Ansip through the eyes of a reporter
Published Postimees April 1
By the time you read this, we will have a new Prime Minister.
Whilst everybody is speculating about the future, I thought I would reminisce about the past and pay a personal tribute to Andrus Ansip.
There is an old saying “All political careers end in failure.” It seems that Ansip has bucked the trend. He wasn't pushed out, nor did he jump, he stepped down gracefully.
I have met Andrus Ansip on quite a few occasions, most times he would buy me lunch, we had some good chats together. The first time I met him was he held a meeting with foreign correspondents. At the time I had only been in the country a few months and I was then the editor of The Baltic Times
There were 12 of us. Most of the correspondents were Finns. When Ansip entered, he took in the room. Then he spied me, and he looked a little surprised, he smiled a little.
I guess he was thinking; “Ahoo you are probably not Finnish.”
His aide whispered that I was a newspaper editor. Then we got on with the business of the day.
At that time, I had no profile in Estonia of any kind, it wasn't for want of trying. The newspaper I worked for was simply to small an outfit for anybody to notice. I was an unknown, But Ansip was still courteous, polite, and interested in me.
It is always like that it is, as a reporter, both here in Estonia and in other countries, I have always found that it is usually the people at the top of their field, whether they are major rock stars, actors, captains of industry, or politicians, who have time for people. It is the wannabes, people who think they are important, who are rude, standoffish, and won't make time to see you.
Over the coming months and years, Ansip would take time out from his busy schedule meeting World leaders, to just to meet with us reporters and have a chat. Gradually the group got whittled down to just four or five key people.
It is important for people to understand, now he has left, this takes dedication. The Prime Minister gets paid the same salary whether he buys us journalist dinner or not. He wanted to add value to his program to advance the nation, Ansip wanted to get Estonia's message out to the international media.
It was always an honour and pleasure for all of us, to have dinner with Ansip, and not just for the free meal at a restaurant.
Chatham House rules applied. That means you are allowed to quote something you heard, but not allowed to say where you heard it and from whom. But I can say this; on one occasion I said something another reporter didn't like. The reporter began to berate me. I thought it was a reasonable question, and so did Ansip, he basically told the other guy to shut up.
Politicians usually have lines to take which are prepared for them by their press office. A politician will usually have a team of people who have worked out all the questions that might possible be asked, and have memorise their answers.
That why they seem so clever. If you watch interviews with Taavi Roivas you can see him doing this. Even Ansip did this, all politician do.
Ansip seemed to have answers to questions, and the facts to back them up without any pre-rehearsal.
Quite often the subject on everybody's mind was what had happened that morning.
And because reporters are smart Alexs and the situation was informal, reporters would often come with questions that were totally out of the blue.
In these scenarios Ansip had no time to prepare. Ansip would pause for a second, look like he was not going to answer, then come back with a cogent response with evidence to back up what he was saying
It is a matter of public record, that the man who has headed a party that has become infamous for its corrupt business dealing going back to the 90s wasn't even a businessman whilst he was prime minister.
I don't know what the situation is now but Ansip wasn't even on the board of any companies and didn't own any companies last time I spoke to him, which was about a year ago. I supposed he lived on his salary and his savings.
I am sure he won't mind me saying this but he also had a personal dislike for Edgar Savisaar which went beyond mere dislike of his political platform. Whilst Ansip was in power there could never have been any chance of a Centre-Reform coalition, the two men weren't even talking, though they did shake hands at an American Embassy jamboree two years ago.
It interesting to see Ansip when he was happy. We tend to dehumanise politicians. But they are people like anybody else and they feel pride, disappointment. The difference is if Ansip ws successful at something it wasn't just for himself, it was for the nation.
People have almost forgotten it now but Ansip's achievement were prodigious. He managed to balance the books, get Estonia into the Eurozone and reduce the nation's credit rating at a time when other countries credit rating was falling.
It is true that he had some luck. Latvia got into debt because of the collapse of Parex Bank which led to what another right wing politician called “killing cuts” to the health service. In Estonia all the banks are owned by the Swedes so this didn't happen.
Ansip felt it was a personal vindication of his policies and a validation of himself as a national leader when Estonia got into the Eurozone before the other two Baltic nations. He wasn't jumping for joy, Ansip doesn't operate like that, given his taciturn and laconic nature, I haven't seen anybody so pleased about anything.
Ansip resigned because he had just had enough. He was just tired of it all. At the time that he announced he would be stepping down, he absolutely didn't have any idea what he was going to do next.
Eight years is a long time, being Prime Minister is not the easiest job in the world. Politicians are always the target of abuse, and suspicion. People think all politician are corrupt, power hungry or dishonest, which is a shame if you are the nicest person in the World and you happen to be a politician.
Ansip may not be the nicest person in the World, I don't know him that well to comment on that, but assuming that I am not bad judge of character, he is not a bad person. More importantly, he didn't appear to be motivated by money or power.
This may seem a strange article coming form someone who is now in a rival party, obviously I am not satisfied with the level of social justice in Estonia. But if there were no common ground between the Social Democrats and the Reform Party, there would be no coalition.