Q. - Estonians (anyone, 18 or over, who had pre-war Estonian citizenship or with a parent or grandparent with pre-war Estonian citizenship) here in Canada will have the ability to vote in the 2011 Riigikogu elections in February. Some in this community have argued that since they do not live in Estonia, they shouldn’t vote in its elections. Is it important that members of the Estonian community participate in the election? Why or why not?
Paet: The participation of Estonian citizens in Estonian elections is crucial, no matter where the citizen may live. Those that care about Estonia and contribute to its future are relatively small in numbers. Therefore everyone’s contribution is important.
Vahtre: Estonians in Canada have opinions on, say, China, Russia, Columbia or Belarus. Why not then participate in elections for the country of their heritage? Democracy and freedom never get total protection. They must always be defended, even in Estonia. Estonia benefits from the participation of Canadian Estonians in their historical homeland. On the one hand you are Estonian citizens; on the other you bring a different perspective to play. It’s of course expected, that at least those, who are familiar with the prevailing conditions and problems in Estonia, will vote.
Q. - Over the past decade there has been much talk about the idea of a Globaalne Eestlane. Meaning that both existentially and literally, our nationality transcends boundaries and needs to further adopt this philosophy in order to thrive in the context of a globalized world. The Estonian government has done much work to reinforce the notion of the Globaalne Eestlane through various programs. (The Compatriots Program and official government representative for Estonians abroad.) What’s your view of this notion and how can we work together – Estonians at home and in diaspora – to further strengthen this?
Paet: Opportunities for working together are many. Everyone has some experience, from either one’s professional or personal background. One can be active in Estonian organizations, belong to organizations, even political parties to pass on one’s know how. One can also contribute in Estonia’s everyday life. One can introduce Estonia to one’s acquaintances, and why not to the media or on line.
Vahtre: The world is one global entity and people are in instant contact over oceans and continents. It’s even possible that one’s closes friend lives of thousands of miles away, but one’s neighbour is a stranger. This might be uncommon, but still a possibility. Therefore ties between Estonians flung worldwide are closer than thirty or fifty years ago. A global network affords people to be active Estonians in Estonia as well as Ecuador, in Alaska or Australia. Nationality is based on communication, communication creates a people. But I’m also convinced that such a network needs a strong centre - Estonia.
Q. - Recent initiatives, like the President Ilves’ “Talendid Koju”/“Talent Home” program, have focused on enticing Estonians abroad to reconsider life and a career in Estonia. Is this a realistic option for Estonian’s living and working in North America? Are there opportunities for us in Estonia and are there any programs in place to ease and facilitate those considering such a move?
Paet: Youth have the opportunity to study at Estonian universities and seniors to enjoy their retirement in Estonia. This might be the easiest. For those in a career, specifc options could be explored. At the same time there are sectors in which the most advanced professionals may have difficulty in finding opportunities. Although specific programs are not in place yet, our embassies in Washington and Ottawa and consulate in New York can assist those that are interested.
Vahtre: Estonia is still young, with thousands of opportunities, where new ideas can be nurtured. Yes, to become a world famous director one must go to Hollywood. But even then he can still make the film in Estonia. The “Talent Home” program wants people with ideas to come home to develop them. One can manage a worldwide network of businesses from Estonia. One can produce certain goods for the whole world from Estonia. I don’t think that a special program is necessary for the talented. It’s just necessary for them to know that some things are easier to handle in Estonia than elsewhere. For instance, launching businesses. The level of on-line connections and IT usage is very high.
Q. - The Estonian community in Canada has been very active in promoting and building awareness of Estonian issues in Canada and North America (Estonians led the initiative to make August 23rd a national day of remembrance for the victims of Communism and Nazism in Europe; and initiated and lead a coalition of nearly 4 million Canadians in the Eastern and Central European Council of Canada) . Yet despite the fact that in Toronto alone, there are nearly 20,000 Estonians; Canada is a member of G8; and Estonia’s partner in NATO, there is no resident Estonian Ambassador in Ottawa. While the consular section provides excellent service, would you be willing to support sending a fulltime, resident Ambassador to Canada?
Paet: We give recognition to the Estonian community in Canada for preserving a strong spirit and work well done. The posting of an ambassador in Ottawa cannot be excluded. This depends somewhat on financial considerations. Although Canada also can also reciprocate, we don’t hold this as a pre-condition.
