In the Estonian House on 34th Street in New York, amidst the early 20th century wood paneling, joyless black & white photos of Estonians in the 1930s, and funereal wall piintings of scenes from Kalevipoeg, sits a portrait of Estonia’s deposed president and one time dictator Konstantin Päts. The deposed leader looks down on the grandchildren of the citizens he briefly governed with a grimmace suitable for a man who died in a Soviet psychiatric hospital and whose presidential regalia still sits in Moscow like some morbid trophy.
Yet, while he is dead, some might say that the spirit of Päts, (Pätsu vaim?) lives on in the embodiment of one Edgar Savisaar. And with the results of the municipal elections in Estonia still fresh, many Estonians have paused to wonder – will Savisaar be the next leader to turn sour on democracy and crown himself “state elder” in the guise of Päts?
Moreover, when the moment comes again, will a Savisaar government be just as inept as Päts’ government was in the autumn of 1939?
It’s hard to get a read on Savisaar. From the perspective of 2005 he looks like the champion of the Russian-Estonian minority and rural pensioners. He’s affable, strong, pushes their buttons, and has a solid electoral base. The leader of Keskerakond, the Center Party, also was the one who went to Russia last year to sign an agreement with one of their major parties signaling that they will work together on policy issues. From The Baltic Times (subscription only):
The Center Party signed a protocol of intentions with Russia’s ruling party United Russia despite intense criticism from right-wing parties at home and an atmosphere of tension between the two countries.
The document, signed by the representatives of the two parties in the National Library in Tallinn on Dec.11, paves the way for a more comprehensive cooperation agreement to be compiled in the future. – 12/15/04
Savisaar defended his tactics by saying that Estonia’s Russian policies have been a failure, and, you know, the guy has a point…
“Since the restoration of independence we cannot point out a single major victory Estonia has had vis-à-vis Russia. There is no border treaty, [the first Estonian President Konstantin] Pats’ medals are still in Moscow, and Tartu University property is still in Russia,” Savisaar said.
But still, he’s smarmy. Vilja Savisaar, his more Euro-Liberal and less-obviously-corrupt wife, tends to give Keskerakond its “safe” image. She wears her power suit and looks like she belongs in Res Publica. But activities like the Dec. 2004 trip leave many suspicious. Is the guy who once summoned Estonians to protect Toompea from Soviet troops just in it for himself? Will he switch sides if it benefits his business interests? Maybe. Like, I said, it’s hard to get a read on Mr. Savisaar. Is he a wiley patriot, or just an opportunist?
NUMB-NUTTED RIGHT WING
With Keskerakond’s impressive victories in the October municipal elections, you’d think that the opposition was down for the count. But that’s simply not true.
According to the Estonian National Election Committee Keskerakond got 25.48 percent of the total vote, while the Reformierakond got 16.91 percent, Estonian People’s Union 12.47 percent, Isamaalit 8.58 percent, and Res Publika 8.46 percent.
The Tallinn vote was even more impressive for Keskerakond. They won 41 percent, to Reform’s 20.6 percent.
But what does this mean? It means that if the right-wing parties joined up, they’d have a solid enough electoral base to beat Keskerakond. Just as Savisaar has united the Russian-Estonian minority and Pensioner bases – who have very different agendas, but fit together as the party of the left outs, parties like Reform and Res Publica can do the same.
And who is left in? Andrus Ansip’s Reform party, who are sort of the party of the status quo – committed to Estonia’s economic policies, Taavi Veskimägi’s Res Publica party, who are sort of a younger, more ideological party of Reagan youth minus the social agenda, and Villu Reiljan’s Eesti Rahvaliit – the agrarian-left People’s Union, who can compete among pensioners but probably wouldn’t join forces with Reform unless there was some sort of major kick back for older, worse-off Estonians.
These parties have been forming coalitions for a long time, but they have been depending on Reformierakond to be the vote winner and coalition founder. That’s simply not going to cut it anymore. If Reformierakond was to absorb Res Publica – who are on their way out anyway, and run a joint ticket with Eesti Rahvaliit – who would compete with Keskerakond among their rural base, they’d have an electoral powerhouse that could keep Savisaar out of power for a long, long time.
However, this is unlikely to occur. More realistic would be a coalition of Res Publica and Reform, one that could win enough votes to keep the Center Party out of the national government, if not the city government, where it looks like they have gained something of a foothold. To do that would mean that some of the Res Publika ideologues would have to go. But with diminishing electoral prospects, it may appear more appetizing to those that are sitting in the Riigikogu contemplating reelection in 2007. To those that dislike the Center Party, I can only say this. There is an electoral opportunity for right-wing parties to kick Savisaar’s ass in 2007. It is up to Reform and Res Publica if they want to take advantage of that opportunity.