Mart Helme: social democrats have principles, IRL does not

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

Europe is changing. This is reflected if only in Italian elections where anti-establishment parties won on both the right and left wings. The situation is much the same in other European countries Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon is currently touring to preach the imminent collapse of the recent world order. 

In Estonia, the anti-elite Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) is taking increasingly big bites out of the ratings of established political parties. That is why it is sensible to ask party chairman Mart Helme what he thinks about the world and developments in it, more so as EKRE will likely aim for a place in the government in the upcoming elections cycle. 

Helme has read up on Bannon’s performances. “The recent world order has reached its final phase and forces that will tear it down are rearing their heads in the West. They have many names: populists, radicals, xenophobes, and who knows what else,” he says. 

Helme quotes British historian and philosopher of history Arnold J. Toynbee who has said that European society is not sustainable and is headed for great upheaval that has partly already arrived. 

“Naturally there are forces trying to apply the brakes, so these convulsions wouldn’t happen too quickly and radically. And it is undoubtedly a good thing that democracy includes such a mechanism. I’m not a young person anymore, but I believe people your age (the journalist is 27 – ed.) will live the second half of their lives in conditions that are rather different from today,” he says. 

Mart Helme, what do you see in my future? 

I predict that the welfare society Western Europe has enjoyed and for which we’ve also developed a taste will fall apart radically and quickly at one point. I hope to God it will not happen through social cataclysms. 

The West is worried by its aging and waning population. On the other hand, it might be a blessing as elderly people are not as passionate and aggressive as youngsters. We have an example of the latter in the Middle East where testosterone-filled young men set the mood. It is not pretty what is going on there. I would not like to see that in Europe. 

Europe is old and levelheaded. Including the Estonian people. That is why I believe these critical turns will take place peacefully in Europe. The economic situation will surely deteriorate, and people would do well not to place their hopes on state pension. There will also be environmental changes, while I cannot speculate as to their extent and effects as I’m not an ecologist. 

If we line up political forces sporting similar views: Viktor Orban, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Alternative für Deutschland… 

These are all very different movements. 

They are all anti-establishment. 

The fact they are is a consequence. The result of the current elite’s fossilization, arrogance, and ineptitude. We are seeing the same thing in Estonia. The elite clinging to a system that is still ticking but no longer works. 

In what does this fossilization manifest? 

NATO is not a disabled organization; however, it only has a single member capable of victory over the rest of the world. USA. We are holding on to a petrified system and making fun of Donald Trump – mainstream media, which you also represent, is busy producing articles that are hostile to Trump, at least as far as their titles are concerned. 

Instead of realizing that D. Trump is also a consequence of the petrified system and protest moods, not their cause. These moods will not disappear with him. In Germany, Angela Merkel is the cause of that reaction. 

What are the signs in Estonia? 

Let us look at what the government is doing. It’s enough to make you cry. Ideological limitedness is one thing, but this is economic irresponsibility and inability. People are bothered mostly by impunity and arrogance. 

[Centrist Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure] Kadri Simson visited us to talk about free public transport. I told her that it is clear as day we’re dealing with a populist pre-election promise. No one will bat an eye when it turns out it did not take off after tens of millions were spent once the elections are behind us. 

Donald Trump is arrogant and at times irresponsible. 

He is arrogant toward the petrified elite, its senators and congressmen. I’ve always found it baffling how the United States has party bosses. It seemed peculiar to me already back in the seventies that they have elections and the people get to make a choice, but no: party bosses first filter the candidates. They must meet certain parameters. That is how you get a petrified system. 

That is not the way things are done over at EKRE? 

No. We have in-house voting. Every region holds a secret vote. Regions then present their candidates for Riigikogu elections and their order is up to a regional secret ballot. So as not to rob people of motivation: why go to all this trouble if the “hats” decide in the end. 

The “hats” do not decide. They have the right to make minor changes to the list to avoid election blocs. 

Who are these “hats”? 

We are, the men of EKRE. 

Only you and your son, or are you all “hats”? 

I started wearing one first. I was a big fan of westerns in the 1970s and 80s. Also of country music. I’ve been wearing a cowboy hat ever since. 

Isn’t it a mark of nomenclature? 

No, I don’t think so. We do not have a nomenclature. 

Were I the chairman of another party I would be jealous by now as the anniversary of the Republic of Estonia should be a people’s celebration. The rest of politicians are trying to hang out in high society, while you are surrounded by the people. Is this contrast conscious?

It is not demonstrative. It simply isn’t possible to be in two places at once. 

You planned your events (i.e. the torch-lit march) simultaneously. 

We want it to take place when it’s dark. Besides, there are a lot of events taking place in the morning when it’s the anniversary of the republic. The day with its activities and the weather forces us to have the march in the evening. It is not a challenge to Kadriorg. I would consider attending (the president’s anniversary reception – ed.) where it chronologically possible. 

And yet, Kersti Kaljulaid seems to be one of your primary opponents lately. 

Oh, I don’t know about that… I wouldn’t say so. We have called her attention to the fact she has not been fair in many things. It is not up to the president to meddle in the work of the parliament, courts, or give instructions before local elections. If the president clearly says that Estonia has a party she does not recommend voting for, it is meddling in daily politics which is not part of her mandate. 

Is it EKRE’s business to meddle in the work of courts? 

We are not meddling. We are simply expressing our opinion of judicial activism which we believe is not in accordance with Estonian laws. 

In a situation where courts take legislative drafting into their own hands, it is not meddling but calling the courts to order. If the justice ministry cannot rein in the courts, someone has to. 

We love to boast our rule of law, but Estonia is really a country of judicial voluntarism. If we are criticized for going after the separation of powers principle, the actual situation is the opposite – that the prosecution and courts are not abiding by the law. We can criticize the prosecution. 

