Commentary by Jüri Estam December 22, 2010
This opinion piece was written in reaction to an Economist blog posting by Edward Lucas regarding a breaking story in Estonia – one that promises to stay hot for a number of months, and the resolution of which holds vital ramifications for how Estonia’s future turns out.
Estonia’s Dirty Xmas: Kremlin Gold
Lucas posted at the Economist’s “Eastern Approaches” blogsite on December 21 concerning the new scandal surrounding Moscow’s alleged attempts to make campaign contributions to Estonia’s Centre Party, as general elections approach for Estonia in March.
Lucas notes: “… the security police, KAPO, has now publicly announced that the leader of the Centre Party, Edgar Savisaar, is compromised by his connection with Russian funding sources (which he denies).” Mr. Lucas rues the fact that the Estonian Secret Service is involved in electoral politics – an attitude that would probably be fully justified in a stable Western society, or in an ideal world. Estonia lives in the real world and has had to stand bare fisted in an ongoing fight for existence since she was born as a state in 1918.
At about the same time that Edward Lucas made his blog posting, KAPO released more details about sub rosa meetings in Estonia and Russia between Savisaar and the Head of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin, who is a member of Putin’s inner circle and who, it has been suggested by some, may well have been an officer of the First Chief Directorate (responsible for foreign intelligence operations) of the KGB in the past. The meetings also involved a host of other Russian figures and several Savisaar aides.
Edward Lucas suggests: “The neatest solution might be if Mr Savisaar’s own party colleagues would present him with the (political, metaphorical equivalent) of a revolver and a bottle of whisky, allowing him to step down gracefully.” Still, he frets: (this) “…is not what Estonia wants or needs in the run-up to what should be a triumphant entry into the euro zone.”
Here Jüri Estam’s reaction:
There is no doubt that palpitations have struck the Centre Party faithful themselves. The question of who succeeds Savisaar is a question that no one has ever been able to offer credible predictions on. But will it prove to be a relevant issue?
Mr. Lucas is one of my favorites. I just finished his “The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West”, which I am basically thrilled with.
Unfortunately, Edward Lucas not only strays from the main issue here – I also beg to differ on some scores. First: Estonia is not ex-communist. That rolls off the tongue easily in journalistic shorthand, but doesn’t tell the rest of the story. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were three occupied European countries and what we are dealing with – still, and for a long time to come – is the detritus of occupation. We are still recovering in many respects from having been essentially in ruins or simply ruined, and the Savisaar “accepting large political direct contributions from Russia” allegations are but one example of many of Russia keeping her finger in the pie. One effort of many to weaken the position we have reattained in the West.
I also beg to differ on the “joining the euro as triumph” notion. What Estonia needs is independence and autarchy, not dependency on a distant Central Bank in Frankfurt. Considering the state the euro is in right now – the state that the European project is in – Estonia is a patsy and the teacher’s pet receiving a booby prize. To use Yiddish, we are the schlemiels of Brussels.
Now on to the case of Edgar Savisaar. To suggest that Mr. Savisaar substantially helped bring independence to Estonia is part of the glad-handing glossy spin of the late eighties. The party line. Mr. Savisaar and his cronies managed to usurp Estonia’s Singing Revolution of that period and skillfully guided popular discontent into their own political riverbed. They branded themselves as Estonian patriots because it was useful at the time. Immediately before being overtaken by the Singing Revolution, Savisaar was actually one of the authors of very significant Soviet-era plans to keep Estonia part of the Russian Empire, but with greater autonomy (the Self-Managing Estonia IME scheme). Like those who were slow to quit the Communist Party of Estonia, Savisaar was an opportunist Johnny Come Lately as concerns aspirations for true independence, and in a number of respects has actually been a spoiler.
Mayor Savisaar is like Boss Tweed in the way that he runs Tallinn. Savisaar makes Silvio Berlusconi and Bill Clinton look like altar boys. The fact that the Estonian media have now uttered the A-word – meaning Edgar Savisaar has been openly accused by a number of publications of being an agent of influence of the Kremlin – is a breakthrough to be greeted. Known to many, but previously uttered by few.
For lots of us in Estonia, the charges just publicized in greater detail on December 21 by the Estonian Security Police – our equivalent of the FBI – are a message of hope, albeit the timing seems truly blatantly political, just a few months before we go to the polls. I have a bottle of champagne on ice to hopefully celebrate the departure once and for all of Edgar Savisaar, and pray that those who are trying to lever Mr. Savisaar out of office do not prove to be inept. Edgar Savisaar in enforced retirement or in a hotel room along with whisky and a pistol, maybe in Moscow, would not only be good for Estonia, it would be good for all in Europe who despise crooked politics. It is too late to back out on this now. The die is cast, and it shall have to be seen through. Estonia is crossing the Rubicon, as concerns Edgar Savisaar and his ever-controversial past. We are at a litmus test junction again. A fork in the road.
Instead of having the wound fester, Mr. Lucas ought to wish the Estonian legal system Godspeed in seeing this through successfully. To have this attempt to retire a bad egg go bad would cause political and psychological devastation in this country, as Lucas suggests, and in that respect I join with him in hoping that the government, the Estonian Security Police and presumably the Prosecutor’s Office know what they are doing.
Rather than wanting to make it go away, it is a good thing that Edgar Savisaar is now in the spotlight internationally. It is time to give it the full court press. Now is the time for all good parties to come to the aid of their country. Timing-wise, this was inevitable. It was not only the pressure of the elections that brought this to fruition, but a train of events initiated by Russian Railway officials and by Mr. Savisaar himself.
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, how much likelihood is there that Mayor Savisaar is not what he is being accused of? Making the charges stick is the key issue. In recent weeks and months, Estonian state prosecutors have dropped the ball on several important occasions. It would be extremely regrettable if this turns out to be nothing more than an electoral ploy of the Reform Party and associated circles, and the legal institutions of the country are not sincerely up to their task.
If there is anyone who has ever looked like a duck over and over again, it is the brusque and “unwestern” Savisaar. His type of politician is a holdover from the era of Honecker laying wet kisses on Brezhnev. Rather than dissuade Estonia, Mr. Lucas ought to be happy that she continues to periodically lead the pack in trying to be honest, and pointing Central and Eastern Europe in the right general direction.
Let’s keep our eye on the ball. The ball is in the Kremlin, not in Edgar Savisaar’s mayoral office. I hope Edward Lucas’ next posting is about the array of blatant efforts Moscow has going to peddle influence beyond her borders, above all as regards her detestable “Near Abroad” doctrine, which has essentially not changed since the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. I hope his next posting is about the mischief that Russia continues to do in neighboring countries, as a follow-up to his excellent book. Savisaar is a symptom and a ripple in the pond, not the nexus of the problem. Better to focus on the party who threw the pebble.
Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar going the way of Kim Philby?