking away his mind? The majority of the Estonian people have not sanctioned their minds to be taken away just yet. The fight for common sense is the true meaning of the fight against gay propaganda.

You are pursuing gay propaganda that way.

No, we are not. We have managed to keep the implementing provisions of the registered partnership act from being passed. We raised the questions of the courts deciding how to interpret the law. We refuse to stand for court decisions distorting the spirit of the law to benefit minorities. It is political procurement the courts are complying with.

Who orders rulings in Estonia?

Probably the government, following recommendations from the internal security agency and the information board as that is what our allies expect, and it doesn't pay to displease them. That is political procurement communicated to the prosecution over the phone.

So the heads of gay people and judges must roll, as per the threat your son Martin Helme delivered in front of the Riigikogu?

Perhaps it was colorful language; however, people would feel we are impotent had we not used it. We raise serious questions in society. The courts are a problem.

The same goes for Estonian culture: we are living off Soviet era fat! Our talents are leaving, financing is wrong. We should spend at least 1 percent of GDP on culture, while we spend 0.75 percent.

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