People are hit with charges that linger, the press keeps writing, and soon the public image of a scoundrel is created. It should not be. That is why we have proposed legislation to introduce prosecution deadlines. 

Isn’t it a sign of rule of law when a judge can say that charges are not suitable? It shows that the law remains in effect. 

Yes, but how long has it been going on? Three years. It took three years to analyze the evidence? 

The problem was with the statement of charges, not the materials. 

It doesn’t matter. Did it have to take three years?! 

Isn’t it rather a problem of society not realizing that charges do not equal a conviction? 

Society does not take things to court, bring charges. The latter are brought by the prosecution and justice is administered by the court. 

You said that society sees charges as a conviction. Isn’t it rather a problem of poor communication? 

That is a question for the press and law enforcement. I cannot tell you who is to blame. 

What is the deep state? 

The deep state is special services of course. And if someone now tries to tell me that Estonia doesn’t have one, permit me to laugh out loud. Of course it does. 

One thing is that special services have to know what’s going on. They must know what is happening in the Russian community: whether it includes pro-Putin groups with plans of forming a fifth column of some sort, their leaders, whether they have armed structures… 

The question is whether special services meddle in politics and whether they participate in daily politics through agents – whom they understandably have in every party –, by influencing mainstream media or using other means. 

Western intellectuals, including journalists, largely sport left-liberal views. Of course they are infiltrated by agents of influence. If someone tries to tell me that isn’t the case, I suggest they read Australian historian Christopher Clark’s book “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to War in 1914”. Journalists who did contract work are named for every country. 

Name a known agent. 

No, I won’t. 

Why? 

Because I could be sued for making unsubstantiated claims. Sherlock Holmes had a brilliant saying: “Use the deductive method!” Things fall into place in a long time series when you notice some people are regularly promoting similar moods. I know of them among politicians. 

Those are the ones I meant. 

Here I would suggest you turn to materials tied to the abolition of former military intelligence. Certain names appear there. Look at those names and draw your own conclusions. 

Are you being followed by special services? 

Of course. I cannot demonstrate it on black and white. 

Do you have suspicions, or do you know for a fact? 

I dare speculate my phone is being tapped and my email correspondence intercepted. From time to time, people crop up near me who are always interested in the same things. I draw my own deductive conclusions. 

What are they interested in? 

They are always interested in money. “How can you afford to run your mansion?” I’m asked. 

How do they approach you? 

Many have come through the party. They usually disappear again after a while when they don’t get anything. I do not readily use email. I try to talk to people directly as much as possible. That is why they don’t know what is going on in my head, and that makes them nervous. 

I understand that you believe President Kersti Kaljulaid was set up by special services. 

I don’t know. Her candidacy came out of nowhere. Someone had to recommend her. Why did they recommend her? She was an unknown person. 

And yet, 80 MPs immediately voted for her? 

There were several things. People were tired of presidential elections and the Reform Party was afraid its reputation would take a hit if the president wasn’t elected soon. A number of circumstances intertwined. It would be interesting to know who proposed her name. 

One does not have to be a KAPO agent to suggest a name. 

One doesn’t. But perhaps someone recommended her. I don’t know. 

It would have made sense in case of Jüri Luik as he has been in Estonian politics since the restoration of independence. Instead, they dug up a homespun candidate from somewhere and said she would make a great president, and everyone was immediately on board. Think about it. It is a little funny. And then that person becomes the local [Emmanuel] Macron. 

You were a presidential candidate yourself. You’ve also been a prime ministerial candidate. Which would you like to be more? 

Estonia is a country of executive power. Today, I would rather be the prime minister. Perhaps I could be someone who has symbolic power in the future. However, I’m not planning that far ahead. 

It is sensible not to try and sell the hide of the bear who is still walking the forests. We will meet Riigikogu elections and look at our results. Today, these are things we don’t know. 

I’ve heard a few politicians say they do not even see the social democrats as people. What is your opinion of them? 

I rather respect them. They are the only people with principles in the Riigikogu. 

Even after the vote of no confidence against Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu? 

Yes, they slipped and fell on that banana peel. But it doesn’t take away from their ideological agenda. Everyone slips up once in a while. Comparing the social democrats to IRL, it is clear the former are people of principle while the latter certainly are not. 

You’ve been in the Riigikogu for three years. What is the dirtiest thing you’ve seen in that time? 

Lying and putting spins on things. I would refrain from naming any names, but people from IRL have pretended to want to join us only to attack us once it turns out they cannot access inside information. Just as I don’t crucify former communists, I don’t crucify people who believe that dirty tricks can achieve more than steadfastness and staying true to your word in politics. 

What is the best age for a politician? 

Looking back on my life, had I become prime minister at the age of 30, I would not have been ready. I would have been short on experience and maturity. I believe that I have more balance and insight when making decisions today. More than I had 10-15 years ago. Life remains a great teacher if one is capable of learning. 

Does Jaak Madison have to wait another 40 years? 

Jaak is a natural born politician, and he has learned very quickly. But he needs a better education. I keep asking him for his university diploma. With it he needs more depth. Young people tend to glide on the surface. But depth will come in time. Youth is a vice that passes. 

Do you fear death? 

Not directly. After a relatively long life one starts to see too much repetition, not enough excitement. Then you think that death isn’t that bad. But of course, if you have a health problem, you think you don’t want to die yet. Rather it’s a rational thought that even though you’ve lived for some time you still don’t want to die. 

What does Mart Helme fear? 

I’m not afraid of anything as such. I would like it if the Estonian people would not have go through the kind of suffering we experienced during World War II and later during the Stalinist era. I remember that time, it was terrifying. If there is something I fear, it’s that our statehood will not be able to survive great upheaval in the world. That is my biggest fear.

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