The sexiest man in Estonia
Return of the silent majority (well almost)
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 2 September 2009
The three faces of Savisaar
At a festival at Linnahall a public figure stepped on the stage, gave a speech and announced it was his birthday. The crowd oohed and aahed like he was a movie star. They were lapping up his every word, they loved him. This was more than just charisma, this was pure sexual magnetism. Unless the paper have stuck a picture of Brad Pitt next to the story, you know where this is heading.
There is more to Edgar Savisaar than Estonia's answer to Brad Pitt though. He is more of a cross between the aforementioned Hollywood star, Richard Nixon and Jesus.
A visitor to Estonia would get the impression that everybody, everywhere hates the mayor of Tallinn. A friend described how her 14 year old daughter had scrawled abuse on Savisaar's poster, which for some inexplicable reason was in the school poster board. Actually she didn't finish the word. She got as far as “SIT” before a teacher caught her.
“My daughter did a very bad thing,” my friend said smiling broadly.
Another “friend” threatened not to talk to me again if I joined the Centre party. He wasn't smiling.
Yet month after month, opinion polls tell a different story. The Centre party consistently comes ahead of every other party. And not just a little ahead, but by 5 to 10 points. In a country which has half a dozen political parties, all with a chance of winning seats in Parliament, this is a huge margin.
Watching the crowd cheer him on at the festival, you realise Savisaar has tapped into something that no other politician in Estonia has been able to. He is the champion of the silent majority.
The term “silent majority” was first coined to describe those people who supported the late US president Richard Nixon. He won the 1968 election by a comfortable margin and went on to win the 1972 by an even greater margin, despite being passionately hated by large swathes of the American population. The same type of people who hated Nixon, hate Savisaar; the young, the educated, the intelligentsia, the urban, the well-to-do, the left leaning and the forward-thinking right.
The silent majority were and are blue-collar, politically inactive and don't have a voice in the media. They were against 60s' counter culture and for traditional American institutions.
They liked Nixon, their counterparts in Estonia today, like Savisaar. It simply isn't the case that only Russian-speakers support him. Anyone who worries about paying the rent and having enough food, supports Savisaar. Pensioners, who have to turn down the heat in winter because they can't afford their bills, support Savisaar. Check-out girls, who work all hours of the day but still don't have enough money to enjoy themselves, support Savisaar. People, who don't comment on Postimees articles because they don't have a computer, support Savisaar.
Strictly speaking, this group of people is not the majority of course. You can't have a majority when you have a multi-party system.
For them Savisaar is a sort of tin-foil Jesus. He promises to fed the hungry, heal the sick and provide for the old. Yet he puts forward no tangible plans as to how all this will be paid for. It will be a miracle.
Savisaar's program is what political analysts used to call “sexy.” So sexy that people continue to back him even when they don't really believe him. Savisaar's supporters may be poor but they are not stupid.
“I know that he probably won't deliver what he promises but he is the only one who is offering us anything at all, so I will continue to support him,” a Russian-speaking friend said to me once.
There is little point in discussing Savisaar's flaws. You are all familiar with them. The similarities with Nixon are eerie. He is accused of; taping political enemies, cronyism, nepotism, political opportunism and corruption. Some of you will be old enough to remember that Nixon came to a very sticky end. The only US president to be forced to resign.
Nixon also had great achievements. Nixon pursued a policy of détente with the communist block and the Soviet Union. He ended the first phase of the Cold War and built a relationship with China that is still flourishing today.
Nixon was a man of the right. Working things out with Russia seemed like pragmatism. With Savisaar it seems like cynicism.
It's ironic then that Savisaar's attempts to heal the rift between Russia and Estonia have led to the entire establishment and one teenage girl to pour scorn and contempt on him and his party.
There is an old English saying that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. In Savisaar's case, as many people believe, being unpatriotic has made him a scoundrel
Still Savisaar is an enigma. He is a very clever man. Technically he is Dr Savisaar Phd. So why does he allow the people around him to keep spouting nonsense?
The latest was from Kadri Simson, rising young star of the party. She recently suggested in this paper that we have a bailout package for Estonia like the one in the USA.
I'm British, we have had a bailout package in the UK already, I've just come from the UK. It is a very, very, dumb idea.
In the USA and UK bails-out were considered a necessary evil to stop British and American banks from going bankrupt and destroying Wall Street and the City of London (London's financial hub).
Estonia doesn't have a City of London or a Wall Street. Estonia doesn't even have home-grown banks. The banks are Swedish. And they are not going bankrupt.
And how is the country going to pay for it without devaluing the currency, as has happened in both the USA and the UK.
I refuse to believe Simson doesn't understand basic economics. I think it’s more likely that she is playing to a typical Centre party populist agenda. The Centre party needs to show that it has ideas and give the patriotic people of Estonia the illusion that they are in control of their own economy and therefore their own country.
Some people read these pronouncements and feel a patriotic rush.
“Yes we can manage our own affairs,” they think. It's all about sex appeal.
If Estonia had a first-past-the post system, Savisaar's party would be in power already, despite all the vitriol that has been poured on him over the years.
He commented recently that the Centre party isn't going to be part of any electoral alliance and Centre party candidates will continue to stand under the Centre party name.
If he is not trying to be a dictator and he doesn't want to work with other parties then what exactly does he want? What is he good for?
The Centre party doesn't stand a cat in hell's chance of getting back into power as things stand, and for the very reasons Savisaar has stated. He doesn't want to work with other parties. Supporters of other parties hate him so much that they won't allow their leaders to work with him.
Benjamin Disraeli once said the role of the opposition was to: “suggest nothing, criticise everything and turn out the government.”
We have two out of three. It isn't good enough.
So Savisaar is not letting the country down with (alleged) corruption or shameless populism. He is letting the country down by not delivering an effective opposition. He is letting the country down by not being able to get back in power.
Thanks to Savisaar, Estonia is becoming, as the saying goes: “a banana republic without the bananas”, that is a one-coalition state. Ansip may go, but it's going to be the same crew running things. The conductor may change but the tune remains the same.
Still we should be grateful for what we have. The man oozes sex appeal. If there is any doubt about it, one needs only to look in the pages of Kroonika for his latest shenanigans.
At least he has something to fall back on. If Savisaar decides to throw in the towel he could always consider emigrating to the USA and pursuing a career in show business. It's high time Estonia had its own Hollywood superstar.