Eesti Elu
Business as usual, Centre Party style (1)
Arvamus 09 Jul 2010 EL (Estonian Life)Eesti Elu
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The masthead commentary was written before Estonian Life was aware of the following development.

Tallinn has hired as the marketer and promoter for Tallinn European Capital of Culture 2011 (Kultuuripealinn Tallinn 2011) a Centre Party advertising firm. Officially it was the Foundation of Tallinn 2011 that appointed the firm, but since Edgar Savisaar’s Centre Party is in total political control of all aspects of Tallinn’s government, for all practical purposes, the Centre Party chose its own firm for the job.

(Designated in 2006 by the European Union, Tallinn European Capital of Culture 2011 has one calendar year to showcase its cultural life and cultural developments. Marketed properly it should help to boost the city’s tourist levels, upgrade its cultural infrastructure and energize the city’s commercial life. It should also have a wider ripple effect throughout the country. The other Cultural Capital for 2011 is Finland’s Turku. This EU tradition started in 1985 with Athens.)

The Culture Capital Tallinn in 2011 will offer 251 separate events, from large scale song festivals to moderate sized art exhibits. The effort will officially cost 251.8 million crowns, in actuality a small expenditure compared to the income it is predicted to generate.

Tallinn struck the 3 million crown deal with the Midfield firm, whose owner, Paavo Pettai has been involved with controversial, many say scandalous, advertising campaigns in the past. It should be noted here, that according to official reports, at the end of November 2009, the Centre Party owed Midfield 5.5 million crowns for the municipal election campaign.

This writer was in Tallinn during one of the Centre Party’s quasi-legal election campaigns with which Pettai was involved. During the 2005 municipal elections a packaged sweet snack – K-kohuke- was introduced to the marketplace. Its poster logo, type face and colour scheme were strikingly similar to the posters used by the Centre Party – K-Keskerakond. The K-kohuke stickers saturated Tallinn. But one would have had to scrutinize them closely to realize they were not Centre Party promotions. Centre Party supporters took it as a lark. In fact the K-kohuke campaign was so intense that there had to be a symbol recognition effect on the voter. And ‘top of mind’ recognition is the key when the uncommitted voter checks off the ballot. Outdoor political advertising was forbidden by election legislation during the immediate pre-election period. But the K-kohuke campaign, for all practical purposes executed for the Centre Party, was promoting a snack food. The sordidness of the affair was only matched by the holier–than-thou attitude of the perpetrators. They say that it’s a deep-rooted Soviet legacy to be unrepentantly flaunting the spirit of Estonian law.

Tallinn officials insist that the Culture Capital process was transparent in granting Midfield and Pettai the contract. There was a tendering process, the best bid won – as simple as that. Centre Party stalwarts say that anyone accusing Tallinn of corruption lives in a fantasy world.

The Centre Party isn’t worried about the negative media coverage this has generated. Their strongest supporters, the Russian speaking municipal electorate does not read Estonian news and are convinced that any criticism of Edgar Savisaar is unjust anyway.

On a ‘possible severity of corruption’ scale this government/business deal probably will not elicit the public outrage and outright condemnation that the land scandal of a few years ago created, in which highly placed environment ministry officials, including the minister have been convicted by the courts.

There’s an old saying – don’t underestimate the determination of a people to be free. Fits Estonians well. Too bad one can’t paraphrase it: don’t underestimate the determination of a people to be corruption-free. It’s the seemingly `I-don’t-care` attitude that is the most dangerous for Estonia’s future. To become blasé, tolerant of political nepotism at its worst and to assume a `there’s-nothing-I-can-do-about-it-anyway` attitude is to offer encouragement to those that are corrupting and to those who are corruptible.

At take risk of sounding shrill and self-righteous speaking from abroad, it`s my firm belief that the individual Estonian citizen cannot shirk responsibility. In a liberal democratic country like Estonia the individual is the basic unit who has a direct responsibility to become involved, at least during elections.

There`s a solution for eliminating numerous insinuations of graft and corruption within the workings of Tallinn, the contempt with which city officials dismiss any notion of wrongdoing and the stranglehold with which the Centre Party holds Tallinn as its private fiefdom. Take your righteous indignation to the ballot box!
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