No. 3




Estonian Political Caricature 2000

18 June 2001


RiTo No. 3, 2001

  • Aare Kasemets

    Aare Kasemets

    Editor-in-Chief of Riigikogu Toimetised issues 1–3

Every event has a time in which it is remembered. The idea for an exhibition (total of 1,823 pictures!) and the recognition of political caricatures of major Estonian newspapers in 2000, was in the first issue of Riigikogu Toimetised [Journal of Estonian Parliament] together with 44 caricatures from the period of 1907-1999.1

The public evaluation commission of caricatures, lead by the Estonian caricaturist, Heinz Valk, and a Member of the Riigikogu, Peeter Olesk, defined a political caricature as a comical drawing where one can see:

  1. a politician, a political organisation (party, parliament etc.) or a politically-minded NGO;
  2. a political problem at international, state or local level;
  3. an allegory that can be politically interpreted.

A total of 1,823 caricatures were statistically coded and evaluated by the public evaluation commission with the help of the volunteers of the Estonian Volunteer Centre.2 A 9-graded evaluation scale was also considered: humour, joke, burlesque, mockery, irony, grotesque, black humour, sarcasm and satire? But we hardly needed this scale, as humour is very democratic – you cannot make one laugh. All the 1,823 caricatures were exhibited on the walls of the National Library corridors for two weeks, and in three rounds the commission chose the 101 best for the itinerant exhibition. Of those 101, twenty-one special prizes, and three grand prizes were given, which can also be seen in this RiTo. The prize for the best caricature, as well as text, was given to caricaturist, Hillar Mets, of Eesti Päevaleht, who depicted picketing pensioners in front of the Riigikogu and a fattish politician gesturing toward the nearby Finnish, Swedish and American pensioners, saying: “what are you fussing about, better go and travel!”3 The second prize went to the caricature by Urmas Nemvalts, published in Postimees, where Prime Minister, Mart Laar, looks into a microscope in some laboratory and calls out to the retinue: “I can see it, NATO! It’s even waving at me!” And the third prize went to the caricature “Final sale”, published in Pikker magazine, where the Prime Minister personally stands behind the counter of a kiosk and offers Estonian factories, rail road etc. for sale at discount prices. There were 21 special prizes, such as ” the Hard work of the Riigikogu”, “Opposition and coalition”, “European Union”, “Campaigns”, “Administrative reform”, “Integration” etc.

Well, the choices were not easy for the evaluation commission and may very well be challenged in court. It was found, after examining the 1,823 caricatures with the help of the Estonian Volunteer Centre, that the favourite politicians of Estonian caricaturists in 2000, were Prime Minister Mart Laar, President Lennart Meri and one of the opposition leaders, Edgar Savisaar. The other politicians were not nearly as popular, including Vladimir Putin, George Bush, Romano Prodi, Tarja Halonen and others. Many lobbyists, whose political affiliation could not be established, were depicted on caricatures as well.

Also the favourite symbols of caricaturists – animals – were examined, as animal symbols create contemporary tradition. After counting the major mythological types of characters and animals, it was discovered that the most frequent were symbols of the European Union – the stars and other EU symbols, the second was the Building of the Riigikogu – Toompea Castle and the Tall Hermann tower, with the blue-black-and-white national flag. The third was the state budget piggy bank. Thus, looking at the major symbols in the national newspapers, it can be seen that EU symbolism begins to even oust national symbols – which was not true two years ago. Some teachers who went to the exhibition found that it is possible to teach contemporary Estonian history from caricatures. Some small picture may tell more than a long and serious chapter in a history textbook.

1See Estonian political caricature: from favourable humour to sarcastic satire – Riigikogu Toimetised 1/2000 pp 286-297. RiTo web-site: > Miscellaneous

2Estonian Volunteer Centre (see ) volunteers Kaimo Käärmann, Viola Murd, Ene Orumaa, Eva Tiitus, Tanel Mitt, Andres Siplane and Merle Helbe examined the caricatures.

3See in this RiTo also articles by Monika Salu, Endel Eero and Hilma Naaber. Caricature reflects life.

Full article in Estonian