Vahtre: I think that this is necessary and natural. Canada’s importance in a worldwide context is often undeservedly overshadowed by the US, which probably irritates Canadians. Canada should get its fair credit. Even Estonia could give Canada its proper recognition by posting an ambassador to Ottawa. There are probably financial barriers to be overcome.
Q. - During the holidays, there were very serious allegations made by Estonian police about the role played by Centre Party chief, Edgar Savisaar, in his party’s apparent attempts to secure Kremlin supported campaign funding for his party in the upcoming elections. On the surface, the allegations indicate that Mr. Savisaar may have consciously decided to subvert the same sovereignty that he fought for 20 years ago in favour of short-term political advantage. Hypothetically, a Centre Party victory in the parliamentary elections could represent a serious national security risk. What is your party’s and your personal position on this issue?
Paet: Till Edgar Savisaar and the Centre Party have adequately given an answer, your concerns are justified. The Reform Party has stated that opportunities for cooperation with Edgar Savisaar do not exist.
Vahtre: Yes even I consider Edgar Savisaar’s activities to be a national security risk and a Centre Party win would be a black scenario. My party, the Pro Patria and Respublica Union, has been taking this into consideration and fighting it for years. Savisaar is not Satan, but in my estimation he’s never fully understood the meaning of a free market, democracy and indepencdence.
Q. - Relations with Russia are always at top of mind in the Estonian community here. Notwithstanding Russia’s domestic slide towards autocracy, there are concerns that Russia’s imperial aspirations have been reignited - as of late - through Kremlin rhetoric and an emphasis on building soft power. Should Estonians abroad be concerned about Russian-Estonian relations?
Paet: I don’t think that it’s an everyday concern. Estonia has insured its national security and international position by belonging to NATO, the European Union, the euro zone, the OECD and the Schengen visa zone. We’re clearly part of the European community. We support improvements in Russia human rights and rule of law, for this increases stability and decreases the unexpected. I contend that Estonia’s security is stronger now than ever before.
Vahtre: Russian-Estonian relations should always be closely watched. Holland and the sea have somewhat the same relationship. Russia is always a danger for Estonia as is the sea for Holland. This doesn`t mean that relations have to be hostile or ice cold. We seek good relations with Russia but we don`t want to jeopardize our existence or independence. During the last years Russia has turned clearly towards authoritarianism and the resurgence of imperial ambitions is obviously worrisome.
Q. - Here in North America, many in the Estonian community have serious concerns about Estonia’s EU membership and adoption of the Euro as our currency. Concerns have ranged from uncontrolled inflation to a watering down of national sovereignty. Many have also articulated anxieties about perceived weaknesses of the Euro and the bailouts of some weaker EU member states. Has adopting the Euro strengthened Estonia’s position in Europe and the world or weakened it?
Paet: The adoption of the euro has reinforced Estonia’s sense of security both in terms of revenue and economic condition.The crown was dear to our hearts, but within a world economy it had certain risks. Unfortunately we witnessed what happened to the value of some central-European currencies in the financial crisis. The euro isn’t just a currency. It has a strong political component. Since it’s backed by the strong economies of of European countries. The euro has already increased the confidence of many investors, and the Estonian economy needs investments. In terms of identity, is Finland less Finnish without the mark? Or is Germany less German without the deutschmark? I think not. Therefore I don’t see any reason why Estonia`s identity should weaken.
Vahtre: The adoption of the euro has certainly strengthened Estonia`s position in Europe and the world, and investor interest has increased sharply. I don`t see any weakening of sovereignty. We have lost the opportunity to devalue our currency, but the possibility of devaluation has also kept some investors away. This fear has now gone and Estonia has gained the reputation of a strange but wondrous country that knows how to manage it`s currency well. In terms of the weakness or strength of the euro itself, then one must hope that the economic crisis will soon end. Estonia can be of assistance in this and already is by being an example for others. If Latvians have learned from us, why not others? A little country, who could. Why couldn`t anyone else?
Urmas Paet belongs to the Reform Party; Lauri Vahtre to the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union.
Marcus Kolga presented the questions.
Pre-election questions and answers with Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet and member of the Estonian parliament Lauri Vahtre (1)