Published Postimees 21 October 2013
Readers will probably know I stood as a candidate in the recent local election. Let's talk about something you don't know. The other foreign candidates who stood. Hopefully it will help you make sense of some issues in this election.
Whatever the outcome of this election, one thing is clear, I will not be the most successful and most talented foreign candidate. That honour falls to Ole Michael Ramussen, a 45 year old sales manager from Denmark.
Ramussen is so successful precisely because has caused little impact. The local press have shown no interest in him. Yet he is the de facto leader of the Social Democrats in Saue.
Ramussen was elected as councillor four years ago in Saue district for the Social Democrats. He has been in Estonia for 15 years. Like many foreigners he left Denmark because he didn't fit into there any more. He lived in Germany for a while and then Britain. He has been a visitor and an enthusiast of the Baltic states since the early nineties. He moved to Estonia because of his job as a sales manager and stayed because of a woman.
For Ramussen moving to Estonia, meant moving up in the World.
“I moved from a bike to a car and I had a mobile phone the second day I was here, I had the same salary as at home but at that time it made a very big difference because the costs were cheaper,” he said,
Ramussen, who has been involved in politics since he was a boy, is a liberal. In Denmark he was in the right of centre Venstre Party, the sister party of the Reform Party. In Britain he joined the Liberal Democrats, another sister party. As well as being a sales manager he owns his own business. He has a young family. He has personal friend high up in the Reform Party.
So why on Earth, join the Sotsids?
“Liberalism has different versions and the spectrum is very wide..... I would portray the Reform Party as most extreme, most libertarian among the liberal family in Europe,” he said.
“For me it is quite a shock to join the Social Democrats because the name and the symbolism that was what I was fighting against both in Denmark, in Britain and in Germany, but I have to realised there is no better option.
“For many foreigners, especially from Scandinavia, everything is to the right of what we are used to. So what we consider responsible politics is not represented by parties in Estonia.... many of us turn red, so to say.
“I have personal friends in the Reform Party, despite these personal relationships I couldn't bring myself to join the Reform Party. For me it is a new lesson in life, I used to believe that everywhere you are you join the sister party.”
Ramussen was struck by the contrast between the enormous wealth people who shop in Stockmann compared to the treatment wife's grandmother in her retirement home.
“It was a shocking experience, the lack of responsibility towards elderly people in Estonia,” he said.
Rasmussen is fluent in Estonian. Though it took him a long time to learn it.
“I am a lazy schooler. I came here in 1998, I wasn't fluent until 2006.”
A less successful candidate was John Slade, his campaign was over before it even started.
Slade became the target of a campaign of vicious abuse that went beyond mere dirty politics into the realm of cyber-bullying.
Typical comments were: “Wow a new low in Estonian politics.” “He is a sponge always looking to take at every opportunity.”
John Slade, 65, is a retired former army officer, sports coach, and motivational speaker. He came to Estonia in the late 80s as a military attaché, married and settled down.
He would appear to be a good candidate. Slade has been involved in charity work for many years, bringing sports to deprived kids in Kopli and Lasnamae areas.
“I want to work with young people. I think there is no pathway for young people to grow up and I think that sport is a development tool and team sports are bonding. There are hundreds of children in Kopli they have no money they like sport, I train them.
“Sport for me is for everyone, it is not a privilege, it is a right. They should have the same opportunities as we do in England to do lots of sports.”
“Stick me in the city government, if there is any money available for sport I've got first crack at it.”
These are noble goals yet he faced fierce hostility
Firstly, Slade stood for the Centre Party.
He was directly approached by Centre Party chair and former Tallinn's mayor Edgar Savisaar.
A popular myth about Savisaar is that he can't speak English, It is not true he understands English quite well. Savisaar who presents himself as a man aligned to the East, with Russia, with Estonia's past. In reality just as comfortable operating in the West, in English, on the internet. Savisaar public personae is a façade to appeal to Russian-speaking voters.
