Yana Toom: dear colleagues, the next time you condemn the white supremacist gesture, think twice


Today in Strasbourg, I discovered that I had one and a half hours of free time, which I do not normally get here. Instead of spending my time over a coffee, I dedicated this unexpected opportunity to listening to the foreign policy debate of the Riigikogu, the Estonian parliament. I was shocked at what I heard and somehow I felt that the injury was self-inflicted.

I am not going to argue here with positions that I do not agree with, such as our almost religious belief in the U.S. or Russia being the root of all evil. As they say, there can be a civilized debate, for instance, such as Marina Kaljurand and I had at the Estonian Debating Society: the arguments pro and contra abound, and the jury give a judgment. This is the way the disagreements are settled in the civilized world.

But the speeches at the Riigikogu meeting actually call our belonging to the civilized world into question. Not even because of the nonsense some MPs were talking, but rather because the other MPs did not react, although the Riigikogu, like every parliament, has the rules of procedure that allow MPs to do so.

Peeter Ernits, a former Centre Party member that now belongs to EKRE, managed to link the Estonian Constitution with genuine hate speech saying that “Mustamäe district justifies its name for a long time” (Mustamäe means “the black hill”), because the "number of foreign students has increased dramatically: while in 2012 they were only 3% of the student body, by 2018 they were already 13%” and, moreover, “today in Tallinn and everywhere you can see dark-skinned food couriers in the streets".

Such a speech would have been followed by a storm of resentment in the European Parliament, but Estonia's favourite slogan "the word is free" provides a perfect justification for any speech at all, though that was certainly not the President's goal as she wore a sweater with those words in defense of freedom of expression.

What amazes me is that even those who were enthusiastic about the President's statement and keep complaining about the damage to Estonia's reputation caused by the speeches of the EKRE politicians did not consider it necessary even to respond to Ernits' words.

Why? I think I know the answer. It is one thing to condemn a domestic xenophobe in the foreign media and quite another to do the same at home in front of the electorate. Because the common premise is that Ernits shares the view of the voters who really hate the black students or the food couriers of Indian origin. And Ernits is kind of right, though it is better not to say these things out loud.

The presumption was further confirmed by the summing-up of the Foreign Minister that expressed his support for Ernits' views, i.e. the protection of Estonians, without giving any attention to the examples Ernits built up his argument with.

So, dear colleagues, the next time you condemn the white supremacist gesture, think twice. And look in the mirror.