The sun will rise even if the Free Party won’t make the election threshold, party chairman Andres Herkel says. Concerning his personal life, Herkel finds that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Looking at the news, one might think you’re the most successful ladies’ man on the planet. Reality is likely more complicated than that. How much more complicated?
The truth is a lot more complicated. That said, members of the Riigikogu also have private lives, and I assure you that everything that happens in my life, or is about to happen, is a conscious choice made in a way to hurt everyone involved as little as possible. I believe the most important thing is that my son, who is about to start university, got the chance to grow up with his father. And perhaps I will have to take that responsibility again.
Is that consciousness tied to the elections – the Free Party’s rating is poor – or rather your private life?
It is a private matter. And I’m sure it is not exemplary in some way. However, I want public figures to have the courage to make such decisions in life in Estonia as our future will be much gloomier without them.
You are chairman of a party. That party is about to face elections. Külliki Kübarsepp is also a member of that party. If she gets a good place on your election list, people will look to you and ask about a conflict of interest. Have you thought about that?
Of course, and she has thought about it too. She will not be among the frontrunners.
How ready were you for the storm that followed? (when Külliki Kübarsepp said she is pregnant with Herkel’s child; Andres Herkel is married – ed.)
I was prepared. But for it to coincide with political events… Well, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Let us move on to politics. The Free Party is nowhere to be seen, except when it comes to infighting, ambitions of power and grinding of teeth. Why has it all ended up here?
I do not remember picking fights, complaining of grinding my teeth. But the momentum that carried the Free Party has disappeared. Still, things are far from infighting. We have tried to build a party outside of the system. Clear premise for that existed in 2015. There was dissatisfaction with the four-party system, stagnation, the People’s Assembly proposals. We have honestly tried to run a different party.
What sets you apart from other parties?
The question is to what extent is it possible to avoid playing by political rules. In a way, we are victims of our own ideals.
Why are the Free Party’s regional heads out to get you?
They’re not, really. I have spoken to several regional chairmen, and they have been addressing the same problem I have: the question of our rating, and why we are where we are today.
And why are you?
Something was left unfinished in April – the chairman candidates’ debate. Artur Talvik’s concession created dissatisfaction.
Why did you fall out with Talvik?
I have no quarrel with him.
Yet, he is saying some pretty hurtful things about you. For example, that you have created a nasty party-like formation.
I would refrain from commenting on these things. Artur has said so many things, and so many of them are so controversial that I cannot really navigate my way through them. I’m used to commenting on clearer positions.
What if Talvik comes back and wants to take over the party?
He had that opportunity in May. Decisions are made based on election results in politics. Talvik’s withdrawal came as a bad surprised not only for me but also many of his supporters.
Why did you oust him from the corruption committee and took his place? It has not really found its footing again.
There were plenty of those things during my time. Talvik is a very good media figure. He was able to really bring these things to light. But he wanted to run the Riigikogu faction, and we needed to make the change.
You admit he’s better at that sort of thing?
Yes, he is definitely better at dragging corruption into the light.
Since we’re comparing qualities, what about leadership skills? Perhaps you are too intelligent to chair a party?
Running the Free Party is different from running major counterparts. The Free Party has been built from scratch. The chairman must do more.
The Free Party and Artur Talvik have created a thing called the Corruption Radar. How big is the party’s monthly contribution there?
It is approximately €5,000.
What is it spent on?
How to use it has been discussed, and the board will come back to this matter and make a decision.
My question was what has it been spent on so far?
We are currently in the middle of answering that question. It has largely been spent on manager Ardo Ojasalu’s investigations in different fields. We do not see it as the most sensible way to use party finances. Mr. Ojasalu admits as much. That said, I defend him wholeheartedly because if there is anyone in Estonia that has effectively tackled corruption, it is him.
What is he investigating?
Use of the so-called Riigikogu protection money, local corruption, several schemes in Tallinn. The party feels this use of money is altruistic, while I feel it is too altruistic to maintain on the eve of elections.
Perhaps Ojasalu has helped you put together the Free Party’s program?
He is very capable in that regard, and we have discussed financial and economic matters at length.
Could we say the money is his de facto salary for services to the party?
I would not put it like that. But we are working on that question. It has been out of my hands from the first.
We need to talk about Indrek Tarand. Does he even know he has been invited to join the Free Party? When did you last speak?
We were in touch this summer. The last time we talked about politics, development of parties, looming elections, his possibilities and interests.
Why should Tarand – popular as he is – even consider the Free Party?
Why do people go into politics? Idealism and a sense of duty. If the questions we’ve raised about development of democracy, broader involvement and civil society are also close to his heart – and reading his statements they seem to be – he’ll make that decision. If not, so be it.
The Estonian Greens have proposed cooperation. To what extent are you considering that possibility?
I have not given it serious thought. The political ecosystem around the Free Party has always ended up in the same place. The greens have not been up to the task.
What will happen to the Free Party if you don’t make the election threshold?
Every party aims to cross that threshold. That is the target. And even if we won’t make it – the sun will still rise the next day. The ideas we’ve proposed will remain.
It is crowded in the right conservative corner. What is your opinion of cooperation with Pro Patria and the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE)?
I cannot see us working with EKRE. They have chosen a fruitful but factious path, and that has never been my path or that of the Free Party. We need to remain open to other political forces.
Why did you go into politics in the first place? You have written some pretty good literary criticism. You recently published a collection of poems. Few can match your knowledge of Buddhism in Estonia. Why this?
I strongly feel the need to make the world a better place. It has moved through different phases and waves. There have been disappointments, I must admit. I still feel that time will tell, but it is a very long time indeed.
How often have you had to go against your Buddhist convictions in politics?
There have been difficult moments but not in the Free Party.