No. 15

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A Different Kind of Spring

  • Helle Ruusing

    Editor-in-Chief, Information Adviser of the Chancellery of the Riigikogu

For Estonia, spring 2007 has been extraordinary. For the first time in the last fifteen years, we felt that we could be facing serious domestic and foreign policy problems.

In recent years, we have enjoyed the fruits of rapid economic growth, our standard of living has risen significantly, and we have been open and ready when it comes to implementing new technologies. A small but successful and stable country on the periphery of Europe – that was our image and that is the country we believed ourselves to be living in. Those who in recent years referred to the possibility that the progress would founder, that we were eye to eye with serious social problems and that we would need discussion on how to proceed, were disregarded. Politicians have always asserted that our success was lasting and if some sort of setback did occur, we would have a smooth fall.

We had forgotten that we live side by side with a considerable number of speakers of languages other than Estonian, with fellow citizens with a different mindset in many issues. These are citizens whose votes our politicians gladly vie for, but whose voices no one has actually listened to. In the wake of the events surrounding the removal of the Bronze Solider, it has been claimed that our integration policy is a failure. Some demand a new policy in rapid order. But first we have to talk it through in Estonian society: what sort of integration are we ready for? It is a complete certainty that a large share of the non-Estonian speaking community will remain living in Estonia and is prepared to be loyal to the state if the state expresses itself and its demands clearly.

The foreign policy crisis that the removal of the statue provoked – which due to Russia’s harsh response turned initially to our favour – represents a never-ending task for our diplomats. The trust that we have won on credit from Europe and the world over the years did indeed protect us in this particular situation, but it made us into a country with problems. Our image was spoiled.

The events of April showed, among other things, how little tolerance we have. People who expressed critical opinions of the government decision in the matter of the Bronze Soldier were labelled silly intellectuals or even anti-state. For a second it seemed that the right to think differently and speak a different opinion had been made illegal in Estonia. This was something that is to be opposed under any circumstance, because the right to hold an opinion is one of the basic tenets of democracy. I am very sorry that many politicians chose critical moments to be silent, as hypothetically in an even more critical situation, such politicians who opt for silence could doom the state.

This autumn will mark 15 years since the adoption of the fourth Constitution of the Republic of Estonia. This is the constitution under which Estonia became a parliamentary republic. Whereas the fathers of the Constitution tended to be concerned about power concentrated in the hands of the parliament, after fifteen years the reality has become different – and much worse. Parliament has become a rubber-stamp legislature for the executive power. It should be asked whether the parliament has any desire to assume the mantle that the Constitution bestows on it, and begin carrying out all of the functions vested in it. The freshly elected 11th Riigikogu should have a good chance to do so, as two-thirds of the deputies have experience in parliamentary work and politics: the parliament is made up of professional politicians.

It has been opined that everything is much clearer after the events of April. To me it seems it is the contrary, we are now clear on the fact that nothing is completely clear. Today we have to look in the mirror and admit that we have many questions, but we do not have answers. They must be found. We should probably thank the Bronze Man for awakening us from our reverie of self-admiration.

Full article in Estonian

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