Social Democrats are solid as a rock
Published Postimees 17 February 2014

When I raised the issue of Russian language education to a young man I know, he took his glasses off, paused for a second, then he started to rant. He was talking so fast in English I couldn't take it all in.

“If Russians want to live in Estonia they should learn our language and there could be no compromise”

This was the gist of what he said. I haven't heard anybody shout like that about politics since the 1990s.

Education funding has been in the news a lot lately. But of the three issues, the mergers of schools, the drying up for funding to private schools, and funding to the Russian language Vene Lyceum, it is clearly the third that causes most passion.

So it was that the deputy mayor responsible for education, Mihhail Kõlvart, faced a vote of no confidence in the City council last week.

He was always going to win. The Centre party have an absolute majority, and what they say, goes.

The attempt to impeach him was led by the two right-wing parties IRL and Reform Party. Whereas they seemed firm in their resolve to fight corruption and stand up for Estonian culture and language, my party, the Social Democrats, said one thing one day, and then another a few days later.

Just a week before the vote the Social Democrats announced they were not going to join the vote of no confidence.

Within days Riigikogu member, and head of the Tallinn party, Rainer Vakra announced that he was sure that the majority of the faction would support the vote. Then the faction announced that it was for the Russian Lyceum, but against Kõlvart himself.

It seemed like we were floating in the wind. Well it didn't go down that.

Let me tell you what really happened.

I sit in Tallinn city council, two weeks ago we met up with Kõlvart. At that meeting he said decisions on education were political and he would have done things differently. He denied all responsibility for bad actions, but he was careful not to mention the mayor, Edgar Savisaar. The fact this meeting took place and what was said is no secret.

Kõlvart then announced a couple of days later to the press, that education was his remit and he, not Savisaar, was responsible for everything. This much you may know.

Here's what you don't know, two days before the vote, the party met with Kõlvart again.

This time it was not just the city council faction, or the party leadership, the entire active party membership, everybody and anybody who was interested, were there. There were a few well known people at that meeting; three Riigikogu members, but most were just ordinary party members, both ethnic and Russian-speaking Estonians, who were just interested in the issues. They were angry they had been lied to.

We all sat down in a room too small to hold 40 people and drilled Kõlvart for close to an hour.

To be fair to Kõlvart, it was brave of him to show up. I can't imagine Savisaar putting up with such an interrogation.

“How much money was going into the Lyceum precisely?”

“How many students are there, how many students will there be?”

“What were the subjects they were studying?”

“Why is the Lyceum outside the school system?”

“Can you prove the money is going for the intended purpose and not for something else?

“You don't need us, so why are you here?”

After he left, we discussed the issues for another couple of hours, then we took a vote. Readers will understand social democrat members are not fanatically anti-Russian, but still we draw the line at Kõlvart's shenanigans. It was an an almost unanimous decision. Kõlvart wasn't exactly lying but he was not telling the whole truth. We didn't even believe that the money for the Lyceum was really being used for that purpose.

We voted to support the vote of no confidence. It was in this way, and for these reasons that our faction voted the way it did last Thursday.

This was a decision from the bottom up not from the top down. A decision made by ordinary party members and therefore by ordinary Estonians.

We were taking a risk making this decision because the Russian press could spin it that the social democrats are against Russians.

Whilst the Reform Party ad IRL, would get the glory from Estonian nationalists for taking this action. And it was all kind of pointless. Kõlvart was always going to win in the end.

I am even taking a risk writing this article because up until now, I've avoided writing from a party line, even after I got involved in politics myself.

But it was the right decision, a democratic decision, made by a democratic party. It was also a decision made by looking at the evidence and looking at the man behind it. I am pretty sure that Kõlvart did not discuss things with the IRL and Reform party membership.

The IRL have made a huge deal out of fighting the nationalist cause. They even got the central city administrative council (the borough level administrative council that approve planning permissions, school long term planning, etc) to endorse the no confidence vote, contrary to its remit.

But if the IRL really are “keeping an eye on things” where the hell were they!?”

When it came time to vote, half of the IRL faction were missing.

Either they were angry at Reform for stealing the glory, or it was lack of discipline by the leadership, or just plain apathy. It wouldn't have made any difference to the final vote, but it does show the IRL are not what they seem.

We were there, and we voted against Kõlvart for all the right reasons. Social democrats are not floating in the wind, we were steady as a rock, and the rock was the party membership. I know, I was there.