Anneli Ott stepping down as minister of culture

Minister of Culture Anneli Ott announced on Tuesday that she is stepping down. PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

Estonian Minister of Culture Anneli Ott (Center) announced on Tuesday that she is stepping down from her position because she is unable to implement the ideas needed for preserving the field of culture in the government led by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.

Ott thanked everyone who has stood up for the area of culture throughout the coronavirus crisis.

"The field of culture has had to make very important decisions and it has been a great honor to work side by side with the people who have worked hard to preserve cultural life," she said.

Ott added that rapid decisions have been needed to mitigate risks stemming from the coronavirus crisis.

The minister said that a situation has currently arisen where the government has been unable to reach an agreement with regard to compensation measures for culture for several weeks, whereas the coalition partner [Reform Party] only wants to introduce new restrictions.

"Meanwhile, each supplementary restriction has had more of an impact than those introduced at the start of the crisis or this spring," Ott said.

She added that if the state establishes restrictions, it also needs to lend a helping hand and compensate for their effects.

"It is my personal decision that I cannot continue as minister of culture in this government," Ott said. "We need to overcome this crisis together and we cannot achieve it by labeling and insulting one another."

On October 20, Ott still said that she had no intention to resign. She opined that while the criticism she received from the field of culture was necessary, it had mainly been caused by general tensions surrounding the coronavirus crisis.

"I have said that I fully understand this feedback and the difficult situation, I understand how culture organizers have had to reorganize themselves in this difficult, ever-changing situation of restrictions and make very different decisions, which are certainly not easy. Of course, it creates a lot of emotions, but it is all human, it is hard, it is hard for all of us. There is no accusation here, rather it is perfectly understandable that these tensions accumulate and must be discussed very sincerely from time to time," Ott said in mid-October.

The Estonian theater community had previously sent a letter to the prime minister in which they sharply criticized Ott's activities as minister of culture.

Manager of the Russian Theater and board chairman of the Estonian Association of Performing Arts Institutions Margus Allikmaa said that it was essentially a vote of no confidence in the culture minister, Postimees reported.

Allikmaa said that attempts have been made to explain the concerns and problems of theaters to Ott, but there has been no situation where she sat down at the same table and listened to proposals.

"We do sometimes communicate via Zoom, but there has been no instance of jointly devising proposals that the minister could take to the government," Allikmaa said.

The theater manager said that things are being discussed with officials, but the role of the minister has been passive, rather that of a bystander. "Whenever there has been a meeting, the minister either does not show up or is in a hurry," Allikmaa added.

In light of new possible restrictions, the biggest concern of theaters is making sure that they do not have to close their doors again or implement any numerical restrictions. ”This would have very bad consequences for theaters. Vaccinated people should still have free access to performances," Allikmaa said.

Allikmaa sent a letter to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) asking where the minister of culture was and what her efforts were. "The field has not received the necessary support from the culture minister -- the minister simply is not there," Allikmaa said.

The letter to the prime minister stated that "we would like to hear the minister of culture's recognition of the industry's efforts to combat the virus". It was also pointed out that "confirmation from the minister of culture is needed that she will stand for us and that there will be no unexpected order that only vaccinated employees can work in theater from the government accidentally or knowingly".

As an important issue, the association also accused the minister of confusion regarding the salary fund. "We saw that the minister made promises when standing for the budget in the field of culture, but neither the five percent nor the three percent promised salary fund increase came. Instead, fine mathematics is applied, which seemingly raises the minimum of a culture worker with higher education by altogether 100 euros, but in reality, much of this increase is at the expense of the theater's own revenues and not from additional resources from the state," it is said in the letter.

Anneli Ott has also been criticized in the media for being the only government minister who has not been vaccinated against the coronavirus, which in light of October restrictions made it impossible for her to attend some cultural events. Ott said at her resignation press conference that while she has started her immunization cycle, she would have needed a few more months to consider all aspects. Ott criticized people who have referred to her as an anti-vaxxer. 

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