Seeder: nationalism shows openness

Helir-Valdor Seeder.

PHOTO: Remo Tõnismäe

“Nationalism does not need any epithets, neither openness nor closeness. Nationalism is nationalism. We should not be ashamed of the word or try to complement it somehow,” says chairman of Pro Patria Helir-Valdor Seeder.

You recently said in Eesti Päevaleht that people who cannot read or write are smarter than those who only read newspapers. How to understand that? Is it your national political ideal to return to illiteracy?

No, certainly not. Rather, it is the other way around. What this means is that a person should not rely exclusively on the media, the press for their information. They should communicate and read more, think for themselves and talk to experienced people. Next to elite, fact-checked, thorough and balanced journalism, we also have social media, where a person can say whatever they want about another person at any given time. A kind of song festival of democracy. In this general backdrop of overabundance of information and white noise, it is very good if a person has an established worldview and gets their information also from sources outside journalism.

Do I have this right: you set journalism in contrast to social media and recommend the latter to the former?

No, I’m not contrasting. Both exist and affect one another, not only for the better. As it is in politics and sports, the lowest common denominator is often decisive: the rules are broken to gain an advantage.

Coming back to your quote (“People who cannot read or write…”), you said it’s an old saying. Where is it from?

It was said by an American president, but I cannot recall which one. We can look it up later. (Seeder never returned to the issue, but the quote is likely from Thomas Jefferson. V. K.) It is not something I made up. I do subscribe to the message though: that people would do well to read things outside of journalism and talk to people.

You called Eesti Päevaleht left-liberal. How would you describe Postimees?

I would also define Postimees as a liberal publication. It seems to me that the media in Estonia is more liberal than the average citizen. Various studies also suggest Estonians are rather conservative in their attitudes. While the media is relatively liberal.

The Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) has the following plan: to wait a year, after the Center Party and the Reform Party form the next government, for the latter to make fools of themselves and then replace them in the government. What is your plan?

We will wait for election results. We will wait to get an idea of the will of the people and parliamentary arithmetic, which is when we can make concrete plans. The general plan is to achieve the best possible election result and be included in the next coalition.

The Center Party might be tempted to leave you out this time. You almost broke up the government twice last year: you first had the scandal of Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu referring to a public letter by feminists as an “attack by a flock of hens” and, toward the end of the year, you took a stand regarding the UN migration compact. To what extent do you hold possible you will be replaced by Estonia 200 in the next government?

Everything depends on election results. But we have proceeded based on the values we hold to be important, which has led to those crises.

Which values did the “attack by a flock of hens” scandal represent exactly?

There was a value-based discussion in society over the protection of the rights of women and men, minorities, which is very welcome.

Your platform reads: “Pro Patria is pro freedom of speech and against any and all attempts to censor free speech and free thought.” Does this also apply to writer Kaur Kender whose book “Untitled 12” saw charges of manufacturing child pornography brought against him? He was acquitted in the end. Does that work of fiction also fall under your protection for free speech?

Freedom of speech should be a general rule, but it never means having absolute freedom. We need to keep in mind that people might have different convictions and expectations. The court has ruled, and politicians do not pass judgment on courts. However, courts do not always dispense justice in moral and ethical categories.

Pro Patria prioritizes production of viewer-friendly movies and television series that give meaning to the Estonia space of values, way of life and history. What do viewer-friendliness and space of values mean in this context?

It is a matter of perspective. That which fits into our society must come from historical context of our language and culture. More broadly, we are part of European Christian culture. Naturally, it does not include works that incite violence.

Delfi recently wrote how you held back an agreement between the education ministry and universities to fend off the onslaught of the English language in Estonian higher education. You said a debate is needed in terms of how many foreign students Estonia needs and whether they should stay in Estonia after they graduate. This sparked reactions from intellectuals who suggested such a path would lead to encapsulation. What are you trying to achieve?

You have turned my proposals, and those of Pro Patria, on their head. The idea is to protect the Estonian language, not fend off English. We have not impeded anything on purpose.

These proposals concerned how better to protect Estonian in the process of internationalization to ensure the development of Estonian higher education and research. I have said during meetings with rectors that internationalization needs to grow as it support the development of our universities.

Our goal needs to be to have at least 10 percent foreign students. We do not at the moment, and we need to make efforts to get there. But we need to make sure this does not hurt Estonian curricula and higher education.

Pro Patria tried to talk about open nationalism when it was still led by Margus Tsahkna. What kind of nationalism are you talking about?

We are simply talking about nationalism. It stands for taking one’s language, culture, traditions and customs forward, keeping one’s identity. Nationalism doesn’t need epithets, neither openness nor closeness. Nationalism is nationalism. We should not be ashamed of the word or try to complement it somehow.

Openness and closeness are important. You share common elements with EKRE in that you turn your countenance toward Poland and Hungary that are on the path to closeness. You have appeared in the same picture as Viktor Orban. What common values unite you?

The same values we have in common with Michel Barnier or Angela Merkel or other heads of European people’s parties. Nothing more, nothing less. Standing up for nationalism – especially in Europe – is a sign of openness. People talking about a Europe of nation states are open Europeans. They see Estonians as Estonians, the French as French, Czechs as Czechs. They promote giving all of these cultures the opportunity to develop.

We are open; we are not locked into some kind of identity of a European citizen that we cannot ever understand. Let us not aim for a European identity that transcends nations.