|Ritual de lo habitual|
The most shocking thing about the Reform Party’s financing scandal, is that nobody is shocked by it. The Estonians around me believe that the giving of party contributions from unnamed or unknown sources to circumvent laws barring corporate donations to parties has long been an “open secret.” So, I suspect another game is being played out behind the awesomely named* Silver Meikar’s display of “honesty” — an internal one among members of the Reform Party.
But nobody is shocked by it. My impression is that the majority of citizens living in Western democracies have an unwavering belief that their political institutions are corrupt, perhaps not as corrupt as in our “large neighbor to the east,” but corrupt nonetheless. In the US, it is a variety of monied bogeymen, from the Koch brothers on the right, to George Soros on the left, who are seen as the puppet masters of policy. The UK scandal embroiling Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has not shocked us either. In fact, I suspect a great many people believe that the phone hacking scandal is just cover for some deeper injustice committed in the name of wealth and infotainment. The only thing that shocks is how blatant the corruption has become.
What is interesting to watch in Estonia is the degree to which the popular media has covered the scandal, and it has received a lot of attention. My sense is that the popular media is to a large extent in at least covert support of the ruling establishment, which has been, for the past 13 years and in various guises, the liberals and the conservatives. As the first Laar government of 1992 to 1994 established the economic and social outlook of the state, this perspective has come to be seen overtime as the “Estonian” perspective, that is that Estonia by nature supports liberal economic policies and has a conservative national identity, and to question these policies and viewpoints is to, in some way, become opposed to the Estonian ideal.
A critical dilemma has developed in recent months for the status quo. The Estonian Social Democratic Party, led by Sven Mikser, has become the most popular party in the country. This was unthinkable years ago, when the very word “social” would induce Communism-scarred Estonians to nausea. SDE was historically the third or fourth party of Estonian politics, after whatever incarnations the conservatives and liberals found themselves in (Reform, Pro Patria, Res Publica, Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica) and Edgar Savisaar’s Centre Party. But financing scandals in the “green monster,” as Centre is called, plus internal divisions have torn apart the party, especially this year when many significant members resigned their membership. Centre has never gotten much love from the Estonian media, anyway, which is one of the reasons why Savisaar attempted to build his own media operation. The Centre Party “refugees” have not aligned themselves with any political party since, but SDE has become the only game for anyone who disagrees with the ruling coalition.
With SDE as the rising in Estonian politics, the Estonian media faces an interesting decision. Will it support — between the lines, of course — the emerging power, or will it continue to support the status quo, the coalition of the liberals and the conservatives? Will it make a financing scandal surrounding the elite a big deal? Could it use such information to drum up enough opposition to send the leadership into opposition?
As a journalist, I can tell you, it does not hurt to be in the good graces of the regime. You have articles to write, they have messages to send: it’s a mutually dependant relationship. I have watched other journalists try to take down the authorities mano-a-mano, but they fail, because one semi-alcoholic reporter is no match for a mayor or minister with an army of salaried henchmen. Even the vaunted Woodward and Bernstein had their whistleblowing “Deep Throat,” and so were part of an internal struggle taking place within the Nixon Administration. Yes, they were acting on a mission to “serve the people,” but, as journalists, they still became soldiers for the faction that was disgusted with the nation’s leadership.
That’s why I find this scandal and the attention it has received interesting. Why Silver Meikar? Why now? What else is going on behind the scenes? That’s what I want to know.
* Silver Meikar must have one of the best names in Estonian politics, right behind Andrus Ansip, also known as “Undress, Unzip.” For those who don’t know, it is pronounced “Sil-ver May-kar,” which sounds like “Silver maker,” as in, “Here is a man who will make you silver,” a sort of Bond villain a la Goldfinger. But English speakers unfamiliar with Estonian pronunciation might read the name as “Silver My-kar,” as in, “My car silver, you want go for ride?” Either way, a cool name.