“I would not be soft-spoken as president”

Mart Helme with the family's newest member, golden retriever Jesper

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

Tomorrow will see the congress of the Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) where the coalition party will elect a new chairman. Current chair Mart Helme said on Saturday that he will not be running again. He is working on his speech to fellow EKRE members today. Helme says in an interview to Postimees that he considered giving up the position of chairman already before the previous congress.

What will you tell members of the party tomorrow?

I will tell them that a new chairman is not the end of the world and that they can still count on me. I will also tell them that every member of the party – not just members of the government and MPs – and its supporters are doing something that is greater than all of us. We are making sure Estonia survives. I urge everyone to contribute [towards that goal] with as much or as little as possible as our pooled contribution is great. I will also continue to contribute as far as I have strength and ability.

You’ve said that you run a tight ship at the interior ministry just as you run your family. What kind of a father is Mart Helme?

Everyone needs to be considered and given a chance to realize their strengths, while support is needed in case of weaknesses. It is largely the same story with the party. The party is big, but one needs to support weaker regions and encourage stronger ones while looking for a balance. That is the most important thing – recognizing and motivating people. If you do that before giving someone new tasks, they feel like they really can rise above. It applies both to one’s family and organization. I have headed various institutions and I believe that people who have worked for me have felt that I do not discriminate and always try to gauge people’s strengths and weaknesses.

Hypothetically speaking, what kind of president would you be?

I would be the kind of president as you see me today as head of the party and minister – particular and pragmatic. Also, a square shooter and not soft-spoken, always upholding certain principles. I would definitely not be a president trying to jump over the shadow of the institution as such solo acts and attempts to hijack authority the president does not have are disruptive. I would try to be a uniting figure and offer people courage and self-confidence.

How long did you consider withdrawing as chairman?

To be perfectly honest, I said before the last party congress that I would like to step aside. It would likely have caused quite a bit of turbulence, while we had not yet settled in at the government. The sensible thing to do was to postpone the decision. Returning to it, I had the political calendar in mind. Had we postponed the switch again, it would have taken us too close to local and presidential elections. It would not have left the new chairman with enough time to get settled, put his team to work and find a new rhythm for the organization. The coronavirus also postponed the congress that was scheduled to take place in April. This summer seems to be the optimal time, with enough time left until the next elections and to adjust.

Has EKRE achieved the vision and goals it set several years ago?

We have moved in the right direction, but politics is dynamic and never ends. When we started, the migration crisis topic didn’t exist. Everything to do with the Registered Partnership Act, Estonian sovereignty, the European Union and Estonian border with Russia has largely changed over time. We have achieved our goals in some matters or at least gotten half-way there. We have walked the path we laid out for ourselves and made efforts to have a strong enough and competitive political force in this never-ending game of thrones. We have not achieved everything, but we will continue striving toward our goals.

In which matters have you only come half-way?

One example is migration – labor and student migration. We can clearly see how efforts by Reform Party and Social Democratic Party (SDE) governments have resulted in Estonia having communities that did not previously exist here and that are growing by themselves today. This means that they are made up of enough people to attract others and bring family members over, and that they can take advantage of legislative maneuvers. We can see the fertile conditions provided by the European Union working to bring us foreigners from other countries. We do not like it. Not because we’re nationalists, racists or xenophobes, but because we do not want to one day wake up and find ourselves in Finland’s shoes. A person from a foreign background who has nothing whatsoever to do with Finnish history, language and culture is demanding the removal of a statue to Mannerheim because he was a racist, nationalist and criminal. Diversity is not always a gift as it often sparks conflict. Our work is outstanding in that regard and will continue.

What would you describe as your life’s work today?

I believe that the most important thing I’ve done is bringing up my children. I have six children and I believe all of them are capable. Some of them are still young, with one still in school, and I believe their great deeds still lie ahead of them. [Talking about the older children] Martin’s sister Maarja Vaino is a well-known opinion former; my oldest daughter is a philologist, has worked as a lecturer, trains interpreters and has done well in her chosen field. My middle son is an ophthalmologist, which is another very dignified profession. My youngest son is studying information technology in Tartu, while my youngest daughter is still in basic school. I would put family first.