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Sotsid aren't freaks
By Abdul Turay
Published Postimees 26 August 2010

Who'd want to be a Social Democrat right now?
According to political analysts they lack leadership, vision and ideas. They even lack respectability. Worse, their own PR makes them look like freaks or perverts.

"What connects these three people, Tony Blair, Olof Palme and Tarja Halonen,.... all of them are Social Democrats," shouts their website in their internationally themed banner heading.

It's as though their saying to voters.
"Look people, it's OK to be one of us, it isn't weird, it isn't kinky, it's perfectly normal!"

Some people think gays are perverts. Gay pressure groups use the same tactic.
"Elton John, Leonardo Da Vinci and Yukio Mishima. All of them were gay."

Quite frankly it would be a happier time for a politician or public figure if they came out as gay. There'd be some acceptance, some understanding, some sympathy even. Once you come out, you step into the public eye.

Become a Sotsi, as some politicians have done in desperation, and prepare to keep a low profile. Have you heard anything from a former People Union's leaders, Ene Tomberg, and Karel Rüütli lately? They are like Western spies defecting to Russia during the Cold War. Nobody ever heard anything from them again.

Maybe Sotsid should be given greater co-habitation rights. What about Sotsid pride marches?

Meanwhile the litany of disasters to befall the party continues. After the complete debacle in absorbing the now defunct People's Union, they lost two members in Rakvere which means the party has lost control of the city council there. There are charges of corruption in Tallinn. Katrin Saks has resigned from Tallinn 2011 whilst berating the party. And they are still languishing in the polls, with the elections only six months away.

As for their leader, sociologist Juhan Kivirähk summed up what most people think; actually what everybody thinks. As he said on KuKu radio:

"Our politics is also very leader-centric. We have Edgar Savisaar and Andrus Ansip and also Mart Laar sticks out,"

A polite way of saying: "Juri who?"

We shouldn't be too hard on Pihl. He is trying his best. He is an expert at stating the obvious.

"Let's reduce unemployment. Let's find out how to get more jobs. When jobs come up, make sure we can actually do them."

Really it should be the Centre Party who should be seen as freaks. They are a distinctively Estonian phenomenon. There is no party quite like them in Europe. A few years ago they had trouble aligning with any group in the European Parliament. They eventually aligned with the European Liberals, bizarrely the same group as the Reform Party.

The Social Democrats have a real ideology. There are many talented people in the party, Eiki Nestor, Indrek Saar to name a couple. And let's not forget our President is a Social Democrat; strange given that he grew up in a country where socialism and social democracy, of any kind, really is a freak's position.

The Sotsid should have a natural support base, they should be the party of teachers, nurses, farm workers, shop assistants pensioners and the unemployed . The people who support the Centre Party should be supporting them.

So why are they such losers?

You could put it down to a stigma attached to the word "socialism".

It is true in Estonia, young people whose British or German counterparts would support the Sotsid, in Estonia support other parties.

That doesn't explain why other ex-communist countries have socialists and social democrats either in government or as the main opposition party. It also doesn't explain why in Estonia the Social Democrats have been more popular in the past.

You could put it down to lack of leadership.

Why can't they pick a strong leader? Is it really that difficult? The Social Democrats have tens of thousands of supporters and members. Do they all lack charisma? Are they all camera shy? Doesn't any of them want to be leader?

You could say the coalition system just doesn't seem to be working out for them.

After all the fortunes of the main party in a coalition sway with the mood of the voters. For junior partners, coalition is like original sin. It damns you and your descendants forever. The Sotsid were damned when they were in the coalition during the crisis and they were still damned by association when they left.

Nor have they benefited form the upswing of popularity in coalition in the last couple of months, although that Euro membership didn't happen overnight, it took years of planning to achieve and the Sotsid must have played a role.
If they went into a different coalition with the Centre party, they'd be damned again.

To foreign observers though the Social Democrats are losing because they have failed to do exactly what their website says they should do. They are not international in their outlook. They have failed to pay attention at all to how and why their counterparts did well in other countries and in other era.

A German friend who is also a member of the Social Democrats both in Estonia and Germany pointed out that in Germany, the Social Democrats won power in the recession in the late 60's and early 70's when people realises that free market economics were not working. People wanted the government to spend more, they wanted better social security arrangements and they wanted the government to tax the rich.

Likewise in the USA in the Great Depression Roosevelt got into to power offering a New Deal, meaning more public spending and public works to give people jobs.

In Estonia the Social Democrats won't even dare say it. No-one has the courage to suggest; getting rid of the flat tax, having a higher social security spending, taxing the rich. No-one will say “If we are becoming a Nordic country, why not have a Nordic economic system?”

This column will not pass judgement on whether these policies are right or not, but you'd expect someone to propose it. You'd expect an honest political debate. Instead we get timidity. We get Jüri Pihl talking about freeing the market and helping the invisible hand. That's a right-wing idea. It's the sort of thing Mart Laar would say. Does Pihl want to be Pihl, or does he want to be Mart Laar?

Now things are supposedly getting better and the opportunity has been lost. So what are the Sotsid to do to get votes?

The answer is out there, somewhere, but clearly not in Estonia. Maybe they should ask Tarja Halonen or Tony Blair? He's not doing much these day.