Minister of Culture Anneli Ott (Center Party) does not favor overregulation and fails to see the need for Song and Dance Festival legislation.
Anneli Ott would not compare herself to Koit Toome
Rumor has it that [singer] Koit Toome was the first choice for culture minister. What were your thoughts?
Politics is all about finding new people, bringing them to the party and appointing them to executive office if they are well-known in their field. I cannot tell you anything except that I felt quite calm. I was busy working on different aspects and items of the program during coalition talks. That was my contribution. I served as minister in the previous government and the new allocation of portfolios was up to the board and negotiators – a process I had no part in. I believe that such debates form a natural part of politics. I wish nothing but the best to Koit Toome.
How are you better than Koit Toome?
I do not think there is need for such comparison. Every person has strengths and weaknesses. I have political experience ranging from local governments to serving as minister, and I believe I can put it to good use as culture minister for what I hope will be a positive contribution for Estonia.
What will happen in the field of culture? Do we need additional restrictions? Where do you stand?
We need to listen to the proposals of the scientific council and the Health Board. We also have our own stance that we have communicated inside the administrative area.
Still, what about where you stand in terms of whether people should still be allowed to go to the theater or whether we should temporarily close theaters?
We have results from several studies to suggest culture is not among the riskiest walks of life today. We need to see which measures have the biggest potential to curb the number of close contacts. The ministry monitors compliance with administrative rules. I believe there will be further restrictions or additional explanation of how rules should be complied with, while I hope we are not planning outright closures.
Movie theaters and theaters will remain open?
I cannot say today because the decision is up to the entire government. I can represent the position of the Ministry of Culture. The government will decide based on the scientific council’s analysis, while the previous round of crisis support measures will expire on the 17th. It is a crucial component. One decision necessitates another (in terms of economic compensation measures – ed.) and the two need to be balanced.
Culture requires money. How to compensate artists cut off from their audience?
Cash flow has dried up in many fields. It is difficult and somewhat unfair to treat culture separately, while there are things we need to address. For example, €1.4 million has been allocated as support for creative persons, while the money has been stuck behind an outstanding amendment. We are about to take it to the government. It will allow us to pay support to 380 persons.
That seems like a pittance.
It is additional support. Should the crisis linger, we need to apply for additional funds of €1.54 million.
Would the ministry support the Vana Baskini Teater (Old Baskin Theater) under your guidance?
That is a trick question. There are objective reasons why the theater has not qualified for support. It is not persecution.
Tallinn has traditionally supported theaters.
The city has completely different criteria for supporting cultural establishments. We cannot make exceptions here.
Still, could Vana Baskini Teater receive state support in your opinion?
We will go over the Performing Arts Institutions Act that will provide the criteria for future state support for theaters. If the organization meets these criteria, its name will be of no significance.
Will the new government move forward with the Song and Dance Festival law?
I believe we will take some time to think about whether we really need one. Overregulation is not good either. Would the law help guarantee the tradition continues or becomes more accessible for the people? There are questions in need of answers. Also, in terms of whether we need legislation or whether we can regulate these things in other ways? I would take a time-out to think things through first.
What about the question of whether the repertoire could include songs in Russian?
Precisely. This is what I mean when I ask whether these things should be included in legislation or whether we can agree in some other format. Social attitudes change over time that would leave us with a piece of legislation we would be forced to repeatedly amend. Perhaps discussions can take place and agreements be made on another level.
In other words, you are not in favor of a separate law as minister?
Yes. I would try and find a way to agree in some other way first.
You need to put together your administrative area’s development plan until 2030. To what extent has the pandemic disrupted plans?
It has had a major effect, if only in terms of timing. All social processes are askew because of it. It will surely attach a different perspective or emphasis to the development plan. Where to go from here?
What is the direction in which Estonian culture should develop? What is the goal?
It is important for culture to be widely available in terms of investments that also need to be there outside major centers and the capital.
Sports is also in your portfolio and is no less important. Which disciplines should the state support?
First of all, we need to make our children feel that sports is fun…
How to do that? How to find coaches in Võru or Kohtla-Järve? How to assemble football teams without young people?
We need to start in school. To give children the habit of playing sports. We have spoken to local governments all over Estonia about this. It is also included in our 100 days plan – putting together a hobby exercise concept. Estonians’ universal profile is 30 percent behind that in Finland or Sweden.
Do you agree that professional sports is on its deathbed in Estonia?
Interesting – I have not heard such a diagnosis. We pursue effective cooperation with the Estonian Olympic Committee, Team Estonia and have earmarked €3 million in the state budget. What I see is that we should add exercise to professional sports.
Finally, I would inquire as to your musical taste. What is your favorite band, musician?
It depends on my mood to a great deal, but because my grandfather used to play a Teppo accordion (a type of accordion from the Võru area – ed.), it always gives me goosebumps. I also listen to Arvo Pärt, but Teppo accordion music and legacy are very close to my heart.