“He understands every word I say, He also speaks German very well. I have known him for years and years,” Slade, who doesn't speak any Estonian, said.
Slade understands the populist nature of the Centre Party. He once gave a speech at a party conference. Even though the elderly Russian speaking audience didn't understand a word he said in 20 minute he had them clapping a cheering.
Slade is also a liberal but still he was willing to endorse the Centre Party.
“They (the Centre Party) haven't bought me I am more in line with them than the IRL or anyone else.
Secondly, Slade is totally on of step with in his views on Russia and Russian-speakers. Estonian don't realise this, but most foreigners who have lived in Estonia a few years become, how should I put this tactfully, cynical of Russian-speaking people and openly hostile toward Russia itself.
Slade is the opposite.
“I have more empathy with Russian culture, Russian honesty. But it's maybe because the people I meet are older. I like that feeling of family Russians have.”
After a couple of weeks of non-stop abuse, Slade quietly dropped out of the race.
Then there was my candidacy.
America's founding fathers thought public office is something that you should be called upon to do, rather than putting yourself forward.
This is what happened to me. I was approached. I have had people like Edward Lucas and Marju Lauristin telling me I should stand, years ago.
Eerik Niiles Kross called me out of the blue one day, sat me down and tried to persuade me to be his man.
It was a tempting offer and he offered a better deal than the one I got, but I had to turned him down.
I was already in talks with the Sotsids. Like Ramussen I am a liberal. I was a conservative as a youth but I became disillusioned with the British Conservative party because of their Euroscepticism.
Like Ramussen it was very difficult and painful for me to accept in Estonia the Sotsid were my best option. I have been against social democracy my whole life.
I was reluctant to stand as a candidate because I was not confident with my language ability. I have passed the B1 exam so if I was a Russian-speaker I could apply for Estonian citizen now. I felt it wasn't enough. But Eerik Niiles Kross insisted it was.
Standing was a tremendous risk.
It could intrude into my private life, which as a new dad is something I would like to avoid. I had to deal with a tremendous amount of quite ugly, and racial, abuse, though not as bad as the abuse Slade received.
It could harm my profession life as a journalist. Some readers may begin question my neutrality.
If you look through my columns I have been rather critical of the Sotsid in the past, but I defy anyone to find even one piece I have written where I criticise the IRL or the Reform Party. Even though I didn't join the party, some will always believe everything I write is an SDE viewpoint.
I picked the party that was doing least well in the polls. I had no idea how well I would do. There was no financial incentive. Councillors are only paid a nominal amount, and have to pay for their own campaign materials.
Is a lot of risk for very little benefit.
So why do it?
Is it possible people can get past their cynicism and accept the reason I stood, was the reason I said I stood?
I want a better future for my newborn son.
I am not Estonian, but he is, and since he is too young to speak for himself, I have to speak for him.
My own particular concerns are kindergarten places, key to this is making kindergarten teaching worthwhile by giving kindergarten teachers a decent salary. We should work with the private sector to provide more places. It's not going to be easy but I believe with can get enough kindergarten place by 2016.
I wanted decent roads that can absorb water rather that big public shelters that are just for show.
I wanted local government working with and supporting local residence groups.
I wanted the municipal police reformed, not shrunk. I wanted affordable quality day care treatment centres for the elderly. Mostly I wanted an inclusive democracy. All the parties are offering residents the chance to participate in how public money is spent and not just at election times.
I dreamt of Tallinn as a prosperous dynamic city, an international city, not one of mass immigration, a new Hanseatic order, if you like. Getting ex-pats engaged in local politics was part of that process. For these reasons which were the same as the other foreign candidates regardless of their political affiliation, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and ran as a candidate.
It has been a quiet election. A quiet storm. But when people look back on it 10 or 20 years from now they may say, it started then. This was the first tentative beginnings of Tallinn become truly cosmopolitan.