SDE head: angry minority derailing Estonia

Jevgeni Ossinovski.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

Chairman of the Social Democrat Party (SDE) Jevgeni Ossinovski says that parties are increasingly being warped according to the whims of the radical right.

The migration framework was not supported in the government but got the votes of 41 MPs in the parliament. Was the weeks-long government crisis worth the result?

Yes, it was. It has been a principled matter for us. Rocking Estonia’s foreign policy course in the name of short-term goals is unacceptable.

The conduct of Pro Patria – their about-turn following pressure from the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) – was ugly, but what matters to me is that we managed to solve this matter. What we are seeing is the onslaught of right-wing extremism the effects of which go beyond this particular issue. The Reform Party’s section of the line was the first to give as the party’s faction chair and head of the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee caved. Pro Patria followed.

It is vital to realize that EKRE did not go after foreign policy, but the state as a whole. A week prior, they criticized the justice system, while they now said that professional diplomats do not know Estonia’s national interests.

In what did Pro Patria change course? We have known their position on migration all along.

The government was in agreement concerning the migration compact in March. EKRE tried for a long time to fuel fears, while parties managed to maintain a sensible and calm line until recently. Suddenly, there was a clear about-turn.

Are you ready to admit the ultimatum that called for Urmas Reinsalu’s resignation was an emotional move?

It was not an ultimatum but became one in interpretation. It was a proposal as to how to solve this problem. Was it the best possible proposal? It was not. Had I thought of what Eiki Nestor and I came up with at 2.30 a.m. on Saturday at the time, I would have proposed that instead. The thing with good ideas is that they come when they come.

Has something changed in the government after the past few weeks?

Things changed when Helir-Valdor Seeder was elected Pro Patria chairman. Seeder has hardly made it a secret he is not a fan of this government. The lesson in all this is how profoundly the political reality in Estonia is changing.

The onslaught of evil is taking increasingly grotesque forms and dimensions. The fact today that radical right-wing agenda is advancing and beginning to dictate policy has been a gradual process.

When I urged parties to clearly communicate that EKRE’s radical positions make the party unfit for the government in Postimees a few months ago, the situation in question showed that they are capable of derailing the state even as a tiny opposition faction. A dangerous trend.

The conflict that took place during EKRE’s protest meeting was a two-sided affair.

Yes, it was possible for us not to attend. But we did, because the protesters’ main criticism was that the people were not being consulted. The situation was very tense, and violence was in the air. It was shocking when it finally escalated against a particular person.

On the other hand, we could say that if you disrupt a protest meeting against fur farming wearing a mink coat, one does not have to be clairvoyant to know what is going to happen next.

I doubt they would be treated to a beating. But let’s get one thing straight: Indrek Tarand’s decision to go up on that stage was his own; it was not a party strategy. Whether it was appropriate or not can be debated. But saying that Tarand was responsible for the violence against him is the same as accusing a rape victim of wearing a short skirt.

Indrek Saar talked of fist policy. It fits well with your anti-EKRE agenda.

(Sighs.) The saddest thing is that the press is interested in politics like it’s a horse race – whose steed gains precious centimeters from who. We stood up in defense of values many people in Estonia hold dear.

Talking about that UN document, I very much doubt protecting it will bring us votes. In truth, it is very difficult to see it benefiting anyone but EKRE. I called on the Reform Party to garner more broad-based support for this fundamental matter, but they decided in favor of political technology.

Are we happy to be on the receiving end of death threats, portrayed as swinging from the gallows or having our heads cut off for the first time in my political career? No, it is rather unpleasant. We are nearing a situation where political differences graduate to threats of physical violence. Do we feel comfortable defending liberal democracy in the face of these threats? We don’t. We are deeply concerned in terms of where these developments are headed.

The vocabulary used against us has seen the word “traitor” added to it in the past week. That is something new. If a lunatic decides that Mikser and Ossinovski really are guilty of treason and that it would be best to kill them, they will go to prison with their head held high – for Estonia. I’m scared for Estonia.

Have you received threats yourself?


Politicians and journalists get a lot of hate mail. Has something changed in those terms?

Yes, I have not received direct death threats before. “Pig”, “scum”, “bastard” – that is the vocabulary of EKRE politics. The troll farm has become radicalized.

Have you reported these threats to the authorities?

I have.

Can we be sure we are not talking about a very small and active minority?

It is the process of shaping normality. When I talked about what would happen back in 2016, I was told I was being dramatic. That comparing the situation to Germany in the 1930s is going too far and that nothing of the sort is happening.

Back then we still saw people – artists, entrepreneurs, journalists, civil society activists and scientists – step up and say that this is not their Estonia, that they want to live in a free and liberal society.

Today, these people do not want to say anything in fear of the verbal abuse and threats it would bring.

Once you allow people to start believing something, it is difficult to turn back.

Yes, and it was a very expedient information operation. Two weeks prior, no one knew that the UN migration compact even existed.

People who had been working on it for years also provided no explanation.

There was no demand for this debate in society. We could take a random UN paper to Freedom Square and start talking about fishing quotas for the blue ling in the West Atlantic, but in reality, only things people are interested in can be discussed.

Interest in this migration document was created very quickly in the whole of Europe – at the same time, based on exactly the same talking points and under the guidance of the same right radicals.

The Social Democrats have said you will not form a government with EKRE, so has Estonia 200…

The Reform Party couldn’t even stand their ground in the opposition!

Jüri Ratas has also ruled out EKRE.

Yes. I suppose he has.

Is it possible to just ignore a party that has a part of the population behind it? That is how the Center Party was treated back in the day.

Voters cannot be ignored. People have real problems and fears that need to be addressed. The question is what is really at stake and whether we can explain that to people.

The greatest risk – and we have seen this – is the rest of the political spectrum aligning itself according to the radical right. Political forces keep walking into the same trap. Pro Patria and Reform are now the latest to have done it.